Book Review: Y is for Yankee

In contrast to the three months it took me to force myself to complete Anna Karenina, only four days passed before I finished Mark Twain’s classic A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court — and it only took that long because I forced myself to repeatedly put it down so that I wouldn’t finish it overnight!

This work is obviously pure fantasy; check your disbelief at the door. The basic premise is that a 19th-century tradesman is mysteriously transported to and left in the time of King Arthur, eventually using his vast intellect and overwhelming experience to propel himself to the upper ranks of the court and to influence all human life in England. Having never read the short novel before, I was surprised at how much vital knowledge the gun-maker brought back with him from Connecticut through the 13 centuries: the exact times of solar eclipses of a long-gone millennium, war stratagems, the manufacturing of steamships, formulas for tooth rinse and gun powder, electrical power generation, the telephone. I doubt I could have done so well! Like I said, suspend thine disbelief!

While Connecticut Yankee is a fun romp through the sixth century, it simultaneously pokes fun at Victorian-era England and successfully undermines the church. The use of archaic language and structure sprinkled throughout can be a bit distracting, but manages to add to the overall flavor. Mixed in with myriad puns and jokes and oft full-blown hilarity is a shocking and disturbing violence that is accepted, endorsed, and often instigated by the lead character. Twain’s method of complete erasure of the newly introduced modern technology into an age not ready was very clever. This doom, foreseen by our protagonist, led him to prepare long in advance for the demise of everything for which he had hoped and worked — a sort of tragic comedy.

My only disappointment is that the adventure is now over. Off to find a new classic!

Book Review: K is for Karenina

Billed as one of the greatest love stories in world literature, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina would serve the reader better as two separate novels. The two primary characters — Anna, the beautiful and courtly infidel, and Levin, the introspective recluse — and their supporting cast have such infrequent interaction that I spent the last two-thirds of the epic wondering with eager anticipation how the two vastly different tales would be seamlessly woven together. I was unfortunately disappointed by the distracting division.

The novel’s namesake was an easy character to become interested in, despite the fact that I could not personally relate to any of her choices or tragedies. Her self-imposed plight, an unfortunately common but accepted one today, showcased the intricate machinations of 19th-century Russian upper-class society. Karenina’s tragic end was too abrupt, leaving me wanting more — perhaps because of the juxtaposition of the apparent violence of her death and its seemingly out-of-place peacefulness.

Levin began as an equally engaging character with which Tolstoy amazingly captured the internal thoughts of the spiritual soul-searcher. However, despite the eventual internal discovery of that which made Levin feel whole and divinely sound, the entire middle third of the novel was mired in drudgery and repetition. Character growth was slow if not stagnant. By the end, I couldn’t have cared less about Levin’s revelations; I would have preferred that the outcomes of the two leads to have been switched. The most interesting aspect of Levin is that he is essentially a mirror into the soul of Tolstoy, Leo himself having gone through the same introspections at the time of the writing of this novel.

I’m glad I read the 750-page tome, but Anna Karenina will be one of the few rare books that forever collect dust on my upper shelves, unlikely to be read by me again.

A Teenager’s Rights…

My teen daughter has been complaining lately that I’m mad at her all the time for just about anything, and that it’s getting both annoying and boring to her. She claims to listen to me, but cites that she has absolutely no idea why I am mad at her.

The sad thing is that she knows exactly why I am mad at her, and she makes the conscious choice to go down that wrong path. She knows that there are three basic things things that can set me off on a daily basis as a parent: (1) being disrespectful or having a terrible, nasty attitude; (2) making me wait for her when I pick her up after school; and (3) not doing her chores. Of course, this list is not all-inclusive and allows for other heinous real-life offenses such as flunking her core classes, sneaking out in the middle of the night to attend drug and alcohol parties with 18-year-old boys, and drinking vodka at a supposedly all-girls’ sleepover — with boys there!!

The first annoyance is almost inevitable. All teenagers have nasty, petty, horrible little attitudes at some point, so there’s really nothing that can be done about that. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to lie down and put up with the nasty, petty, horrible little attitude, but that problem should eventually go away — at least by the time she’s 30 years old.

The second issue, not showing up on time to be picked up from school, is very much avoidable on her part. There have been numerous occasions when I have been forced to wait up to 45 minutes for her to show up — with no real explanation or apology. Generally, all she has to do is to go to her locker, pack up whatever books she needs, and come to the side of the school to meet me; that takes about eight minutes, ten minutes at most. Her showing up late has become such a regular occurrence that I now arrive 10 to 15 minutes after the final bell in an attempt to avoid the volatile situation completely and the resulting inevitable confrontation. Yet, on occasion, she still makes me wait at least a half hour; just this last Monday she showed up 37 minutes after her last class — again, with no reasonable explanation or apology; she could only account for 15 minutes of the 37. On those now-frequent days she is properly waiting outside when I pull up, she interprets “Thank you for being on time today!” not as a token of gratitude, but instead as a reminder of previous offenses. If it’s not a day she gets yelled at for making me wait a half hour for her, it’s a day she brings home an issue with her from school. Either way, attitude usually ensues.

Number three is one of the biggest issues in our household — she will not do her chores. She’s luckier than most kids, because she only has six things to do every day: (1) clean the cat litter box, vacuuming or cleaning the surrounding carpet when necessary; (2) fill up the cats’ water container, cleaning it when necessary; (3) fill up the cats’ food container, cleaning it and the surrounding countertop when necessary; (4) change the frogs’ water; (5) take out the recycling that is accumulated indoors; (6) empty out any indoor trashcan that have anything in them. That’s it. It takes ten minutes. Twenty minutes if the cats are truly slobs that day. There are other weekly or as-needed chores, but this is the small list of tasks that must be performed every day.

She completely refuses to do her chores, citing that homework is more important than doing chores. When called to task on it, she states that “no one acknowledges that… teenagers have rights of a free mind and the freedom to say what they want, whether people think so or not.” She goes further, stating that she “is a human being and that she has the biggest say in her life — because it’s her life.”

Wrong. And irrelevant.

First of all, homework is not necessarily more important than chores. Both of those tasks are lumped together under the heading of Responsibilities. If a straight-A student graduates first in her class and she repeatedly ignores and refuses to follow the instructions of her new boss, not one of those A grades will prevent her from being fired. Responsibilities you are given as a child develop discipline. Without discipline, you are guaranteed to fail in the future.

Here are a teenager’s rights:

  • you have the right to live with people who love and care about you
  • you have the right to an education
  • you have the right to be safe at home and at school
  • you have the right to have food to eat, a place to live, and health care
  • you have the right to have a say about things that affect you
  • you have the right to be treated fairly and with respect
  • you have the right to be protected from harm

Addressing the first right, my teenager already knows that we love and care about her. She also knows that if we didn’t we wouldn’t care what the heck she did, or didn’t do.

She has the right to an education, which we and the State of California provide to her. I have never told her not to complete her homework, but I think it fair to request that she curtail talking on the phone, watching TV, playing with the cats, and generally goofing off in favor of completing her chores and her homework — her responsibilities. She also has the privilege of having her own work desk in her room, along with her own computer, phone, and restricted high-speed Internet access.

She has the right to feel safe at home and school, and to be protected from harm. We live in a neighborhood where our houses do not need bars over our windows and doors, and she has yet to come home from school suffering the losing end of some schoolyard brawl. ‘Nuff said there.

She has the right to food to eat, a place to live, and health care. With the number of PopTarts that kid eats, she can’t have any complaints about available food! While I wish I could afford the best possible health care for my entire family, our budget-minded plan suffices for everyone. And, last time I checked, the roof over her head doesn’t leak.

She has the right to have a say about things that affect her. That doesn’t mean she has the final word, only that she is allowed to have input. On children’s right, the Supreme Court says: “We have recognized three reasons justifying the conclusion that the constitutional rights of children cannot be equated with those of adults: the peculiar vulnerability of children; their inability to make critical decisions in an informed, mature manner; and the importance of the parental role in child rearing.” We as parents must continue to exercise our more experienced judgment in most manners, especially as she has not demonstrated adequate decision-making skills in many, many areas.

Even the right to privacy as established by law protects children from privacy invasions only by outsiders, and does not establish legal rights to privacy from a child’s parents. Luckily for her, we generally respect her perception of her right to privacy, although her email and incoming calls are sporadically screened.

She has a right to be treated fairly and with respect. It wouldn’t surprise me if our views on our treatment of her and her treatment of us differ greatly. She doesn’t like getting yelled at for not completing her chores and thinks it is unfair — and yet this week she has not completed her chores since Tuesday (today is Friday). One recycling bin has been unemptied for almost two weeks, a bin that should be emptied every day. If she wants to be treated fairly and with respect, then she has to treat the rest of the family the same way. If someone knowingly and willingly shirks their responsibilities, then they should expect to get into trouble. Punishment is therefore fair. When she exudes her usual teen attitude, the fair and respectful consequence is for us to nip that attitude in the bud. If you are fair and respectful, you will be treated fairly and with respect. Remember that.

She continues to insist that she is a young adult, common among adolescents. But she is physically, emotionally, and legally still a child — despite her own thought and ideals. If she was responsible, trustworthy, and capable of making appropriate decisions, then perhaps she could be considered by us to truly be a young adult in all respects except legally, but she has yet to demonstrate that level of maturity. She is making — forgive the expression — baby steps: a greater interest in school, a decreased interest in boys, an increased awareness in the importance of hygiene.

Simply put, our household would have greater peace if she just stepped up to the plate and assumed all of her responsibilities, not just the ones of her own choosing.

In the past, it has always been her choice either to perform or not to perform her required responsibilities (whether they be schoolwork or chores), and she has always known that. She has also always known that consequences for failing to perform those duties have always existed.

It will continue to be her choice for the rest of her life.

More information on children’s rights: