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text 2018-05-13 20:00
Living the Liberal Arts
Testament of Youth - Vera Brittain

I work at a university. Over the past year, we've been working with a new strategic plan, as an organization, and the first, most vital point of that plan has been a discussion of liberal arts, a passion area for me. Far too much is happening, and there are far too many ideas to discuss here - plus, I want to tie this column directly to a book - so I'm going to narrow in. 


I talk a lot with my students about the value of liberal arts (liberal, I remind them, in this case means "broad," not necessarily "left"). The specific, tangible benefits of liberal arts often need to be enumerated, because they're less obvious than in the professional or vocational disciplines. But every scholar of the liberal arts know that the intangible benefits of the education are where your heart goes.


Sometimes, in my reading, I run across some statement that makes me sit up and say, "Yes! This is liberal arts. This is what happens when you open yourself up broadly to the gifts of learning." I'm going to quote a few sentences from Vera Brittain's "Testament of Youth" here. Her moving memoir is a bildungsroman from a female (before the late 20th century, not a common thing at all), and a profound meditation on what happened to the youth of Britain, an entire generation decimated and affected primally and permanently by The Great War.


With students investing so much in their educations these days, words like these help us and inspire us to continue the good fight for liberal arts:


(If you're following along at home, this is from pages 30-31of the 1934 American edition, published by Macmillan.)


"I suppose it was the very completeness with which all doors and windows to the more adventurous and colourful world, the world of literature, of scholarship, of art, of politics, of travel, were closed to me, that kept my childhood so relatively contented a time. Once I went away to school and learnt--even thought from a distance that filled me with dismay--what far countries of loveliness, and learning, and discovery, and social relationship based upon enduring values, lay beyond those solid provincial walls which enclosed the stuffiness of complacent bourgeoisdom so securely within themselves, my discontent kindled until I determined somehow to break though them to the paradise of sweetness and light which I firmly believed awaited me in the south." 



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text 2018-04-24 22:02
Free in US on Kindle
Testament of Youth - Vera Brittain,Mark Bostridge

The Hachette Book version of Testament is currently free.


Find it Here

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review 2017-02-05 16:26
Paeans to my favorite books - V: Testament of Youth
Testament of Youth - Vera Brittain,Mark Bostridge

I have a few pet peeves when it comes to history, but my biggest by far is the question of why the world did not stop Adolf Hitler before he plunged Europe into war. I find it a frustrating question on a number of levels. At its most basic, it's an abuse of hindsight, expecting people in the 1930s to anticipate horrors that were simply unimaginable at the time (if you think I'm wrong about this, just look at the people today who believe that it can't possibly happen again). But at the same time it also reflects a degree of historical ignorance: the reason why so many Europeans avoided war until it was unavoidably thrust upon them was because most of them had already lived through a devastating conflict that had claimed tens of millions of lives. Is it any wonder that they were so loath to repeat the experience?


When I encounter people who don't appreciate just how traumatizing the First World War was for a generation of Europeans, I encourage them to read this book. It's the memoir of an upper-middle-class woman, whose comfortably sheltered existence was transformed by the war. Over the course of it, she lost the three men who mattered most to her: her fiancé Roland Leighton, her close friend Victor Richardson, and her brother Edward, all of whom were killed in combat. Her words express the impact of such loss better than any other work about the war that I have ever read. In this respect her account is superior to the memoirs of the men who served on the front lines, because for most people who lived through it the war was not experienced in the mire of the trenches but at home, with the anxious tension of waiting punctuated by the sudden revelation of loss that had occurred days or even weeks before.


Yet Brittain's own experience was not confined to the home front. In the summer of 1915 she left university to serve as a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment, which ultimately led to her service in a field hospital in France. There she saw firsthand the effects of war on young men like her fiancé and brother, not just once but for hours on end every day for months. Her account manages to convey both the horror of this experience and the mind-numbing constancy of it, showing how it changed her forever by making her a pacifist, as she committed herself to fighting to save others from the loss that she had experienced so profoundly at such a young age.


Reading Brittain's book makes it clear what are the costs of war, costs that in the case of the First World War had been paid by nearly everyone. Her eloquent prose personalizes it and conveys the emotional impact in a way that the statistical tallies never could, showing how those numbers represent very real lives the promise of which was cut tragically short. For so many of the survivors the best way of honoring that sacrifice was ensuring that it did not happen again. The tragedy in this respect was these efforts failed, not that they were made or that people could not understand how others could live through the same conflict and draw other, more terrible conclusions from it.

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review 2016-02-03 02:41
What would you wish for??
The Wish Giver: Three Tales of Coven Tree - Bill Brittain,Andrew Glass

Thaddeus Blinn








ONLY      50¢



Only four people in town are willing to take Thaddeus up on his offer, with surprising results. Ok, maybe not that surprising to those of us who like to read. We know that granting wishes always comes with a cost and it's never really worth it in the end. But this is a cute story and fun to read.


If I could get the kids in our school to read it, some would probably enjoy it. But, the cover is old looking (it does not look like the one shown above) and the book is getting ready to fall apart. I decided to read it because the premise intrigued me, but I don't think I will have much success with the students. It's a Newbery Honor book, but it seems to just be taking up space. It will be in the discussion pile for our next weeding session. *sigh*


The good news, any books that do get "weeded" are donated to kids who don't have access to books.



Recommended to:

Grades 3-7 (according to the book jacket) - somewhere in the middle, I think. It's a good story to introduce the theme of "be careful what you wish for".



The cover of our book:


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text 2015-12-31 17:49
Reading progress update: I've read 270 out of 688 pages.
Testament of Youth - Vera Brittain,Mark Bostridge

I've not made any progress on this one lately - I took it to work, and have been driving it around in my car for months (the downside to having something in print, I suppose). It fits nicely with my reading plan for next year, though, so I'll pick it up in 2016!

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