Book Club Retrospective #2

January 7, 2015

It’s time to look back at last year’s book selections and get your feedback as to which ones you liked best, why, and suggestions as to upcoming twelve 2015 book selections. In essence, this is your opportunity to give the professor a grade for the 2014 book selections.

As I look back, judging by your responses, the #1 book selection of the year has to be the October entry: Ralph Moody’s Little Britches. A number of you were introduced to the Moody family read-aloud series ago, and welcomed the opportunity to revisit. Do let me know which other selections you especially enjoyed.

And for all of you who may be interested in climbing aboard for this year’s selections, permit me to bring you up to date. Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Series was born On Oct. 19, 2010, as a result of former students urging me to come back into their lives in a special way: “Dr. Wheeler, years ago, I was in your classes, and you introduced us to books you’ve loved personally—and got me to do the same. I miss those sessions with you! Please, please, do it again. There are millions of books out there, which makes it ever so difficult for me to choose the ones that are really worth reading—especially for people like me who, like you, strongly believe in God and country, and values worth living by.” [a synthesis of responses].

But now, since I couldn’t give anyone a grade and wasn’t ordering books, I have had little control over who bothered to buy the books and read them and who did not. A year ago, a bit discouraged because I didn’t hear back from “members” very often, I asked for feedback. So positive were your responses, and so many told me you were finding copies, reading them, and adding them to your personal libraries, that I decided to keep the series going. A number of you have gone further and told me how meaningful many of the selections have been to you personally.

Such responses really help, for it is time-consuming to keep searching for new books worth including, older books that are worth considering, and books I’ve loved but must re-read before I grant them my personal blessing by choosing them.

Undoubtedly, the world-wide-web has made it easy for any of us to track down copies of even some of the scarcer titles.

It has evolved into a most eclectic mix of genres: non-fiction, contemporary, books children and teens have loved for generations, timeless classics, romantic fiction, westerns, Christmas classics, and so on. It is my hope and prayer that, if you keep my feet to the fire long enough, we’ll end up with a family library that generations yet to come will cherish.

To make it easier for current members to respond, and for non-members to join us, I am including a list of all the book-selections so far with dates the blogs appeared, to make it easier for new members to begin catching up on books they’d like to add to their libraries. Here they are:


Bergreen, Lawrence, Over the Edge of the World (May 28, 2014)
Brown, Abbie Farwell, The Christmas Angel (Nov. 23, 2011)
Burnett, Frances Hodgson, Little Lord Fauntleroy (Feb. 29, 2012)
Conan Doyle, Arthur, The White Company (April 30, 2014)
Dana, Richard Henry, Two Years Before the Mast (March 26, 2014)
Dickens, Charles, The Christmas Carol (Nov. 23, 2011)
Douglas, Lloyd C., Home for Christmas (Nov. 28, 2012)
Duncan, Dayton, and Ken Burns, (The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (June 27, 2012)
Goudge, Elizabeth, City of Bells (Sept. 26, 2012)
Grey, Zane (1) Heritage of the Desert (Dec. 28, 2011)
(2) Riders of the Purple Sage (June 5, 2013)
(3) The Vanishing American (June 30, 2014)
(4) Wanderer of the Wasteland (March 28, 2012)
Hale, Edward Everett, Sr., The Man Without a Country (Feb. 6, 2013)
Hill, Grace Livingston, Happiness Hill (Aug. 21, 2013)
Hugo, Victor, Les Miserables (Sept. 25, 2013)
Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited (May 8, 2013)
Knight, Eric, Lassie Come Home (Nov. 6, 2013)
Lorenzini, Carlos, Pinocchio (Sept. 24, 2014)
Lowry, Lois, The Giver (Aug. 27, 2014)
Moody, Ralph, Little Britches (Oct. 29, 2014)
Porter, Gene Stratton, Freckles (July 17, 2013)
Reed, Myrtle, The Master’s Violin (April 3, 2013)
Richmond, Grace, (1) Foursquare (Jan. 2, 2013)
(2) The Twenty-Fourth of June (May 23, 2012)
Sabatini, Ralph, Scaramouche (Feb. 26, 2014)
Sheldon, Charles, In His Steps (Aug. 22, 2012) (Nov. 26, 2014)
Sienkiewicz, Henryk, Quo Vadis (Jan. 28, 2014)
Spyri, Johanna, Heidi (July 30, 2014)
Tarkington, Booth, Penrod (Oct. 31, 2012)
Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, Enoch Arden (May 2, 2012)
Thoreau, Henry David, Walden (Jan. 25, 2012)
Van Dyke, Henry, The Other Wise Man (Dec. 4, 2013)
Wiggin, Kate Douglas, The Birds’ Christmas Carol (Nov. 26, 2014)
Williamson, C. M. And A. M., My Friend the Chauffeur (Oct. 26, 2011)
Wright, Harold Bell, The Calling of Dan Matthews (Oct. 26, 2011)

* * * * *


Please weigh in immediately, and identify yourself (if unknown to me) as to interest in book club. Let me know (1) how long you’ve been a member, (2) what percentage of the 36 books you’ve purchased and read, (3) what your reactions are, (4) what grade you’d give me so far, (5) and any other thoughts you might be willing to share. Do this during the next week, please.

Also, suggestions for adding more members, such as starting up a discussion forum on Facebook or other media venues.

You may reach me at:
Joe L. Wheeler, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 1246
Conifer, Co 80433
Wednesdays with Dr.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Richard Henry Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast”

March 26, 2014

Class, for our 28th book selection, we are turning to a book unlike any other previous selection. For all those who love true history, unvarnished biography, and the all too rare opportunity to step back in time and experience life as it once was without interrupting commentary, this is your book.











Heritage Edition                                                                                                                                                       Signet Classic Edition

There is much to be amazed about in the story of this book: First, the author was in his twenties when he wrote it, and never again wrote anything comparable to it. Second, it has never been out of print since Harpers first published it in 1841! It was an almost instant classic and best-seller and has remained so ever since.

Let’s step back in time 199 years, only six years after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, Richard Henry Dana (1815-1882), was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both his father and mother were members of the New England aristocracy.

Early on, attending a local school, the boy was regularly flogged by sadistic schoolmasters. Such flogging was indiscriminate and administered without justification. Later, he studied with Emerson. He was only sixteen when he enrolled at Harvard. All went well until, in his sophomore year, he came down with the then deadly measles. A side effect was that he all but lost his sight. Unable to read or even endure ordinary sunlight, he was forced to drop out.

What should he do now? After wrestling with what few options were open to him, he concluded that his best chance of recovery was to go to sea; but not in style for that would not provide an arena of intense living, complete with suffering. So he signed on as a common sailor on the sailing brig, Pilgrim in 1834. The initial voyage was around the Horn of South America and then sailing north to San Francisco in then Spanish California.

He stoically took whatever the brutal captains dished out, climbing up the masts in the stormiest of weather, and working night and day, through terrible storms and just as terrible calms.

Somehow, however, he found time to journal what he saw and experienced. Two years later, some 20,000 miles later, when the clipper ship Alert nosed into the Boston Harbor, he’d fully recovered his sight and was at the peak of physical conditioning.

So he returned to Harvard, then passed the bar and set up practice. One day, his father discovered his son’s journal; was so impressed by it that he suggested that he consider publishing it. William Cullen Bryant, a family friend, ran interference with Harpers, and the book was published in 1841. But even with Bryant’s urging fairer reimbursement, all the author received for his efforts were two dozen copies of the book and $250. Not until the 28-year copyright expired was Dana able to secure more revenue from what was by then an international best-seller.

But people read it now for the adventure of it, the swan-song period of those most beautiful of all sailing ships–the windjammers, a world which was even then coming to an end as steamships remorselessly displaced sailing vessels.

Dana’s book, told in its simple unimpassioned way, detailing the courageous men who dared the sea and suffered such brutality in the process, ended up waking up readers to the reality of merchant marine life, gradually resulting in more humane treatment.

Melville (four years younger than Dana) was tremendously impressed by the book, even borrowing from one of Dana’s real shipmates, Bill Jackson, and immortalizing him as Billy Budd. Thoreau too was much impressed by it.

I’ll not tell you any more about Dana’s later life, mainly because I want you to journey the rest of the way on your own. What I will guarantee is this: You will not be the same person at the end you are now. Bryant maintained it is as great a book as Robinson Crusoe. But, in a very special way, it is more significant than Defoe’s novel–for every word of it is true, actual.

So step into this long-ago world. Let me know what you think about it when you come out.

Many editions are available of course; just make certain your copy is unabridged. The Heritage edition is stunning (346 large format pages). The Signet paperback contains 384 pages.