Category Archives: Life of a Bibliophile

The Final Lecture


I had my last lecture of the semester this morning, and how perfect it was that it was one of my favorite professor’s classes! And as per tradition here at Southern Virginia University, at the conclusion of the lecture, each student stood and gave the professor applause. And surely, Professor Cluff earned that honor this semester.

The western literature course I took this semester, abeit very intense, was my favorite class. Professor Cluff is most definitely one of my favorite professors. I love that nearly everything he says is applicable to daily life, and that he ties real-life (and in the majority of cases, a spiritual aspect as well) into the literature of centuries ago. The most recent work we studied was published in 1674 (John Milton’s Paradise Lost), and I think that few professors could take the literature and apply it so completely to life in 2010. It is not just a general application either, it is personal and applicable in a very profound way.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if a group of us students were to take no classes but those that Professor Cluff teaches, we could quite possibly rule the world (justly, of course, while writing our own less violent version of Virgil’s The Aeneid) as well as gain a good standing in Heaven. That’s just how he teaches. We have studied Homer and Virgil, Sophocles (Oedipus), Shakespeare (King Lear), and my two favorites, Dante (Inferno) and John Milton (Paradise Lost).

There are a few classes that I just take notes: copying down significant lines, noting dates and political events that were occuring at the time the author was writing. And then there are the classes that you realize that they’re called ‘epics’ for a reason: those are the classes you walk out in silence, dumbfounded and feeling like a bomb has exploded somewhere in your head, leaving you reeling in awe.

It was like the class where we studied Dante’s numbers. Numbers, arrows, circles and words covered the blackboard. Chalk dust flying everywhere and pens scratching quickly to copy whatever ended up on the board. It seemed as though Dr. Cluff wrote with one hand and erased simultaneously with the other, so many things we were trying to transcribe into already half-filled notebooks. What we bypassed, he had found to be genius: the Christological references in the numeric of Dante, a flurrie of threes, nines and ones, cantos, terza rima and tercets. Biblical exegesis appears from thin air to the astonishment of 28 students. Diagrams appear and disappear as scriptures are referred to and proverbs said. Slip in some symbolism, a few humorous quips and you’ve achieved the 10 am western literature class in Durham Hall.

And that is just Dante!

Paradise Lost had the tendency to be a little more intense, if a little less intimidating (lessen the numbers = lessen the intimidation factor). This was the work where we got a glimpse into Dr. Cluff’s mind, when he handed out a scrawled diagram he had done for his own sake and decided it would aid us as well. It was a diagram of Milton’s universe, complete with the retractable stairway and golden chain that suspended the universe. A chaos of notes surrounded the diagram itself, as well as my own scrawls as I tried to add to them from what he was saying. We examine the romanticism in Paradise Lost and discover startling truths that Milton conveys in his poem. It’s not so much fireworks and lightning as we saw in Dante’s Inferno, but just as startling and awesome (in every facet of the term) if not more so. We examine human nature in Adam and Eve, the very real symbolism of Eden and the sanctity of marriage. I learn just as much about the Gospel in Cluff’s class as I do sitting in Sacrament meeting on Sundays (dodges lightning bolt). And the thing is, Professor Cluff at times speaks as though things are an after-thought, a quiet revelation or some similar instance of remembrance. It’s not straight out of his own notes, it’s straight out of his head.

It’s terribly scary.

And quite amazing.

I know I’m making it sound like we’re pressed into our chairs, holding our pens with shaking hands while we sit wide eyed in terror as he sternly lectures us with no mercy. Not true.

There are so many hilarious comments that are said during our 50 minutes together. Because of the quiet atmosphere of the class itself, the comments are nearly always perfectly timed and quite humorous. Everything is well timed in that classroom. Here are my favorite comments of the semester. Not all meant to be funny, some serious, but all pretty great.

  • “When you’re dead, you lose your five senses… supposedly.”
  • “My gosh, I forget I don’t have hair on my head till it starts raining!”
  • (in reference to courtly love) “it’s utterly absurd…but it produces good poetry.”
  • “any more questions about the universe?… good.”
  • “he’s blind and dead!”
  • “do you feel smart?” (in reference learning Dante’s numbers)
  • “maybe chocolate wasn’t in the garden of Eden…” 
  • “early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise… and first line.”  
  • “photographers belong in the 11th circle of hell!”
  • (after drawing a crazy complicated diagram) “well, whatever your question was, I think that covers it.”

Needless to say, you can tell when it’s been an awesome class because Dr. Cluff’s quotes pop up all over facebook as his student’s statuses. They often actually spark continued conversation about the class itself, especially when we were studying Paradise Lost. Though my favorites are always when a status begins, “I love that…”

Because it’s true. I think all of us have a deeper love and/or appreciation for western literature, and literature in general.

And so, Professor Cluff, we stand and applaud you.

It’s been a great semester.


Stones into Schools


This is the first of probably many posts pertaining to books I’ve read or want to read. I’ve always been the person to suggest titles and authors to people who complain (or don’t, for that matter) that they’ve nothing to read. So I figured I’d tell ya’ll what I was reading, and review it! So many of my friends and family are book nuts, which I have to say, is epic. You always have something to talk about (or, in some cases, fill the awkward silences). So here’s my first review!

First off, can I just say that Greg Mortenson is my hero?? We’ll get to that in a bit though.

Stones into Schools is the sequel to Greg Mortenson’s #1 bestseller Three Cups of Tea. Both are definitely much more than your average book club books. Three Cups of Tea chronicles the events that are spurred by  Mortenson’s failure to climb one of the highest mountains in the world, K2, which straddles the Chinese and Pakistani border. It is the second tallest mountain in the world (Mt. Everest being the first, obviously) at 28,251 feet. One out of every four people die trying to reach the summit. But that’s not what the story is about… it is merely where it begins.

Mortenson, on his K2 descent, becomes ill and stumbles into the village of Korphe, located in wilderness of Pakistan. After being nursed back to health by members of the village, he drinks the symbolic three cups of tea. The first cup of tea you are a stranger; the second, a friend; and the third cup you are family. Mortenson makes a promise to build Korphe a school, one that will be especially for girls.

Stones into Schools picks up where Three Cups of Tea leaves off: schools have been built throughout Pakistan, a non-combatant way to fight terrorism. The Central Asia Institute (CAI) founded by Mortenson is strong in the US. Support has been won by Pakistani people. Attention has been gathered.

In 1999, a band of horseman approach Mortenson and his companion on the road, asking that Mortenson build a school in the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan – unforgiving land in the heart of Taliban country. But the CAI could not immediately build a school in the roughest area of Afghanistan, schools had to be built slowly, reaching further and further into the country. This is the story that Stones into Schools tells.

{Stones into Schools}

The mission to educate and promote literacy in girls makes sense. The world has a million statistics to show that young women who are literate and educated have the unique ability to empower and strengthen communities. They become teachers and doctors, returning to their villages to repay the efforts put into their education. Strong communities repel the efforts of those who would seek to destroy others. Education promotes peace. School by school, throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan, Greg Mortenson and his companions and supporters worldwide, create peace and provide hope.

{The Mission}

Stones into Schools is both heartbreaking and joyous in its telling. Mortenson paints a vibrant picture of the Afghani people, highlighting both their struggles and their triumphs. Among the picture he paints, there are portraits of men and women who pour their hearts and souls into building schools. Different tribesman, different religious views, different backgrounds all disappear with the goal in sight. Readers follow Mortenson and his raggle-taggle band of humanitarians as they fight to build schools, and thus, build hope for a forsaken people in a war-torn nation. The biggest heartbreak in Stones into Schools is perhaps what the Afghanis call the qayamat (“the Apocalypse”) – the October 2005 earthquake that devastated the region. The official death toll in Pakistan was 79,000 people, and few know how many others were unaccounted for. Yet, CAI’s work did not relent.

I think what makes Stones into Schools one of my favorite pieces of literature is the fact that it guides the spotlight to humanity in a region that desperately needs that beautiful compassion and empathy. The story of Greg Mortenson – and perhaps more than Mortenson as a singular person – is merely one example of what makes the world a beautifully wonderful place to exist in. Despite hardships and the weary dust of life’s trouble, there are miraculous things going on throughout the world that everyone should be aware of. Reading first Three Cups of Tea, and then Stones into Schools is like tossing a pebble into a still pond. Once it hits the surface of the water, you can’t stop the ripples. The same is true of the Korphe school – the one stone tossed into still water, causing ripples that won’t stop until they reach the banks – the works will not top until the 120 million children throughout the world who are without a proper education have that unparalelled blessing.