Empty Shelf Book: Choosing the right medium

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Disclaimer: This is not a scene from the Iliad at all. The Trojan Horse does not appear in The Iliad. Everything you thought you knew was a lie.

Title: The Iliad

Author: Homer*,  translation Richard Lattimore, narrator Charlton Griffin

What it’s about: “The anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation.” If you don’t know the story of the Iliad, there are spoilers ahead. The Iliad is about a few days toward the very end of the Trojan war. It doesn’t actually include the story of the Trojan horse (sorry for the false advertising) or the abduction of Helen. It’s about what happens when Achilles gets mad at Agamemnon for disrespecting him, and then gets mad at Hector for killing his best friend. It’s about honor and glory and fate and meddlesome gods.

Why did I read (listen) to it: We’re studying ancient history this year, and the girls are going to read The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, along with some shorter works like Gilgamesh, a couple of plays, and some of the Bible (Job, for example.) But we listened to it instead of reading it, and that’s key.

The Iliad isn’t only an important work of the time in history we’re studying, but it’s a  foundation stone for all of Western literature. It’s kind of a big deal. And I’m of the (increasingly rare) opinion that we ought to know firsthand the stories, laws, and cultures upon which our civilization was built. So my girls are reading (or listening to) these works first hand, not relying on some sort of cultural osmosis, which is becoming less and less effective.

What I thought: The Iliad was made to be recited, most likely over the course of three days at an annual festival. Can you imagine hearing this while at a banquet? “Pass me the grapes.”

“This man Peneleos caught underneath the brow, at the bases
of the eye, and pushed the eyeball out, and the spear went clean through
the eye-socket and tendon of the neck, so that he went down
backward, reaching out both hands, but Peneleos drawing
his sharp sword hewed at the neck in the middle, and so dashed downward
the head, with helm upon it, while still on the point of the big spear,
the eyeball stuck.”

“Um, never mind. I’ll skip the grapes.”

I had read the Iliad a few years back. I’m very familiar with the story. But listening to the Iliad was a completely new and wonderful experience. When you hear it, you understand why it has endured for more than 2500 years.

Despite the stark differences in our cultures, you understand the enduring appeal. It also made me think about what it means to be a hero, and how “hero” is different from culture to culture. The girls are actually writing papers comparing a hero in our culture and a hero from the Iliad. Little Miss is comparing Benjamin Franklin and Nestor, and Sprite is comparing Harry Potter and Achilles. In fact, that’s probably what we talked about most: the nature of heroism. But if we listened to it again, something else would probably catch our attention. That’s what the classics do: make you think and rethink.

Actually, the girls were probably most struck by how gory it was. I don’t think they were expecting that.

Where you can get it: Here! (Also, your library!) But you’ll also need a bard, and that’s where Audible comes in very handy. Here’s a handy little tutorial about getting the most from an Audible account.

Notes on “teaching” the story: I’m greatly indebted to The Great Courses series on The Iliad. It gave me an understanding of the story and the context that helped a great deal, but I don’t think it was absolutely necessary if you want to read this with your kids. Other tools that were helpful were the charts from Teaching the Classics and some of the questions. The most useful resource in helping me start the discussions was this presentation by Andrew Kern “How to Teach Literature Without Killing the Student or the Book.” (FYI, That’s an autoplay audio file.) But my main tip is: don’t “teach” the book at all. Don’t get between your kid and the book, whatever it is. Yes, help them understand what they might miss, but don’t tear it apart so much they hate the story. Or you.

Perhaps the most helpful part of reading (listening to) The Iliad was that this is not a “new” story to the girls. They’ve heard these stories in various forms since they were tiny. They were already familiar with the basics of the story and the characters, so they didn’t have to spend a lot of time figuring out what was happening. Some good children’s versions are The Children’s Homer and Black Ships Before Troy. If you have an Audible account, and you get the kindle version of The Children’s Homer, you can get the Audible version for a couple of bucks.

Put on your yarmulke,

Here comes Hanukkah! Happy Festival of Lights, Jewish friends.

Nice little (auto-play) video explaining the historical significance of this holiday at History.com. Yeah, that’s probably a better observance than an Adam Sandler song. But not nearly as catchy.

Terrible Tuesday: emphathizing with the Grinch

Not in feeling grinchy about Christmas, but about it’s relentless approach, whether I’m ready or not. “He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming, it came! Somehow or other… it came just the same.” Oh yeah, I feel that.

Time’s a wasting links!

This made me do a nerdy dance of joy: time capsule opened that was buried in 1795 by Gov. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere and William Scollay.

Call me crazy, but maybe a radical change in our diets based on “well, it ought to work” wasn’t the smartest thing ever: 9 lies about fat that destroyed the world’s health.


shelf elf

I know this could come in handy, I just have no idea how: The Engineering Toolbox.

Litographs: the entire text of your favorite books on a t-shirt or tote. (Well, your favorite classic literature. Copyright law, etc.)

Via The Commonroom. There’s a lot of wisdom here:



By now, most people have heard that the fantastic Rolling Stone article on a horrific gang rape was, well, fantastic. As in made up, apparently whole cloth.

Then the New York Times reported the Pope said something he didn’t say. (Although I’m with Jazz Shaw on this, whatever the Catholic Church says.)

And now the press has reported on some sort of wiz-kid trader who allegedly made $72 million trading on his phone during lunch. Except some non-journalists called BS (similar to the Rolling Stone story), and it’s been walked back fairly quickly.

Then you have the wild and crazy speculation everytime a tragedy occurs. It almost always starts out “half a dozen gunmen armed with uzis riding dinosaurs!” and ends up “one disturbed guy with a couple of guns.”

Yeah, yeah, the 24-hour news cycle, everything happens too fast to fact check, blah, blah, blah. But if your job is to report facts and you don’t report facts, it doesn’t matter how fast it gets done, does it?


If the news is the first draft of history, the first draft of news is the the gossip from the girls bathroom at a middle school. And frankly, it makes every subsequent revision suspect. Maybe it’s just because it’s so much easier for laypeople to fact check the news. Maybe it’s always been full of crap, and we’re just catching on.

Either way, my first inclination when hearing breaking news is, “Perhaps, we’ll see.” And sometimes, “Do you have any idea what your even talking about? Do you realize how crazy that sounds?” That, more than anything else, is why the news industry is having trouble. If your product is “what’s happening” and you can’t get that right, why would anyone buy it?

To be fair, gullibility and getting things wrong is not limited to the media. One simply has to cast a critical eye on their Facebook feed to realize some people will believe anything, and then pass it on. But it’s one thing when Aunt Joan or that guy from high school posts the unbelievable. We really ought to be able to expect more from those supposedly dealing in what has actually happened.

What do you think? Do you believe the news, or do you even pay attention to it?


Lots of choices

One of the great thing about Christmas music is that if you don’t like one particular rendition of a song, you’ve got lots of options.

That being said, this is the best version of “Carol of the Bells,” no contest. (Yes, those Pentatonix kids are good, this is better.)

That’s not my favorite Christmas carol, though. That honor goes to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” with this version near the top of the list. I tend to favor instrumentals, obviously. Keaggy’s entire album with the London Philharmonic, Majesty and Wonder (af), is amazing.

What’s your favorite Christmas carol/version?

Empty Shelf: In Chapter 28, you’ll want to hit someome

reading promise

Title: The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared

Author: Alice Ozma

What’s it about: Imagine someone looking at  your life through the lens of one family tradition. I can’t think of many Thompson traditions that would lend themselves to such a view (chocolate chip pancakes on Saturday mornings probably wouldn’t offer much insight), but this book offers a fascinating glimpse at a father and daughter through one amazing tradition. When Alice was ten, she and her father made a deal that they would read aloud together every night, or he would read to her. They called it The Streak, and it lasted 3,218 nights, until he dropped her off at college.

Why did I read it: The author was highlighted in The Read Aloud Revival, a podcast I listen to, and I thought of The Streak was brilliant. I’ve read and listened to many parents talk about the value of reading aloud, and I was interested to get the perspective of the read-to kid.

What I thought:I really enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t always sure just what to think about the book. It’s neither a memoir nor an autobiography. (Thankfully, the author is lovely but far too young to write her memoirs.) It’s not exactly a family story, not exactly a coming of age story, but it’s a little bit of both. Mostly, it’s a story of a commitment to books and reading, and the people who make those types of commitments.

Book people are a special tribe. I don’t mean just “people who read.” Lots of people read, but they’re not necessarily book people. By book people, I mean people who cherish books and stories, who find the characters and places in literature friends and places of refuge. Mostly this book is about book people, and how being a book person can carry you through the ups and downs of life.

But in chapter 28, you’re going to want to hit someone.

Where you can get it: Here! (af)

Joyful chaos

Satchmo was born eight years ago today, two weeks before Christmas and the same day my husband finally received the long awaited transfer from Virginia to Texas. It was a chaotic time, to say the least: new baby, selling our house, and moving across the country. Symbolic of this chaos: he was born (via c-section) peeing on the doctor and the nurses. It was exciting!

The fourth kid in a homeschooling family has to put up with a lot of chaos. A kid born around Christmas has to get use to a lot making due with whatever mom can throw together in a really busy season. You’re either gonna wind up with a child who’s laid back and happy-go-lucky, or perpetually disappointed. Fortunately for him and us, he’s the former.

This morning he came into my room, and we cuddled and listened to the rain. Yesterday, we had a low key outing with a couple of homeschool families at Jump Street followed by ice cream. Tonight, we’ll have burgers and cake, and watch Newsies. His choice. Frankly, that’s about the extent of what I can handle this year, but his heartfelt gratitude and joy makes me feel not completely incompetent. Which these days is huge.

Any parent with more than one kid marvels at how very different they are. Each of my children blow me away with their unique personalities and gifts. But Satchmo, the last piece to our family’s puzzle, is in so many ways an unexpected treasure.

Happy birthday, little man. Thanks for being you.

satchmo lego

Seen while Christmas shopping


Yes, I am doing (almost) all my shopping online. Merry Christmas shopping. Stay sane. Buy through my Amazon portal no matter what your mental status!


You stupid, special snowflakes

Art, so I’ve been told by people smarter than me, is meant to provoke, to cause people to think and maybe even to take action. Colleges are also supposed to be places where people are challenged to think, sometimes even by provocative arguments or displays.

But today’s college student’s and faculty are apparently such special snowflakes that not only are they not able to handle views contrary to their own (see: the yearly disinvitation season), but they can’t handle statements that actually agree with them unless written in simple, declarative sentences. Preferably in crayon.

An art prof at the University of Iowa made an anti-racists display that does what art often does: turns a symbol on it’s head, subverting it’s original use/meaning for an opposing purpose. In this case, he made a huge decoupaged klansman from newspaper articles of past and current instances of racial violence. Unfortunately, it caused a big ol’ hissy fit from students and faculty who couldn’t be bothered to think about it for a hot minute and determine what this art was trying to communicate. Seriously, a big paper klansmen made of stories of racial violence. It’s not exactly subtle. But it could not be allowed to stand. Literally.  It was removed because the professor forgot to fill out the proper paper work, but the director of the journalism school even said, “If it was up to me, and me alone, I would follow the lead of every European nation and ban this type of speech.” So not are the students incapable of understanding political art, the journalism professor hates free speech. Comforting.

It makes you understand why artists go with stuff like this. Much harder to be offended by, except maybe the price tag.

onement VI

It’s almost as dumb as threatening to fire a janitor for reading a history book that detailed how college students defeated the Klan. (No, seriously, that happened. And the university only backed down after lengthy public shaming.) Apparently, the university-approved way of dealing with information about the Klan is shutting their eyes tight, putting their hands over their ears, and shouting, “Lalalalalala, I can’t hear you!”

“Too distraught to think” is something of an epidemic on college campuses, with law students at Columbia, Harvard, and Georgetown saying current events have left them too emotionally disturbed to take finals.

Look: I get that these are trying times, and I get being upset at the whole hot mess. But too upset to think at college? That’s bad enough, but it’s disgusting that rather than help students be ruled by their heads and informed by their hearts, university officials reward and reinforce knee jerk reactions. Should we expect lawsuits over the next few years when these now-employees are “too upset to work”? Who wants to be the first to tell them life doesn’t particularly care about their feelings?


Terrible Tuesday: Road to recovery

Over the past week or so, my family has been fluviated. First MTG went down, the Satchmo, the me, then Bulldozer. The girls are prancing around like they’re Wonder Woman. Women. Smarmy little hearty immune systems. (For those keeping count, MTG got the flu shot, the kids got the flu mist, and I got nothing. Yeah, the vaccine is for the wrong strain, but it definitely hit me a lot harder than anyone else. Whether that’s because of the minimal protection the vaccine provided or because I’m weak is anyone’s guess. )

But after a week and a half, we have woken up fever free. And even though I still feel like I was hit by a freight train and dragged ten miles (drug?), I’m going to say we’re over the worst and on the road to recovery. (Please stay healthy, girls!)

Weak as a kitten links!

Many of you are filling out Christmas cards now. I am not, because if I manage to pull off a Charlie Brown Christmas tree Christmas, it will be a miracle. But if you are, then please read this important article on pluralizing names. Hint: There are no apostrophes involved in the making of plurals. Ever.

MTG would like to draw our (but especially my) attention to these Cinnamon Bun Apple Galettes with Apple Whiskey Carmel Drizzle.

If I had known about this, all my kids would have had the middle name of Gotham. (Yes, I know it says specifically a boy, but I don’t see what’s so gender specific about Gotham.)

baby gotham

Advent calendar for science geeks: the Chemistry Advent Calendar.

If there’s no inflation except on the things that you need to actually survive (food, energy, etc), then yes, there is inflation. By 12% over the past five years. You stupid, pointy-headed idiots.  (Auto-play video at the link.)

Happiness is freedom and family. If you’re going to get a pet for Christmas, these guys would like you to consider adopting a shelter animal.

puppy rescue

Now I’m wiped out. I’m gonna go lie down.

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