Wednesday 26 February 2014

Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout

Nero Wolf is a larger than life eccentric American detective; a genius who spends his life indoors, tending to his orchids and gormandising. His right hand man and general dogsbody, Archie Goodwin, serves as a very entertaining narrator and is the complete opposite in personality and temperament to his employer. "I grinned," is his frequent remark.
The plot of Fer-de-Lance was interesting but I particularly enjoyed the banter, laced with humour, between Wolf and Goodwin.

Words from Wolf:

"...Sit down. I would prefer to have you here, idle and useless, while I purposelessly inspect this futile flower...As I have remarked before, to have you with me like this is always refreshing because it constantly reminds me how distressing it would be to have someone present - a wife, for instance - whom I could not dismiss at will."

"Some day, Archie, when I decide you are no longer worth tolerating, you will have to marry a woman of very modest mental capacity to get an appropriate audience for your wretched sarcasms."

And from Archie:

Wolfe lifted his head. I mention that, because his head was so big that lifting it struck you as being quite a job. It was probably really bigger than it looked, for the rest of him was so huge that any head on top of it but his own would have escaped your notice entirely.
Wolfe seemed to have the notion that all he needed to do to have anybody call at his office from the Dalai Lama to Al Capone was to tell me to go and get him, but I knew from long experience that you never knew when you were going to run up against someone with as many feet as a centipede and all of them reluctant.

He was accustomed to say that this was the perfect era for the sedentary man; formerly such a man could satisfy any amount of curiosity regarding bygone times by sitting down with Gibbon or Ranke or Tacitus or Greene but if he wanted to meet his contemporaries he had to take to the highways, whereas the man of today, tiring for the moment of Galba or Vitellius, had only to turn on the radio and resume his chair.

 Fer-de-Lance, Bothrops asper: venemous pit viper

Rex Stout wrote forty-six books in his Nero Wolfe mysteries. Fer-de-Lance was the first in the series, written in 1934, but the books may be read in any order as the main characters do not change. Teenage boys would enjoy this story but it's probably best for around ages 15 or 16 as it has one or two mild adult themes. 
When I bought the book it was only available in the format above but I've seen it since as a single volume. I hadn't read anything by Rex Stout before and I would have preferred the individual book but now that I've finished Fer-de-Lance, I'm eagerly anticipating The League of Frightened Men and I'm quite happy I bought the combined volume.
Off the top of my head, I think this is the first detective novel by an American novelist that I've read. All the other books I've read in this genre have been by British authors from what I can recall, except for Ngaio Marsh who was a New Zealander.
Have I been missing some great American detective mysteries?

Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival

Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival for February 2014

Some Unconsidered Aspects of Intellectual Training

To read Charlotte Mason's ideas about this topic see here. The previous CM carnival, On Mindfulness, was dedicated to this topic also. The 'Some Unconsidered Aspects' sections of Volume 3 (School Education) contains some wonderful gems and surprises - ideas and facets I know I hadn't previously associated with Physical, Intellectual, Moral and Religious training.
I've appreciated working through CM's books and seeing how other minds grapple with the ideas presented within them. Certainly two (or more) heads are better than one.

Pythagoras by Raphael 1509-1510

Amy, our CM blog carnival hostess, writes about Intellectual Habits, the Fallibility of Reasoning and Being Transparent.
When I first started reading the Charlotte Mason series I started with A Philosophy of Education and was startled by her thoughts on the fallibility of Reason. It made me think back (and cringe) to times when I'd  justified my actions by putting a good face on them. I had thoroughly convinced myself I was right:

'For ourselves and our children it is enough to know that reason will put a good face on any matter we propose; and, that we can prove ourselves to be in the right is no justification for there is absolutely no theory we may receive, no action we may contemplate, which our reason will not affirm.' (Volume 6)

Amy suggests that fallible reasoning may be overcome and offers some wise suggestions to resist this tendency:
By testing with truth.
By thought turning.
By taking in big gulps of grace.

Aut-2B-Home  shares The Tale of the Sleeping Fish A Parable of Mental Habits to illustrate the mental habits of Attention, Concentration and Intellectual Volition and then gives us the moral of the story. Lovely!

Attention - Children are born with natural curiosity unless something hinders it. Sometimes, physical or brain issues get in the way. Sometimes, the education system encourages them to pay attention to earn cheap rewards (grades, test scores, awards, candy). When offered nourishing food (ideas found in living books and real things) and allowed to explore them with an active mind, they eventually learn to pay attention. Some take longer than others to join the feast.  

Nebby explores Charlotte Mason's observations on the study of mathematics in her post More on Intellectual Training and draws our attention to the fact that Charlotte Mason refuted the idea that studying Mathematics alone will make a person more logical in the rest of life.

“ Remove the mathematician from his own field and he is not more exact or more on the spot than other men; indeed he is rather given to make a big hole for the cat and a little hole for the kitten! The humanities do not always make a man humane, that is, liberal, tolerant, gentle, and candid, as regards the opinions and status of other men.”

Speaking of mathematicians she has known Nebby observes:

Clearly, these people’s personal lives do not always reflect logical well-thought out decisions. They as much as any other people act on emotions and desires without due consideration of the logical consequences of their actions. 

Celeste at Joyous Lessons shares her thoughts on The Living Page, focusing on Copybooks. Celeste shares some of her gleanings from the second chapter of Laurie Bestvater's book, The Living Page.

"As an idea is spiritual, it needs a place to intersect with the student's own spirit, in this case, in the slowly emerging text of the meditative copy work ... taking time to write by hand slows us down and allows the truth to seep in" (30).

And that's the stickler. :)  She definitely sees the writing process itself as essential to the Keeping of a Commonplace, which comes as no surprise since she hinted as much in the first chapter.  I'll be thinking more about this as we move through the rest of the book, and as a model to my children, I plan to start a physical Commonplace soon.  I'm wondering whether that experience will convince me of writing's meditative effects. Right now, writing doesn't feel all that meditative to me, perhaps because I often have little hands grabbing at the page. ;)  But I'll be the first to admit that I could use a little "slowing down"!

Mama Squirrel also writes about Notebooks and Copybooks at Dewey's Treehouse.
I appreciated the honesty behind these words. A couple of my boys really struggled putting pen to paper and when they did it wasn't beautiful. My temptation was to take over and want them to come up to the standard of their precise and embellishment prone sisters.

Can we just put it that I felt like we were doing our best at the time, though we never did achieve such beautiful written work as some other homeschoolers I knew did? And that I sincerely did attempt to keep the writing practice personalized and meaningful, even if often it was my choice of text rather than the children's?
But here, I think, is Charlotte's point: other than demonstrating particular points of spelling or grammar, most of those benefits can be had even if the student chooses his or her own texts to transcribe. And possibly there are some side benefits that we haven't fully realized.

In her post the Ragged Schools of Scotland, Megan links Charlotte Mason's beliefs and educational thoughts with the work of Thomas Guthrie and Andrew Walker who ministered to the poor of Scotland.

Gentle whispers throughout the pages of each of Miss Mason's volumes woo us toward magnanimous thinking, toward proffering ideas to children instead of speed drills, toward seeing the infinite value of a human being instead of his utility to the state.

Miss Mason believed every living soul deserved to access the great minds of the past -- the great art, music, literature, inventions, poetry, and all the glorious ideas that came before them.  But just prior to the time she began saying such things, Thomas Guthrie and Andrew Walker were heading into Edinburgh's slums to offer the Gospel to those who thought themselves beyond reach, who others didn't even bother with -- the nameless, faceless poor.

Tammy's aim in her blog, Rarified   ' to explore captain ideas and share them with kindred spirits.'
Her post One Does Not Simply Sit in Maths Class is one of many that does this and helps to encourage a love of Mathematics.
Math should make sense if one starts with the most basic understandable thought and then adds to it in a beautiful chain of reason.

Nancy at Sage Parnassus writes about 'sun dogs' and sheds light on this phenomena by quoting from A Prairie Dog's Winter and Shakespeare's Henry VI. Visit her blog to see the sun dog photo and learn what it is. I hadn't heard of it before but then we don't have blizzards in Australia. It's very interesting to have a glimpse of what all you folk in the Northern Hemisphere experience at this time of year.

The sun had two little snippets of rainbow some distance away from it, just above the horizon.  His father referred to this in Ukrainian: "the sun has ears," he said.  But the other children in school with William knew they were called sundogs.

I thought for my contribution that I'd link to a couple of CM bloggers that didn't actually send in posts but I think have helpful ideas and resources to offer:

A Generous Education shares some lovely art cards which are just ideal for picture study.

A Sabbath Mood has some great ideas for living science. Scroll down to see a number of posts on this topic.

The schedule for the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival is at the Fisher Academy International and any CM related posts may be submitted there. The topic for the next carnival is Some Unconsidered Aspects of Moral Training but any CM related posts are welcome.