Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Moving On

In case you haven't heard, I completed my Summer Reading Challenge a couple of weeks ago. Reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings was definitely a summer well-spent, and I hope to have some reviews for you within the next few weeks (I'm trying to finish the LOTR movies first). Per Hannah's suggestion, I put some ice cream in the freezer as a reward for meeting the challenge. Yum! (Note to my family: before you start tearing our freezer apart looking for it, it isn't there. It's at work!)

And now, onto some coming attractions. As you can see from my sidebar, I am currently reading Emma by Jane Austen. This is my final Austen novel and what I would like to do is to review all of her works together. So after I review the Tolkein works, please join me for The Complete (& Unabridged) Jane Austen. Just as Austen's works are not "chick-lit", these will not be "chick-lit" reviews. I want to take an honest look at the plots, the characters and the themes of these classic stories, and I hope that even those of you who are not huge Austen fans will continue to read.

One more piece of business before I sign off. Blogger has been acting funny lately, so if my sidebar looks weird, it's because of Blogger, not me! Hopefully it will be fixed soon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Great Post: Moral Imagination

In his article in Touchstone Magazine entitled "Of Weeds and Fairy Tales", Vigen Guroian talks about the imagination. Not the "little kids playing pretend" thing our modern society calls imagination, but rather the true "moral imagination" that is anything but child's play. Here, Guroian discusses three different kinds of imagination; the idyllic, the idolatrous and the diabolical. He also discusses the role that stories, especially fairy tales, play in the shaping of the imaginations of both children and adults. Here is a sampling...

"Fairy tales are not scientific hypotheses, nor are they practical guides to living. They do something even better, however. They resonate with the deepest qualities of our humanity. They possess the power to draw us into the mystery of morality and virtue. They enable us to envision a world where there are norms and limits and where freedom respects the moral law or pays an especially high price. Fairy tales show us that there is a difference between what is logically possible and what is morally felicitous, between what is rationally doable and what is morally permissible."
HT: World Magazine Blog

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Great Books About Great Books

Though nothing can compare to reading the classics of literature for yourself and forming your own opinions of them, it is always nice to get the perspective of others. Here are some books that I have found very helpful in giving overviews of different works as well as introducing me to new authors.

Invitation to the Classics by Louise Cowan and Os Guinness

This is probably one of the most helpful books on western literature that I have read. It covers just about everything from the ancient to the modern classics including novels (Dickens, Tolstoy, Flaubert), political woks (Machiavelli, Rousseau, de Tocqueville), religious & philosophical works (Luther, Kierkegaard, Aquinas) and poetry (Eliot, Keats, Shakespeare). The book, which has a Christian perspective, moves in chronological order and summarizes each work including plots, themes and author bios. At the end of each summary, there are then questions to ask yourself regarding the themes of the work as well as recommended editions and translations. It is a beautiful book with selected quotes, pictures and trivia as well as sections on classics from different countries including France, Germany and Spain. It was through this work that I was inspired to read many of my favorite works including The Brothers Karamazov, Madame Bovary and Les Miserables. If you don't read any other reference book on great literature, read this one!

The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

This is the companion book to Bauer's The Well-Trained Mind, and its main goal is to help train your mind to the format of a classical education. In the 1st half of the book, Bauer focuses on reading and re-reading and re-reading the works as well as EXTENSIVE note taking. The whole thing is rather daunting and would be very time-consuming if you were to follow it to a "t", but thankfully, you can take certain elements and use it in your reading. The 2nd half of the book contains helpful summaries of different works including fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Though you may not want to implement Bauer's whole plan, it is certainly worth a look and you will probably find many helpful tips for your reading.

The Literary 100 and The Novel 100 by Daniel S. Burt

Daniel Burt set out on a daunting task when he wrote these books. The Literary 100 ranks the top 100 authors of all time (according to Burt and other "scholars") and The Novel 100 ranks the top 100 novels of all time. How he managed to sit down and actually pull this together I'll never know. Though you may not agree with his final rankings, Burt's works provide some fascinating glimpses into some of the world's best literature and takes both literary and historical importance into account. There are also appendices in the back that give some additional books/authors that didn't quite make the list, but are still worth your time. Both of these books are wonderful for browsing and are also great for those who are interested in more than just western literature.

Monday, August 4, 2008

In Memorium

Over the weekend, news came that the literary world has lost two of its brightest stars.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
December 11, 1918-August 3, 2008

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and creator of masterpieces like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn brought the truth of Josef Stalin's brutal regime to light. In 1974, he was stripped of his Soviet citizenship and deported to the west. He lived in America until 1994 when he returned to Moscow with his wife. It was there that he died yesterday of heart failure at the age of 89.

Pauline Baynes
September 9, 1922-? 2008

Her art brought some of the literary world's best loved characters to life. Pauline Baynes is most famous for her beautiful illustrations of C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia as well as many works by J. R. R. Tolkien. When asked about her fame as the drawer of Narnia (most people don't realize that she did anything else) she said "I think it's the fate of the illustrator. Look at Ernest Shepherd. He was so brilliant and did so much fine work, but people only associate him with Pooh and Piglet, and Toad of Toad Hall. It's the penalty of hitching your wagon to a star." She died within the past few days at the age of 85 at her home in Surrey.