Tag Archives: old books

The interesting interconnections you notice

I’ve been doing this reading old books challenge for a year and 8 months now. As part of the challenge, I read some Sherlock Holmes mysteries for the first time. I’m in the middle of a second volume of the complete Sherlock (actually it is volume 1 but I read volume 2 first), so have got a pretty clear picture of Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson and their world. It is fairly shocking to see Mr. Holmes clearly shown to be a user of intravenous drugs without censure. I kind of knew this, but still. Plus, the 19th-century versions of crack houses are rather vividly portrayed.

All this reading about Sherlock Holmes has made me a bit more attuned to mentions of him in other places. I picked up The Magician’s Nephew for a little night-time relaxation, and Ka-Zam! Mr. Sherlock Holmes shows up, right there on page 1. Really. This is how C.S. Lewis begins TMN:

This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.

In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road.

I stopped reading. I looked again: “In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street.” Suddenly the world of Polly and Digory got a little dingier, a little more full of frightening possibilities, and the idea of Queen Jadis at large in London with Mr. Sherlock Holmes around was rather interesting. I saw the setting of this one book (which I’ve read more times than I remember) differently because I’d read all these other books.

Connections and literary references. The more you read, the more interesting re-reading becomes.

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Sunday Excursions

This is not an excursus, but an excursion, a small trip around a few old books I read during my two months of silence. It does not follow the numerical sequence which I picked up with my Four Reasons post of yesterday, and which I’ll continue tomorrow, in the tradition of other Sunday posts this year so far.

Time Travel: Of course one of my reasons for reading older books is time travel. I travel to a different age, whether or not the author sets the book in his or her present, it is the past now. At times the author sets the book in some imagined future, but that is still time travel of a sort. I read one book set in the author’s future during my little blog break: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. C.S. Lewis though very highly of this book when it first came out. I think it was mentioned in one of his letters. Lewis’s mention of Childhood’s End was the reason I picked the book up in the first place. It is certainly an interesting take on the visitation by UFOs/aliens story. If you haven’t read it and enjoy SciFi, I’d recommend it. It is vaguely Buddhist just as Orson Scott Card’s books tend to be rather Mormon.

Russia: I’ve now read two Russian Novels, both by Tolstoy. I should probably branch out and try some other Russian Author as well. Dostoevsky might be next. I did not revisit War and Peace, rather I read Resurrection. I began this book during Holy Week, and found it appropriate reading for the season. It is very good, and, I think, pretty accessible for Tolstoy. It is his last novel, first published in 1899. It gave me a different view of pre-revolutionary Russia.

England: Four books took me to England, two to the early 19th century, and two to the first half of the 20th century. Northanger Abbey, the Jane Austen I hadn’t read before, is quite amusing. Austen sends up gothic novels very well. Great Expectations is the first Dickens novel I’ve read. I have read A Christmas Carol, but it is better called a novella I think, and I know the stories of A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist, but have never read the books. I quite enjoyed Great Expectations considering that I had low expectations as I thought that possibly Dickens has been over-hyped. I’m not as convinced of the over-hyped opinion as I once was. I’ve more Dickens on the shelf for this year, so we’ll see what comes of those. Both the Dickens and Austen books are set in the early part of the 19th century. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is set in the second World War, but recollections of the narrator give his story through the 20s and 30s as well. This has an interesting theological twist or two in it, and I’d like to hear what YOU think of the ending. Finally, His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle brings Sherlock Holmes into the 20th century in a collection of short stories that are not entirely sequential, but include a story set during the first World War.

New England: Finally, I listened to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott on audio book. I still think that this is a rather moralistic/moralizing book that is not very theologically sound. It was interesting hearing it read, as I couldn’t skip bits as I tend to do when re-reading. I heard a lot more foreshadowing of who the boy next door would end up with than I’d noticed when reading the book.

Those are some of the places I’ve gone while reading, how about you?



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Third time’s the charm?

I’ve just finished The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. I was about to give up on Greene. I’ve heard lots of good things, but, while his books I read last year in my Reading Older Books project were ok and had memorable moments, I didn’t find them “wow” kind of reading. I had one Greene more to read already in my TBR pile that I’d heard lots of people talk about, but given the description of the story along with my previous experiences, I did not have high hopes.

Instead of disappointing, The Power and the Glory blew me away. It is really good. But, I will qualify that by saying not everyone will like the book. I don’t think I would have liked the book this much had I read it 10 years ago. Sometimes books come along and there’s a synergy with a moment in time in your life. I feel like that might be the case for me and TPatG.

Or maybe having experienced Greene two previous times, I was able to read him better the third time. What’s your favourite Greene book? Maybe I should look for that one next.

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E is for Elephant?

Where the Elephant is in the room, the Elephant of unread books by authors whose names begin with E.

Actually E is for Eliot, as in George Eliot, the pen-name of Mary Ann Evans. I’ve read exactly one of Eliot’s novels, Silas Marner. I have other Eliot novels on my shelf in the to-be-read area. I also have a biography of Eliot in the to-be read area of my books. I think I should read Middlemarch next. But somehow, I never quite get to starting Middlemarch. Somehow Eliot/Evans never quite makes it off the shelf and into my hands. I’m not sure why this is the case, especially since I’m consciously trying to read older books these days. I found Silas Marner hard to get through, so I may be expecting the same of other Eliot works. Possibly you English Majors will tell me that SM was possibly not the George Eliot book to start with. I’d love to hear this, and also would appreciate hearing what you think I should attempt next.

What E-books have you read lately?

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Thoughts while reading

I just finished listening to The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. I’ve not read Christie for some time. Hercule Poirot annoys me. The Restless Teacher thinks I’ve deeply misunderstood Poirot as she enjoys his exploits. What got me this time was the thick narrator. Are Christie’s narrators always so stupid? This guy thought he knew what was going on, but Poirot ran rings around him, insulted him to his face without his realizing it, and generally made a fool of him. It felt like Christie was mocking the English gentleman. I’d never noticed this before. I will watch out for it when I revisit Murder on the Orient Express which I will do when I’ve finished Passage to India.

Speaking of Passage to India here is a great description from that book. I feel like Forster is trying a little to hard to find felicitous phrases, but then this one pops up and I thought — there it is, that is what he’s trying to do but not quite making it most of the time.

They [the English] exchanged the usual drinks, but everything tasted different and then they looked out at the palisade of cactuses stabbing the purple throat of the sky; they realized they were thousands of miles from any scenery that they understood.

“The palisade of cactuses stabbing the purple throat of the sky.” Got it that time E.M. Forster.

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Making Connections

I like making connections. I make connections between ideas, between people, between books and people, between ideas and people, between lots of things. Making connections is one thing I think I’m reasonably good at. It is a difficult to describe skill in job-hunting though. Just saying.

Today I made a connection, not new to the world at large, but new to me. I am reading (slowly) The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature (2nd Edition), edited by Margaret Drabble and Jenny Stringer. I’m in the ST- entries. I’m reading this reference work from A-Z because I do not have a degree in English Literature and so am trying to learn a little more than I would just by reading English Literature in itself. Also, it gives me ideas for old books to read. So, the connection made today was between Leslie Stephen, known to me as the editor of the original Dictionary of National Biography, a reference I often consult in my work with women who interpreted the Bible, and Virginia Woolf, 20th Century author of some renown. Stephen was Woolf’s father. This was remarked on incidentally in the entry Stephens, Leslie in the COCtEL. It is, however, the main point made about Stephen in the Wiki article on his life. (Aside: I tend to prefer the COCtEL approach, which gave Stephen his due for his own literary work, rather than just making him the parent of other people.) The Wiki article on Woolf makes a connection between Stephen’s work on the DNB and Woolf’s “experimental biographies.”

In reviewing the wiki articles to link to this paragraph, I’ve also made another connection in my own head. Woolf was the great-neice (through her mother) of Julia Margaret Cameron, a nineteenth-century photographer of some note, whose work I’ve examined with interest because of my research into 19th C women. A comparison of dates indicates that Woolf was born three years after Cameron died.

What do all these connections mean? It isn’t completely obvious to me what they mean, but now I have a sense of Virginia Woolf’s world that I did not have before. I have a sense of her family connections, a sense that a writer of genius did not appear in a vacuum, but came from a family with literary interests (she was a third generation published writer on her father’s side of the family), connected with women who did unconventional artistic things (through her mother). It means I may read her with more sympathy than I might have before. Had I read her before, that is. Maybe now I’ll try? She did write books before 1970, so maybe I’ll go there this year.

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Too Much?

Last year I resolved to read more older books. This year I resolved to do the same, but more. Fifteen days into the resolve, I wonder if it was too much to do a same-song-second-verse-a-little-bit-louder-and-a-little-bit-worse kind of resolution. It feels like it is taking a lot of concentration and thought to find the older books to read. But I thought the same thing last year.

I made the resolution again because I have more unread old books that I want to read. Last year having a goal that I wrote about here in public meant I read more far more of these than I would have otherwise. It also meant that I re-read all of my Dorothy Sayers books, which felt like a bit of a cop-out. In the fall almost all my older books were Sayers. Of course, now Sayers is out of the road, and I can’t use her as a fall-back this year. Plus there are a lot of other old books which are just as enjoyable as Sayers. I’ve just got to find them.

Currently on my Old-Book-To-Be Read Pile I’ve got A Passage to India (E.M. Forster, 1924), Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie, 1934), and Assignment in Eternity (Robert A. Heinlein, 1953). I’m currently listening to The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1920, introduces Hercule Poirot) and have just finished Landfall by Nevil Shute. You might see a new pattern developing, but don’t worry — while it might be fun to revisit a select few Agatha Christie, I have no intention of reading the complete Hercule Poirot as I’m not a fan of Christie’s as I am of Sayers. The only other Christie books I’ll consider re-visiting are Death on the Nile and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I’m more likely to re-read most of Nevil Shute’s oeuvre. Shute worked with aeroplanes in the early 20th century and his fiction reflects his knowledge. The aerospace engineer  in me finds his books fascinating.

Last year I didn’t get to Dickens or Conan Doyle or H.G. Wells. They are on my list of authors to get to (through?) this year. Do you have any suggestions for other older books I should consider?

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Reading Resolutions 2014

Reading is the only thing I make regular resolutions about at the new year. Last year I decided to try to read 1 older book for every two newer books. I made that resolution stick — I read 49 older books out of a total of 141 (that’s 34.8% which is more than the 33.3% I was aiming for). Also I resolved, as I do most years, to read 10 books per month, or 120 books in total. I don’t always keep that resolution, but this year my average was 11.75 books/month.

The older book thing was interesting, and I’d like to keep that up. I’m going to shoot for 2 older books in five total books (40%) this year. I think that will be a bit more challenging. And I’ll maintain my goal of 10 books per month. If I have another year like this one, I might up that goal. We’ll see.

I’ve got some writing resolutions as well, but I’ll reveal those later this week.

How about you? Any reading resolutions?

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Thinking Ahead

This year I’ve had a couple of reading projects on the go. Reading Old Books was fun and interesting. I think I’ll try to keep going with the older books for next year. Reading LOST books is ongoing. I didn’t read nearly as many as I thought I might.

I’ve been thinking about possible new projects for 2014. I came across this post, in which the author read only books by women in 2013. It might be obvious to some readers of the words in this space that I study women authors, more specifically, women who wrote about the Bible in the nineteenth century and other distant times. I’m not sure what the gender balance of the authors I read in 2013 looks like. I’ll figure it out as part of my year-end assessment on January 1. I’m not sure I’ll shift to 100% women in 2014, but I think I’ll be more intentional about looking for women authors, particularly in theological reading. That would be an interesting challenge/project.

What about you? Any reading projects happening?

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Reading Older Theology Books

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?

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