Book Review: Ginnie and the Mystery Doll

Title: Ginnie and the Mystery Doll

Author: Catherine Woolley

Date: 1960 (Morrow), 1965 (Scholastic)

Publisher: Morrow (hardcover), Scholastic (paperback)

ISBN: none, but click here to see it on Amazon

Length: 156 pages

Illustrations: line drawings

Quote: “In your mother’s old diary she says something about a doll that her Uncle Frank brought her from Paris. Is that the doll in the parlor?”

From the years when the commercial media were hard-selling “femininity” comes what must be the ultimate girly-girl mystery novel. Two middle-school girls spending the summer on Cape Cod help a nice old lady who needs extra money find the family treasure in her heirloom doll collection. There are moments of suspense—fear that the treasure has been lost. There is no sex (a few male relatives get speaking parts, but the girls solve the mystery without any “help” from boys), no violence, no danger of anyone’s being hurt. The only danger is that the girls will be embarrassed by failing to solve the mystery, and you know that won’t happen.

(Per the recent discussion of G.K. Chesterton’s almost-all-male fictional world…I wouldn’t put Catherine Woolley’s novels in the same class with Chesterton’s, either.)

Woolley wrote a whole series about Ginnie in the 1950s and 1960s. They were nice, wholesome stories about nice, wholesome little girls who never got into any trouble or danger. They helped nice, wholesome little girls relieve the boredom of long bus rides to consolidated schools, rained-out recess periods, and spending days in bed with the “childhood diseases” against which vaccines hadn’t been invented yet. They don’t seem to have been anyone’s favorite books. They weren’t endlessly reprinted, as the wholesome adventures of Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, the Melendy Family, Beany Malone, or the Boxcar Children were reprinted; Ginnie may never have become any child’s best imaginary friend, as the characters in the more popular series did. Nevertheless, the books met a need, and they can still meet that need for any child who still has it.

According to the mass media, the need that used to be met by trivial storybooks like the Ginnie stories is now being met by electronic gadgets. I’m not sure that this is true. Books are cheaper than the “plug-in drugs” we’re told that today’s children crave. Keeping and rereading old books is better for the environment than plugging a TV or computer into the wall. Recycling electronic devices is mostly done overseas, so few Americans have noticed yet, but the recycling process for old TVs, computers, batteries, etc., is even more toxic than producing and recycling paper. Books are easier on the nerves of parents, teachers, and classmates than noisy electronic gadgets. And, given the choice, some children actually prefer to use their imagination to read, reread, and rewrite stories rather than passively watching TV. Parents should not be too hasty to overlook light reading as entertainment for today’s children.

What do you do if a child hasn’t discovered the pleasure of books yet? First of all, if the child is under age ten, I recommend backing off. Some kids (usually boys) are slightly farsighted at this age; their eyes can focus on the page long enough that they learn how to read, but their eyes quickly grow tired of holding this close focus, so they minimize the amount of time they spend reading. This is natural and normal and has nothing to do with the child’s intelligence…if the child is allowed to outgrow it in peace. If mental blocks are set up, or glasses are forced on the child, then not having been an early reader may do permanent harm. Data about the possible damage done by exposure to blinking electronic boxes may still be questionable or inconclusive, but TV, computers, and video games definitely are not good for children’s eyes (or even adults’ eyes)—the question is how much harm they do.

If I knew that a child was able to enjoy reading, I might try a very soft sell of the idea of sharing a book an older relative used to enjoy. Instead of being afraid that the child would be reading about a time, place, or lifestyle different from her or his own, I’d encourage that. It builds the child’s imagination, helps the child understand the differences among people in the real world, gives the child a sense of history, and may even help the child understand the difference between desirable and undesirable “social change.”

However, I wouldn’t expect boys to like Ginnie and the Mystery Doll, and if a girl named this book as a favorite I might try to open a conversation about what she likes about it (the calmness, the serenity, the absence of boys) and whether overindulgence in a taste for calmness and serenity might be what causes the unfortunate old lady to become dependent on visiting children for financial help.

Maybe it’s because of its soft, serene, feminine atmosphere, too, that this book is becoming a bit of a collector’s item. Although Catherine Woolley (who also wrote as Jane Thayer) lived to the age of 100, she no longer needs a dollar…but in order to sell Ginnie and the Mystery Doll online I’d have to charge, currently, $10 per book + $5 per package. Other sellers may offer a better deal so, unless you want to tuck this one into a package with a Fair Trade Book, feel free to take advantage of their offer.

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Book Review: Needlepoint for Everyone

Title: Needlepoint for Everyone

Author: Mary Brooks Picken & Doris White

Date: 1970

Publisher: Harper & Row

ISBN: none, but click here to see it on Amazon

Length: 207 pages plus index

Illustrations: photos, mostly black and white, and some charts

Quote: “Needlepoint, which is embroidery on canvas, was a type of needlework highly developed by the English.”

Needlepoint for Everyone gives a few details from the history of needlepoint, but there’s not a great deal of history in this book. Neither is there a great deal of exposition. There are examples of needlepoint found in museums and historic mansions, explanations of techniques, and chapters about specific styles and subjects for needlepoint. There are lots of pictures. Most of them are black and white, but most are clear enough to inspire crafters.

Specific topics discussed in this book include the needlepoint of Blair House (“the Guest White House”), needlepoint in rehabilitation programs, samplers and mottoes, devotionals, needlepoint for children, needlepoint for men, needlepoint in advertising, needlepoint treasures in museums, and needlepoint symbols.

This ambitious, somewhat eccentric book contains far more photographs than charts, but even knitters and weavers—as well as needlepointers and cross-stitches—can find some inspiration in Needlepoint for Everyone.

By looking her up online, I’ve learned that Mary Brooks Picken was quite an interesting character. She died, around age ninety-five, before I became a serious needle crafter. Back in 1916 she had founded the “Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences.” As what one pattern publisher still calls “the original fashion authority,” she wrote ninety-six books on sewing and textile crafts. Someone looking for fresh material for a Women’s History Month project might want to research her life and work. Certainly she no longer needs a dollar.

Needlepoint for Everyone was reprinted in 1997, so the older edition I physically owned when I wrote this review has not gone into unreasonable collector prices. To buy it here, you’d need to send $5 per copy + $5 per package to salolianigodagewi @ yahoo, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy a cheaper copy somewhere else…unless you want to tuck a copy of Needlepoint for Everyone into a package with a Fair Trade Book.


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Book Review: Dixie Dobie

Title: Dixie Dobie

Author: Margaret S. Johnson and Helen Lossing Johnson

Date: 1945

Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Company

ISBN: none, but click here to view it on Amazon

Length: 90 pages

Illustrations: several pencil drawings

Quote: “The most important animals on Sable Island are wild ponies.”

On Sable Island off Nova Scotia, as on Chincoteague, harsh conditions have caused an abandoned herd of horses to evolve into a breed of sturdy “ponies.” These ponies were sometimes rounded up and sold to people on the mainland. Dixie Dobie is the story of a Sable Island pony.

Written for grades two through four, this is a simple be-kind-to-animals story that will appeal to even younger children if they are precocious readers or if the story is read aloud to them. Sophisticated fourth grade readers might pronounce it dull. There’s no suspense, no surprise.

The pony’s first purchasers, a family called Dobie, expect “Dixie” to behave like a well trained farm horse and are predictably disappointed. Her next human family, the Bradfords, add “Dobie” to her name, take the time to make friends with Dixie Dobie, and are able to benefit from her toughness and good sense.

If it’s not the straight facts, Dixie Dobie is certainly true in essence, and predictable as it can be. There are no distracting subplots or characterizations. Like the drawings of horses, people, and landscapes that break up the text, this story is meant to communicate information clearly, not to entertain anyone with flights of imagination.

As a first book about How to Care for Your Pony, Dixie Dobie might disappoint children who imagine that the bonding process will be as quick in real life as it sounds in the story. Adults reading this story to children who are going to be living with any kind of animal may want to emphasize that, although Johnson didn’t expect anyone to sit around and read about each day, the Bradfords would have spent months making friends with their feral, independent pet.

People who seriously intend to adopt a feral horse will need more informative books than Dixie Dobie. In fact, they’ll probably need a support group. Nevertheless, Dixie Dobie is a nice first book for those people to give to young children as a pre-introduction to their new friend.

Wild pony photo from Thelesleyshow at


Book Review: American Patchwork Quilts

Title: American Patchwork Quilts

Author: Lenice Ingram Bacon

Date: 1973

Publisher: Bonanza / Crown / Morrow

ISBN: 0-517-30940-8

Length: 190 pages

Illustrations: many full-page photos

Quote: “In that section of Tennessee where I grew up in the early part of the twentieth century, quilts still served…We had a goodly supply for ‘everyday wear,’ but they were not made at home. They were made by the Witt sisters.”

Lenice Ingram Bacon has collected stories of individual quilts and quilters to flesh out, and sometimes debunk, familiar stereotypes. I could wish she’d debunked the stereotype of “the areas of Appalachia”—a fine and scenic town, but too small to occupy many “areas.” However, Bacon was concentrating on quilts rather than general history, and her book is full of interesting anecdotes about European as well as American textiles.

Both typical and unusual quilts have been documented in this book. There’s a lovely, patchwork-appliqued, finely stitched “Pineapple Quilt” made in China, by order of a rich American, in 1791; an unfinished “crazy quilt” looking crazy indeed after a hundred years of wear and tear; a bizarre applique piece in which the figures represent scenes from history and the Bible, but few could be recognized without a page of written explanations, which was fortunately preserved in the same museum.

Anecdotes from quilting history make this book an entertaining read, and large, colorful photos make it an inspiring collection for quilters who feel confident enough to make their own templates. So it can be recommended to anyone interested in quilts.

Lenice Ingram Bacon is remembered in the Quilters’ Hall of Fame ( Since she is no longer living, American Patchwork Quilts is not a Fair Trade Book. You may still buy it online here for $5 per book + $5 per package, payable to either of the addresses in the lower left-hand corner of the screen.

Quilt graphic courtesy of Morguefile:


Book Review: The Glory Within You

Title: The Glory Within You

Author: Duncan E. Littlefair

Date: 1973

Publisher: Westminster Press

ISBN: 0-664-20960-2

Length: 201 pages, plus endnotes and index

Quote: “The spirit cannot be separated from the body.”

People should never ask other people to discuss a book while they’re still reading it. The most courteous thing to say, should you find an acquaintance reading a book, is nothing at all; wait for the person to lay the book aside. If you really think you have to interrupt someone’s reading, say “Excuse me, please,” and say what’s on your mind. It had better be something good. If you’re past the age where people are excused for interruptions like “My tooth came out!”, other excusable interruptions include things like “The doctor says it’s triplets” or “The garage is on fire.”

Idle chitchat is never worth interrupting someone else’s polished, reviewed, and edited thought.

Nevertheless someone blundered into the room where I was reading this book and asked, “Is that a good book you’re reading?” Such questions can be properly answered only by flippant remarks. A good all-purpose one is “No, it’s not the Bible.” In this case, however, I could truthfully say, “So far I’ve found nothing in it that’s really good, and little that’s even fair.”

Is The Glory Within You really all that bad? Well, for starters, using the phrase “Women’s Lib” without quotation marks, even in 1972, was a reasonably reliable admission that you had nothing useful to say about it. “Women’s Liberation” was the trendy left-wing phrase; on the right and center, intelligent discussions were about the feminist movement, N.O.W. or other organizations, or specific campaigns for the various things women of various political stripes wanted. People who said “Women’s Lib” were unsympathetic and uninformed.

Then there were people who said, “Until recently, in anthropological terms, the human ancestor was without any kind of self-consciousness” (page 56). This has a literal meaning, if we understand “anthropological” to refer to the study of existing prehistoric cultures. “Prehistoric” does not mean “eons ago”; it means “before a civilization had invented writing,” and described the way some isolated communities had lived, within living memory, even in 1972. Unfortunately this literal meaning is false; in 1972 old people who hadn’t learned to read and write displayed quite elevated levels of self-consciousness.

So perhaps Littlefair is speaking in this authoritative tone about archaeological studies of our remote ancestors, the excavations of ancient burial mounds and garbage pits. Neanderthal Men and the stooped and stunted woman in the Olduvai Gorge certainly had odd, ugly facial bones, and some of us prefer to think of them as “human ancestors” who somehow weren’t completely human themselves, rather than funny-looking individuals who may have been buried separately because they had been ill, or even alienated because they were unattractive. (I say this because I went to university with a surly, embittered girl whose resemblance to the Olduvai Gorge woman was remarkable.) Whatever those people were, how anyone could imagine it possible to know whether or not they were self-conscious…boggles…my…mind.

And then there were people who said, and believed, “It has been demonstrated that no [W]hite person can grow up in modern American society without developing attitudes of antagonism to [B]lacks, and the same goes for [B]lacks in their feelings about [W]hites” (page 59). In 1972 nobody had to live in hate or fear, but when we chose to act against hate or fear we were consciously practicing “Love your enemy” toward people who we knew might respond with hate. Nevertheless, what had been and can still be demonstrated is that one can never conclusively demonstrate a negative assertion.

So…Littlefair would have liked to write like C.S. Lewis, or like Paul Tournier or Albert Schweitzer, but he was born without the ability. This by itself is normal; he might still have written a good book. Unfortunately, consider this whopper, on page 81: “I have never seen a person who was grateful for having enough who did not get more.” Well…I have.

Then, on pages 126-127: “…[A] person is consumed by love for another who is not good for him, and both individuals are ruined. But whether it is Love Story or Romeo and Juliet, this kind of love always opens both persons to more of life than they would have seen otherwise.” That anyone would claim that the tragic romance of Romeo and Juliet opened them to “more of life,” when the point of the story is that it aborted their lives, once again boggles my mind. That it opened their parents’ minds to some sense of compassion, or common grief, or common sense, is a possibility suggested by the end of Romeo and Juliet as it stands, but Shakespeare never actually demonstrated that. That what Romeo and Juliet felt was a deep and abiding love, rather than an infatuation that would have lasted about a week if they’d been allowed to live through it, is debatable. And that such a childish and silly approach to love is “feminine,” which is the point Littlefair has been trying to make, is therefore offensive to women.

This leads into a chapter titled “Women’s Lib and the Feminine Principle” (so help me) in which Littlefair seems to plead insanity (“Feminine qualities are aspects of the spirit. Why we associate them with women is a question we need not go into here”) before defining “feminine qualities of behavior” as “passivity; sense of wholeness; sense of relatedness; dependence; amateurism; reverence for growth; capacity for play; romantic attitude.” He is actually making a case for attitudes and temperaments that were misunderstood at the time, but his case would have been more easily made if, recognizing that “Men possess them too—sometimes to a greater degree than women,” he had identified these traits simply as traits.

Then, on page 164: “We should set as a goal that there be no unwanted, neglected, or abused children…It is an attainable goal if sex is freed of guilt and if children are born only to parents who want them.” So, no parent who wanted a child ever gets drunk, develops an anger addiction, or realizes that instead of going home to three children, all of whom have stomach flu, s/he could just stay on that train…

The Glory Within You is not a great book: parts of it aren’t even fair. Other books express Christian thoughts without these embarrassments along the way. There is, however, some comfort in reporting this because I’m sure Duncan Littlefair has gone to a place where there are better comforts than favorable reviews of bad books.

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Book Review: New Discoveries in American Quilts

Title: New Discoveries in American Quilts

Author: Robert Bishop

Date: 1975

Publisher: E.P. Dutton & Company

ISBN: 0-525-16552-5

Length: 127 pages

Illustrations: most pages contain color photos

Quote: “The reason for this…book…is simply to document as many as possible of the beautiful quilts that have been brought to my attention since 1972.”

Bloggers who enjoy “Wordless Wednesday” posts should enjoy New Discoveries in American Quilts. Most of the words in this book are captions, credits, and historical information about the textiles photographed.

Not all of them are traditional pieced quilts; there are also quilted “bed rugs,” single pieces of fabric joined with stuffing and quilt-stitching, and there are some modern pieces quilt-stitched around printed designs. Most are shown in full color, and the colors aren’t as faded as you might expect, given the age of some of the pieces. These quilts were not worn out in everyday use. They were designed and preserved as works of art. They were selected, photographed, and published by an art historian because they’re beautiful enough to compare with works of “fine art.”

As a book of “glorious inspirations” for textile crafters and collectors of all sorts, this book is recommended. Raw beginners may want to invest in a quilt book with detailed instructions and templates. Experienced quilters (and other crafters) can use this book for inspiration.

Several writers were known as Robert Bishop; apparently the art historian who wrote this book died in 1991, so New Discoveries in American Quilts is not a Fair Trade Book. The minimum price to buy it online here is $5 per book + $5 per package, payable to either address at the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Two copies of this book would fit into one package for a total of $15. Alternatively, you could fit in one or two Fair Trade Books, and I’d send $1 per book to an author who is currently alive.

Here is a quilt image from Jjulian812 at Morguefile, :


Book Review: 82 Sins of the Church

(No longer a Fair Trade Book, which makes reviewing it much easier.)

Book Review: 82 Sins of the Church

Author: Cobus Van Der Merwe

Date: 1995

Publisher: Jacobus Van Der Merwe

ISBN: 978-1494432362

Length: 230 pages

Quote: “Children with good manners are always pleasing to every­one.”

Jacobus Van Der Merwe was a Boer, or South African of Dutch descent, who spent his old age in Kingsport, Tennessee. His English was fluent, but irregular. His understanding of the Bible was likewise…not so much irregular as foreign. Although he joined a charismatic church in Kingsport, his Dutch Reformed background comes out in the form of unusual attitudes.

Although it’s meant to provoke discussions among Christians in any country, 82 Sins of the Church was recognizably shaped by Kingsport. I think this book is part of Kingsport’s history and should be preserved as such. Kingsport has attracted some very distinguished engineers and inventors from all over the world, and Van Der Merwe was one of them.

For devotional use, the value of 82 Sins of the Church may actually be negative. There’s politically incorrect, and then there’s…well…

I’m put off by the sexism on pages 108-109: “A couple should never get married if they cannot make do on the man’s income. The main reason for the job shortage in the world we live in today, is directly ascribed to the greedy women, taking away men’s jobs…God’s Word says clearly that the man is the breadwinner.” Actually, the Bible mentions women musicians, scholars, builders, merchants, and “prophets.” When a Bible writer describes the ideal wife, in Proverbs 31, he spends as many words praising her business acumen as her religious devotion. The perfect wife doesn’t just weave; she has a home textile business that employs several “maidens,” delivers finished products to the merchants, and expands her business by investing in real estate: “She considers a field, and buys it.” Sociologists have generally ascribed the job shortage to technological development, laborers being displaced by machines.

There is much to recommend the idea that being the mother of small children is a full-time job, in and of itself, and should provide the same kind of automatic recess from a corporate “career” that military service does…but “women shouldn’t take away men’s jobs” thinking doesn’t even work out well for young mothers. Some families preserve the biblical family-as-business model, using their home as their business base and integrating their children into the business. But the 1950s TV family structure, where childless wives stayed home all the time and made dusting and polishing into a job, was not an approach that ever served many people well. Nor was it biblical.

The Bible writers don’t prescribe one particular pattern for family life. The economic pattern they describe is the one where both parents lived and worked at home. Everyone was a “breadwinner.” Even small children were “known by their work” as soon as they were able to do any. Even disabled old ladies, like Dorcas, wove and sewed. The lady described in Proverbs 31 was an especially desirable wife because her weaving skills were good enough to earn money as well as saving money. When Paul wrote, “I would have the younger widows (re)marry (or) keep house,” he was telling the early church that his use of the masculine form in “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” was applicable to able-bodied people of both sexes.

More confusion is to come. Van Der Merwe cites a letter from a friend in South Africa: “What the outside world (that’s you) does not real­ize, is that we do not have to do with civilized people, but barbarians—a sub-race that can never reach the standard of the [W]hite Christian race.” The writer of this letter complains that Nelson Mandela, like every other person who had a complaint against a non-Marxist government during the twentieth century, received some support from the Communist Party. He overlooks the fact that the Communist Party in its heyday treated it as their duty to try to support, and co-opt, every dissident on Earth; what people did with this support was up to them.

More disturbingly, he also overlooks the fact that Mandela was mentored by the nonviolent, non-Communist, committed Christian Albert Luthuli…and greed-blinded “Afrikaners” managed to ignore Chief Luthuli. The Christian magazine Van Der Merwe’s friend addressed had ignored his letter because Christians around the world felt that, when people refused to hear a message of peace from a man of God, those people invited a twisted version from the Evil Principle. Many were surprised and grateful that Mandela emerged as a left-wing Humanist leader rather than a violent, vengeful Communist Party dictator. Van Der Merwe complained that Christians in the United States had no right to denounce Bill Clinton unless they prayed for him. He does not write as if he spent much time praying for Nelson Mandela.

And what exactly was “sub-race” supposed to mean? Because the Republic of South Africa incorporated several pre-existing ethnic groups who had weakened themselves by wars with one another, it’s possible that Van Der Merwe understood Lane Sherman, as quoted on page 192, to be expressing resentment of the Zulu “sub-race,” or ethnic group, as distinct from the Venda “sub-race,” of which Van Der Merwe has written with less resentment earlier in this book. However, one can hardly blame uneducated readers for hearing in “sub-race” an echo of “subject race.” Like “niggardly,” “sub-race” is almost always an ill-chosen word.

Feminists are supposed to oppose “patriarchal” social structures, so I’ve always taken some contrarian pleasure in expressing love and pride about the patriarchs in my family. I know what Van Der Merwe has in mind when he writes about “Sin #49: Husbands Are Not Always Real Men” and praises the Real Man who “opens God’s Word at the breakfast and supper table…tells the truth at all times, regardless of the cost or consequences…provides for his family even if he has to do without…can give some leadership at home and work and is always prepared to listen to good advice” (pages 120-121), “rises early enough, works hard enough to provide enough…can apologize for any mistake…sets the example…visits the sick and bereaved and provides for the needy” (page 198).

Opposing patriarchal systems does not imply failing to appreciate that sort of men when we find them. What we oppose is the idea that a Y-shaped chromosome is enough to make any man a patriarch. In the Bible, Abraham travelled around with his flocks and herds and his extended family, apparently opposing cults that practiced human sacrifice. Kings called on Abraham for help and advice, yet he never called himself a king. Abraham listened respectfully to the advice of his wife and foster son, although they were less enlightened than he. When other people were around, his wife Sarah enjoyed basking in his glory by calling him “milord.” Privately, Sarah was a nagger (her name changed from “Quarrelsome” to “Princess” as her social status rose) whose demands reduced Abraham to tears. A patriarch never demands respect. He earns it—but, even so, he does not always get it. As C.S. Lewis once put it, he wears two crowns, but one is made of paper and the other of thorns.

Of course, many of the 82 Sins are theological rather than interpersonal issues. Van Der Merwe rebukes churches that are non-charismatic, that “do not seek or expect miracles, do not teach and practice demon exorcism.” He believes in “mandatory forgiveness”; some Christians believe that it is possible to talk about “forgiving” people who are still actively sinning. He thinks special liturgical interest should be given to Psalms 113 through 118. He objects to historical reading of the Bible when “the New Testament is not recognized as being directed to the church at all times.” He has an interpretation of the prophecies in the Bible, and thinks churches need to give more attention to this interpretation.

Others of the 82 Sins are social and political. Van Der Merwe identifies with those who seem to believe that “resistance” to abortion is a matter of political agitation, rather than personal ministry. He rebukes Christians for suing each other in court. He rebukes both the churches that “do not teach against divorce” and the ones that “condemn divorced people.” He complains, in his charmingly eccentric use of English, that “Pastors are fearful, muzzled, proud, greedy and affirmative.” (It takes him three pages to explain what he means by this, but he does have a point.) He thinks children need to participate in formal, audible prayers at school. He has been active in prison ministries, and thinks more Christians need to be. He thinks secular commentary, at least jokes and sports stories, have no place in the sanctuary and should not be used to liven up sermons.

Other “sins” are matters of church subculture. Kingsport is more heterogeneous than some of the towns around it, less dominated by First Families, more open to immigration. Cultural differences among its churches reflect the economic status as well as the temperaments of the congregations. So many of Kingsport’s churches do stress greeting rituals and eye contact that I suspect Van Der Merwe’s complaints here come from his having chosen a church where he seemed to “fit in” economically, and then realized that affluent Anglo-Americans look down on the folksy Dutch cultural customs Van Der Merwe wanted to bring with him.

Intensive eye contact is typical of mainstream Anglo-American culture. Apparently it’s also typical of mainstream Dutch or Boer culture, since Van Der Merwe fails to recognize it among the “bad manners” with which he reproaches “Ugly Americans”; much of the world would place our shameless eyeballing behavior high on the list of obnoxious American manners. Some cultures have rules that a modest person never holds eye contact with a member of the opposite sex, other than the person’s own wife or husband, for longer than a moment; or that younger people, or subordinates, never hold eye contact with senior or superordinate people; or that eye contact is optional, usually used for emphasis after a conversation has begun. Van Der Merwe places great emotional emphasis on people’s being able to “look you square in the eye.”

His list of 82 Sins is random, as his short reflections on these practices occurred to him, rather than categorical. There are sequences where one thought seems to have led to the next, and sequences where he seems to have put down his list for a few days and come back to it on a whole new train of thought. I’ve discussed the list in a more organized way than Van Der Merwe presents it.

So, this is not a book to share with non-Christians or with very young people. It is a book mature Christians can appreciate as historical commemoration of a distinguished resident of Kingsport. It could even be used by groups of mature Christians as a starting point for study and discussion—Bible and otherwise. It should never be used in such a way as to give Christian-phobics the idea that Van Der Merwe ever spoke for any substantial number of American Christians.

82 Sins of the Church ceased to be a Fair Trade Book last winter. I sold the copy I physically owned before that. Prices for this privately published book are already rising. At the time of writing I can offer it, should you want to buy it here, for $10 per book + $5 per package. But Van Der Merwe no longer needs $1.50, so if you don’t need this one to complete a collection of Kingsport history…there are better devotional books in the world, even at this web site.

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Book review: Night and Day

Title: Night and Day

Author: Virginia Woolf

Date: 1919, 1971

Publisher: Penguin

ISBN: none

Length: 471 pages

Quote: “It suddenly came into Katharine’s mind that if some one opened the door at this moment he would think that they were enjoying them­selves.”

Katharine is one of six young single adults in her neighborhood. If they were alive today, this little group would probably be a polyamorous community; they’re all young and hormonal enough to enjoy sex with practically anything, or anyone, and any of them could obviously enjoy a night with any other of them—at least, in a heterosexual pairing. They’re so hormonal, in fact, that they don’t even care that at least four of them are cousins to each other. This detail puts me off the whole pack of them, but Virginia Woolf managed to write almost 500 pages about the difficulties these incestuous Brits have in restricting themselves to one formal courtship, leading to one marriage, at a time. What a scandal it is that Katharine and William, who announce their engagement first and break it off first, actually remain friends and help each other marry the people they really want to marry.

Pet names aren’t used in this crowd. The girls are Katharine, Cassandra, and Mary. The guys are William, Henry, and Ralph. Katharine’s and William’s engagement was favored by their elders at least partly because they stand to inherit more money than Henry and Cassandra, and much more money than Mary and Ralph.

I find this tasteful, yet hormone-driven, study of youth very tiresome. I tried to read the whole novel in the 1990s, gave it up, and have only just finished it. The book qualifies as a study of why modern-style dating displaced traditional-style courtship in the twentieth century, why the rules of nineteenth-century-traditional courtship served our six characters so poorly. As such, it subjects readers to levels of impatience almost comparable with those the characters suffer…so caveat lector!

If you like long-drawn-out novels of manners, if you’ve always thought Jane Austen’s main shortcoming was brevity, then Night and Day might be your cup of tea. If you’re making a study of Virginia Woolf, you’ll need to refer to this novel. For readers in these two categories Night and Day is recommended.

Woolf no longer needs a dollar, and the minimum price for purchasing books online here is $5 per book + $5 per package. And I’ve sold the copy I physically owned, since the time this review was written and the time it was uploaded. Go ahead and buy this one cheaper from another source if you like. However, if you’ve bought a Fair Trade Book and want to tuck a small, thick paperback copy of Night and Day into the package, payment may be sent to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen.

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Book Review: Mandie and the Invisible Troublemaker

Title: Mandie and the Invisible Troublemaker

Author: Lois Gladys Leppard

Date: 1994

Publisher: Bethany House

ISBN: 1-55661-410-8

Length: 173 pages

Quote: “I have a great idea, Uncle John. Why don’t you just buy my school.”

Although the Mandie Books were published by a Christian publisher, and although Mandie is being brought up a Christian who recites a Bible verse for courage and prays for President McKinley, Volume 24 is not exactly what parents think of as a Sunday School book. Mandie goes to a small, pathetic “private school” run by two old women, sisters; the sister responsible for their finances is stressed and irritable, and refuses to listen to Mandie’s truthful explanations of how the messes into which Mandie stumbles came to happen. Mandie happens to overhear the sisters talking and realize that although they can’t afford to expel Mandie, the sisters think it best to make Mandie think they’re going to expel her. She calls their bluff, threatens to leave the school, and decides it’s all right for her to break school rules on purpose since she’s being blamed for someone else’s misdeeds anyway.

At the same time, Mandie is doing what is, for a thirteen-year-old, a noble thing. Most of the girls at her school don’t interest her, although she claims to think of them as friends. Three of them she particularly dislikes. She’s sure that one of her three school enemies is taking papers to her room and tucking open jars of molasses into her bag, just to cause trouble for her. She enlists her school friend Celia to help her find out for sure before she accuses one of them. The mystery isn’t made very easy to guess, and Mandie’s self-control pays off when she finally sees the invisible troublemaker.

Still, her disrespect for the teacher is rebuked but not really repented of—and her heroic refusal to make accusations that might be mistaken is not rewarded by others, either. This is another Mandie Book that definitely reads more like a memory shared by someone who really was in school in 1901 than like a typical moralizing Sunday School story.

Though Lois Gladys Leppard no longer needs a dollar, and I still have to charge the minimum of $5 per book + $5 per package, almost any Fair Trade book would fit comfortably into the package along with this pocket-sized book. Or you could complete your collection with twelve different Mandie Books, which would (probably) cost $65. Payments may be sent to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the page.

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Book Review: Ama a Dios y Haz Lo Que Quieras

Book Review: Ama a Dios y Haz Lo Que Quieras

Author:  Morris Venden

Translator: Felix Cortes

Date: 1995

Publisher: Asociación Publicadora Interamericana

ISBN: 1-57554-008-8 … missing from Amazon! Unthinkable! Here’s the English edition.

Length: 122 pages

Quote: “Los cristianos maduros pueden hacer lo que gusten, porque lo que a ellos les agrada hacer le agrada también a Dios.”

Morris Venden originally wrote Love God and Do as You Please in English. I didn’t buy the English version. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t want to encourage him, because the book was part of the movement that I think killed his church in the United States.

It was harmful to Venden, too; later it came out that, while expounding these ideas and writing this book, he was feeling liberated to love God while having an adulterous affair. And so, although Venden was a hugely popular speaker and writer and people online are looking for this book, neither Amazon nor the Adventist online bookstore site is selling copies. I sold the copy I physically owned before uploading this review, and can’t promise anyone a copy now. But, like many books that have been banished from stores, the text is available online–free of charge, if you don’t mind an annoying ad-cluttered format:

Venden was a Seventh-Day Adventist. I’m not a member of that church. My mother is. From time to time we go to one of the large stores that sell products made by church-sponsored industries, primarily books and canned goods. On these trips it’s routine that my mother buys everything I can load into the back of whatever she’s driving, and I buy one paperback book, usually the Spanish edition of a book that’s also available in English. And only after I’d bought this book, fifteen years after its publication, did I remember, “Oh yes, that was back when the Adventist church was trying to repackage itself as just another brand of Feel-Good Universalism.”

I was there, a student in the Adventist school system, to observe some of the silliest things that led to the publication of this book.

As teenagers, my brother and I had wanted to be baptized. Our relatives belonged to various denominations; our parents didn’t want us to favor one church over another. In order to be baptized before we were eighteen we had to stumble across a church, during a winter visit to Florida, that baptized tourists who might never attend the church again. The church that baptized us was Seventh-Day Adventist. My mother has continued to attend that church.

As HSPs we had natural tendencies to be modest, frugal, untempted by the minor sins of the flesh against which the churches of our childhood had rules. Adventists had preserved relatively strict rules. We swore off, not just gambling, but all card playing; not just TV watching, but frivolous reading as well. We hadn’t been in the habit of doing any of the things we renounced, and I’ve never missed them. However, being baptized as a tourist meant that I had some inner reservations. I wanted to be a full-fledged Christian, but I never intended any commitment to a denomination. I think Dad thought denominationalism was a bigger sin than gambling.

Since I’d been baptized in an Adventist church, Adventists got me into one of their church colleges. There I learned that different individual churches in that denomination had different rules. Kids went around asking new acquaintances, “Are you an Adventist?” All Adventists had sworn off drunkenness, adultery, presumably murder and treason. Some Adventists had also sworn off drinking coffee, eating meat, reading any fiction including the parables of C.S. Lewis, listening to “Satanic rock” bands like Kiss and Black Sabbath, listening to any rock music, listening to any non-church music, using any makeup at all, using makeup in a way that flattered their faces, wearing tight jeans, wearing any jeans, wearing trousers without a skirt over them, wearing bangles, wearing any jewelry but a watch or wedding ring, wearing any jewelry including a watch or wedding ring, wearing beards, wearing long beards, shaving their beards, trimming their beards, playing sports…the list went on and on.

Understandably, when these people got together, a certain amount of confusion and acrimony arose. As a group Adventists are the world champions of verbal abuse, and when they got into a serious debate about some major moral issue like wearing trench coats, I think some of them managed to pack ten of the dozen or so classic vaps in English into one sentence.

What I never understood was why so few of them saw any of the rules to which they adhered as positive and desirable. Why had they taken a public vow to adhere to a rule if it didn’t seem good to them?

In the early 1980s the pseudo-hippie fad, plus protests against product testing on animals, had cost the makeup industry a lot of money. I didn’t want to wear makeup, because damp East Coast air made my skin feel sticky at best, and the last thing I wanted to do was smear grease paint on my face. I had expected that, since I found it easy, pleasant, and profitable to adhere to the rule, I’d hear a lot of “That’s how our young ladies ought to look.” Instead I kept hearing, “Is that some kind of religious thing that you’re not allowed to wear makeup?”

When the Adventist church was organized, its mission work grew explosively because so many church ladies sold their jewelry and gave the proceeds to the schools, hospitals, and other missionary efforts of the church. I am not saying that this noble gesture didn’t deserve to become traditional. I am not saying that even asking little girls, as a gesture of remembrance, to take off even the junk jewelry today’s little girls tend to get as a reward for being quiet in the Dollar Store, was ever a bad idea. I am not saying that Adventist ministers shouldn’t continue to celebrate the church tradition of ringless weddings. I will say that, just possibly, people who never had any valuable jewelry to sell on behalf of a good cause would be better occupied in reflecting on what they were doing for good causes, instead of bothering about whether visitors who might have had on ten dollars’ worth of junk jewelry had been told that “we don’t wear jewelry in this church.”

I didn’t wear jewelry, during my churchgoing years, because I didn’t own any. Still, when the Bible writers (a) describe the jewelry people wore, exchanged as gifts, were required to wear when performing ceremonial duties in the temple, and were given as rewards for good deeds, and (b) describe spiritual things by comparing them with precious stones, and (c) tell people to cultivate inner beauty instead of “pearls and precious stones,”  it seems clear that a rigid ban on any kind of jewelry is an Adventist “accretion” with no biblical basis.

Admitting that the fashion for jewelry as a major investment had passed, and that the only reason to discourage children of the 1980s from wearing half a dozen plastic-bead rings on each finger was that they looked childish, would have been timely. But what I saw and heard was more like, “You don’t want to wear jewelry? Why are you so inhibited? Why do you always have to be so uptight and rule­bound and holier than thou? People like you are turning everybody against the church? If you’d ever had a personal relationship with Jesus, you’d be a ‘people-person’…” The so-called liberal faction were definitely the ones I saw acting “holier than thou.”

To be fair, in 1983 we didn’t actually know that saying “If you had a better relationship with Jesus, you’d be a ‘people person’” is as idiotic as saying “If you had a better relationship with Jesus, you’d have brown eyes.”

Ellen White wrote about the health benefits she, and patients in the early Adventist hospitals, found from a dairy-free diet. Milk is probably safer to consume now than it was then. However, because Ellen White used a dairy-free diet, the dairy-free diet was then set up as a sort of proof of holiness, and then attacked as such. The Adventist school cafeterias did not serve meat; they did serve dairy products. Bearing in mind that most people lose lactose tolerance around age 20, we can now explain why Caucasian students tended to have higher grades and be perceived as more popular—a lot of students who had become, or were becoming, lactose-intolerant were living with continual indigestion. I’ve seen high-achieving non-Caucasian students resolutely say no to all those dairy products, and their so-called friends began to quarrel: “You’re such a pharisee! Everybody likes ice cream! Go on and eat it! Why do you always have to be different?”

I definitely did not see any evidence that this liberalization was being done by “mature Christians.” What I saw happening, in the Adventist church, was that quiet, modest, frugal, gentle, sincere people who respected others’ rights were being verbally attacked, to a degree that felt like persecution to teenagers. Most of the Adventist friends I had are now ex-Adventists.

I never suggested that the Adventists adopt a rule like “Everybody should be asleep by nine o’clock and awake by three o’clock in the morning, because that’s the rule that worked for Priscilla King’s Great-Aunt Griselda.” An occasional reminder that certain Christians had chosen to “keep the Discipline of the Morning Watch” (yes, that’s a traditional Adventist name for getting up at 3 a.m.), and felt healthier for it, and some of them were blessed with unusually long and productive lives, is enough. But I had no respect for a church that was telling me, “You want to get up at six? What’s wrong with you? What awful thing could have happened to make you so peculiar? Don’t you know people prefer to sleep till nine…or noon, if possible.”

Why do readers need to know all this? So that they’ll understand why I say that, in this book, Morris Venden was preaching to a little choir of his own. I do not know who’s in his choir. His book is addressed to Seventh-Day Adventists but it doesn’t seem to be addressed to anybody I met in that church. This book expressed ideas that were current ten years before it was published, and supported them with stories that must, if true, have happened to a different generation.

Venden tells the story of a young couple who had been studying the Bible with him. At home they dressed simply, but when he finally got them to meet him at church, to his dismay the woman’s idea of her “Sunday best” was an outfit Carmen Miranda might have worn. He didn’t scold them or send them home, and after church both of the couple told him they wanted to stop smoking.

Should members of the church have scolded this young woman for not knowing what to wear? Of course not. But should the church have disrespected the ladies who might have been told, “We don’t paint our faces, wear jewelry, or even wear dresses with ‘trimmings’ on them,” for years? I think that, if I’d been the one who thought dressing appropriately for church meant dressing like Carmen Miranda, I would rather have found a church where people prayed in the sanctuary and never mentioned my fashion blunder. At such a church, if I’d persisted in dressing like Carmen Miranda, eventually someone might quietly have said, “‘Plain dress’ is traditional in this church.”

The people Venden is most concerned about correcting are the “traditional legalists” in the Adventist church. Did I ever meet any of them? I don’t remember. A legalist, as Venden explains, is a Christian who thinks that we are saved by Christ and observance of some rule or other. Christ alone is not enough. The legalist thus makes the rule an idol, and ceases to be a Christian.

There is no biblical basis for the heresy of legalism. There is, however, a biblical basis for churches to tell people to keep any vows or pledges they have made, as a point of personal honor. In the Old Testament period denominationalism did not exist, but individuals were always making personal vows—sometimes “bargaining with God” under stress, sometimes giving thanks for their blessings. Nobody had to make any of these vows. People said, “I will sacrifice a lamb,” or whatever else, for reasons of their own. Sometimes, then as now, keeping a vow proved to be unexpectedly inconvenient, and the people were warned: “Lord, who shall stand upon Thy holy mountain?…He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.”

People can release others from vows that prove to be “to the hurt” of both parties. If a church group has demanded that members subscribe to rules that members now agree are useless, the group can agree to release people from those vows. But in Venden’s Adventist church there was no agreement that the rules were useless. The General Conference had decided at some point, “We must loosen our rules and give up our distinction.” While the ministers were saying that people should not quarrel about the rules, the leaders of the church were in fact instigating the quarrels.

Hence the peculiar phenomenon, which Venden acknowledges in this book, of “liberal legalists.” Only among Adventists is a phrase like “liberal legalists” more than an oxymoron. In the 1880s there might have been, but in the 1980s there were not, stereotypical pharisaic-type legalists, lurking at the church steps, looking for ways to denounce people. “Here comes a man with the wrong kind of beard! Bar the doors!” Instead, there were the “liberal legalists,” hounding the sincere out of their own denomination. “Why didn’t you watch that television show? You’re a legalist! You don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus!”

So the denomination has fissioned into quarrelling factions, none of which is representing the teachings of Christ or even those of Ellen White. The people who actually want to practice all the teachings of Christ in every way possible, who would gladly sell their jewelry to launch a mission if they had any salable jewelry or if the church had any viable missions, who want to get up early to pray, who put a spiritual meaning into every song they sing, have been pushed out. The number of potential churchgoers who just want to be comforted, not challenged to think or understand or do anything, is limited, and the original Universalists had taken in most of them before the Adventists decided to pursue them. In other countries the Adventist denomination is growing, but in the English-speaking countries it is in a decline.

Venden’s book was not addressed to the people to whom it has some hope of being useful—people who have been observing the deterioration of the Adventist church, and want to help their church avoid a similar decline. Venden writes as if addressing some of those mythical Adventists who really were said to be more concerned with the length of a girl’s skirt or a young man’s beard than with whether either of them was doing something beautiful for God.

How useful can Love God and Do As You Please, or Ama a Dios y Haz Lo Que Quieras, be to an ordinary Christian reader? While serious Christians have had the proverb “Love God, and then do as you please” for centuries, Venden’s exposition of what loving God first means is marred by his blindness to his denomination’s failure to do so. A church that began as Universalists, or one that gradually evolved in that direction, might be said to honor God in its way…but a church that began by requiring adherence to rules, and then turned against those of its members who followed those rules, cannot be said to love or honor anything.

If Venden had recognized the “liberal legalists” as the greater problem within his church, and expounded on the theme that loving God would require them to honor the sincerity of people who chose to adhere to older rules, his book might have become valuable for devotional use. He didn’t.

So, this book can be recommended primarily to those studying the decline of the Seventh-Day Adventist church as an American denomination. If the Adventist denomination is still viable, according to the statistics, it’s in Spanish-speaking countries…and so Ama a Dios y Haz Lo Que Quieras is likely to be more useful to more people than the original Love God and Do As You Please. 

Today, a Google search for Morris Venden brings up the obscenely detailed charges brought against him by his partner in adultery before it brings up Ama a Dios y Haz Lo Que Quieras. And, since the book is displayed on a web site for free, it’s unlikely to be republished. I had a copy, once. I sold it. I may or may not be able to get another copy. Venden no longer needs a dollar. Go ahead and download it if you have US$8.99. Print copies for your friends, if they don’t have US$8.99. This book hardly deserves better.

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