My Ph.D.

March 22, 2017

How I Obtained It

Revised 3 July 2017

Thanks to my habit of perpetual self-examination, surveys and quizzes can attract me when they might show something about me that I did not recognize or have doubted in the past. Some of these curiosity provokers have come on Facebook. Although my current time on Fb is now infrequent and irregular, I recently went back to it to post an experience stumbled on from Bing listings.

“Can we guess your highest education level” it begged, “in 10 questions?” Well 10 turned into something in the high seventies. My first try wound up aborted after a slow connection with my responses whether correct or incorrect and a subsequent explanation why. But the invitation showed up again on 9 March 2017, that morning. This time we managed to reach all the way through. I had failed on one question, which I do not remember, and with a score of 98% equivalent to a Ph.D.

Thanks a lot: you have boosted my ego. However, I do not really have that degree. Consequently, I went to explain on Facebook.

No, I do not have a Ph.D., but an M.A. in Library Science and some further graduate courses in history, humanities, and library services. Instead, I have read continuously since third grade and pursued several research projects while attempting to keep up to date with matters that are not trivial. I am a member of the Minnesota Independent Scholars Forum. Two questions were not precisely correct, but I chose the closest acceptable answer.

Though some questions may have been tricky, very few of them took a lot of thought or levels of expertise beyond general knowledge. Questions came mostly from the fields of culture, history, literature, or science. Probably, I could have answered a majority when in high school or at least prior to graduate school.

Here are the first ten questions and why I got them right. An x marks the correct answer.

  1. In what Shakespeare tragedy does Ophelia appear? Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, xHamlet. I did not read Hamlet or see a stage performance of it until into my sixties, but did see the film (1996). When I read and saw Hamlet, I was surprised how familiar the play became. I had read a Classic Comic Book of it in my early teens, but the rest came from many past years of dialogue and character reiterations.
  2. The first World War ended in … x1918, 1945, 1944, 1888 I fell in love with history at 15, subsequent to enjoying historical novels. In college, I majored in history. Dates to me are rudimentary markers – 4 B.C.E., 476, 800, 1066, 1453, 1485, 1492, 1603, 1620, 1776, etc.
  3. What does H stand for in H2O? Helium, Hydration, Halogen, xHydrogen. People frequently use H20 as a synonym for water. How much more basic can you get than that?
  4. What is the capitol of Kenya? Accra, Addis Ababa. Lagos, xNairobi. In college, my cluster of friends played a lot of general knowledge games, one of which asked for the capitals of foreign countries. Besides that, almost every movie that features Kenya in some respect relates to Nairobi.
  5. Frogs belong to which of these animal groups? xAmphibians, Reptiles, Invertebrates, Mammals When I was pre-school, we had a small swamp at the back of a neighboring lot, full of tadpoles that became frogs. I think I knew what an amphibian was since then, thanks to my Dad who seemed to know everything. Of course, I also had 10th grade biology, where Mr. Espeland had us memorize each phylum in its sequence so we could recite them.
  6. True or false: the Soviet Union was a U.S. enemy in WWII? xFalse. Born in 1940, I had four uncles in the war and we had Life magazine at our house. I remember the pictures of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin sitting down together at Yalta.
  7. What language has the most native speakers? Hindi, English, xMandarin Chinese, Spanish. While English may be the most widely spoken, not all are native speakers, and Hindi is only one of hundreds of languages in India; it’s China that has the largest population.
  8. How many chambers are there in the human heart? Three, xFour, Two, One 10th grade biology once more to the rescue. Besides, I have minor reverse blood flow into the left ventricle from the vascular system.
  9. “Call Me Ishmael” is the opening line of which American novel? xMoby Dick, by Herman Melville; Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck; Catch-22, by Joseph Heller; Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Though I’ve owned a copy of Moby Dick since Junior High, I have yet to read all the chapters, but I have read the beginning, seen the film (1956), and know the symbolic meaning of Ishmael.
  10. How many events are there in a decathlon? 12, 6, 3, x10. While I know next to nothing about sports, I had two years of Latin in high school and a semester of Cicero in college. Ten is English for deca in Latin taken from deka in Greek (transliterated), which appears in decade, Decalogue, decahedron, decapod, etc.

Besides seeming easy to anyone who is paying attention, multiple choice questions aid answering correctly when one knows when the wrong choices do not fit the question asked but are true for something else. Perhaps the trickiest question was asking which element is most plentiful in the atmosphere. The proclivity may to answer oxygen which we need but it’s nitrogen. Too much oxygen would burn us up.

Also, it helps to be older with more opportunity for the accumulation and refreshing of knowledge.

The online company that forwards these “fun” questionnaires is Topix, founded in 2002, which at the start aggregated news into various categories or topics. They subsequently created content and other amusements. Offbeat is the subsidiary for this particular quiz and others. See also A general article appears on Wikipedia as Topix (website).

Additions 2017

January 11, 2017

Aquisitions to the CeptsForm Library in 2017.

Updated 13 November

This listing follows earlier Additions posted in previous years. See the links under MY LIBRARY. I cite titles as a public glimpse at my ongoing interests as well as keeping a brief record for library management purposes. Acquisitions are the business record of library additions. Accordingly, each following citation carries only enough information to identify each title’s addition to the collection and is not bibliographically complete. However, I want to make clear what each book is about and provide subtitle words or bracketed clarifications when the title is not specific or may be misleading.

Data includes limited elements: date of acquisition and source, a distinguishing accession number for each volume, abbreviated author, brief title, edition if distinctive, and cost. Accession numbers may appear out of sequence when numbers are inadvertently skipped or deliberately reused for replacement copies, noted by an “r” suffix.

Note on sources: Dr. Joseph Amato (now retired) when Chair of the History Department at Southwest State University in Minnesota, gave me some of the Historical Essay series. Arc’s Value Village, Maplewood is a second hand store with used books as a sideline. Many of them are in boxes. Nevertheless, I persevere. Arizona History Museum in Tucson has a small store with items specific to the region. Augsburg Fortress is the press of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Barnes & Noble (place) a surviving big box store carries a range of items, currently popular, but also orders titles at customer request. Brocket Design provides books, reported through Amazon. Fair Trade Books is a high quality book store in Red Wing, featuring used books, some new, and will order. The owner chooses the books to add and gives credit that allows sellers to draw on for half price discounts on used titles. Alice Ellis is a close friend of the family we have known since college, who on occasion gives us books. Family encompasses books inherited from my parents or their parents. Friends of Ramsey County Library [place] is a non-profit that sells used books in the library’s outlets to fund various library programs. Books are inexpensive, quality is high, choices are few. Half-Price Books [place], the booming discount chain, well-stocked and well-organized where even the used books and discounted remainders can be further reduced for clearance. Other promotions follow frequent customers. I routinely visit stores in Maplewood, Roseville, and Saint Paul. Books are also sold online, though with shipping charges. Library of America since 1979 features classic cultural and literary writings from U.S. authors in elucidating editions and keeps all volumes in print. Books are sold individually or by subscription. Membership in this non-profit provides volumes at slightly reduced prices. Midway Books is a decades old and relatively large (3 floors) used book and magazine store. It occupies a corner of University and Snelling (the busiest intersection in Minneapolis-St. Paul with the Green Line light rail stopping by. My Thrift Store, Saint Paul, at Larpenteur and Rice has added used books to its merchandise; quality books are few but further discounted from the relatively low prices. Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Saint Paul, joins its neighborhood in supplying free books through its Little Library on the corner of St. Clair and Prior. Saint Olaf College Bookstore supports the curriculum with texts, carries works of faculty and alumni, includes children’s literature, and discounted titles.  Savers (place) a chain of thrift stores includes a jumble of books with a few real finds for the persistent. SubText in Saint Paul remains my favorite independent bookstore in Minnesota with an owner who loves literature. Patricia A. Sween knows my interests and at times gives me a book or two. The Swingles is the family pseudonym of our son Kristofer Sween and his wife Donna Dingle. They know I like books.

Added 8 January – Half-Price Books, Saint Paul.

#16257 D. Bettridge, A travel guide to the seven kingdoms of Westeros. 2.15

#6736r J.D. Franklin, Writing for story: … dramatic nonfiction … 2.15

#16258 G.S. Kirk, Myth: its meaning & function … 2.15

#1479r G.S. Kirk, The nature of Greek myths. 2.15

Added 13 January – The Library of America

#16259 C. McCullers, Stories, plays and other writings (Dews). 30.90

Added 17 January

– Family (Berge?)

#16260 M. Ulvestad, Norge i Amerika med kart [Norway in America with map].

Added 20 January, Dr. Joseph Amato

#16261 Historical essays on rural life (Southwest State University, Department of History). gift

Added 28 January, The Swingles

#16262 J. Gunther, Inside Africa. gift

#16263 J. Gunther, Inside Russia today [1958]. gift

#16264 C. Woodham-Smith, Queen Victoria … to the death of the Prince Consort. gift

Added 2 February, Fair Trade Books.

#16283-16285 The encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church (Bodensieck). 3v. 18.55

Added 13 February, Barnes & Noble, Tucson.

#3464r H.S. Lewis, Elmer Gantry. 10.70

Added 16 February, Arizona History Museum.

#16265 Geronimo, Geronimo, my life (Barret). 9.60

#16289 T.E. Sheridan, A history of the Southwest. 10.95

Added 18 February, Savers, Tucson.

#16266 Kinder- und Hausmärchen, Selected folktales (J. & W. Grimm/Appelbaum). 3.85

#16267 Maspero, G. C. C., Popular stories of ancient Egypt (El-Shamy). 3.85

Added 23 February, Library of America.

#3258 S. Jackson, Novels and stories (Oates). 30.90

Added 28 February, Half-Price Books, Roseville

#2893r E. Hemingway, A farewell to arms. 8.00

Added 9 March, Half-Price Books, Maplewood

#16279 S.R. Covey, First things first [conduct of life]. 3.20

 #16280 A history of private life: II. Revelations of the Medieval world (Duby). 6.45

#16281 The spirit of seventy-six: … the American revolution … (Commager & Morris). 3.20

#16282 B.S. Strauss, The Spartacus war. 3.20

Added 9 March, Arc Value Village, Maplewood

#16286 The church, marriage, & the family (Whitehead). 1.75

Added 18 March, Library of America

#16205r E. Bishop, Poems, prose, letters (Giroux & Schwartz). 30.90

Added 21 March, Author

#16287 R.K. Anderson, Selected writings through 1997. gift

Added 21 March, Library Development and Services

#16288 Library and information services issues (Minnesota Governor’s Conference/Sween). gratis

Added 27 March, Ramsey County Library, Roseville.

#16290  Great books of the Western World (Hutchins & Adler) v.1: The great conversation: the substance of a liberal education. 1.00

#16291 D. Quinn, Beyond civilization: humanity’s next great adventure. .50

#16292 D. Satz, Why some things should not be for sale: moral limits … 1.00

Added 6 April, Half-Price Books, Maplewood

#16293 J.H. St. John de Crevecoeur , Letters from an American farmer (Stone). 3.20

#16294 J.C. Holt, Robin Hood; rev. & enl. 3.25

Added 6 April, Midway Books

#16295 J. Steinbeck, Cannery Row (Shillinglaw). 5.40

Added 7 April, Friends of Ramsey County Library, Maplewood

#16296 R.C. Marius & M.E. Page, A short guide to writing about history; 5th ed. 1.00

Added 5 May, Patricia A. Sween

#16297 M. Oliver, Upstream: selected essays. gift

#16298 M. Oliver, West wind: poems and prose poems. gift

Added 6 May , Barnes & Noble, Maplewood

#16299 B. Gracián y Morales, The art of worldly wisdom (Fischer/Schroeder). 7.35

#1109r A. Huxley, The perennial philosophy. 17.25

#16300 H. Petroski, The evolution of successful things. 4.25

Added 8 May, Half-Price Books, Maplewood

#16301 P.L. Fradkin, Wells Fargo and the American West. 3.20

#16302 J. Rudinow & A. Graybosch, Ethics and values in the information age. 3.25

#16303 J.V. Smith, Fiction writer’s brainstormer. 3.20

Added 12 May, Subtext

#16311 E.M. Remarque, The black obelisk (Lindley). 19.40

Added 13 May, Half-Price Books, Saint Paul

#16304 J. Dos Passos,  1919. 5.90

#16305 D. Powell, Novels 1944-1962 (Page): My home is far away; The locusts have no king; The wicked pavilion; The goldenspur. 11.00

Added 16 May, Half-Price Books, Maplewood

#16306 J. Le Carré, pseud.; i.e. D.J.M. Cornwell, The spy who came in from the cold. 7.50

#16307 A.I. Solzhenitsyn, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich (Willetts). 6.95

Added 16 May, Half-Price Books, Roseville

#16308 J.C. Davis, In defense of civility: how religion can unite … 2.20

#16309 R.M. Gates, Duty: a secretary at war. 3.25

#16310 J.E. Steinbeck, The winter of our discontent. 7.40

Added 19 May, Augsburg Fortress

#16312 L.S. Brugh & G.W. Lathrop, The Sunday assembly using Evangelical Lutheran Worship. gratis

#16313 J.M. Kittelson & H.H. Wiersma, Luther the reformer; 2nd ed. gratis

Added 21 May, Half-Price Books, Saint Paul

#16314 W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, & J.M. Williams, The craft of research; 2nd ed. 3.25

#16315 A. Holden, William Shakespeare. 3.25

#16316 C. Sandler, Henry Hudson. 3.25

#16317 J.G. Stoessinger, Why nations go to war; 8th ed. 3.25

Added 28 May, Half-Price Books, Madison East

#16318 M. Beard, SPQR: … ancient Rome. 12.15

#16319 Body and soul: … sexuality as justice-love (Ellison & Thorson-Smith). 2.55

#16320 J.P. Euben, Corrupting youth: … democratic culture … 5.00

#16321 J. Garvey & J. Stangroom, The story of philosophy: … Western thought. 5.05

#16322 D.L. Pals, Eight theories of religion; 2nd ed. 6.75

#16323 Z. Salzmann, Language, culture, and society; … linguistic anthropology; 4th ed. 5.05

Added 2 June, Saint Olaf College Bookstore

#16324 G. Harvey, Writing with sources; 2nd ed. 1.00

Added 9 June, Fair Trade Books

#16325 T. Hartmann, The last hours of ancient sunlight. 7.80

#16326 H. Hitchings, The secret life of words: … English [language]. 8.40

Added 20 June, Library of America

#16327 D. Powell, Novels 1930-1942 (Page). 35.00

Added 1 July, Library of America

#16328 J.Q. Adams, Diary. I: 1779-1821 (Waldstreicher). 30.90

Added 6 July, Fair Trade Books

#16329 A. MacIntyre, A short history of ethics; 2nd ed. 8.15

#!6330 The Norton anthology of modern poetry; 2nd ed. 16.65

Added 10 July, Pilgrim Little Library

#16331 Nelson’s complete concordance of the Revised Standard Version Bible; 2nd ed. (Ellison) free

Added 10 July, My Thrift Store

#16332  A sense of history … American Heritage [articles from the 1985 edition not included in the 1995 edition. 1.90

#16333 P. Stanford, The legend of Pope Joan. 1.15

Added 13 July, Half-Priced Books, St. Paul

#16334 M. Dennison, The twelve Caesars. 2.15

#16335 J. Fonte, Sovereignty or submission: … Americans … ruled by others? 2.15

#16336 W.H. McNeill, The rise of the West (1963): [lists of illustrations and maps]. 2.15

#16337 G.A. Williamson, World of Josephus. 2.15

Added 26 July, Brocket Design

#16338 R.A. Watson, The philosopher’s diet: … lose weight and change the world. 15.00

Added 28 July, Library of America

#16339 J.Q. Adams, Diaries II, 1821-1848. 30.90

Added 9 August, Arc’s Value Village, Maplewood

#16340 A book of women poets from antiquity to now (A. & W. Barnstone). 1.50

#16341 S.E. Morison, The European discovery of America: the northern voyages. 1.50

Added 16 August, Fair Trade Books

#16342 B. Brecht, Mother Courage and her children/Mutter Courage und ihre kinder (Kushner). 4.25

#16343 B. Dunham, Man against myth [political and social deceptions]4.15.

#16344 C. Phillips, Socrates in love: … for a die-hard romantic. 4.10

Added 23 August, Library of America

#3404r U.K. Le Guin, Hainish novels and stories (Attebery) v. 1. 30.90

Added 1 September, Half-Price Books, Saint Paul

#16345 A. Pettegree. Brand Luther: … printing and … Reformation. 12.90.

#16346 Readings in Christian humanism (Shaw et al.). 7.70

#16347 Understanding the Dead Sea scrolls (Shanks). 1.70

Added 5 September, Barnes & Noble, Maplewood

#16348 The lost books of the Bible: … gospels, epistles … (Home/Platt).7.50

Added 6 September, Alice Ellis..

#16349 O. Ekroll, Nidaros cathedral: the west front sculptures. gift

Added 7 September, Barnes & Noble, Roseville.

#16350 B. Malamud, God’s grace (Horn). 1.60

#16351 P. Watson, The modern mind: … intellectual history of the 20th century. 8.60

Added 9 September, Friends of Ramsey County Library, Maplewood.

#16352 L.J. Swidler, Biblical affirmations of women. 1.00

#16353 C. Wells, Sailing from Byzantium: … lost empire shaped the world. 1.50

Added 15 September, Fair Trade Books

#12242r E. Fromm, The revolution of hope: … humanized technology. 3.20

#16354 S. Greenblatt, The swerve: how the world became modern. 18.15

#16355 F.L. Mott, American journalism: … through 260 years; rev. ed. 3.20

Added 21 September, Half-Price Books, Madison East

#16356 R.C. Marius, Martin Luther: … between God and Death. 13.70

Added 21 September, Barnes & Noble, Madison West

#16357 N.J. Karolides, 120 banished books. 1.10

Added 21 September, Half-Price Books, Madison Whitney

#16358 M.E. Lehmann, Luther and prayer. 6.30

Added 22 September, Library of America

#4800r U.K. Le Guin, Hanish novels & stories (Atterby) – v.2. 30.90

Added 7 October, Pilgrim Lutheran Church

#16359 T. Wolff, Old school: a novel. free

#16360 T. Wolff, Our story begins: new and selected stories. free

Added 12 October, Ramsey County Library Friends

#16361 E.S. Fiorenza, In memory of her: feminist … Christian origins. 1.00dd

#16362 J. Keenan, Encyclopedia of American Indian wars, 1492-1890. 1.00

#16363 G. Woolf, Rome [as an empire]. 1.00

Added 12 October, Half-Priced Books, Maplewood.

#16364 L. Keppie, The making of the Roman army. 9.65

Added 20 October, Fair Trade Books

#16365 J. Appleby, Shores of knowledge: new world discoveries and scientific imagination.13.65

#16366 G.E. Moore, Principia ethica. 2.95

Added 27 October, review

#16367 S.O. Imbo, Oral traditions as philosophy. gratis

Added 27 October, Barnes & Noble, Maplewood

#16368 R.K. Armey & M. Kibbe, Give us liberty: a Tea Party manifesto. 1.49

Added 30 October, Subtext

#16369 H. Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: … the banality of evil. 17.25

Added 3 November, Ramsey County Library Friends

#3893r, 16370 W.S. Porter, The complete works of O. Henry (Hansen) 2v. 4.00

Added 13 November, Half-Price Books, Saint Paul

#16371 S. Dando-Collins. Mark Antony’s heroes: … the third Gallica Legion … 3.25

#16372 From Magna Carta to the Constitution … 2.15

#16373 D.J. Harrington, Invitation to the Apocrypha. 2.15

#16374 P. James, Understand Roman civilization. 2.15

#16375, R.M. Kidder, How good people make touch choices. 2.15

#16376, H.M.D Parker, The Roman legions. 3.25

All I Want in Life Is …

June 4, 2015

Fifteen book-related statements and what I say in comparative parallels.

1. Books. Especially books. Books remain my favorite objects in this long life. Among my 6,000 volume library, I have kept some books going back to early childhood.

2. Books. Particularly books with lasting value. I pride myself that I am not caught up with current best-sellers just because other people are reading them. Rather, I want books that may be reread with increasing enjoyment or that continue to provide the information I want as time goes by.

3. Comfy chair to read books. A quiet place to read. I favor quiet: noise repels me. I generally have a book within arm’s reach at all times. I read most often at my desk, in a hard chair, or sitting up in bed.

4. Books. Classics of literature and in other fields. I know the value of some books purchased may dwindle or I may change my priorities, but those classics that are a generation or more old promise continued value and usefulness to me and my pursuits.

5. Money for books. Opportunity to find the books that interest me at discount prices. I find that rather than money the best resource for acquisition is patience and the enjoyment of searching. Some of the very best books in the world can be had for very little money.

6. Library full of books. The fruitful necessity of enough room for the books I want to keep. I once had twice the number of books I have now before downsizing took its toll. We chose the house we occupy in part because what was the family room in the lower level would accommodate about 6,000 books. I want to keep living within such an accommodation.

7. Bookmarks. Bookmarks that are unique, attractive and of the cause each promotes. Bookmarks are a side issue, but I appreciate them. For books that I do not want to deface with library marks, I put the call number on a bookmark I made by covering cardstock with attractive wrapping paper and attaching the call number patch to that.

8. Books. To keep on discovering more meaning in books. Books have not exhausted me, and I have not exhausted them. I trust this symbiotic relationship will continue.

9. A man who reads books. Becoming a better man through books. I can always improve and so much of what I have valued and learned is due to books in total more than to any other factor.

10. Stacks of books. Getting through the stacks of books I have waiting for me to read them. Alas I doubt that I shall ever get to any kind of appreciable end.

11. Time to read books. Better use of the time I have remaining to read the better books. As far as I can tell we all have the same amount of daily time and the challenge is to find good uses for it. My time wrestles against a variety of interests and a habit of volunteering.

12. Shelves for books. That the crammed shelves I have hold up. The only improvement possible is moving or installing compact storage. At this stage, neither seems affordable or necessary.

13. Books. To maintain a steady state library. The idea of maintenance in library size is a realistic one at this point in my 75 years.

14. Tea to drink while I read books. Remembering to keep in shape by regular breaks from reading. Reading books has to compete with church, family, gardening, bicycling, other exercise, and miscellaneous entertainments – all for my continued well-being.

15. Books. To spread the necessity, values, and enjoyment of books. When you are possessed by such a wonderfully profitable opportunity, how can you keep it to yourself?

The above 15 list appeared to me on Facebook and was printed on 1 September 2014. I finally got around to stating my own wishes. The original is clever and emphatic. My responses represent my preferences about the subject at hand that I want to reveal as best I can.

Corrected and slightly revised, 1 January 2016.


Copyright © 2015 by Roger Sween.

Practice of Policy

April 4, 2014

A Reflection on Selecting Books

I have written previously (Acquisitions) that as a proprietary operation, the CeptsForm Library builds its collection through intellectual interests constrained by opportunity. All libraries reflect the public (or publics) they serve. The major types of libraries are those that have larger publics – school, public, academic, and specialized – each situated under some parent body to which they are responsible. Private libraries are the outsiders that typically serve distinct persons with less formality than those libraries with wider publics.

CeptsForm Library is personal since it focuses on me in particular and is formalized to some extent because I am a librarian by profession and practice and because I favor learning by reading. Having a working library and being deliberate about it suits my personality and supports my major interests. These interests emanate from learning, thinking, and writing in ways that fixate on what I want to know since my questions are a vacuum that my nature abhors. Finally, I want to utilize what I know.

On Saturday, 29 March 2014, I went to the book sale held by the Friends of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries as I had in the September before and a year before that. Saturday sales are a madhouse because of their clearance nature and rock-bottom prices at $4.00 per bag. I brought two box-bottom cloth bags so that I could fill one and then divide the load after purchase and distribute the weight between two hands. As it turned out, our grandson – a UW senior in English and History – came along and I gave him one bag for his purchases.

Benjamin headed for literature while I honed in on philosophy and religion. Afterwards I pawed through the social sciences table. Relatively few books remained after sales since the middle of the week, about 90-100 titles on each table. Though I am very fussy about what I buy, I still walked away with 16 books for the $4.00 – 25 cents apiece. When I got home and could check what I had bought against my collection, I found that I had picked 4 titles (25% of my selections) that I already owned. The whole experience led me to think again about the motivations and constraints that drive book buying in the face of the rewards and failures that result from book selection.

Formally organized libraries have selection policies intended to guide their purchases in anticipation of meeting user interests and needs. Typically they are on the alert for new resources that are most likely to be of immediate use. (Atypical are the largest libraries – the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Illinois, etcetera – that collect for future possible or likely use.) My interests are also immediate, given my lifespan, and I do care about what is new where newness is appropriate, but most of my interests are reflective of long-term cultural, intellectual and artistic pursuits. I join C.S. Lewis in appreciation of old books because their perspectives are often illuminating when pursuing the human story.

Therefore, when consciously formal about my own library selection practice, I consider the following aims and conditions.

1. The size of our house limits the maximum size of the collection. I estimate having approximately 6,000 titles. Whatever the number, additions necessarily require as many volumes withdrawn.

2. Though my interests are wide, I have learned that you can buy the “best books in the world” for very little money as long as you are happy with classics and other older and immediately less popular titles. All selection takes is patience and willingness to frequent those discount places that deliver on the tedium of examining their offerings. Some thrifts are in such disarray, I want to organize their shelves. Instead I speed along or go someplace more orderly.

3. My intentions are to learn as broadly and deeply as my life allows. I want to achieve a self-correcting perspective, discover our past, understand issues, work for equality, think more deeply and write more effectively.

4. Not all books acquired can be read entire during a lifetime, but they can be useful for reference. Usefulness enhances when books are specific, especially if they have indexes or at least revealing tables of contents. Alas, many books are poorly indexed or not at all.

5. Books fulfill the reference function best when easily located in an established classified system that one can comprehend in enough depth to facilitate retrieval. I have used the Library of Congress classification for my books since I was a college student, even before I became a librarian.
In my latest selection experience, I acquired the 16 books in a little over half an hour. I expedited my selections by quicker decisions than in the previous year. Two factors changed me: recognition of the competitive atmosphere for the low price books and appreciation of the opportunity to trade duplicated books at used book stores for credit.

Here are the happy results, briefly described in their call number order.

B755.H8: Isaac Husik, A history of mediaeval Jewish philosophy (1958; 1st published 1916). Philosophy is one of my major interests. Except for a few individuals, most histories do not cover Jewish and other non-Western philosophers at all well. Husik, a pioneer in this field, makes up for the lack.

BD221.H37: James F. Harris, Against relativism: a philosophical defense of method (1992). How we know what we know and with what level of certainty remain constant, central questions in philosophy. I tend towards informed certainty in my desire to lead a rational life.

BJ1025.D53: John Dewey, Theory of the moral life (1960; redacted from Ethics, rev. ed. Part II (1932). I have yet to understand Dewey’s influence in American philosophy, education, culture, and government. He seems controversial: I have too few of his books to learn why.

BL50.T69: Arnold Toynbee, An historian’s approach to religion (1956; from the Gifford Lectures in 1952 & 1953). Toybee, facing off Spengler, were all the rage when I was young and moving towards becoming a historian. I have some of his other books of historiography. Besides, though I am a rationalist, religion is the largest growing category in my library.

BR85.H574: Paul L. Holmer, The grammar of faith (1978). If “godtalk” is to be qualitative, meaningful, and pertinent – all matters dear to my heart – theology has  requirements which Holmer explores.

BR127.E25: Diana L. Eck, Encountering God: a spiritual journey … (1993). Eck is a scholar in the area of the “mannyness” of God and therefore of religious pluralism, an increasing characteristic of urbanism and inclusivity within the United States.

BS1171.2S4: Morris S. Seale, The desert Bible: nomadic tribal culture and Old Testament interpretation (1974). Seale offers theologians a challenge by revealing the character of nomadic life and comparing Hebrew and Arabian parallels in literature. Ancient culture remains a long time interest and supplies my thinking for a series of imaginative novels.

BS1235.2.W453: Claus Westermann, Genesis: an introduction (Scullion, 1992). Likely the most technical of the books I bought, but a storehouse of examination on the scholarship concerning this Old Testament book. I have other titles discoursing on Genesis: none are this comprehensive, yet they all concern matters that remain under constant discussion.

BT1390.W33: Benjamin Walker, Gnosticism: its history and influences (1993). The Gnostics were philosophical and religious exponents in the early Christian period, ultimately regarded as heretical. Gnosticism has flourished again with the recovery and popular distribution of their ancient texts. I questioned whether to keep this book, doubting the standards of the publisher and credibility of the author. Amidst hundreds of books on Gnosticism, this one is on the more popular side. Yet it seems comprehensive with an extensive bibliography.

BV5080.C5: The Cloud of unknowing (Walsh, 1981). Dating from the latter 1400s in Middle English by an unknown author, this text is a major resource in Christian spirituality, particularly of a mystical nature. I remain doubtful about mysticism, yet want to know it and remain primarily interested in its medieval setting. I have another edition, The Cloud of unknowing and other works (Wolters, 1978) but decided to keep both since the source manuscripts, translations, and introductory materials vary between the two editions. Walsh has a broader introduction; Wolters includes other cognates of The Cloud, evidently by the same unknown author.

HD881.H625: Thomas Henry Hollingsworth, Historical demography (1969) in the series The Sources of History: Studies in the Uses of Historical Evidence. Though I do not have the same inquisitiveness I once did about historiography except in the philosophical and theoretical sense, I remain fascinated over the puzzles and data of past populations. Also a work of this kind may be informative to my portrayal of imagined civilizations and cultures.

JC599.U5C59: Henry Steele Commager, Freedom, loyalty, dissent (1954; incorporates essays published 1947, 1952, 1953). Until college, I found U.S. history dull in comparison to all that had gone before. Dr. Erling Jorstad changed all that and in the process, Commager became one of my heroes. Noted for his The American Mind (1950) , this later book also relates the intellectual and social life of the country with the basic issues of a democracy and the necessity of freedom and inquiry to a fruitful democratic process. I was excited to find this book, key to the ongoing civic discussion of these days or any day.

LB7.C78: Common learning: a Carnegie Colloquium on General Education (1981). Since learning as distinguished from education qua schooling is a central intellectual issue for me, this book by its very title leaped to my attention. It seemed all the more relevant since I am preparing for a discussion a week away on “Common Core” a standardizing curricular program adopted by 40 states. This book has a humanities bent except for an article on “The Natural World,” along with “The Quest for Common Learning,” “Heritage and Traditions,” “The High School-College Connection,” amid other entries. I like nothing so much as the long range view of context.

Three duplicates of editions I already hold will be traded for credit. They are The vocation of man by Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1987; 1st published 1800); Victorian England: portrait of an age by G. Malcolm Young (2nd ed, 1953); and The immortal profession: the joys of teaching and learning by Gilbert Highet (1976).

I have pondered what this book selection experience means in its peculiarities. Of course, the sales at a university library would pertain and appeal to the academic and scholarly persona I inhabit. Issues represented by the books chosen cluster around my primary or focal interests. As other past instances also show, I often select books that already won my favor, purchased, and still retain because they center on my concerns and preferences. I hope to regenerate a brief alphabetical list of all the books I currently hold so that I can check my memory when buying books in the future. It would be good to have this in an easily carried digital device.

Coincidentally, the room in which this sale took place is part of space the UW-Madison reference collection and undergraduate library occupied when I was in graduate Library School. Not only did I do most of my studying at those tables, I examined every book on the shelves as I went through the entire undergraduate library collection. I noted the ones that I thought would be worthwhile for me to read or add to a school library where I was working. In comparison, the place looks squalid and trashy now, except for the days that it is overrun with readers and book dealers as hungry for books as I am.

Copyright © 2014 by Roger Sween.

I welcome comments on this post. For personal contacts with me, send directly to my email address.

Static State: 2013

December 20, 2013

What happened this year?

At base, I am bound by the limitations of space. I miss the days when I tracked the changes in Ceptsform Library on an annual basis that showed absolute growth in the number of added volumes less those withdrawn and the resulting proportional changes among the subject categories. Such a system ended when the cascade of metal shelves toppled the center part of the library stacks and forced me to “weed” the collection under a new set of priorities. Deselection accelerated under the decision to move and shift the collection to what had been the family room in the house we bought. I estimated enough room for about half the collection – approximately 6,000 titles. I still do not know how many I actually have. I do know that space is at a premium.

This year’s more careful count shows than the years since 2008 account for 151 volumes added and those subtracted at, least 108 volumes. Volumes withdrawn prior to May were not documented in the same way, but I know they constituted a few sacks. Most of these books go to Ramsey County Library or charitable organizations. Some that I consider out of date or too technical for other users, I turn into recycled paper.

Acquisitions this year fill the following classifications –

A  Genera/Miscellany  1  The Great Ideas Today, 1961.

B-BJ  Philosophy  15  Notably: Hadas, Humanism; Vico, Keys to the New Science; Lasch, The Minimal Self; Haidt, The Righteous Mind; Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity.

BL-BX  Religion  35  Notably: Hering, Writing to Wake the SoulNew International [chronological] Bible; Hall, What Christianity Is NotLutheran Perspectives on Biblical Interpretation; Bruggeman, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth; Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.

D  Other Countries  14  Notably: Kubizek, The Young Hitler I Knew; Loraux, The Divided City: … ancient Athens; Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages.

E-F  United States  10  Notably: Lopez & Herbert, The Private Franklin; Gopnik, Angels and Ages: … Darwin, Lincoln, and modern life; Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas?

G  Geography  3  Notably: The Travels of Ibn Battutah.

H  Social Sciences  11  Notably: Himelfarb, One Nation, Two Cultures; Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers; Murray, The Law of the Father: patriarchy.

J  Political Science  7  Notably: The Portable Edmund Burke; Purdy, A Tolerable Anarchy: … the making of American freedomRobert’s Rules of Order, 11th ed.

L  Education  2  Notably: Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

M  Music  1  Ross, The Rest is Noise.

P  Language & Lit  12  Notably: Maggio, Talking about People: … fair and accurate; Culler, Literary Theory; Brady, Story Logic and the Craft of Fiction; Everyman and Mankind (Bruster & Rasmussen).

Q  Sciences  5  Notably: The World of Mathematics (4v.).

U  Military  1  Warry, Warfare in the Classical World.

Individual literary works  34  Notably: Auden, Collected Poems; Chmielarz, Love from the Yellowstone Trail; Hasse, Earth’s Appetite; Kafka, The Man Who Disappeard (America); Oliver, New and Selected Poems, v.1-2; A Shakespeare Glossary (Onions) 3rd enl. & rev. ed.

As it stands now, my book collecting is most heavily influenced by my need to know for writing purposes and my wide-ranging interests which all boil down to trying to understand myself and others besides the book clubs where I participate and the recommendations of my maturing grandchildren. You can see my primary interests and representative prime discoveries. For the full list of 2013 acquisitions, see Additions 2013.

Copyright © 2013 by Roger Sween.

I welcome comments on this blog. For personal comments to me, send to my email.

Resolving to Resolve

December 15, 2013

Reflections on Resolutions Made for 2013

2013 closes: ten resolutions for the year stare me in the face. For some reason – a possible swell of optimism at the end of 2012 – I held a positive view that I could and would accomplish a lot in the new year. How did I do?

To begin, I was very good about documenting what I attempted. Accordingly, I perused the list from time to time in hope that the challenge and inevitability of deadlines would encourage attentiveness. I admit to difficulty. My journal, spotty in itself, grows large with mea culpas for lack of accomplishment as I berate myself. Compared to my ambitions, I remain a slacker.

Here goes.

>1: Be more discerning in use of time.

Proficient use of time remains the essential challenge. I finish most days with regret. I have been lazy, foolish, misdirected. I moan as I retire to bed, chastising myself for falling behind schedule. I realize now that this primary resolution is vague, imprecise, and therefore without measurement. At base, I have a tendency to do the easy and habitual things before the ones that require more application. At least, I finally realize I am running out of time and may not live to be 100 as expected.

>2. Finish writing at least one novel to my satisfaction, likely The Rodi first.

With the online writing class that I took December 2012 into January 2013, I felt a new urgency to complete one of the novels I have left adrift. A couple years previous, I identified drafts of 12 novels in various stages of incompleteness. The Rodi, the story of the early life of Vodarodi up to the founding of Loria, exists as I left it in 1980-1981. I had tried a trilogy, composed of his whole life; unfortunately, the latter two parts lack dramatic impact. Still, the first story would work with benefit of close editing. Also, it stands first in a long series of projected novels that pivot the history of Loria. Unfortunately, as is often the case with me, I started wandering through the earlier background and suddenly found myself working on The Company of Seidor. Seidor is the founder of the culture from which Vodarodi and Loria are the primary inheritors. Of course, rooting Company becomes in itself a mammoth task that requires me to invent, discover, or conclude the pre-existing situation and in sufficient detail to furnish the story. I am once more thrashing about. For more background, see Loria Series.

>3. Read more books, at least 20 works of literature.

I am perpetually curious, usually about the fundamentals of issues and other subjects that help me to grasp why we are in the midst of situations as they presently daunt us. I have about 6,000 titles in my personal library that constitute a reference resource when I suddenly have to know something more profoundly and readily than I can find by other means. Mostly, therefore, I read many books only in part for aspects pertinent to my questioning. Otherwise, for  literature I want to read entire works. I thought 20 a doable number because in practice I read 11 issues a year of Poetry magazine and ten novels in the book club Classics for Pilgrim. I also read the plays we see at the Stratford (Ontario) Theatre Festival. I might manage a few other titles besides. This year the novels, plays and poetry books in the order read are:

Penelope Lively, How It All Began. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. Grahame Greene, The Power and the Glory. Robert Penn Warren, All the Kings Men. William Golding, Lord of the Flies. Tom Hennen, Darkness Sticks to Everything. Robert E. Hanson, Warrior Poets. Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot. Noel Coward, Blithe Spirit. Fredrick Schiller, Mary Queen of Scots. William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure and Othello. Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems; v.2. Owen Wister, The Virginian. Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio. Sinclair Lewis, Main Street. Edith Wharton, Age of Innocence.

I also read entire two short non-fiction books: Antonio Maldo, Do You Believe? Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak. Also a major biography by Anne C. Heller, Ayn Rand.

If I manage to better superintend my life, I expect to read more in 2014.

>4. Write more blog posts for Classics, Books Read, Marriage Equality, Highlights.

Again, I have not made the progress I wanted. After a major endeavor to chronicle my online writing course experience a year ago, I have not finished that article. I have failed to update the new listings for Classics. I did review the two short non-fiction books read. (See Read in 2013.) And I did evaluate the plays seen at Stratford. (See Stratford Theatre Festival.) Mostly, I faithfully update the year’s additions to my library. I have spent time on a new blog, Marriage Arguments, without really moving on from the flooring. Neither have I organized all the clippings I gathered over the last three years. At least our efforts for marriage equality in Minnesota came to a successful conclusion. (See Marriage Arguments.)

>5. Get all of my papers out of the jumble of boxes and into organized files.

Despite minor progress, the jumble remains. I can organize a whole box of stuff when I push myself, but progress is painfully slow. I throw away a lot of debris in the process but mostly lack empty file space to place the desired records. I am saving for a couple more 4-drawer file cabinets. I need to explore going to digital files specifically for the stuff I create.

>6. Ride my bicycle every week when the temperature is above 50°F.

Hardly enough. I rode more for the few days I visited Robert Hanson in Wisconsin and when we were together at our 55 year high school class reunion than biking the rest of the year. Pathetic!

>7. Write 3-4 short stories and send them out.

I made a start. I have ideas for stories of imaginative fiction and identified The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as a possible place to send them first.  Capsule descriptions follow. People have become used to everything “In the Twinkling of an Eye.”  What explains the rise in retirements (suicides) among those living “More Abundantly.” Adolf Hitler and Franz Kafka meet one night in “Coincidence.” Nietzsche’s sister Elizabeth encounters the descendants of Frankenstein’s creature and wife in “The Overman.” An author’s dictation machine makes suggestions how his stories will be improved in “Vox ex Machina.” In “Franklin DC,” the future is different since Benjamin Franklin lived to become the first U.S. president.

>8. Cultivate a 12×15 foot garden plot to grow vegetables and flowers that resist pests?

We did not have the Asian beetles of the previous year: the lot produced salad tomatoes and red onions in abundance plus one squash. Assorted marigolds and dusty miller sets did well. It took a lot of weeding and watering and time away from the preceding endeavors. I decided not to do it again. Because of three weeks away in August, I failed to make green tomato pickles this year and am now out. Curses!

>9. Brush up on my French and Latin and make a start with German.

Alas, only a wish. Future travel plans require an intense effort in Norwegian instead.

>10. Keep my pledge not to serve on committees.

More good intentions. I see I can no longer chair Pilgrim’s garden committee since I do not live close enough for regular supervision. I do answer every call to facilitate Bible reading and conversation plus other special events – a Lenten reflection, St. Paul Area Synod Assembly, Pastor Carol’s 25th anniversary of ordination, and likely organize Classics for Pilgrim book club the rest of my life. MACAE successfully dissolved this year, then held a luncheon reunion of past members. I did take on the AAUW Minnesota Nominating Committee and subsequently agreed to chair.

So what have I learned? 10 is not a magic number. Prioritize. Focus. Improve habits. Attend. Chunk. Keep to schedule. Reflectively journal more.

What’s next? See Resolutions for 2014.

Copyright © 2013 by Roger Sween.

I welcome all comments on blog articles. For personal comments to me, send to my email.

Stratford Theatre Festival

August 31, 2013

Theatre Festival, 2013

We began going to the Theatre Festival of Canada in Stratford, Ontario in 1999, a short visit that first time. We fell in love with the experience and afterwards planned to stay for a week in order to get the most out of each stay. The performances are delightful in many ways, even though we have not liked them all or equally. Part of the attraction is also the ambience of Stratford as a place developed around an appreciation of theater and theater-going. The buoyant atmosphere rides on irresistible bookstores, concert variety, unique dining, art-in-the-park, and forum presentations. Over the years, we worshiped with Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Lutherans. At first we flew to Toronto, another wonderful place, and rented a car. Mostly we have driven and discovered spots along the way or visited nearby places in Ontario. Our trips coincide with our August wedding anniversary, an excellent way to celebrate. Stratford has become for us a total aesthetic experience.

We did not attend the year Pat had chemotherapy or the year we could not find enough plays we wanted to see, and the year we had our Red Wing house to sell, nor the year of our 50th anniversary. So this year was our 11th visit and perhaps our last depending on future claims for our attention.

We see many of the same plays together and a few separately. Pat is more attracted to musicals than I am. However, I did see Three Penny Opera, a pallid English rendition of the more klezmer-styled and robust Dei Dreigroschenoper, and Evita – too much screaming for me. Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris remains the major exception for the most engaging musical production I have seen. I prefer seeing plays that I have not seen performed before or else my favorites – Euripides’ Medea, The Tempest, Much Ado about Nothing. I am fussy and have walked out of Comedy of Errors (2007) Molière’s Don Juan (2006), and one of Jonson’s comedies (Every Man Out of His Humor?) each because it was done with too much farce, slapstick, and ribaldry for my tastes.

I endeavor to familiarize myself with each play by reading or viewing a video in advance. Of course, some performances are new and not available in advance copy. Here follows this year’s lineup in the order I rank them.

1st: Schiller, Mary Stuart (1800) in a new version by Peter Oswald, seen August 11, Patterson Theatre. Two of Stratford’s most accomplished and popular repertory players carry the two strong-willed leads – Lucy Peacock as Mary Queen of Scots and Seana McKenna as Elizabeth I. Schiller’s play posits these two queens meeting as a confrontational hinge in the plot. No such meeting happened, but otherwise the framework of the tragedy is historical. Mary, the daughter of James V, had a French Catholic mother and wed as a child to Francis II in France. She returned to Scotland childless upon his death. Though Scotland had gone Presbyterian, courtesy of John Knox, she would not abandon her Catholicism. Mary mismanaged her hold on the Scottish throne. Soon forced to abdicate in favor of her son, James VI, she fled into England for support. Instead the English held her under house arrest for 19 years. The play recapitulates this history through the few days between a sentence of death against Mary for her complicity in Catholic attacks on Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s anxiety over approving the execution of another queen, her cousin, and possible heir, and the execution that follows offstage. Relationships between queens and courtiers are intricate and the results that follow become dressed in denial. The performance received an immediate standing ovation. Extended three times through the season, it is sold out for its whole run.

2nd: John Murrell, Taking Shakespeare, a contemporary play, seen August 14, Studio Theatre. What we knew about this new play, not yet in print, was sketchy, but we went because Martha Henry had the lead. This season, her 39th, began in 1962 when she was Miranda in Tempest. We had seen her as Mrs. Alving in Ibsen’s Ghosts, and I had marveled at her role as the Chorus in The Trojan Women. Here she plays an older English prof, idiosyncratic and strong willed but with high standards that cannot be compromised with the everyday requirements of academic life. Luke Humphrey, also D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers this season, plays Murph, age 24 and still finding himself. Murph is struggling with his Shakespeare class and the Dean, who happens to be his mother, has asked the prof to take him on and get him through Magnusson’s class. She will not coddle him and he will not settle for the ordinary. Though they seem at a dead end from the beginning, she has the wit to keep him challenged and thinking for himself, and Murph – for seeming a slacker – knows an amazing amount and can make the connection  between the classic memes and the contemporary issues that echo them. Surprisingly, the play’s focus turns on reading Othello and making exegetical meaning out of it. Their contacts last over five sessions, once a week. They end suddenly when the Dean agrees that the prof is taking too much time, and the administration fires her from her position termed  “conditional tenure.” Even though she can turn a rebellious student around so that he is as passionate about Shakespeare as she is, she does not follow the requirements and traditions that academia requires in these days of cost-cutting competition.

3rd: Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1953) in his English version, seen August 17, Patterson Theatre. I read Godot in 1959 when existentialism was a philosophy to be explored and Beckett rode high among college intellectuals. I found it difficult, tedious actually, and could find no sense in it. I could not get with the rage and questioned why Beckett was so intentionally irrational. Was he deliberately obfuscated? An oft-quoted summation of Godot is that it is a play in which “nothing happens, twice.” Actually a lot happens, i.e., transpires; but we do not detect progress. I have to agree that the play has its difficulties, but my second attempt with it has become qualitatively different from my first. Between times, I have matured, grown tolerant toward ideas different from my own, and become adept at holding myself against a rush to closure. Further, seeing something excellently performed is far superior to reading it once. One way I observed Godot this time is how it runs contrary to traditions of plot and patterns of communication. So much of what is said and shown is outside of temporal sequence and ordinary speech. The audience laughed at these departures, seemingly embarrassed as to what to do, how to respond. One woman giggled at nearly every line. About 20 people left at the intermission. As for me, I wonder now if what Beckett puts forth is a call to all humanity to wake up to its possibilities. In Act 2, Vladimir says

Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something, while we have a chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us! What do you say? (Estragon says nothing.) – Grove Press c1982, p.90

4th: Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (1604) seen, as directed by Martha Henry, August 14, Patterson Theatre. I have discovered from Stratford attendance that even Shakespeare’s lesser or minor works are superior to most available literature. I did not know Measure and watched, via Netflix, a 1979 production from the BBC series of Shakespeare’s complete works. What I saw at Stratford was superior to what I had viewed at home, mostly due to the acting of Geraint Wyn Davies as the Duke and the more convincing use of disguise in that role. The theme includes issues of what constitutes justice and mercy along with Shakespeare’s recurrent interest in responsible government and good order. The problem in Measure is how to save the life of Claudio who is to be executed for fornication outside of wedlock when his marriage went afoul of dowry settlements and the prospective bride is pregnant. The Duke of Vienna has taken on the guise of a friar in order to view what is actually going on in the city. He has left it to a minister to exercise authority in his absence, one Angelo. Isabella, about to enter a religious order, attempts to gain her brother’s pardon from the death sentence, but Angelo is firm.

We must not make a scarecrow of the law, / Setting it up to fear the birds of prey, / And let it keep one shape, till custom make it / Their perch and not their terror. – II,i,1

Angelo, is himself in lust with Isabella and bargains to free Claudio if she will submit to him. Isabella is horrified at the idea on moral grounds.

Better it were a brother died at once, / Than that a sister, by redeeming him, / Should die forever. – II,iv,6

Then, Isabel live chaste, and brother, die: / More than our brother is our chastity. – II,iv,183

The Duke, still working behind the scenes, counsels Isabella to pretend meeting Angelo’s demands, but request a darkened room. He then supplies Mariana, whom Angelo once agreed to marry. Returning as the Duke, he calls the principals before him. A pirate’s head substitutes for Claudio’s, and there will be marriages all around: Claudio to Juliet, Angelo to Mariana, and the Duke offering himself to Isabella.

The very mercy of the law cries out / Most audible, even from his roper tongue: / ‘An Angelo for Claudio; death for death. / Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure; / Like doth quit like, and Measure still for Measure.’ – V,i,406

Compare Measure’s conclusion with“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” – Matt. 7.1-2 KJV. This play deserves more attention and recognition.

5th: Shakespeare, Othello (1604?), seen at the Avon Theatre, August 13. I have never seen Othello, nor read it since high school, junior year, I think. Yet, because so many references are made to it in our culture, the play seemed imagistic and vivid to me. I had high expectations of seeing it the first time. Though the stage was a tilted rhombus, rotated to various uses that seemed stark and abstract, the costumes plunged us into the opulent Venetian renaissance, not only of the Doge and Senators, but of all principals. Graham Abbey led the way in convincingly portraying the divine devil of Iago. Dione Johnston looked the part of Othello, but the “foreign” accent he adopted masked his delivery of many lines: he showed the necessary range of emotions without always conveying what he meant. The result was that this impassioned husband jumped to jealousy, particularly over the lost handkerchief, thereby failing to convey the verity of what this token meant to him. Contrast these failings with the utter horror of Othello strangling and smothering Desdemona and you will realize the tragedy of what could have been. We saw a pre-opening performance. The opening the next day received rave reviews in the Toronto Star.

6th: Noël Coward, Blithe Spirit (1941), seen at the Avon Theatre, August 16. I was most eager to see the play because of a delightful memory of having seen it before on television. That would have been in 1966 on the Hallmark Hall of Fame. Actually, I remembered nothing specific except that Ruth Gordon played Madame Arcati, the idiosyncratic medium, and she was sprightly, unique, and of pure ingenuity as an actress. When the curtain went up, the audience – as it sometimes does – applauded the set, an elegant and spacious living room in a grand country house. Brian Bedford, who seems to specialize in Coward, had been the director. He retained credit though he was convalescing with cancer treatments. We had seen him Private Lives, a more subtle and enjoyable play. Coward is a most clever wit, who delights in targeting ordinary domestic life, specifically marriage. He subtitled this play “an improbable farce,” and so it most definitely is. Charles Condomine is a successful author. He and his wife, Ruth, invite another couple to a dinner, which is to be followed by a séance with the local eccentric, a medium. Pre-dinner conversation is about Elvira, Charles’ first wife, deceased seven years before. Thus introduced, Elvira arrives through the séance from the other side, but is visible only to Charles. Charles finally convinces Ruth of her presence, and Ruth becomes all the more jealous of the first wife. Elvira desires Charles to join her among those who have passed over and fixes the car so that Charles will be killed, but Ruth drives off and becomes the victim. Endeavoring to get rid of Elvira, Charles calls Madame Arcati back to return Elvira. However, the madness increases as the ghost of Ruth now appears and the two wives join up in pestering Charles, who flees from the house as it falls apart. I found the play and its performance loud, crass, stupid, and brutal – all contrary to my memories of it. I was especially disappointed with Seana McKenna’s role as Madame Arcati who had nothing of the bounce and delight of the Ruth Gordon portrayal I so dearly remember (or have reconstructed in my own mind).

Addditional to seeing these plays, I also attended on Thursday of that week, a 9:30 a.m. Stratford Forum on “Faith and Religion in Shakespeare.” Many forums during most weeks provide background on the plays, some for an additional charge. This one was free, and the 480-seat Patterson was nearly full. The hosts – Antoni Cimolino, Artistic Director, and Paul Edmondson – led a question and answer session. Cimolino’s comments were precise and brief. Edmondson had much more to say: after all, he is the Head of Knowledge and Research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. He began with a prepared paper on religious connotations in the plays and the background of Shakespeare’s time. The Act of Uniformity, establishing the Book of Common Prayer and the administration of the sacraments, had been undergoing change since Edward VI as England and Wales moved towards Protestantism. Still the Church of England retained a number of Catholic “hooks” to appease and retain the population. Under Elizabeth I, church attendance was required. The flux of the times meant that artists had to steer a non-commital course on faith issues. Shakespeare, (once thought to be a Catholic) in order to avoid state censorship, is carefully non-sectarian, but spiritual or medieval in his religious references. Questioners in the audience sought specific answers. Edmondson’s usual response was that Shakespeare presents situations that are exploratory and questioning in themselves and do not answer with specifics. Instead he shows the relevant currency of events happening through the dramatic conflicts portrayed. Romeo and Juliet choose suicide (hell) rather than being apart (keeping love out). Shylock the Jew, asks ‘is not a Jew a man?’ At this point, Edmondson recited Shylock’s speech from memory, as he did with many other spontaneous references. His conclusion is that Christianity is vibrant in Shakespeare’s plays.

Much more on the Stratford Festival exists online, including excerpts from some of the forums.

After a week of seven plays – we saw five together and I saw Measure while Pat saw Fiddler on the Roof – we made our way home, stopping in Kalamazoo MI and Madison WI on the way. This could be our last trip to Stratford, depending on other interests and commitments. We find it difficult to break away.

Copyright © 2013 by Roger Sween.

I welcome comments on this post. For personal comments directed to me, use my email address.