Category: American Classics (page 1 of 2)

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Volume 1 and Volume 2, by Mark Twain (American classic)

“Regarded by many as the most luminous example of Twain’s work, this historical novel chronicles the French heroine’s life, as purportedly told by her longtime friend—Sieur Louis de Conté. A panorama of stirring scenes recount Joan’s childhood in Domremy, the story of her voices, the fight for Orleans, the splendid march to Rheims, and much more. An amazing record that disclosed Twain’s unrestrained admiration for Joan’s nobility of character, the book is matchless in its workmanship—one of Twain’s lesser-known novels that will charm and delightfully surprise his admirers and devotees.”


Joan of Arc’s fascinating holy life, combined with Mark Twain’s superb storytelling, make Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc the most compelling, uplifting novel I’ve read in a while. With this novel, Twain accomplishes what I believe is a difficult, if almost impossible, feat for an author—he makes a holy person both believable and accessible. At the other end of the spectrum, his evil characters are also just as real and believable—horrifyingly so.  Moreover, all of his characters, both fictional and historic, are unique and interesting. With his phenomenal insight into human character, Twain helped me understand how so many real people—both commoners and aristocrats—could have believed that a seventeen-year-old peasant girl had been visited by angels and called of God to deliver France from English bondage.  Continue reading

LibriVox App

Like many readers these days, I sometimes listen to audiobooks while doing other tasks.  A good source for free audiobooks in the public domain is LibriVox. You can download or stream audiobooks from the web site, or you can install an app on your phone or tablet to do the same thing.  Here is the basic description of LibriVox from its web site:

LibriVox Objective

To make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the internet.

Our Fundamental Principles

  • Librivox is a non-commercial, non-profit and ad-free project
  • Librivox donates its recordings to the public domain
  • Librivox is powered by volunteers
  • Librivox maintains a loose and open structure
  • Librivox welcomes all volunteers from across the globe, in all languages

Some books are read by multiple volunteers; others are read by only one. The more popular titles have several versions, so if you start one and aren’t crazy about the reader or readers, just keep trying until you find a version that appeals to you. For example, the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen has seven versions in English.

I prefer to read books one at a time, which means that I will move back and forth between reading and listening to a book before I move on to the next book. For that reason, I rarely listen to an audiobook in its entirety. I listened to significant portions of the six audiobooks below and enjoyed them all very much.

I’ve told several people about the LibriVox app recently and have been surprised by how many readers don’t know about it.  If that describes you, check it out! With over 10,000 files in its catalog, you’re certain to find something you will enjoy.

Book Commentary from a Cowboy

The Virginian

The Virginian

In April 2015 my book group read The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, by Owen Wister. One of the fun things about this novel is that the school teacher in the story, Molly Wood, gives books to the Virginian to read. When he returns a book to her, he gives his spirited observations about it. His remarks about Fathers and Sons and Kenilworth are so intriguing that my group added those books to our list for 2016. Some of his comments—such as those about Emma, by Jane Austen—are about books we have already read. One of his observations is about The Mill on the Floss, a George Eliot novel the group hasn’t read yet. I wanted so much to add the Virginian’s comment about The Mill on the Floss to this post that I read it on my own.

I’ll warn you right now; the Virginian’s observation about The Mill on the Floss contains a significant spoiler, so you may want to skip down a few lines to Fathers and Sons. If you’re like me, however, you may prefer to avoid tragic surprises in a book and are more likely to read it if you get a warning, so here it is, from Chapter 12: Continue reading

Democracy in America, Volume 1 (Part 3)

For Democracy in America, Volume 1 (Part 1: Introduction), please click here.

For Democracy in America, Volume 1 (Part 2: The Power of Democracy), please click here.

United States Capitol

United States Capitol

Part 3: Babylon or Zion?

In the Introduction of Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville  declares that the democratic revolution of the world “possesses all the characteristics” of being “the will of God”:

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

In perusing the pages of our history, we shall scarcely meet with a single great event, in the lapse of seven hundred years, which has not turned to the advantage of equality. . . .

Whithersoever we turn our eyes we shall witness the same continual revolution throughout the whole of Christendom. . . .

The gradual development of the equality of conditions is therefore a providential fact, and it possesses all the characteristics of a divine decree: it is universal, it is durable, it constantly eludes all human interference, and all events as well as all men contribute to its progress. . . .

If the men of our time were led by attentive observation and by sincere reflection to acknowledge that the gradual and progressive development of social equality is at once the past and future of their history, this solitary truth would confer the sacred character of a Divine decree upon the change. To attempt to check democracy would be in that case to resist the will of God; and the nations would then be constrained to make the best of the social lot awarded to them by Providence.

Tocqueville doesn’t speculate on why this democratic revolution of the world is the “will of God.” I, on the other hand, will attempt to give an explanation. In the Bible, we learn that there will come a time when: Continue reading

Democracy in America, Volume 1 (Part 2)

Democracy in America Vol. 1

Democracy in America Vol. 1

Democracy in America Vol. I

Alexis de TOCQUEVILLE (1805 – 1859), translated by Henry REEVE (1813 – 1895)

When Tocqueville visited America in the 1830s he found a thriving democracy of a kind he had not seen anywhere else. Many of his insightful observations American society and political system, found in the two volume book he published after his visit, still remain surprisingly relevant today. (Summary by the Bookworm)

Genre(s): *Non-fiction, History , Philosophy

Language: English


For Democracy in America, Volume 1 (Part 1: Introduction), please click here.

Part 2: The Power of Democracy

One of the key points that Alexis de Tocqueville makes in Democracy in America, Volume 1 is that democracy is a form of government that is extremely powerful:

Democracy does not confer the most skilful kind of government upon the people, but it produces that which the most skilful governments are frequently unable to awaken, namely, an all-pervading and restless activity, a superabundant force, and an energy which is inseparable from it, and which may, under favorable circumstances, beget the most amazing benefits. These are the true advantages of democracy. (Chapter 14, Part 2)

Tocqueville doesn’t hesitate to warn against the abuse of that “superabundant force”:

Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing; human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion, and God alone can be omnipotent, because His wisdom and His justice are always equal to His power. But no power upon earth is so worthy of honor for itself, or of reverential obedience to the rights which it represents, that I would consent to admit its uncontrolled and all-predominant authority. When I see that the right and the means of absolute command are conferred on a people or upon a king, upon an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I recognize the germ of tyranny, and I journey onward to a land of more hopeful institutions.

In my opinion the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise, as is often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their overpowering strength; and I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the very inadequate securities which exist against tyranny. (Chapter 15, Part 2)

He gives an appalling example of this sort of abuse in a footnote of Chapter 15, Part 2: Continue reading

Democracy in America, Volume 1 (Part 1)

Democracy in America, trans. H. Reeve

Democracy in America, trans. H. Reeve

Democracy in America, Volume 1, by Alexis de Toqueville, (French classic, American classic)

“From America’s call for a free press to its embrace of the capitalist system, Democracy in America—first published in 1835—enlightens, entertains, and endures as a brilliant study of our national government and character. Philosopher John Stuart Mill called it ‘among the most remarkable productions of our time.’ Woodrow Wilson wrote that de Tocqueville’s ability to illuminate the actual workings of American democracy was ‘possibly without rival.’

“For today’s readers, de Tocqueville’s concern about the effect of majority rule on the rights of individuals remains deeply meaningful. His shrewd observations about the ‘almost royal prerogatives’ of the president and the need for virtue in elected officials are particularly prophetic. His profound insights into the great rewards and responsibilities of democratic government are words every American needs to read, contemplate, and remember.

“From America’s call for a free press to its embrace of the capitalist system Democracy in America enlightens, entertains, and endures as a brilliant study of our national government and character. De Toqueville’s concern about the effect of majority rule on the rights of individuals remains deeply meaningful. His insights into the great rewards and responsibilities of democratic government are words every American needs to read, contemplate, and remember.”


Part 1: Introduction

Democracy in America is a classic that many Americans know about but few have actually read. I’m a member of a book group that exists to read this kind of material, and it took us ten years to finally be willing to take it on. The book’s length is formidable, and it’s written with such depth of observation that it requires time and thought to get through. Four members of the group made the effort to read Democracy in America. One finished the first volume and got part of the way through the second. The rest of us read the majority of the first volume with the intention of finishing it. All four of us were amazed and excited about the truth regarding America that we discerned in this book. All four of us gained a greater understanding of the origins of the United States, the things that make it great, and the underlying reasons for some of its current problems. All four of us want to put the second volume of Democracy in America on our list for next year. Continue reading

101 Famous Poems

101 Famous Poems

101 Famous Poems

101 Famous Poems, edited by Roy J. Cook. First edition published in 1916.

“Poetry has the power to give us strength, inspiration, and hope, helping us to make meaning from our hectic lives and giving us the opportunity to appreciate new ways of thinking about universal themes and observations.

“Whether you are a newcomer to poetry or a lifelong lover of verse, you will find within the pages of this indispensable compilation the greatest poems of all time, powerful words that have delighted and inspired generations of readers—words that are sure to inspire you today.”


I will be the first to admit that I’m a “newcomer to poetry.” I’ve never disliked poetry, but I’ve also never had much patience with it. I like a terrific story, and that narrative drive is what keeps me reading. As I grow older, however, I’m gaining a greater appreciation for the way poetry can make beautiful language heavenly. The leader of the book club I belong to, on the other hand, loves poetry and has been working to help the rest of us gain a greater appreciation for it. She recommended this book for the group, and I’m glad she did! I started from the beginning, reading a few poems at a time. I’m glad I took this particular approach, because it enabled me to get a much more comprehensive view of a bygone world described by a variety of poets from different time periods. All of these poets are dead, and the world they wrote about is gone—history to us now—but to them the joys and sorrows they wrote about were real. Continue reading

The Mansion and The Story of the Other Wise Man

The Mansion

The Mansion

The Mansion,” by Henry Van Dyke (American classic, story)

“John Weightman wanted the best of everything. He surrounded himself with beauty and riches, and was very careful with how he spent his money. ‘No pennies in beggars’ hats,’ he liked to say. Until one night he dreamed that he died . . .

“Finding himself with a group of travelers dressed in white, John joins them on their journey to the Celestial City where each individual will be rewarded with a mansion based on treasures set aside. Thinking that his mansion will be the most grand, John Weightman learns what it truly means to lay up treasures in heaven.”

The Story of the Other Wise Man,” by Henry Van Dyke (American classic, story)

“Long, long ago, a wise man named Artaban, a priest of the Magi, discerned from heavenly signs that the time was at hand for the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy—the birth among the Hebrews of a holy Prince and Deliverer of Man. Hastening to join three fellow Magi for the long journey into Judaea, he paused to help a dying man and was left behind. And so Artaban began his pilgrimage alone, striking out not toward the realization of his life’s deepest longing, as he hoped, but only toward misfortune and suffering. Or so he believed until one blessed, radiant moment.”


These two classic Christmas stories illuminate the human progression from goodness to righteousness to holiness. Continue reading

The Secret Garden and The House of the Seven Gables

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Children’s classic)

“Born in India, the unattractive and willful Mary Lennox has remained in the care of servants for as long as she can remember. But the girl’s life changes when her mother and father die and she travels to Yorkshire to live with her uncle. Dark, dreary Misselthwaite Manor seems full of mysteries, including a very special garden, locked tight for 10 years. With the help of Dickon, a local boy, Mary intends to uncover its secrets.”

The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (American classic)

“Built over an unquiet grave, the House of the Seven Gables carries a dying man’s curse that blights the lives of its residents for over two centuries. Now Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, an iron-hearted hypocrite and intellectual heir to the mansion’s unscrupulous founder, is attempting to railroad a pair of his elderly relatives out of the house. Only two young people stand in his way–a visiting country cousin and an enigmatic boarder skilled in mesmerism.”


The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables

As soon as I learned that The Secret Garden would be on my book group’s schedule for 2015, I thought it would be nice to re-read The House of the Seven Gables also and comment on both novels. On the surface, these books appear quite different, but I knew they were similar in at least one respect—both stories show gardening as being an activity that nourishes both the body and spirit. By the time I was finished reading the books, I realized that they are even more similar than I had remembered; they both address the healing of emotionally diseased individuals and families in old manor houses that symbolically take on the sickly qualities of the families that inhabit them. One of the characters in The House of the Seven Gables describes this relationship between the families and their generational homes:

“The soul needs air; a wide sweep and frequent change of it. Morbid influences, in a thousand-fold variety, gather about the hearths, and pollute the life of households. There is no such unwholesome atmosphere as that of an old home, rendered poisonous by one’s defunct forefathers and relatives.” (Chapter 17)

The family illness in The Secret Garden has lasted a decade; in The House of the Seven Gables, it has lingered for two centuries. Both stories prescribe a similar remedy—receiving loving help from healthy outsiders, adopting wholesome thoughts, engaging in hard but nourishing work, and opening oneself to both physical and spiritual sunshine in abundance. Notice how similar these two passages are in the way they describe both physical and spiritual light: Continue reading

O Pioneers!

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (American modern literature)

“O Pioneers! tells the story of Alexandra Bergson, the daughter of Swedish immigrants, who is given her family’s farm after the death of her father. She sets out to make the land pay—even when everyone else is moving on—and succeeds brilliantly, while coming to realize her love for a close family friend.”


O Pioneers!

O Pioneers!

My parents joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Topeka, Kansas when I was two. As a child I participated in Pioneer Day in summer Primary every year to commemorate the arrival of the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and even dressed up like a pioneer in a gingham dress, pinafore, and bonnet my mother had made for me. While I appreciate those particular pioneers and the heritage they’ve given to me by adoption, I don’t have one ancestor who actually made that trek. My pioneers are the settlers of Kansas, not Utah. One of the neighboring states of Kansas is Nebraska, the setting of Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!  The way Cather describes the landscape in O Pioneers! gives me such a vision of the place where I grew up that reading it always evokes a feeling of nostalgia in me.

Continue reading

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