Sunday, June 23, 2013

How To Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

This old book allows one to digest the meaning of reading.  Although written with a condescending tone and sets of "rules", the book is helpful in sorting out the different ways one navigates through various types of reading.  Highly opinionated, Adler and Van Doren attempt to explain reading that is rarely done at school.

Elementary reading that is negotiating the words of a sentence to come up with some intelligible idea, action or thought was the only discussion I can remember being taught in my formal education.  For me, the negotiation came so difficult that as a result I did not put in much time to master it.  I would be rather playing ball than figuring out a story line.  When my father would coach me and say "you don't have to read every word. Just read for the ideas", I could never understand conceptually what my father was talking about!  My own advancement in reading came years later after I was married coming out a theater complaining "how come at the movies I have instant understanding yet with a book I don't?"

Through self discovery, I have come to realize that reading is an active search and not a passive repose.  One must actively search for purpose and meaning on the page because each author is communicating an action, thought or idea.  Good writing which is organized with topics and theses makes reading easier than one might think because the author is painting a scene.  If one is actively seeking that scene, one will be successful.

How to Read a Book is a good reminder of how to read analytically; it reminds one to read with the unity of the book in mind and reminds one to ask questions of the author that need to be answered.

I wonder why reading in school rarely is discussed beyond the elementary stages.  When one gets to high school teachers make demands on students that require skill in reading that have not been taught.  I am not sure in my own case that had my teachers taught reading analytically that I would have been successful.  Help for me came from a book on mechanics of reading: Faster Reading Self Taught by Harry Shefter.  Such a book mapped out a page conceptually and I was able to improve by searching for topic sentences and thinking that I was watching a picture.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Oppermanns by Lion Feuchtwanger

This novel published in 1934, profoundly and accurately describes the brutal control of Germany by the National Socialists (Nazis).  It predicts the program of destroying the Jewish people that eventually becomes known as the Holocaust. What is chilling about this novel are the feelings of dread that a typical Jewish family experience during the gradual Nazi takeover of the country.

The story revolves around a family who have been sustained by a successful discount furniture concern. One brother runs the business, one is a scientist and one is a scholar dilettante.  Each person becomes entangled with the dreadful web of Nazi persecution.  The store must "Germanize" because Jewish owned businesses were outlawed (Note that in real life the famed Warburg bank had to change its name to continue doing business)  The scientist must close down his laboratory and the scholar must flee.

The social pressure to conform and contort the truth toward Nazi doctrines is chilling. The power grab and its assertion over the people is crushing.  When a son of one of the Oppermanns delivers a lecture that ultimately argues in Germany's favor but puts forth initial arguments that fault Germany, he is immediately silenced, rebuked and demanded to be punished; his freedom of speech squelched.  His teacher's outburst is totally irrational jumping to the conclusion that the lecture rejected Germany's glorious past when in fact it did not.  The boy becomes more and more socially isolated as his classmates become indoctrinated and cling to Nazi propaganda and outlook.

What comes out of this novel is the frightening realization of those whose family settled in Germany for generations are homeless.  What is one to do when one is unjustly accused of betrayal of his home?  The physical abuse of the Jewish people is maddening because those drunk with power negate truth and justice.  Terror and brute force become the vehicles for power. The brothers struggle for survival with little prospects.  Zionism and the quest for Palestine become an acute solution for some but most can't come to terms that Germany is not a welcome place anymore.

I personally can not imagine my rights of citizenship arbitrarily stripped.  Prescient in 1934, this book inadvertently underscores the role of the State of Israel as a refuge for those homeless. It is an outstanding accurate description and expression of the despair of Germany's Jewish community.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes by John Rosengren

This new volume comes to me as gift from my 10th grade Bible class (knowing my proclivity towards baseball) and brings to light some aspects of Hank Greenberg that actually show a tragic disconnect.  The book is divided into basically his youth, his playing years, his baseball management years and his family life after baseball.

Hank was a superstar.  He was a ball player that loved knocking in runs; he valued the RBI statistic over home runs.  He was a crowd 'pleaser'; often hitting in clutch situations and winning ball games.  Hank appreciated his Jewish status as inspiring Jewish kids and he took to heart the antisemitism of the thirties and the rise of Hitler.  He absorbed much verbal abuse for being Jewish. He would say that every homer was a hit against Hitler.  He respected his parents wish not to play on the High Holy days.  On the morning of Rosh HaShanah, he went to synagogue but played in the afternoon,  On Yom Kippur, however, he sat out games in observance of the holiest day of the year.  He was very conscious of being a prominent Jew in the Major Leagues.

When Greenberg was general manager of the Cleveland Indians he alienated some great players by demanding pay cuts.  Al Rosen, for example, decided to quit baseball instead of taking a cut in salary,  feeling that Greenberg was unnecessarily harsh with him.  (Rosen, so ensconced in the Jewish community at the time, did not need baseball to succeed and was offered some great opportunities.)  Pitching great Bob Feller was also asked to take a cut.  One sees that Greenberg was insensitive to the players and eventually was let go as a result of his not getting along with the players.

The greatest disconnect, however, was his relationship to his Judaism and how he related that identity to his three children.  After serving in the Pacific theater of WWII, he became disillusioned with organized religion and did not frequent the synagogue.  He did not communicate his religion to his children to the chagrin of his daughter who was embarrassed about not knowing about Judaism.  He replied that he did not believe in organized religion!  His sons, in going to Yale, put down "Congregationalist" for their religion, as that was the religious auspices of the university!  His advocacy for the State of Israel was absolute, however, even alienating his daughter in law who identified with Palestinian causes.  He demanded observance of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement by going to the planetarium!  What a confused soul!

Someone who intuitively understood his responsibility as a Jewish sports hero could not even pass on a Jewish identity to his children!  A sad disconnect.  As Peter Levine so eloquently has stated, Baseball and other sports were merely vehicles for the immigrant generation to assimilate.  Hank Greenberg's assimilation was so complete he passed on to his children an absolute American identity without a Jewish conscience.