Sunday, November 30, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Helping people in need

I want to start with a very moving poem that I first heard at a reading by Allen Ginsberg around 20 years ago. He chanted the poem while playing the tune "Amazing Grace" on his hand-organ. The poem is from the Poetry Foundation website.

New Stanzas for Amazing Grace
By Allen Ginsberg

I dreamed I dwelled in a homeless place
Where I was lost alone
Folk looked right through me into space
And passed with eyes of stone

O homeless hand on many a street
Accept this change from me
A friendly smile or word is sweet
As fearless charity

Woe workingman who hears the cry
And cannot spare a dime
Nor look into a homeless eye
Afraid to give the time

So rich or poor no gold to talk
A smile on your face
The homeless ones where you may walk
Receive amazing grace

I dreamed I dwelled in a homeless place
Where I was lost alone
Folk looked right through me into space
And passed with eyes of stone

April 2, 1994

As this poem so clearly expresses, it's almost impossible to imagine oneself into the position of a homeless person, it's so painful. It's much harder than imagining the experiences of families who experience hunger, as I wrote in today's food blog post:

In this food blog post I briefly described how two social service organizations help needy people in our town, Ann Arbor, in Washtenaw County, Michigan. Many homeless people beg on the streets here as described in the poem, and despite Ginsberg's opinion, and compassion, I feel that the way to help them is through organizations that try to address all of their problems, not by giving them spare change.

In our town, SOS Community Services (that I discussed in the food blog post) and the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County both have important programs to help homeless people find both temporary and permanent housing. If you live here, I hope you will donate to these organizations, and if you live elsewhere, I hope you will find your local helping organizations and donate to them.

Shelter Association
SOS Community Services

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Book Discussion Questions: Miss Peregrine

My book club is meeting later this week to discuss Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Most of the questions available on the web were intended for the young adult audience that's central to this book. So I made up some questions for us: middle aged and older adults!


  1. Riggs offers several parallels between the "Peculiars" in his story and the Jews during the Holocaust (see note below). He specifically says that Jacob Portman's grandfather was doubly affected because the Nazis were trying to exterminate the Jews while the Hollowghasts were trying to destroy the Peculiars. How does this comparison work out in the experiences of Jacob Portman? 
  2. Discuss Jacob's experience discovering identities: his own, that of his grandfather, that of all the monsters who had been in his life, that of the Peculiars, etc?
  3. Did you find the descriptions of "monsters" horrifying – especially because only Jacob can see them? How did they work into the theme of betrayal – Dr.Golan is a monster, the school-bus driver is a monster, etc. Parents, aunts, uncles, age-peers are all unsympathetic or hostile. Only the grandfather, the least-plausible adult, turns out to have been trustworthy. That is, until the Peculiars appear.
  4. Was the use of old photos effective? Do you think Riggs' choices were good? Did he combine his love of old photos into a seamless plot?
  5. How does the author use the three extremely different settings -- modern Florida, modern Cairnholm, (the fictitious island off Wales with a spooky ruined house and a time-travel “loop” entry under an ancient grave), and the same island during World War II?
  6. Do you know kids who have read it? What was their reaction? 
A little background about the title. “Peculiar people” has for a long time been a term used by various authors for the Jews. A few examples:

  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651: "But supposing that these of mine are not such principles of reason; yet I am sure they are principles from authority of Scripture, as I shall make it appear when I shall come to speak of the kingdom of God, administered by Moses, over the Jews, His peculiar people by covenant."
  • Israel Zangwill's 1892 novel is titled Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People.
  • Isaiah Berlin, The Power of Ideas (mid 20th century) "An American wit once declared the Jews were a peculiar people because they were just like everyone else, only more so." 
  • Eric Hoffer, 1968: "The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews." 
I reviewed both published volumes of the Miss Peregrine series in this blog post.