Tag Archives: classics

2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 5 (Greeks and Romans)

Welcome to my favorite reads of 2019…Part 5! I TAed this past semester for a class on early Western political thought which means I finally knocked off a lot of Greek writers from my to-read list! However, I will be the first to say that I only understood most of these books because I was taking a class while I read them. Accordingly, while these hit five stars and were favorites of the year, I don’t necessarily recommend just picking them up for fun.

The Histories by Herodotus

Basically, the book where we get the story of 300. Full of facts and legends, it really was an interesting read and fascinating as the first “history book” as we know the term today. I found it surprisingly fun as well as historically significant. 

Clouds, Frogs, Assemblywomen, Wealth by Aristophanes 

Arisotphanes was an Athenian playwright who lampooned the Iliad-like honor culture of Greek society. I read 4 of his plays. They are extraordinarily vulgar, extremely astute, and quite funny. And considering 2,000 years have passed since he wrote this stuff, it is incredible that his poop jokes are still funny. I think Wealth was my favorite. 

Phaedo by Plato

 Plato’s account of Socrates last hours before his death. It is a final look at his philosophy towards life and the philosopher’s call. Brief but impactful. 

The Republic by Plato

An incredibly important book for Western thought and the more I study it, the more I realize how much it impacted the world we know today. I kept pausing to exclaim, “But that’s something C.S. Lewis says!” or “That’s straight out of Saul Alinsky!” or “This is foundational to a G.K. Chesterton arguments!” But of course, it isn’t a book a book that depends on Lewis or Alinsky or Chesterton, but rather the common background for all them. That said, definitely a philosopher’s book. It begs for debate, discussion, further analysis but it doesn’t entirely satisfy because it leaves much unanswered. 

Ethics by Aristotle

I actually read this one twice: first at the beginning of the year while in Thailand then for my class. It definitely made way more sense the second time through. Context does amazing things for your understanding. I particularly liked the section on Friendship. Quite thought provoking. 

The Aeneid by Virgil

I did not like The Aeneid as much as The Iliad, but it certainly deserves credit for historical significance. The Aeneid follows the fall of Troy through the founding of Rome. Tons of hilariously bad passages foreshadowing the glory of Rome and Caesar and whatnot. But also tons of familiar scenes that are part of our modern mythos. So, worth a read. 


2019 Reading Challenge: My Favorite Books

With 76 5-star reads this year, you better believe it was hard to choose favorites. I narrowed it down to 46 by dropping all my re-reads. Then I removed any Mary Stewart novels and Greek/Roman classics because–per my scheduling post–those will get separate posts later. But still. This was hard!

However, without much ado, I give you my favoritest favorite books of 2019 (in no particular order.) 

Sanditon: Jane Austen’s Last Novel by Jane Austen & Anne Telscombe (aka Marie Dobbs)

Jane Austen wrote the first 11 chapters of Sanditon before dying at age 41. And they are brilliant. Chapter 3 begins, “Every neighborhood should have a great lady.” Genius. But alas, never completed. Instead, in 1975, Anne Telscombe finished the story. And her conclusion feels way more like Georgette Heyer than Jane Austen. It is a completely different tone and suffers horrendously from hindsight, with characters enthusing about gaslights and other inventions just about to make it big. But you know what? It does not matter. This was still one of my favorite reads from 2019 because it was genuinely entertaining. Unfortunately, or perhaps fittingly, the mini-series based on the story and released this past year did not take well and will not be completed with a second season. 

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer 

Beauty and the Beast…with an epic twist. You know the story. An enchantress curses a prince to live as a beast until he finds true love. But did you know the first girl failed to break the curse? And the second. And the third. And so on. Each time he fails, Beast goes crazy and destroys all he loves. But it resets. New girl. New chance. All the memories. Except now he has only one reset left. Meet Harper. She lives in the bad part of town and has cerebral palsy. Then she saves an unconscious girl from a sword-swinging weirdo and gets dragged to a fantasy kingdom to break a curse. But she’s not sticking around.
I’ve read loads of Beauty and the Beast retellings and this is hands-down my favorite. It is dark, gritty, and hopeful with very memorable characters. That said, I have no interest in reading the rest of the series. YA authors really need to quit it with the cliff-hangers.

The Trial by Franz Kafka

It took me several tries to get into The Trial but once I did, I devoured it. It tells the story Josef K., a respectable bank officer suddenly and inexplicably arrested and tried but never told what for. It illustrates the falseness of a “justice” system without the rule of law and the character’s own false optimism that it will all get cleared up. I loved it. But then again, I also loved The Metamorphosis which some people do not so consider yourself warned. 

Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

Speaking of courtrooms…Twelve Angry Men is a classic American play (and movie, actually) about the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty” and how one man’s conviction can change the hearts of a whole group. Some plays you need to see performed to really feel the pathos. This is not  one. The words jump off the pages even with just a casual read. It is a rallying cry for the American justice system. I found it moving and inspiring. Definitely an instant favorite and as relevant for 2020 as 1954 when first written. 

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis

Do you ever hear so much about a book that you feel like you’ve read it already? That’d be me with The Weight of Glory. I’ve heard so much about the sermons and essays inside this volume that a part of me was surprised to discover it still unread. It was marvelous. I read through the titular piece three times before moving on. I highly recommend this collection of sermons and essays as thought-provoking reading you can take all at once or slowly and one at a time. (And if you understand the essay on Transposition, do tell me, because I did not.)

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Speaking of books to take slowly…it took me 2 years to complete The Cost of Discipleship. I could not rush it. Everything I read needed to be chewed over and sifted. I found it thought-provoking. Challenging. Encouraging. Motivating. Most of all, I relished reading doctrine. The book was a breath of fresh air. The downside of taking such a long time to read it, however, is that I’m not sure I can pin-point what all impacted me or which quotes I liked best. It impacted me gradually and I fell in love with all the quotes. Guess I need to add it to my to re-read list for 2020. 

Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine by Dorothy L Sayers

I love C.S. Lewis and appreciate the emphasis on his writings displayed by many Christian writers and academics today. But if I may be so bold, Christians really need to start paying more attention to Dorothy L. Sayers. Letters to a Diminished Church is a collection of essays on what it means to be made in the image of God the Creator. And it is so good. Sayers writes with biting wit and clear truths and reveals profound ideas. She touches on ancient history, Medieval allegory, and modern psychology. She unhesitatingly jumps from author to author in fleshing out her ideas, including references to Lewis’s Space Trilogy. While I love her book The Mind of the Maker, I strongly recommend starting with Letters to a Diminished Church. Like with The Weight of Glory, the essay format means you can take it as slow or fast as you want without losing the ‘thread’ of the thought. 

Edge of His Ways by Amy Carmichael 

“Thank God courage is as ‘infectious’ as discouragement.” Edge of His Ways is a daily devotional with a different writing of Amy Carmichael–usually a letter or journal entry–highlighted each day. Amy is one of my personal heroines and if you are not familiar with her story, I recommend checking her out. This devotional is encouraging, inspiring, and challenging. The copy I read had a very feminine, floral cover which is a pity because I think it is an equally excellent devotional for men and women. If looking for a short, encouraging daily read, I highly recommend. 

Thailand: The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide by Alexa West

Last, but never least, Alexa West’s amazing Thailand: The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide. If you are traveling to Thailand, you should get this book. If you are traveling anywhere in Southeast Asia, you should see if she has a book about that country. (She probably does.) This goes double if you are a solo traveler and triple if you are a solo girl traveler. Reading Alexa’s book feels like getting advice from a trusted friend and it never once steered me wrong. Some of my favorite experiences last year while living in Thailand came from her suggestions. 


Discussion Groups

Let’s recap: I am a TA this semester. I have never been a TA before. I have never had a TA. I do not really know what I am talking about most of the time because I have also not read any of these texts before, or, if I have, not read them academically.

But so far, I’ve been doing okay. Homer I already knew and could talk intelligently about. Herodotus and the PDFs we read about honor culture I could fudge well enough. Aristophanes I previously read for fun so I knew the principle players, so to speak.

But Plato is going to be the death of me. 

I read a passage from The Republic. It makes little sense to me. I show up to class and hear the lecture. Ah! Dimly, enlightenment begins to dawn. I go to the other TA with my big questions. Further clarity. I go to lecture again. 

Then I’m supposed to lead a discussion group where I explain what we read, foreshadow what will come, and answer questions I didn’t even think of. 

What a ride.

My first discussion group gets the brunt of this problem. I am a verbal processor so even if I get it, I need to say it out loud to really get it. 

My second group benefits from this. I speak a little more confidently; I already know what areas I don’t know. 

The third group gets the best version of me. I know what I want them to get. 

The fourth group gets the ‘I’ve been talking all day and now get this so this is all review and I skip the six questions that met with dead silence in the earlier groups but now I’ve got to somehow fill 10 more minutes’ version of me. 

Theoretically, though, I have to say…by the end of the day, I really know the readings inside and out!


Whatcha Reading…? 1/28/2019 Book Update

Back in 2016-2017, I used to do an occasional “Whatcha Reading” update. Basically, when I find myself buried in avalanche of current reads, I like sorting them out on here. 

Now, I know what you are thinking! “BUT WHAT ABOUT THAILAND?!” I promise I’m still here. The thing is, due to certain circumstances, I spent the weekend at home. And really, the most exciting thing I accomplished was laundry. I’ve strained my brain to make laundry an entertaining story, but mostly it involved me lacking the correct change and making strategic visits to the convenience store to get more. Mostly I read. And as I’ve decided to tackle several rather long books courtesy but my new Kindle, a “Whatcha Reading” update is the best way I can describe my weekend.

Without further ado, I present you my current reads: Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas, Ethics by Aristotle, The City of God by Saint Augustine, Pamela by Samuel Richardson, and Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy L. Sayers. (And lest you think my reading involves only intellectual works, I must confess I recently finished To Catch A Bad Guy by Marie Astor, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joane Flunke, and The Cinderella Deal by Jennifer Cruise – all as horrible as they sound.) As you can see, I’m working through the As on my Kindle. 

Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas is 95,666 pages long. I’m 1,520 pages in –  about 1%. I do not plan on finishing it this year…or next…or maybe the year after. But the work played an instrumental role in developing Western thought so I figure it is worth the long term commitment. 

Ethics by Aristotle…I am not sure what I think about this one yet. Obviously, I’m familiar with Aristotle’s theory of virtue as the mean between two extremes. He jumps around quite a bit, however, between personal application of virtue and civic virtue. His explanation of justice I found particularly intriguing. Mostly I feel like I miss as much as I understand. But I find his method of explaining things helps me better understand Aquinas. (Similar formatting of arguments.) 

I purchased my copy of The City of God by Saint Augustine instead of getting the free version and I am amazed the difference a good translation makes. I am not particularly far into the book but I’m quite intrigued. It begins with a seeming history lesson about the barbarians who sacked Rome but did not touch the Christian churches. Amidst this strange beginning, Saint Augustine weaves several points about human suffering. 

Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson was published in 1740 and I’ve been dragging myself through it since last July. Though a remarkable literary achievement for its time, I find the entire work slow and irritating. But I’m also stubbornly determined to finish it since it was a ‘first’ for many literary tropes we use today. (And Jane Austen read it.) 

Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy L. Sayers is incredibly good so far. I find it easier to grasp than her work about the trinity, The Mind of the Maker. In this book, she tackles Christian doctrine. She continues to emphasize the creativity of God and the importance of creation for human identity. I’m convinced this one will end up an immediate favorite. 


Charles Dickens

It took over 30 hours, but I finished Bleak House on audio book. I had high hopes for this one but I didn’t like it as much as I expected. There were some really memorable characters, but also some mediocre ones. Esther, the main narrator, is perfect in every way. Her companions are equally wholesome, and if they aren’t, they get epic death scenes. The plot is typically convoluted with the usual absurdities. 

When it comes to Dickens, I tend to give his books either 5 stars or 3. I either really like his books, or feel unenthusiastic about them. Bleak House falls in the 3 star category. My favorites from the 5 star category are:
Our Mutual Friend
David Copperfield

A Tale of Two Cities
A Christmas Carol

Whereas the 3 stars include:
Oliver Twist
Great Expectations
Little Dorrit 

Still on my to-read list are:
Hard Times

Nicholas Nickleby
The Pickwick Papers
Pictures from Italy 

Any favorites I should add?

 


Listening to Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady

I’ve been listening to Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady on audiobook and it is slowwww going. Granted, the book is long (over 20 hours) but it seems to be more than that. I dislike all the characters! There is no plot. And James is so dang wordy. I’m finishing disc 16 of 18 and the only thing keeping me going is the thought that I’m almost done.

To celebrate nearly being done, here are a few of my status updates from the past few weeks: (SPOILERS – maybe?) 

2% in – “I believe I have discovered another ENFP! Unfortunately, at the moment I do not like her.”

20% in –  “List of things I hate so far:
The ENFP main character
British lords
American girls
Men
The word “interlocutor””

24% in – “I think I can blame this book for my reading slump, and I’m not even reading it! I’m listening to it on audio. I guess the bright side is that while avoiding it I have heard a lot more pop music on the radio… Actually, I take it back. That is not the bright side. That is the dark side. I’m slowly dying inside. SOMEONE HELP ME.”

50% – “You mean…I’m only halfway through? *sob*”

60% – “Ahhh yes, abrupt confessions and angsty lovers are CLEARLY not enough. Better add an unhappy marriage.”

70% – “That awkward moment when your main suitor is dating you for your stepmom…”

72% – “Did James just say Pansy lives in a “virginal bower”? Why yes, yes he did.”

80% – “Am I done yet? No? Please?”

 


2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 3

The 5-star, best of the best, reads from 2016! 

The Iliad by Homer

It is always difficult to rate a classic, but this is a super-duper classic. THE classic. A lot annoyed me in this story and I was often bored or grossed out, but the humanity captured is truly amazing. Many of the struggles, desires, emotions, and even insults thrown back and forth are recognizable and relevant today. This is a messed up story, but it is a also a story of coming to terms with grief and life and honor. It is incredible. My favorite “character” was Diomedes. I can’t believe I had never heard of him before! He was awesome! There is a reason this story has remained such a favorite for so long.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas 

I had some pretty high expectations for Bonhoeffer and, remarkably, it lived up to them. Bonhoeffer is great, not only because it is the story of the pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but because it incorporates WW2 history, theology, and the story of Germany in the early twentieth century all at the same time. I especially enjoyed the quotes from Bonhoeffer. I am going to have to read more by him. This book may be thick but it is worth it. Highly recommended for lovers of history and anyone who wants to learn more about a fascinating, relatively unknown and unsung hero of WW2.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens 

Despite being ridiculously long and occasionally mindbogglingly boring, this book was wonderful and hard to put down. There were moments I loved it and moments I hated it. However, in the end, loving or hating, I really enjoyed David Copperfield and it might surpass Our Mutual Friend as my favorite Dickens novel. You can never tell what will happen next. There were a lot of characters but it was surprisingly easy to keep them straight. I like how everything was tied up and how everything comes around. The description on the audio book says, “tragedy and comedy in equal measure.” That is this book in a nutshell. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. And in the end, it is totally worth the 34 hours, or 900 some pages, or whatever else it takes to get through it. Go Dickens!

Poems by C.S. Lewis 

Did you know Lewis was a poet? He was a really good one, too. In general, I don’t read poetry but this volume gave me a better sense of why people like it. Poetry can be bite size brilliance. These were utterly profound but applicable and memorable. My favorites were “Pan’s Purge”, “Reason”, and “The Country of the Blind.” Some of Lewis’s poems are silly. Some are profound. Quite a few confound me with allusions to things I know nothing about. He writes about angels and nature, love and Dwarfs. Well worth finding. 

The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka 

I like this book because I could enjoy it just as it was, as a story, and yet also enjoy it as a classic literary work revealing human nature. I like Gregor and the love he has for his family, a love eventually worn down by self-absorption and then flipped again in his last moments. I actually liked his family as well with all their passivity, self-absorption, and laziness. Basically, they are horrible humans, but they ring true. The way they behave towards Gregor felt completely natural and realistic. Kafka makes a brilliant point about human dependency and how we let things control our whole lives. Fascinating stuff! 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 

Another Dickens novel! This timeless Christmas tale was even better than I expected. The book is simple and yet timeless. I don’t know what else to add because you probably already know about Scrooge and his nocturnal visitors, this story is part of our common culture. I thought I knew it. However, it has more depth than I realized. If you haven’t read it for yourself, I recommend doing so. 

Common Sense by Thomas Paine 

The historical significance of Common Sense alone argues for a 5 star rating. Highly readable, this pamphlet references natural law, legal theory, historical precedent, and Old Testament narrative. It made for an enjoyable read and provides insight into what fired up our Founding Fathers. I was pleasantly surprised by this one!