I am currently reading Dorothy L. Sayers again. I’ve made it to Gaudy Night in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. Gaudy Night is one of my favourite of these books. Once, when I had it with me at church, Fee, an elder now with Jesus, informed me that it was one of her favourites. I know I liked it because of the interesting female lead. I think Fee might have liked it for similar reasons. As I read last night, I came across a passage that I don’t think I’d spotted before. I’ve been interested in the “Great Men” historiography of the nineteenth century because I’ve worked with women writing in the nineteenth century who had to deal with that kind of thinking. In Gaudy Night Harriet mused on a counter theory of great women. Here is her musing
“Though of course,” Harriet reminded herself, “a woman may achieve greatness, or at any rate great renown, by merely being a wonderful wife and mother, like the mother of the Gracchi; whereas the men who have achieved great renown by being devoted husbands and fathers might be counted on the fingers of one hand. Charles I was an unfortunate king, but an admirable family man. Still, you would scarcely class him as one of the world’s great fathers, and his children were not an unqualified success. Dear me! Being a father is either a very difficult or a very sadly unrewarded profession. Wherever you find a great man, you will find a great mother or a great wife standing behind him—or so they used to say. It would be interesting to know how many great women have had great fathers and husbands behind them. An interesting thesis for research. Elizabeth Barrett? Well, she had a great husband, but he was great in his own right, so to speak—and Mr. Barrett was not exactly—The Brontes? Well, hardly. Queen Elizabeth? [Note: no number as book written in 1935.] She had a remarkable father, but devoted helpfulness towards his daughters was scarcely his leading characteristic. And she was so wrong-headed as to have no husband. Queen Victoria? You might make a good deal out of poor Albert, but you couldn’t do much with the Duke of Kent.”
Excellent. I rather liked this line of thought.
I’m not making my best of 2013 list until closer to the end of the year. Others can’t wait. Here is an annotated list of lists.
- NPR guide to the best books of 2013. This is a rather large collection of recommended reading from the last year. You can narrow things down by picking what kind of books you like to read in links to the left of the book montage. This is always risky as you might miss something really good in another category — but it also means you don’t miss what you are really interested in because your eyes slide past it in the really big pile of book cover pictures. Book that caught my eye that I’d never heard of before: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
- Speaking of obscure, over at Quill and Quire, a review editor’s top five reads for 2013. There are other links at the bottom of that page to more top five picks for 2013. CanLit and indie presses combine to bring you things you never thought of.
- Over in the U.K., the Guardian has a whole books of the year section with lists in a variety of categories. To Margaret Atwood’s chagrin, MaddAdam is considered Science Fiction in the Guardian’s lists.
- Finally, instead of a best of 2013 list, from Business Insider 35 Books everyone should read at least once in their life. I’ve read 11 of these. Some are on my To Be Read list, others, not so much. Surprise entry on the list: Anne of Green Gables. What? Everyone? Ok.
Happy list reading and Christmas list making.
I’ve just finished reading History, Sacred and Profane by Alan Richardson. The book is the published version of the Bampton Lectures for 1962. (These are the Bampton Lectures at Oxford, not the ones in the USA.) At the end, in an appendix, Richardson says that Christian theology is closer to history than philosophy, and to think that dogmatics is metaphysics confuses categories. Here is a longish quote in which this gets says. (The italics emphasis in the quote is Richardson’s, the bold emphasis mine. I’ve added a little gender-inclusivity as well.)
A very important corollary follows concerning the nature of the enquiry into the history of ideas which has been pursued in these Lectures. That enquiry has been historical in character, since it has been concerned with the interpretation of history. The point is an important one, because there is much confusion today concerning the nature of theology. Many philosophers nowadays are accustomed to class theological statements with metaphysical ones, bringing them into the same condemnation. This is a mistake, a confusion of categories, so far as Christian theology is concerned. If our approach has been correct, theological statements are historical, not metaphysical, in character. Such statements as ‘God is love’ or ‘the world was created by God’ are historical in that they are brief summaries of a long and well-considered process of reflection upon historical ‘facts’, which are themselves interpretations of historical evidence. Christian dogmatics, is, in essence, the Christian interpretation of history. The verification of theological statements involves us in the interpretation of history, which is the task of the historian qua historian; verification is not the task of the philosopher qua philosopher, because the relevant evidence is historical. Verification, again, is not to be sought in the natural sciences (though, of course, the historian will have to take into account all available knowledge, including scientific knowledge, when he comes to make his interpretation). In the last resort, as in all historical interpretation, the interpreter’s own personal experience of involvement in history will be the deciding factor in his [her] judging, because all historical judgment is unavoidably personal and existential. There is no escape from personal decision by the fiction of an objective or ‘scientific’ history, which can determine the existential questions of historical interpretation in the kind of ‘public’ manner which is expected of the natural sciences. The sciences tell us much about the stage on which the drama of history is enacted; they can even help us to set the stage in such a way that the play may be better acted and better seen; but the meaning of the drama is perceived not by attending to the stage mechanism, but by involvement in the tragedy enacted under the lights focused by the historian’s skill.
Theologians or historians or philosophers do you have thoughts or comments?
I’ve been off doing scholarly things in the real world, thus there has been a small silence in this space. Regularly scheduled posts will return as soon as I’ve read something to discuss here.
In the mean time, some posts for you from Bookriot:
1. a list of lists of or about books,
2. a list of things to be thankful for that is book-focused.
Finally, a picture of and story about the new memorial to C.S. Lewis in Westminster Abbey.
Advent starts tomorrow!
Some bits and pieces for a Saturday night.
1. The top-ten counterfactual novels as picked by a guy who wrote one about King Edward VIII. I’ve read a few on his list and agree with him that these are good. I’d love to read Dominion by C.J. Sansom but have not been able to find a copy in North America. Must Look Harder.
2. In Real History that is pretty surreal, have you been following the whole Richard III thing? If not I’ve got a couple of videos for you to watch. First, the academics summarize what they found and present evidence to show that they found the body of Richard III. Then watch the whole story as told in this BBC 4 special, The King in the Car Park. Really cool and totally worth your time, even if you are procrastinating, like me.
3. For the connections between the War of the Roses and Game of Thrones (you didn’t know there was a connection?) see this blog post also on Richard III, but now on his burial, which has become quite controversial. Pretty sure wherever the reinterment occurs it will be a hot ticket next summer.
A friend of mine has a whole month off over Christmas this year because he’s lucky and his exams end early. He plans to read. In that light, he asked me to pass him some recommendations, particularly in theology. This has led me to reflect on the making of reading lists in general, so I pass on my reflections to you.
- Start with what interests you. My friend — who I’ll call Cakebane (because cake is what he cuts with swords) — is interested in history. I’m not sure exactly which history courses Cakebane is taking this year at university, but if he chooses correctly he could end up with a Classics minor, so I know he’s got some interest in the ancient world. I will take this interest into consideration as I select possibilities for his reading list. But I will also tell him to start with what interests him most.
- Your reading list is not someone else’s reading list. As I began to think about this month-long block of time Cakebane has at Christmas I began to think “What would I read if I had a month off at Christmas?” But my reading list is not his reading list. I think I might plunge into The City of God by St. Augustine if I had a month to read. I’m not sure Cakebane wants that particular challenge this Christmas, though, he might. Don’t feel constrained by what other people are reading. Your reading list is not someone else’s reading list.
- Consider your location in life when putting together a list. Things change. You change. One of the things that happens when you read is that your reading changes you. I can read things now that I couldn’t read before because I’ve got more reading experience in some areas. For example, I’ve read a fair amount in the theological disciplines. I read theological books differently now than I did when I began to study. I also have more life experience now than previously. Never mind how much life experience I’ve got, just know that I’ve got more than Cakebane. Thus his reading list will reflect his life and reading experience.
- Let one interesting book lead to another. I’ve mentioned before in this space that I like bibliographies. (I’ve said so more than once, and mentioned that bibliographies are part of how I figure out what to read next.) You can set up a reading list, but sometimes when you read one book, it leads you to something not on your list. Go there. Don’t be restricted. Then when that rabbit trail ends, go back to your list. This week as I read a footnote in my current Theology Reading List book, I was reminded of a memoir I picked up in the summer. Guess where I’m going next?
- Be flexible. This flows from point 4. Once you have a reading list, don’t feel bound to it, particularly if you’ve only got a limited time. If you’ve got a good reason for being disciplined about the list, then possibly you should be selective about the bookish rabbit trails you follow. If, however, this is a list to broaden your horizons, then follow your instincts. If that book in the footnote looks more interesting than the next book on your list, go for it. If the tenth book on the list catches your eye more than the second, skip down! Be flexible.
Happy reading list compiling. Let me know what is on your To Be Read List/Pile.
For some reason, some book bloggers think it is the end of the year. Possibly this funny notion follows the publication of Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2013 lists. Why? Why must this happen in November? It is worse than jumping the gun on Christmas (which hasn’t happened as much this year as I’ve seen happen other years). Why wish 2013 away when there are 50 days left in the year? C’mon people, the New Year is soon enough for end of year angst and lists. Mine won’t come out until then. I haven’t finished reading yet.
In other news, it is the Dark Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo. Keep typing all you writers! You can do it! I know you can!
I’ve spent many hours in the happy land of Narnia (as Bree, the horse calls his home). I’ve done a bit of a search around this blog and found that I’ve listed two different Narnia books as my favourite of the Chronicles of Narnia. Oops. In one place I said The Horse and His Boy, and in another, The Silver Chair. Hmm. Guess I’d better make up my mind.
Here is the order in which I favour the Narnia books, with reasons:
- The Horse and His Boy. It was the first Narnia book I ever read. I was 7. It also appeals to me on many levels. As a friend of mine put it when I asked about favourite Chronicle of Narnia on facebook: “Talking horses, finding your real family and home, the glimpse of grownup golden age Pevensies.” What more could anyone ask for? Plus I was 7 and the whole finding one’s biological family without really looking appealed to me. I ended up having to look. Oh well.
- The Silver Chair. I love the quest in this book, plus Puddleglum. He’s my favourite character in the series. Plus there’s something about the signs, and the many ways Aslan shows up that I find appealing in this book.
- The Magician’s Nephew. It is the creation scene with the lion singing that gets me every time. I’ve grown in appreciation for this book over time. I also like the prequel aspect of the book, you get the deep background of the Lamp Post (for example) and other things.
- 5. and 6. I never read these ones separately so they all run together in my mind: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Favourite scenes: Father Christmas; when Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy figure out where they are; Edmund the dragon.
And finally, 7. The Last Battle. I have grown in appreciation for this one over time, but I like it least because things end in it. But the last chapter with farther up and farther in is pretty awesome.
What about you? Which is your favourite? (Vote!)
Over on one of those list-making hip sites there is a new list of 50 incredibly tough books for extreme readers. I looked through the list, found I’d never heard of most of the books, but found the list carried some weight. There are some tough books out there. Of the fifty listed, I can comment on five. Two I’ve read, and three I own and intend to read.
The Two I’ve Read:
1. The Sound & the Fury by William Faulkner. 1Mom mentioned she liked Faulkner a lot. So I read S&F having never read Faulkner before. Who knew it was the hardest one? Oh well. I enjoyed it. It is difficult, but once you pick up the place and space cues, you are ok. I think.
2. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Read on the bus while working a summer job at an aircraft manufacturing plant back in my aero engineering days. True story. I read the Tales on the bus to work, and on my lunch breaks. I read a couple of difficult things that summer that still stick in my head and make me think of the 58 Malton bus: Canterbury Tales and Eusebius’s History of the Church. I read both in translation.
The Three on the Shelf:
3. War and Peace by Tolstoy. See my true confessions on this one.
4. Divine Comedy by Dante, Dorothy L. Sayers translation. I searched high and low for used copies of the Sayers translation, but haven’t had the courage to read it yet. I should just start.
5. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I totally just found a mass market paperback copy at my local used bookshop. When I was purchasing it the guy who owns the bookshop (and kind of knows me) laughed and said to me, “It almost looks readable in this edition, doesn’t it.” I laughed and agreed. It sits in a to be read pile, but I have hopes of turning to it this winter.
What about you? What incredibly difficult books have you read?
Friday was All Saints’ Day. Many churches who follow the liturgical calendar celebrated All the Saints in the service today. I bet there were lots of people singing this hymn. All the Saints includes all Christians, not just those who are especially named as saints by particular churches. With that in mind, I’d suggest that November 2013 is a celebration of one particular saint — St. Jack, the author C.S. Lewis.
Lewis died 50 years ago, on November 22, 1963. On November 22, 2013, a memorial to Lewis will be dedicated in Westminster Abbey. Lots of people are taking notice of this Lewis jubilee year. Lewis’s parish church in Oxford held a celebration of his life in September. New books on the life and works of Lewis have been published in the last year. It seems an appropriate time to reflect on the influence of Lewis on me. Lewis has influenced a lot of people in a variety of ways, and lots of them have mentioned this in interviews and memoirs. But I’ve never written much about Lewis’s influence on me. So I’ll go there this month. Watch for it.
Top five Lewis books based on their influence on my academic thinking:
1. An Experiment in Criticism
2. Surprised by Joy
3. The Great Divorce
4. Of This and Other Worlds
5. Studies in Words.