What I’ve Been Reading

Having already borrowed the linked post, it made sense to borrow “What I’ve Been Reading” as well. So without further ado…

  • Jonathan Marks, Let’s Be Reasonable: A Conservative Case for Liberal Education. A line I use a lot at Lambda is that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity isn’t. Marks, who strikes me as a Charles Krauthammer type, makes the point that the capacity to reason well is equally distributed, it just needs to be cultivated. Marks isn’t a polemicist, and tips his hat to several points that someone who wanted to be incendiary would not. He goes through the arguments against treating students as consumers, and I share his concern for colleges downsizing or doing away with Classics departments because some students don’t want to study ancient Greek. He asks, rightly, on whose terms students come to college — the students’, or the college’s? One thing I’m unclear on from the book is how widespread the problems he describes are — are they a small-but-vocal minority, or is there a real danger to what is traditionally thought of as a liberal arts university?
  • Beowulf. I read this for our upcoming InterIntellect salon on Sunday, and I enjoyed it. I learned, for instance, that the difficulty one associates with Beowulf is almost entirely with the translation, and not the content. Rendered into English by our own Seamus Heaney, it’s a relatively straightforward tale, especially when you catch the Christian imagery. (It’s somewhat difficult not to, when Grendel is referred to as the son of Cain.) I expect to have more intelligent thoughts on it after the discussion on Sunday (and the following one in May with the second group), but in the meantime, I’m checking out the secondary materials that the good folks of Twitter were kind enough to recommend. See the replies to this tweet.
  • Elizabeth Samet, Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point. An interesting mix of memoir and non-fiction discussion of the value of reading classic works. Samet started teaching at West Point in 1997, and so saw first-hand what changed after 9/11. My dad, who read his own share of classic works when he was younger, had just told me the plot of Lord Jim, which came up as a book that officers continually come back to. (Can’t imagine why.)
  • Leon Kass, Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times. Kass, happily, was recommended by my graduate advisor at St. John’s. I’ve already written about Kass’ take on classic education, and I actually didn’t read the whole book start-to-finish. While I’m still figuring out this whole being-an-adult thing, I feel less unmoored than I did in my early 20s. I do wish I’d discovered Kass and David Brooks earlier, though.
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