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Thread: How to be a man - instructive books

  1. #16
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    It all depends on the kind of man. There is the Wordsworth kind of man who fainted at his first glimpse of the Alps, and there is the Jack London kind of man who slogged around gold camps and watched bear baiting and dog fights. There is the Thoreau kind of man to whom principle is a first principle, and there is the Gide kind of man to whom principles first are cheap toys to invert or be rough with. I might say some John Steinbeck. He is approachable by a wide range of readers in age, and his sense in moral situations is very good.

  2. #17
    Registered User Red Terror's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chief Bromden View Post
    ...Although, glancing at the index of the Abbie Hoffman book does rather challenge my "selection of interesting influences on which he can draw": "Shoplifting. Panhandling. Knife-fighting. Handguns. Shotguns. Rifles. Molotov cocktails. Pipe bombs". Have some of that, 12-year-old Godson! I suspect I may have been whooshed. Mind you, recent events do seem to suggest that we're firmly on the road to a post-apocalyptic dystopia, in which case there's some pretty useful stuff in there.
    Don't worry about the haters.

    “To steal from a brother or sister is evil. To not steal from the institutions that are the pillars of the Pig Empire is equally immoral.”
    ― Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Book

    "Those ridiculous free introductory or subscription type letters that you get in the mail often have a postage-guaranteed-return-postcard for your convenience. The next one you get, paste it on a brick and drop it in the mailbox. The company is required by law to pay the postage. You can also get rid of all your garbage this way." Ibid

    All you kiddies remember to lay off the needle drugs, the only dope worth shooting is [President] Richard Nixon. Ibid


    http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/steal-this-movie-2000

    https://www.amazon.com/Soon-Be-Major...motion+picture
    Last edited by Red Terror; 11-29-2016 at 01:43 PM.
    There has never been a single, great revolution in history without civil war. --- Vladimir Lenin

    There are decades when nothing happens and then there are weeks when decades happen. --- Vladimir Lenin

  3. #18
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    Thanks desiresjab. Your point gets to the nub of what I'd like to provide - a variety of examples of the different ways you can be a man. There's no one right answer and that's not what I'd be seeking to provide to my God son. If some of the examples are beautifully written or inspiring then so much the better; perhaps instilling an enjoyment of literature is as important as the moral instruction element.

    While recognising that 'how to be a man' is not something that one can capture in a nutshell very easily (and feel free to tell me to go off and do some reading myself to find what I need - I intend to do so), can you point me in the direction of any specific passages of Wordsworth, Jack London, Gide, Thoreau or Steinbeck that fit this purpose?

    CB.

  4. #19
    rat in a strange garret Whifflingpin's Avatar
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    "The Wizard of Earthsea," and indeed the whole of Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea quintet, meet all the criteria that you have mentioned, in a moderately stated fantasy setting.
    Peter Dickinson has written some classic books that might suit, but, if the other world of Earthsea does not appeal, then the very modern world of "AK" could be appropriate.
    Voices mysterious far and near,
    Sound of the wind and sound of the sea,
    Are calling and whispering in my ear,
    Whifflingpin! Why stayest thou here?

  5. #20
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    Thanks, Whifflingpin. I read the Earthsea books when I was young, thought sadly I remember little about them except that I enjoyed them very much. Come to think of it, perhaps I read the Wizard of Earthsea and then failed to track down the others. I shall go back to it and them as part of this project.

    What's "the very modern world of "AK""?

    CB.

  6. #21
    rat in a strange garret Whifflingpin's Avatar
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    "AK" is the title of the book (from AK47, the world's folk weapon of choice for some decades.) The setting is a modern state, African as it happens, but could be anywhere that consensus politics has broken down, or failed to materialise at all. It could be Ur, or it could be post-Brexit England.
    Voices mysterious far and near,
    Sound of the wind and sound of the sea,
    Are calling and whispering in my ear,
    Whifflingpin! Why stayest thou here?

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    Ah, sorry. Yes, I'm with you now. Looks interesting. I fear I'm going to be on children's and young adult fiction for a while as part of this project.

    CB.

  8. #23
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    Definitely second the Narnia books and Screwtape.

    Swiss Family Robinson would be another - it's about a family shipwrecked on an island who have to use their natural ingenuity and solidarity to survive. Would fit the 'how to be a man' thing very well, actually - there's a lot on practical skills as well as education. My favourite book growing up.

    White Fang (Jack London), Rafael Sabatini's The Prisoner of Zenda (most of his books actually), John Buchan's The 39 Steps and sequels, Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth series and The Mark of the Horse Lord, Kidnapped (Robert Louis Stevenson), The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings, Toby Alone and the sequel Toby and the Secrets of the Tree, My Side of the Mountain (?), Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea . . . all those would probably be suitable.

    Louis MacNeice's Prayer Before Birth might be to your taste as well. Sea Fever and Cargoes (John Masefield), Ithaka, maybe Code Poem For the French Resistance, Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep, ohhhh and definitely Brumana by James Elroy Flecker.

    There are lots more that I could recommend if needed. It's lovely to see someone taking the title of Godfather seriously.
    Last edited by tir_na_nog; 01-11-2017 at 07:21 AM.

  9. #24
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    Great suggestions, tir na nog, thank you.

    I'm not yet sure what form this 'scrap book of instructive literature for a boy' will take (that's another aspect of the project to ponder), but I'll enjoy delving in to the possibilities for inclusion.

    CB

  10. #25
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    One question worth considering: is literature best served by the moral purposes you envision? It wasn't so long ago that fiction was thought to be a pleasant diversion (like TV shows or movies), and moral instruction was discovered in books of sermons or philosophy. Wordsworth and Keats were read as a guilty pleasure, while Virgil and Homer (in the original) were beaten into scholars with a switch.

    One problem with modern English literature curricula is that they suggest that reading certain novels is a moral and educational duty (like reading Greek and Latin used to be). At least most of these books are reasonably good literature, however our educational approach may alienate young readers. Unfortunately, this approach also spawns unreadable tripe -- non-fictional guides to living masquerading under the guise of fiction. Guides to life, like "The Bridges of Madison County", are constructed with minimal plot and character, and presented to the reading public as literature. Even our friend from the other thread, Leo Tolstoy, unrepentant didact that he was, would disapprove.

    Cultivating a taste for literature will serve a twelve year old boy better through the years than reading "If" over and over again. (I love Kipling, but think "If" represents one of his worst poems, although many 12 year olds like it). Nor need he read "serious" literature in order to cultivate this taste. Children love adventure and romance, and cultivating that love will lead to both their moral development, and their evolving literary tastes. Children also love peanut butter and pizza -- as their tastes mature, they may develop a taste for wine and cheese, but there's no reason to feed them wine and cheese in their youth.

    This is not to say, good chief, that your project is ill advised. Send your young friend literature you think he will enjoy, first and foremost, and he will stumble upon the moral instruction. Send him moral instruction, and he will shy away from literature. (The Jungle Books are better than "If" as both literature and moral instruction, in my opinion. Also, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is a good novel, written by my deceased neighbor and donating your LItnet name, although it might be more appropriate for a 17-year-old.)
    Last edited by Ecurb; 01-20-2017 at 03:29 PM.

  11. #26
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    Thanks Ecurb. That's a very important and tricky question; whether literature can or should serve the purpose of assisting moral development is really quite relevant to my efforts here. It's also something that psychologists and philosophers could probably help me to consider in much detail as my original idea gets quietly shelved. I already started to ponder what fills the void left by religion as society gradually transitions toward atheism. Surely literature is one candidate to contribute - even if its original purpose was purely entertainment - which would make choice of reading matter rather important as a young person moves beyond the influence of family and school.

    Which is maybe where I can help my Godson who is ten thousand miles away. Ultimately, I think I'd quite like to simply suggest a reading list of good books, but in seeking to fashion that idea into a suitable gift (i.e some sort of physical scrapbook with excerpts rather than the occasional Amazon delivery with a note saying 'oi, Godson, this is a good book'), and in the context of my responsibility for my Godson's moral upbringing, the theme I happened upon is 'how to be a (good) man'. A variety of recommended writings that collectively offer a few different ways of thinking about right and wrong and being a man, be they swashbuckling adventures or rather more prescriptive morality poems such as 'if', is the aim. I'll probably avoid non-fictional guides to living masquerading under the guise of fiction. Paul Coehlo is out, as is Ayn Rand, and I'll endeavour to avoid my efforts coming across as too didactic. You're right that that would be a sure way to put a young reader off.

    On the subject of "If", I like it. Though it is perhaps a bit preoccupied with stoicism, and I can't quite get my head around:

    "If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss".

    That doesn't sit well with my attitude to risk. Hang on, you're gambling everything away?? No wonder you won't breathe a word of your loss! In any case, I suspect it's quite a good poem for people like me whose knowledge of poetry is a bit limited. It has a nice rhythm to it and the denoument captures a nice, clear message.

    I will recommend "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest" at some point, but as you say, perhaps when my Godson is a little older. It's been one of my favourites since I read it at an impressionable age and then didn't fail to please on a different level when re-read as an adult. I wasn't aware that Ken Kesey was a resident of Oregon - you learn something every day. Was he a near neighbour of yours? I like the idea of discussing the weather over the garden fence with the Author of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest".

    Thanks again for your response.

    CB

  12. #27
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Kesey lived a few miles away from me, although I was friends with one of his near neighbors and once went to a party at his house due to that connection.

    Lots of people (especially young people) love "If" -- mine is the idiosyncratic opinion. I think Kipling was a great story teller and I prefer his story poems (the most famous of which include "Danny Deever", "The Ballad of East and West" and, although it's not as much of a story, "Road to Mandalay").

    As an Oregon resident for 30 years, I recommend "Sometimes A Great Notion", Kesey's other early novel, as a good depiction of my state. A little piece of literary gossip: Larry McMurtry, who was Kesey's fellow literature student at Stanford, married Kesey's widow, Faye.

    I agree, of course, that literature can be morally enlightening. Philosophy represents a logical approach to morality; literature an analogical approach. It's just that I wonder if over-emphasizing that particular function of literature may discourage some young people from reading it. I also agree about avoiding non-fiction masquerading as literature, although, as Tolstoy demonstrates, great fiction can include non-fictional and philosophical sections.

    I posted a link to this overtly (although agnostic) religious Christmas story in another link. Dostoevsky shows how sentimental but agnostic stories can be shaped: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/58527.htm

    The authorial asides at the beginning and the end of the story demonstrate that uncertainty and faith can coexist. Belief is about what is true; faith about what is righteous.

  13. #28
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    Loved the Dostoevsky story, Ecurb, Thanks.

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