Tag: Literature

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12 13 14 15 in 2022.  Last year, according to my Kindle, I read 117 books. According to Goodreads, 129. According to my own record, 105. The discrepancy is that Kindle included some pamphlets and pdfs that were too short to count, and Goodreads included some books I finished in 2020 but didn’t record until 2021. […]

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My Favorite Christmas Passage…

 

…isn’t even from a book that focuses on Christmas, or even my favorite book. I read the following on a humid summer afternoon, long after the days of assigned reading, and was instantly transported.

One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time.

ACF Podcast: British Decadence for Christmas

 

It’s not the greatest gift, but it’s a good discussion–my friend Ben Sixsmith joins me for a discussion of his first volume of short stories, Noughties: Eleven Echoes of a Dismal Decade. We talk about the strange times at the beginning of the 21st century when it seemed like there would be a cultural rebirth in England. This proved not only short-lived but a deception–a self-deception for the English.

The most obvious sign is Tony Blair, who won three consecutive elections. He seemed first to resurrect Labour after Thatcher; and then to make Labour the only acceptable political party for cool, modern, intelligent Britons looking forward to a bright, global future. Yet, Blair has ended up loathed almost universally, Labour has collapsed, Brexit has happened, Britain’s Middle Eastern war-making alongside America was a catastrophe, and it’s harder and harder to say what the future might be, much less who can lead and who is inclined to follow in which direction.

In a Book-Buying Mood

 

I dislike acquiring stuff. You only own things in part; in part the things own you. I also have too many unread books already. My shelves are nearly full. And despite my best attempts to convince myself otherwise, I want more books.

I’ve been jotting down a list of books that I need to look up and read sometime. A couple quick notes from it:

Halloween, the Boogeyman, and Why ‘Lord of the Flies’ Matters

 

He served in the British Navy during World War II. Before the war, William Golding was a humanist, assured that people are perfectible, that humans can bring into being some future utopia. In Golding’s words, “All you had to do was to remove certain inequities and provide practical sociological solutions, and man would have a perfect paradise on earth.” After the war, Golding wrote a novel, the theme of which was about what he called “the defects of human nature.”

William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies tells the story of military schoolboys left to themselves on a desert island after a nuclear holocaust. Apart from any adult supervision, the boys devolve into a state of savagery, falling from modern to primitive. Split into two groups the boys vie for power. One group, fighting an island beast, erects a pig’s head on a pole which is soon surrounded by flies. The title of the novel, Lord of the Flies, reveals the true nature of the beast – the monster is not the pig but the boys themselves.

Monster costumes around Halloween are related to Lord of the Flies. The word “insect” comes from the original word for “bug,” later, boogeyman. Movie titles with the words “ghost,” “specter,” “goblin,” or “scarecrow” come from a fear of some beast, some Lord of the Flies. But as Golding and his novel teach us, the real monster, the real beast, is us. We may be haunted by supernatural entities – which do indeed, exist – but our first problem is the problem of our nature. Just like the boys on the island, left to ourselves, we will always be the monster. So, dressing up for Halloween as our favorite monster might be easiest if we just go as ourselves.

Simulation, Revelation

 

The surest way to appreciate a work is to try to recreate it.

Toddlers help us to appreciate the difficulty of drawing or painting by their laughable scribbling. One might first pity the child’s lack of eye-hand coordination, lack of patience, or lack of barest attention to detail (“Is it an airplane? Oh, a cat! Of course, it is. It looks great!”). But few adults can sketch anything worthy of pride either. The more we advance in skill, the more we recognize the full challenge. 

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Rafe Esquith, an award-winning teacher at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles, and the founder of The Hobart Shakespeareans, who annually stage performances of unabridged plays by William Shakespeare. He shares why he founded the award-winning program to teach disadvantaged Los Angeles elementary school students a classical humanities curriculum, the most inspiring experiences and the biggest challenges of teaching highly demanding literary works to young schoolchildren from diverse backgrounds. They explore techniques he uses to help students connect with Shakespeare as well as great authors across the ages.

Stories of the Week: The University of California system agreed Friday to extend its test-free admissions policy through 2025, addressing claims that the use of SAT and ACT results discriminates against applicants based on race, income, and disability. Responding to inequities with regard to internet access that were revealed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education will subsidize broadband service for millions of underprivileged K-12 students and college students.

All Good Things Come in Threes: Khamsa of Nizami British Library, Or. 12208

 

Khamsa of Nizami British Library, Or. 12208 is not a very interesting sounding document. Indeed, to most Westerners, Khamsa of Nizami means nothing at all. But this illustrated manuscript, which now resides at the British Library in London, tells three extraordinary tales: the poems of Nizami, the profound (and unappreciated) bond between art and the written world in the early modern Islamic world, and the relationship between two great empires. Let’s start from the last. 

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Near two millennia now the beautiful prayer that Jesus gave us has been prayed with and over and thought about by ordinary folk and some of the best minds this world has ever known. I love this, Dante’s meditation, from the beginning of Canto XI of The Purgatorio. The inverse of the descent into The […]

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Holy Thou Art

 

What does it mean for something to be holy? I think it means that a thing or person directs us to God or expresses His presence. Holiness is connected with pious awe. 

What artistic works seem holy to you? Which are the most peculiarly holy — holy in some unusual and perhaps less obvious sense? Is there some work of sculpture or architecture, painting or music, oration or literature that draws you closer to God in a way your associates don’t fully share? 

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There is not a clear line between them.  Novels are often considered more intellectually challenging than movies. But many readers prefer what I call “junk fiction” which, though respectable, offers thrills and little else. It’s mind candy to be enjoyed and quickly forgotten. Films can similarly offer shallow but pleasing content, of course.  Preview Open

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“Мы были Сережей и Иосифом”: Call Me When You Reach New York, Seryozha (Borscht Report #7)

 

When Sergei Dovlatov, finally having run afoul of Soviet censors one too many times, was encouraged (i.e. told he was going) to leave the Soviet Union in 1979, he never doubted his destination: New York. Of course, the large Russian community there, which his wife and daughter had settled into a few years previous, played a role in his decision. But so did the presence of an old friend. Joseph Brodsky, an established poet two years his senior who shared a similarly combative relationship with Soviet authorities, had been forced into exile in 1972, and had chosen New York as his final destination.

Brodsky was something of a literary older brother to Dovlatov. The two met in the winter of 1959, when Dovlatov was a student in the faculty of Finnish language at Leningrad State University, and Brodsky, who at various times had worked in morgues, geological expeditions, and naval boiler rooms, was beginning to find a prominent place on the Leningrad literary scene. Only a year later, he would meet his mentor, the famous poetess Anna Akhmatova, who helped him reach fame all over the country. The young student, though, was already impressed: “He pushed Hemingway out of the background and became my literary idol forever.”

Dovlatov’s new idol quickly found his fortunes reversing. In 1963, Brodsky’s poetry was officially denounced, and, on charges of social parasitism and with a diagnosis of sluggish schizophrenia, he was twice placed in mental institutions. Not yet twenty-four, he was put on trial, and, when he replied to one of the People’s Judges, on asking who had made him a poet, “No one. And who put me in the ranks of humanity?”, he was sentenced to five years hard labor in the Arkhangelsk Oblast of northwestern Russia. Meanwhile, his new friend had flunked out of LGU and was subsequently drafted into the Soviet Internal Troops, used a camp guard in between stints as a boxer. 

What Killed the Dinosaurs! And You Don’t Look So Terrific Yourself.

 

In 1978, Harlan Ellison published a fine collection of his short stories, called Strange Wine, with an Introduction entitled, “Revealed at Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs! And You Don’t Look So Terrific Yourself.” This was Harlan’s classic broadside against the watching of television.

I was reminded of him while reading a news story headlined: “Almost 40% of university students surveyed are addicted to their phones.” Harlan could have easily updated his Introduction against all of social media. (If you’d like to read the full version of the Introduction, go to Strange Wine on Amazon Kindle, click on the “Look inside” cover image, and scroll down.

‘A Gift to Humanity’

 

If we are to be unified, then we must be able and willing to share life. Bill Whittle and company offer a timely reminder of the tremendous good that social media can achieve when people are free to associate across boundaries and to enjoy life together as fellows.

A Sense of Wonder

 

Whether you are Christian or not, Christmas is a good time for renewal of innocence and wonder. The common sights of people excitedly opening gifts, decorating homes and public streets in lights, retelling stories of miracles and merriment — such experiences can rekindle in us a joyful pursuit of the good and the beautiful.

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What if Frodo was not the lead protagonist of The Lord of the Rings? What might the story be like if told through only one character’s perspective?  The same fictional world. The same setting of time, over-arching threats, characters great and small, etc. How might the events change if you guided Frodo’s decisions? Then start […]

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Всегда вместе: Vera and Vladimir, An Unusual Literary Love Story (Borscht Report #4)

 

It was a love story centuries in the making. While Russian authors have written some of the greatest, and most beloved, love stories ever told, their personal lives tend to be far from any romantic ideal. Tolstoy tortured his wife of 48 years, forcing her to read of his numerous affairs and hatred for her in his diary, Mikhail Bulgakov was thrice wed, and Ivan Bunin invited another woman to live with himself and his second wife while in French exile. Hardly a track record that inspires confidence. 

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Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Sovereign princes and their heirs may have many interests. They may love art or music or architecture. They may endeavor to be Renaissance men, writing poetry and studying ancient arts, such as horsemanship. But their primary responsibility is to defend their domains and their subjects. This has […]

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