Book Review: Little Lord Fauntleroy

Another book review by Matthew, with an unusual take on a classic. Enjoy and consider:

“You know you always remember people who are kind to you”
– Little Lord Fauntleroy

Little Lord Fauntleroy was first issued as a serial between 1885 and 1886 in the
children’s publication St. Nicholas Magazine and later the same year in book form.
The author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, wrote this serial for children but it quickly
became a favorite for mothers of little boys—much to their youthful chagrin.

The tale features a young boy and chronicles the significant events and people
influencing the course of his life from his birth to his 8th birthday. Cedric happens to
be beautiful, wise, winsome and charming beyond his years. His long curly hair,
black velvet suit and lace collar are frequently commented upon throughout the
story. The outfit quickly became popular among mothers which may give some
insight into the pains inflicted upon young boys whose mothers’ fancy was caught
by the little lord.

The cringe-worthy “morality tale” vibe is emblematic of the literary era during the
height of Victorian vapidity and easily leaves a reader with a sticky, cough
syrupy feeling. That said, I still found the story rich in the descriptions of
interpersonal relationships. Having spent some time recently in the book of
Ecclesiastes I was struck by the correlation between the “preacher” and Fauntleroy’s
grandfather. The connection between the two books assisted the general palatability
of Little Lord Fauntleroy and allowed me to observe the story from a much healthier
moral framework. The story’s contrast between limitless resources spent upon
one’s own appetites and the joy of spending on the needs of others is a strong one.
As much as one may object to the combination of innocence, goodness, and naiveté
in one character Burnett entwines the qualities quite charmingly.

The ability of the little lord to see the good in everyone or to project good upon
those who do not possess their own is curious and invites incredulity – an
invitation best left unanswered. He is also adept at choosing contentment in any
circumstance, and showing rapturous gratitude for any perceived kindness. Cedric
is more than willing to prove a loyal friend to anyone. The sheer number and
consistency of these characteristics did eventually wear down my cynicism and I
would gladly see them embodied.

This book seems best read by ages 8-10, or read aloud to a younger audience. I
would warn against any commentary from adults – allow a child to observe,
consider, and come to their own conclusions. Caveat: I would not call the book a
classic. Little Lord Fauntleroy does, however, highlight its era of literature. Some
little phrases here and there may require explanation, as they have been somewhat
lost to history. The references to historical events and ways of life may offer an
excellent opportunity for investigation into British and American history.

Book Review: The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead

Another excellent review from Matthew that is timely, if you have a graduate who is looking to make his way into the wide world. This work is decidedly aimed at a younger audience. Enjoy!

“You are in or near your twenties. You are intelligent. It’s not essential that you have a college degree, but you probably do … To put it another way, you are me long ago. For better or worse, I am giving you the same advice I would give to that vanished person.”
– Charles Murray (The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, p 12-13)

As many up-and-coming adults will attest the working world differs from expectations set in the college and university. They set out with the hope of finding and obtaining the perfect job after receiving their diploma only to being shocked by the existence of dress codes and “employee handbooks.” In short, many of my peers find themselves floundering in an environment for which they felt well prepared.

There are of course exceptions. A friend of mine works for his dad. Historically speaking this is a very natural progression and has not yet been entirely removed from the norm. Even so, in these times the higher expectation of responsibility is often an unexpected hurdle. In contrast, another of my friends have known they wanted to be a dentist since they were 8 and have pursued that path relentlessly.

For the rest of us who are barely initiated in the ways of “adulting” (read, “personal responsibility and discipline”) we find the challenge of managing bills, debt, income, insurance, taxes etcetera daunting and sometimes overwhelming. Add to the mix a serious relationship or thinking about one’s own faith critically for the first time and you find someone doing an impression of a confused and gasping toad flopping on the bank of the river wildly exclaiming: “You don’t understand, that fish was twice as big as I am and it tried to eat me!”

Enter Charles Murray, who is old enough to be your parent or grandparent but since he’s not them you might actually listen to him. Aside from proudly identifying as a curmudgeon, Murray is a political scientist and has authored and co-authored numerous articles and books. Some of his works have received national attention for sparking controversy. Whatever your view of his research, The Curmudgeon’s Guide offers to assist you in your pursuit of building your personal and professional life.

Allow me to recommend the book by taking a quick look at the table of contents: Under the chapter heading “On the Presentation of Self in the Workplace” Murray has broken the book into several short sections. Here are three: “On the proper use of strong language”, “Office emails are not texts to friends” and my favorite, “What to do if you have a bad boss”. I found these sections enlightening, engaging, and surprisingly wise.
As one who chooses to not engage in wholesale cussing I took some convincing that there could be anything good to say about the subject. However, when you consider the context of business conversations, the issue is not so much whether you use expletives but whether you are communicating clearly—The overuse of profanity can cloud your intended meaning and undermine your legitimacy just as much as blustering and sputtering like a spotless teakettle endeavoring to communicate frustration without a vocabulary. My take away was this: Getting the point across requires well thought out and crafted speech. Orator, consider your audience.

Earlier I stated that “What to do if you have a bad boss” was my favorite section. Summarizing it simply will not do it justice and consequently I will simply introduce it and encourage you to read it for yourself. “You’ve been working at your new job for six months, let’s say, and you’re so unhappy with your supervisor that you’re considering quitting. Here’s what you need to think through: Exactly what is bothering you?”(p 37) Murray springs from this introduction into many different situations and has very savvy advice for the young professional in each instance.

The remaining chapters contain advice and guidance on “Thinking and Writing Well”, “The Formation of Who You Are”, and “The Pursuit of Happiness.” In the writing section you will find the ever-poignant advice (even if you’re not a writer) “Don’t wait for the muse.” An excerpt:

The last of my tips about writing is simple and absolute: Don’t wait until you feel like it. Find out what time of day you write best and develop a routine that puts you in front of your keyboard and screen at whatever time that might be.

I will close this review by noting that the section on developing your unique identity contains, arguably, the most helpful advice for a young person—among these the section titled “Being judgmental is good, and you don’t have a choice anyway.”

“Try hard. Be true. Enjoy. Godspeed.”
– Charles Murray (The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, p 142)

Book Review: Death Comes for the Deconstructionist

Periodically I will be posting reviews of books that are interesting or useful in educating and expanding the mind, and this first one is a contribution by the honorable and generous Matthew. Feel free to send one in if you find a title that is particularly worthwhile or uplifting; include your first name, the book title, and a link to where it can be purchased or legally downloaded. Please enjoy:

“Something is wrong.”

With this opening line Daniel Taylor begins an intriguing tale woven through the streets of Minneapolis, the halls of the University, and the deep roots of Memphis. The main character Jon Mote has been hired by a Mrs. Pratt to investigate the murder of her husband. Dr. Richard Pratt, professor of literature at the U., champion of post-modernism out to slay the dragons of “repressive structures and meta-narratives”, spokesperson of “justice for the voiceless”, underminer of “the tyranny of the center…” Who could have possibly wanted to kill such a tower of free thought?

Mote is by no means a detective and is hardly in a position to offer help, but Dr. Pratt’s widow wishes to have it. Unable to hold down a job or sustain his marriage, Mote needs the income to support him while he lives with—and cares for—his sister. The late doctor was once Mote’s Ph.D. advisor, but Mote dropped out of the program after failing to produce a thesis in keeping with the philosophy of the department–a misguided fondness of literature came through in the argument.

As a reader, Taylor’s book was an introduction and clarification of the post-modern academy and philosophy. Dr. Pratt was a deconstructionist; the philosophy has served him well and he lived by it wholeheartedly. It assisted him in his rise to prominence as a lecturer, professor, and literary critic. You could go so far as to say he owed who he was or wasn’t (non-being is an option) to his strict and reverent adherence to the freedom of the vacuous faith.

Author and speaker Daniel Taylor has written numerous books and essays. He was born in Southern California, his pursuits in higher education were kicked off with a Bachelors (1970), and Masters and Doctorate in English (both 1974). Through the years he has traveled widely–the Czech Republic and Guatemala and Australia to name just a few. “Death Comes for the Deconstructionist” won the Fiction category for 2016 in the annual Christianity Today Book Awards. The novel also won the Illumination Award for best fiction (Independent Publisher).” The book was published in 2014 by Slant (an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers) and is a moderate 199 pages in length.

Deconstruction was the first of many words with which I was pleased to make renewed acquaintance as I read. I started keeping a dictionary handy after the first four words I tried to ignore. It started with monism and solipsism (both helpfully summarized). I finally gave in after nimbus and Duchamp on page 2. Though there are numerous words to acquaint ones self with Taylor does not alienate or intimidate his reader with new vocabulary. The extra time and effort taken really is worth the enrichment of the text. Here’s one to get you started.

Death Comes for the Deconstructionist is a well-thought-out, well-written story that allows the reader to consider a life lived in homage to thought that is wholly other than Christian. It is also well worth the read for the example of first-person style. I would recommend the book for 16+ as long as an avenue for mature discussion is available with a mentor.

“You have to be careful when you link up with a man who says he doesn’t believe in truth – capitalized or otherwise. Pretty soon he won’t believe in you either.” (p. 163)

Parental guide:
Through the story the protagonist is plagued by the memory of his sister’s rape (by his uncle); he also experiences flashbacks near the scene of the murder. In the story there is a non-graphic description of a lynching. There are references to adultery, stabbing, suicide, alcohol use, and demonic oppression. Other aspects to consider are a reference to the shocking behavior of Elvis Presley and a distinct absence of profanity.