Thursday, February 20, 2003

Despite the fact that I've been reading a lot lately (quitting a third job tends to give one some extra time), somehow I haven't been able to come up with much to review. I realized last night that this may have something to do with the towering stack of books on my nightstand--I've been reading but I haven't been finishing. So here's a little run-down of my current perusals...

*One book that I did actually finish was Mortimer J. Adler's Reforming Education, but a review is going to take more time and thought than I have now; I'll give it its due sometime later. However, it did inspire me to read more about education, so three of the books I'm working through at the moment are tied to this one. Much of Adler's moral code is based on Aristotle, specifically the Nicomachean Ethics. I'd been thinking about re-reading this anyway, and am enjoying the challenge of digging into it again. So far I've only read two books, and the first one left me struggling a little (his style is difficult to get used to), but I really liked the main point of the second book--that virtue is a mean between two vices. For instance, there are the two extremes of stinginess and extravagance (both, beyond a doubt, vices), and the mean between them is generosity (a virtue).

*Another very inspiring educational book is one about the Little Earth School, which provides a liberal education for children in Santa Fe, NM. It's full of creative ideas for teaching, but more than that it emphasizes the necessity of learning along with those one teaches. In order to be a good teacher, one must enjoy learning (thus providing an example for the students), and also be willing to be flexible, to change plans for the day or week or semester if a more intriguing opportunity appears. Being open to students' suggestions and direction keeps things fresh and interesting as well.

*Then there's The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis, who I believe to be one of the smartest people ever to have lived, as well as one of the most persuasive. Like many of his theological works, this one takes common arguments against Christianity (here, specifically, moral education) and shows how they consistently fall apart upon logical examination. Again and again he proves the existence of an underlying moral code in human nature--a reason why we know right from wrong and choose, in general, to uphold the former. He finishes with an appendix of quotations from ancient writings of different cultures and religions that support this, to show that while he may be expounding Christian beliefs, they are in fact universal beliefs.

*As I keep going, I'm realizing that this selection of books is much more weighty and impressive than my usual fare, so I'll quickly say that in between I have been reading the odd fantasy novel--I just finish them much more quickly, so they don't spend much time on the nightstand. I'm also planning, after writing this, to get back into Kate Elliot's very intriguing Crown of Stars series, since the fifth one just came out and I need to reacquaint myself. That said, I'll return to my intellectual tomes.

*The other day I picked up a new translation of Heraclitus, with commentary by T.M. Robinson, expecting to breeze through it in time to return it to the library (their threatening overdue notices are starting to unnerve me), but ended up getting immersed in (wow, really stepping up the nerdiness here) the ancient Greek. I remember very little of my two years spent with this language, but I was amazed at how much came back as I looked back and forth between the original and the translation. Heraclitus is an interesting fellow, especially since all of his fragments are gleaned from the writings of others, so no one's precisely sure how to put it all together. Some of the fragments stand alone easily as aphorisms, but others seem, well, fragmented, and also often contradictory. So far my favorite is (though I don't much care for the translation) "...lovers of wisdom ought very much to be enquirers into many things."

*I started re-reading Homer's Iliad quite some time ago, but getting back to some other ancients put me in the mood for more poetically gory details. I don't actually have much to say about the Iliad, except that it's really appalling how much power the Greeks gave their gods. Humans do very little on their own in Homer's world--the gods get blamed or praised for almost everything, and yet they're much more petty and nasty than the mortals they orchestrate.

*Another book that's been on my nightstand for a long time is Independent People, by Halldor Laxness. A twentieth-century Icelandic saga, it's been highly recommended to me by several people, but I'm having a hard time with it. It's one of those books like Wuthering Heights where there just aren't any characters with whom to sympathize, or really even like. Besides, life on a farm in Iceland is not exactly the most fun-filled experience, and the story gets a little grim for my taste.

*I've only gotten a little way into Margaret Mead's autiobiography of her early years, Blackberry Winter, but the descriptions of her childhood are an anthropological account of their own. I want to call the way in which she was raised "hippie", but that doesn't quite fit in the Victorian era; suffice it to say that her parents were progressive.

*I started re-reading Soren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling a few months ago, and discovered that my previous reading, in college, had only included the first part of the book--there's still a whole second part as yet untapped by me. Fortunately that fact overshadowed the hideous marginalia in the first part--I swear I must not have actually read it. So before I go on to new territory, I have to go through the first part again and atone for my neglect. However, this will take concentration and actual study, which requires sitting down during the day with a pencil ready in hand; I think of this, of course, as I am going to bed and looking for something not too challenging to read before sleep.

And there you are--the bottom of the stack. Look for further reviews of some of these in the future!

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