Spenser Links

I may be the only person on Earth who has a Google Alert for “edmund spenser,” so I may be the only person who knows just how rarely his name is invoked in the English-speaking world. Occasionally, a rare “Una and the Lion” coin will go to auction, and every Valentine’s Day there are multiple blogs posting snippets of “Amoretti,” but ninety percent of the time, there’s nary a peep.

Once in a while, however, Spenser’s name does survive the editor’s axe. I used to post these references on my Edmund Spenser blog, but as I rarely use that site these days, I thought this was a more appropriate venue.

First, and most randomly, here he is quoted in the bridge column of the Hastings Tribune: “So double was his pains, so double be his praise.”

The website Hogwarts Professor wrote a much-deserved tribute to the great scholar Alastair Fowler, who edited CS Lewis’s book Spenser’s Images of Life, and who also shared my hatred of “new historicism.”

Exaudi, an album of choral music by Christopher Fox, contains a song based on Prothalamion:

A Spousal Verse (2004), written for the Clerks, is a harmonically rich setting of the sixth stanza of Prothalamion (1596), by the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser. Fragments of melody are interwoven into brief contrapuntal units. Birds, Venus herself, and Peace are implored to bless the wedding, with the last verse serving as a refrain: ‘Upon your Brydale day, which is not long: Sweete Themmes run softlie, till I end my Song.'”

A brief overview of the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey must include a mention of Spenser, of course.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips, poet, modeled a poem after the stanza form invented by Spenser. Here’s Jesse Nathan’s description in McSweeney’s:

His first book of poems, The Ground, starts with an ancient newness, a nine-line stanza repurposed from Edmund Spenser, who had used it in Renaissance England before Shakespeare was a name anyone knew. Phillips’s oeuvre begins in this way, and you aren’t meant to have to immediately hear the Spenser; that’s part of the point, that the traditions flow under the lines like an unseen river, unseen but profoundly there, not obscuring what’s on the surface but feeding it:

In the beginning was this surface. A wall. A beginning.
Tonight it coaxed music from a Harlem cloudbank. It freestyled
A smoke from a stranger’s coat. It stole thinned gin.
It was at the edge of its beginnings but outside
Looking in. The lapse-blue façade of Harlem Hospital is weatherstill
Like a starlit lake in the midst of Lenox Avenue …

It was this poem, published in 2012, that announced the emergence of a major talent. Willing to draw on all the available resources, willing to cull and reject and amplify—this, the work seemed to be saying, is an urgent poetics of inventive reinvention.


In the Cinemaholic, Diksha Sundriyal muses on the source of the enigmatic phrase “What is lost will be found” in Netflix’s show 1899:

There are two instances where this phrase appears in some form in the real world, and their context helps us understand what it might mean for Maura and the passengers. The first is the poem, ‘The Faerie Queene’ by Edmund Spenser. One of the longest poems in English literature, it follows the stories of several knights while also talking about the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. While one can take it at its face value, the poem is known for being full of allegories, with different layers to its verses.

One of the lines in the poem’s ‘The Ways of God Unsearchable‘ part reads: “For whatsoever from one place doth fall/ Is with the tide unto an other brought/ For there is nothing lost, that may be found if sought.” The last line bears some resemblance to the phrase Maura finds on the envelope. These lines talk about the place of things and how they always surface no matter how deep they are buried. If something has disappeared from its place, then it will show up somewhere else one way or another in some form. And no matter how elusive it might be, if you look for it long enough, you will eventually find it.

Last, Rebecca Reynolds has announced an interesting project: a prose “translation” of the entire Faerie Queene. In a post at the Rabbit Room, she explains:

I’ve spent the past four years working with Renaissance scholars to create a line-by-line, text-faithful prose rendering of Spenser’s work. I’ve included many footnotes referencing Spenserian scholars while offering a version of the text that allows readers to move easily through the plot. My goal isn’t to replace Spenser’s original work—that would be impossible—but to provide a transitional work that gives modern readers the confidence to tackle the original.

She also has a great (longish) introduction to Spenser and the Faerie Queene on her website. And be sure to check out the awesome illustrations.

What I Read in 2022

Read Alouds (18)

  • Ramon Quimby, Age 8, Beverly Cleary – A very dreary book, but Cleary still does what she does best: capturing life through a child’s eyes.
  • Half-Magic, Edward Eager – A favorite. The plotline about magic transitions into the plotline about family so smoothly it feels natural. And it’s refreshing to read a book where the children need a grown-up to come in and sort everything out.
  • Magic by the Lake, Edward Eager – Not as good as Half-Magic. Most of the adventures are based on other books, which feels like cheating, and they feel very disconnected.
  • The Borrowers, Mary Norton – Surprisingly thick descriptions. Norton seems to have taken pains over her writing. The story is good, but the ending may be unsatisfying to younger readers.
  • Flat Stanley, Jeff Brown – My father read this to us years ago and it stuck with me. My daughter seemed to enjoy it, too, though I hope not too much. I’d hate to find her on the floor under towering stacks of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald – A great old-fashioned tale.
  • The Horse and His Boy, C. S. Lewis – The first half is edge-of-your-seat great. The second half plods a little.
  • Hank the Cowdog: The Case of the Halloween Ghost, John R. Erickson – I was worried the whole “unreliable narrator” thing would go over my five-year-old’s head, but she enjoyed my Hank and Drover voices too much to care.
  • Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo – One reviewer said each chapter is structured like a short story, which is true: beginning, middle, end. The overall book is a mixed bag. Too simple for adults, too slow for children.
  • The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting – Charming, but loosely plotted. I started with the 1948 edition and realized partway through I was going to have to navigate some pretty on-the-nose racism. Thankfully, the publisher, assisted by the author’s son, revised it 1988. The worst scene, when the Doctor turns Prince Bumpo’s skin white so that he will let them out of jail, was rewritten so that Polynesia simply hypnotizes the Prince. It falls flat, but they did their best. I hear the second Dolittle book is better than the first.
  • Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne – I enjoyed this more as an adult than I did as a child. The characters are petty and small-minded, for the most part, but Milne is usually able to portray them affectionately. At times, Pooh reminded me of Freddy the Pig. I wonder if there’s some connection there.
  • The House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne – For the most part, the stories are more tightly plotted than in the original. Piglet’s selfless act at the end always gets me, especially because it is immediately followed by another selfless act by Pooh. The very end, with Christopher Robin and Pooh at the beautifully named Galleons Lap, just barely stays this side of saccharine. But it does.
  • The Light Princess, George MacDonald – C. S. Lewis said that MacDonald was a modern-day mythmaker. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the bizarre scene of the snake drinking the lake dry by sucking on a stone teat. Bizarre.
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Richard and Florence Atwater – An old favorite.
  • Treasures of the Snow, Patricia St. John – One of my favorites. Her portrayal of bitterness reminded me strongly of Lewis’s fiction.
  • Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry – Some good scenes, but not great.
  • Freddy Goes to the North Pole, Walter R. Brooks – You either love the Freddy the Pig books or you just don’t get them at all. My daughter, I’m happy to say, loved this one.
  • The Courage of Sarah Noble, Alice Dalgliesh – Short and simple.

Children’s Fiction (13)

  • Moon Over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool – Felt like the kind of novel that would get you an agent but not a publisher, if you know what I mean.
  • Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl – A lot of Dahl’s books have a mean streak, especially against adults. This one, the story of a boy who learns his dad poaches pheasants from a nearby estate, is legitimately heartwarming.
  • Across the Desert, Dusti Bowling – Forgettable.
  • Scythe, Neal Shusterman – Craft-wise, better than Unwind, but the characters were less likeable and the plot more unbelievable.
  • Word to Caesar, Geoffrey Trease – A zippy adventure with just enough historical detail to make it interesting. Henty-lite.
  • The Iron Tsar, Geoffrey Trease – Very similar to Word to Caesar. The characters are flat, but the plot moves. This guy could easily have been a screenwriter.
  • The Sinking City, Christine Cohen – Another good adventure from Canonball Books. The world-building in this one is first-rate.
  • The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Jeanne Birdsall – I enjoyed this one much more than the first book.
  • The Boy and the River, Henri Bosco – Short and sensual. The descriptions of the river and its flora and fauna are so luxuriant they border on suffocating. I couldn’t help wondering if the touch is lighter in French. Posted a quote here.
  • The White Stag, Kate Seredy – Read like a fairy tale. I now know more about Huns and Magyars than I used to.
  • Henry Reed, Inc., Keith Robertson – A thirteen-year-old boy spends his summer in a sleepy town in New Jersey. Most novels that start this way continue with the boy discovering magic, solving a mystery, or making friends with a crotchety neighbor. Henry Reed starts a business. (This is one of the only kids’ novels I know about free enterprise.) The book is written in the first person, in the form of journal (not diary) entries, which provides a lot of humor. Henry is interested in almost everything, is smart and inventive, and is almost completely ignorant of how he comes across. It’s very amusing. I’d enjoy a chapter written from Midge’s perspective.
  • Hatchet, Gary Paulsen – When I was young, I somehow got the idea that this was a bad book. It does have divorce, heart attacks, starvation, diarrhea, moose attacks, and a dead body. But it’s not bad.
  • The Golem’s Eye, Jonathan Stroud – I enjoyed The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

Teaching (7)

  • Assigned for class: Aeneid, Virgil (translated by Stanley Lombardo); Watership Down, Richard Adams (what a book); Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis; Gilgamesh the Hero, Geraldine McCaughrean; The Golden Fleece, Padraic Colum
  • Responsive School Discipline, Chip Wood and Babs Freeman-Loftis – Practical.
  • Norms and Nobility, David V. Hicks – People in my circles don’t talk about this book, but they need to.

Theology and the Christian Life (15)

  • A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis – My third or fourth time through. Lewis was such a keen observer of humans, he’s insightful even at his most raw.
  • Papa Don’t Pope, Douglas Wilson – Surprisingly good. This felt like his older books—more gracious and less joking. Almost every chapter starts with some variation of “So I was talking to a Catholic friend of mine…”
  • Treasure in Clay Jars, edited by Lois Y. Barrett – An examination of the qualities that make a church “missional.” The authors (six of them) have a low standard of orthodoxy, but the qualities themselves are inarguable: Missional vocation; Biblical formation and discipleship; Taking risks as a contrast community; Practices that demonstrate God’s intent for the world; Worship as public witness; Dependence on the Holy Spirit; Pointing toward the reign of God; Missional authority.
  • The Peacemaker, Ken Sande – A helpful book about how Christians ought to resolve conflict.
  • Solomon Says, Mark Horne – Gives a helpful structure of Proverbs and draws out a few key insights.
  • Finding God at Home, Ernest Boyer, Jr. – A mix of good and bad.
  • Confessing the Faith, Chad VanDixhoorn – A helpful commentary on the Westminster Confession.
  • Hints on Child-Training, H. Clay Trumbull – Very good.
  • Mother Kirk, Douglas Wilson – A very solid handbook of church life and ministry. From my perspective, this is a sort of background text for a lot of what I did growing up.
  • Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, C. S. Lewis – Josh Gibbs once said that C. S. Lewis was a better anthropologist than theologian, and this book is a perfect example. His descriptions of the experience of prayer are great, as are his descriptions of the personality of the One we pray to, but the more theological claims made me wince. For example, to Lewis, the bodily resurrection apparently means the sensory resurrection, despite what the disciples saw and heard and felt when Christ walked through the wall. I’m surprised so many of my friends like this book so much.
  • Seven Days that Divide the World, John C. Lennox – An unusual book in some ways. The main point of the book is that Genesis isn’t specific enough to definitively prove the Young Earth position, so we should rely on scientific evidence, which supports the Old Earth position. Lennox’s argument relies on the historical debate between geo- and heliocentrism. Back then, he says, Christians eventually admitted, in the face of scientific evidence, that Earth was not fixed at the center of the solar system. The Bible passages that seem to support that concept were judged to be metaphorical. So it is with Young vs. Old Earth, and Christians need to stop being so stubborn about it. Lennox isn’t trying to rewrite Scripture, however. He takes the historic Christian position on the creation of Man (no ape ancestors here) and the death and resurrection of Christ. He wants to say no more and no less than the text. I appreciate that he takes this seriously and would love to see more books like this, but I have quibbles. For example, in arguing for scriptural agnosticism on this issue, Lennox is de facto taking an Old Earth position. There is no other reason to throw away centuries of Christian writing on the subject. I was reminded of a Sunday school class at a church I once attended which was meant to “explore the question of whether women should be elders.” Needless to say, the teacher had already decided that they should. He just needed to appear impartial in order to convince us.
  • Help for the New Pastor, Charles Malcolm Wingard – The word that comes to mind reading this book is “humble.” A simple guide for young pastors on what the ministry entails.
  • The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer – So trendy it was hard to stomach—”mindfulness,” “minimalism,” “follower of Jesus” (instead of “Christian”). I read it with a few friends, and when we met to discuss it, I was surprised to learn how much they both liked it. I guess it depends on where you’re coming from.
  • Gashmu Saith It, Douglas Wilson – A few good bits, but man, what a terrible title.
  • Decluttering Your Marriage, Douglas Wilson – I’d heard most of this before, in one form or another. I did like his point about correcting others. We prefer to ignore the sins of others when they aren’t getting on our nerves; it’s only when they start to annoy us that correcting them suddenly seems to be of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, that’s when we’re least qualified.

Adult Fiction (9)

  • Scaramouche, Rafael Sabatini – Action-packed and fun, but a little too long.
  • The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame – A beautiful book. It has its fans and its haters, and I understand both reactions. But the haters are wrong.
  • The Alto Wore Tweed, Mark Schweizer – Some downright terrible writing. But ecclesiastical humor always gets me.
  • Casino Royale, Ian Fleming – I was pleasantly surprised. Bond is disgusting, of course, but Fleming was able to make him human, too. The writing as a whole was not great, but occasionally Fleming caught me off guard with a particularly vivid sentence like this one: “He pushed the revs up and up, hurrying the car to eighty then to ninety, his huge Marchal headlights boring a safe white tunnel, nearly half a mile long, between the walls of the night.” Exactly the mix of poetry and pulp that you want in a spy thriller.
  • The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler – I read these in reverse order. Marlowe is much more sour in TLG; in TBS he seems positively chipper by comparison.
  • On Beauty, Zadie Smith – Smith is brilliant at creating characters and building scenes (funny, tender, awkward, tense, you name it). I’m not sure she’s very interested in plot, however.
  • Going Postal, Terry Pratchett – This was my third or fourth Pratchett and I’m finally starting to see the appeal. It helped that this one is about a reformed con man doing his best to save the outdated Ankh-Morpork post office. I’m a sucker for stories of people doing the right thing when the right thing is all but impossible.
  • Dune, Frank Herbert – Fine, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

Non-Fiction (15)

  • The Years with Ross, James Thurber – All the humor of the New Yorker’s early years with Harold Ross as editor-in-chief. Some of the jokes were a bit too inside-baseball, but Thurber can really do one-liners.
  • An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis – Lots to chew on.
  • The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande – A doctor I know told me that this is a controversial book in the medical community. I don’t know why. Gawande makes a strong case.
  • In the House of Tom Bombadil, C. R. Wiley – Some very good insights. I need to read LOTR again.
  • The Household and the War for the Cosmos, C. R. Wiley – Reading this felt like riding in the front seat of Wiley’s truck as he drove through a familiar town, making turns at random and occasionally doubling back on himself, pointing out various details, some of which were interesting, but most of which others had shown me a long time ago. In other words, my takeaway was a mix of “I’ve seen this before” and “Where did that come from?”
  • It’s Good to Be a Man, Michael Foster and D. Bnonn Tennant – Real bad.
  • Made to Stick, Chip Heath & Dan Heath – Very helpful for thinking about mission statements.
  • The End of the World is Just the Beginning, Peter Zeihan – Others have praised and critiqued this book, so I’ll just give my impressions: 1) Zeihan views the world through geographic and demographic lenses, paying particular attention to economies and resources. I’m really glad he does because I don’t, and someone ought to. 2) Because of the above, he misses a lot of what makes people tick. Not everyone goes to war because he’s hungry.
  • How to Think, Alan Jacobs – I’m familiar enough with Jacobs’s writing that not much in this book was new to me. I did think many times, however, of certain acquaintances of mine and how stubborn they can be in their thinking, especially online.
  • How to Keep House While Drowning, K. C. Davis – This is the kind of book I’ll forget that I read in a few years.
  • The Accidental Superpower, Peter Zeihan – Provides some necessary political background for The End of the World. Specifically, it helped me understand why Zeihan is so sure the US will withdraw from the global scene in the next few decades.
  • The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis – Very good. I listened to the audiobook, so I didn’t take a lot of notes.
  • Deep Work, Cal Newport – One of the most immediately useful books I’ve read in a while.
  • Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull – Another audiobook, so I can’t remember a ton, but there were a lot of good ideas here.
  • The Half-Acre Homestead, Lloyd Kahn and Lesley Creed – A photographic tour of the authors’ home, garden, and studio, with commentary in the margins. Read kind of like a blog, with 46 years of experience behind it.
  • Hiroshima, John Hersey – Gut-wrenching.

Comic Books and Graphic Novels (1)

  • Pearls Sells Out, Stephan Pastis

Plays (7)

  • Pride and Prejudice, Janet Munsil
  • Pride and Prejudice, Helen Jerome
  • Medea, Alcestis, and The Bacchae, Euripides – Three plays included in Adler’s Great Books. All odd in their own ways. Medea contains an extremely unpleasant, though understandable, protagonist. Alcestis has all the ingredients for a tragedy, but ends happily, thanks to Heracles. The Bacchae is nightmarishly violent, but also portrays a witty and charismatic Dionysus. More than most Greek playwrights, Euripides seems like he would have been at home in the 20th century world of theater.
  • The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie
  • Witness for the Prosecution, Agatha Christie

Poetry (1)

  • Poetry I, ed. Richard Corbin

Total: 86


Henri Bosco’s book The Boy and the River is short and sensual. The descriptions of the river and its flora and fauna are so luxuriant they border on suffocating. I couldn’t help wondering if the touch is lighter in French.

I could pick any number of passages to illustrate his style, but I chose this one about the moon because it reminded me of a similar poetic passage in Watership Down:

The moon was a great help to me. Its brilliance lit my way, and its spreading softness calmed me not a little, as though by enchantment. For, more effectively than any other of the heavenly bodies the moon touches the human heart with magic. Its light is close. We feel that it is filled with concern and love for us, and, in the season of spring, its friendship is so tender that all the countryside grows tender, too. At those times, for children waking in the night, there is no more charming counsellor. Through the open window it shines into their rooms, and, when they fall asleep again, brings to them the loveliest of dreams.

Here’s the passage from Watership Down:

We take daylight for granted. But moonlight is another matter. It is inconstant. The full moon wanes and returns again. Clouds may obscure it to an extent to which they cannot obscure daylight. Water is necessary to us, but a waterfall is not. Where it is to be found it is something extra, a beautiful ornament. We need daylight and to that extent it is utilitarian, but moonlight we do not need. When it comes, it serves no necessity. It transforms. It falls upon the banks and the grass, separating one long blade from another; turning a drift of brown, frosted leaves from a single heap to innumerable flashing fragments; or glimmering lengthways along wet twigs as though light itself were ductile. Its long beams pour, white and sharp, between the trunks of trees, their clarity fading as they recede into the powdery, misty distance of beech woods at night. In moonlight, two acres of coarse, bent grass, undulant and ankle deep, tumbled and rough as a horse’s mane, appear like a bay of waves, all shadowy troughs and hollows. The growth is so thick and matted that even the wind does not move it, but it is the moonlight that seems to confer stillness upon it. We do not take moonlight for granted. It is like snow, or like the dew on a July morning. it does not reveal but changes what it covers. And its low intensity—so much lower than that of daylight—makes us conscious that it is something added to the down, to give it, for only a little time, a singular and marvelous quality that we should admire while we can, for soon it will be gone.

Lewis on English Majors

[English Literature as an academic discipline] directs to the study of literature a great many talented, ingenious, and diligent people whose real interests are not specifically literary at all. Forced to talk incessantly about books, what can they do but try to make books into the sort of things they can talk about? Hence literature becomes for them a religion, a philosophy, a school of ethics, a psychotherapy, a sociology—anything rather than a collection of works of art.

C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

Last fall I gave a talk on literary theory and in my research I discovered (or rather, I confirmed) that English Departments are an utter and complete sham. When I was in school, some of my professors and fellow graduate students loved stories and poetry—and at least one of my professors tried to bring that love into the classroom—but when it came to “serious” literary discussion (the kind that gets published in respectable journals), the conversation turned from the stories themselves to the religion, philosophy, sociology, history, or sex embedded within the story. I met a PhD student whose dissertation was not about literature but about the history of a particular book—the physical object, not the content. Nothing wrong with that, but doesn’t it seem like a task more suited to a budding historian than a lover of literature?

English majors pick projects like that because literature does not lend itself to the kind of scientific analysis required in the modern university. At some level, English departments are aware of this and it keeps the chair of the department up at night. Will his budget be assured come the morn? In his book on literary theory, Terry Eagleton describes the shaky identity of English departments when they first came into being in the 1920s:

The definition of an academic subject was what could be examined, and since English was no more than idle gossip about literary taste it was difficult to know how to make it unpleasant enough to qualify as a proper academic pursuit.

Eagleton goes on to say that English departments survived thanks to the rise of nationalism in the 1930s. When your nation goes toe-to-toe with another, you’re much less likely to dismiss even the least significant aspect of your culture. English people suddenly became much more loyal to their own literature than they were before and its place in the university was assured.

Still, the problem of how to make reading for fun an “unpleasant” academic subject persisted. Lewis says it was solved by literary criticism.

Everyone who sees the work of Honours students in English at a university has noticed with distress their increasing tendency to see books wholly through the spectacle of other books. On every play, poem, or novel, they produce the view of some eminent critic. An amazing knowledge of Chaucerian or Shakespearian criticism sometimes co-exists with a very inadequate knowledge of Chaucer or Shakespeare. Less and less do we meet the individual response. The all important conjunction (Reader Meets Text) never seems to have been allowed to occur of itself and develop spontaneously. Here, plainly, are young people drenched, dizzied, and bedevilled by criticism to a point at which primary literary experience is no longer possible. This state of affairs seems to me a far greater threat to our culture than any of those from which the Vigilants would protect us.

Academics love it when an eminent professor writes a new book about Shakespeare because it gives them something new to focus on and they can debate the accuracy of his judgment. It’s much easier to analyze someone’s claims about a book than to analyze the book itself. None of this nonsense about the “literary experience.” No more reading for “enjoyment” or “beauty,” whatever that is. Swaddled in criticism, the English major is free from such messy topics.

Lewis’s solution to this sorry state of affairs:

I suggest that a ten or twenty years’ abstinence both from the reading and from the writing of evaluative criticism might do us all a great deal of good.

I wholeheartedly agree.


Bill Peet was a children’s author and illustrator who was also heavily involved in Disney’s early animated features. I found a copy of his autobiography at a library book sale yesterday and heartily commend it to you. His life story isn’t all that interesting, but I loved his anecdotes (some unpleasant) about working at Disney in its infancy. And the illustrations are delightful.

Bill liked to paint the ugly and gruesome…
…especially when it shocked ladies at art exhibitions.
Bill works as an inbetweener — a thankless job.
Walt at a pitch meeting

What I Read in 2021

Plays (7)

  • The Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare – Feels like Shakespeare fan-fiction. A lot of his other stories woven into one, convoluted plot.
  • The Tempest, William Shakespeare – One of Will’s last plays. The self-assessment is on full display and surprisingly honest.
  • Antigone, Sophocles (trans. ?)
  • The Burial at Thebes, Sophocles (trans. Seamus Heaney)
  • High School Musical,
  • Pride and Prejudice, Helen Jerome
  • Pride and Prejudice, Janet Munsil

Children’s Fiction (15)

  • Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis
  • Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson – I told myself I wouldn’t cry. By now you know what a softie I am.
  • Dangerous Journey, László Hámori – One of my favorite books from childhood. It’s basically an Eastern European Hardy Boys story.
  • The Green Ember, S. D. Smith
  • Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Gary D. Schmidt – Disappointing.
  • A Month of Sundays, Ruth White – I enjoyed Belle Prater’s Boy, but this one was unremarkable.
  • Anna Hibiscus, Atinuke – Simple, delightful.
  • Circus Mirandus, Cassie Beasley – I loved the whole idea of the circus and the Man Who Bends Light is a great character.
  • Boys of Blur, N. D. Wilson – Liked it even more this time around.
  • Wise Words, Peter J. Leithart – C. S. Lewis described a myth as a story that is so solid and real that it doesn’t matter what form it takes. The story of Daedalus and Icarus, for example, can be told as a poem, a play, a movie, or a novel without losing its power. Several of the stories in Wise Words have that mythic status, I think — The Three Princes, The Magical Walnut. Besides that, I’ve been surprised, this time through the book, at the stories that really affect me — The Bleeding Tree, A Reluctant Rescue. The best stories, it seems, grow with us.
  • They Were Strong and Good, Robert Lawson
  • Frindle, Andrew Clements

Theology and the Christian Life (7)

  • The Crook in the Lot, Thomas Boston – Full of wisdom.
  • Christianity and the Constitution, John Eidsmoe – Very useful.
  • Good & Angry, David Powlison – Read for men’s group at church. Powlison makes his most valuable point a few pages in: not all anger is sinful.
  • Future Men, Douglas Wilson – Useful.
  • Worldly Saints, Leland Ryken – This book would probably be filed under history in a library, but it contains so many great Puritan quotes that reading it is almost like reading a devotional.
  • Vindicae Contra Tyrannos, Stephen Junius Brutus – Intensely practical in this day and age, which may not be a good thing.
  • Reforming Marriage, Douglas Wilson – Some useful advice. Many of the applications seem outdated—for example, in the last twenty-five years, and especially since COVID, men and women have both started to spend more time at home with their kids.

Non-Fiction (11)

  • Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford – I wrote a couple of newsletters about this book.
  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert T. Kiyosaki – As is the case with all “get rich!” books, you have to pick and choose what to follow and what to ignore.
  • Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America, Crawford Gribben – My main thought reading this book was, “So I’m not unique.” Growing up in Moscow, it was tempting to see our community as the last hope of Christian culture. Not only was that wrong-headed, it was also, apparently, a mindset that was shared by many other people in Idaho, most of whom were not connected with Christ Church at all. Weird. This book also showed me just how much my worldview has been shaped by R. J. Rushdoony, for better or for worse. That’s a topic worth exploring in another post.
  • The Read-Aloud Family, Sarah MacKenzie – Some good tips on reading together. The main one I’ll take away is be consistent. The kids should assume every family does this. Lots of book recommendations, too, though I don’t agree with all (Wonder, for example, is a terrible book).
  • The Decadent Society, Ross Douthat – Douthat starts an intriguing conversation, muddles his way through the middle of it, and ends with a call to repentance and… space travel? He’s simultaneously provoking his readers and playing it safe, exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from a newspaper columnist.
  • King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, Robert L. Moore and Douglas Gillette
  • Walt Disney: An American Original, Bob Thomas
  • An Autobiography, Bill Peet – Continuing my Disney kick. Peet designed many of Disney’s most memorable characters. It really is a shame that so many great animators are completely unknown. They’re the real movie stars.
  • House, Tracy Kidder – A journalistic novel about building a house.
  • The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl R. Trueman – A worthwhile read, but also useful as a reference book in case you need a quick summary of modern literary figures. It would be interesting to explore how CS Lewis fits into all this. To say so may be heresy in my circles, but is it possible that Lewis’s emphasis on the purity of Nature falls into the same problem that Trueman describes in the section on the Romantics?
  • Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin – Some very good advice on leadership based on the authors’ experience as Navy SEALs. Though it’s written for business, the principles can just as easily be applied to parenting and education.

Adult Fiction (19)

  • Cannery Row, John Steinbeck – Very good in a Steinbeck-y way: sumptuous description, tenderness toward society’s outcasts, amusement at the oddities of life. He has a wonderful eye.
  • Starbridge: Absolute Truths, Mystical Paths, Susan Howatch – Recommended by my wife. From my newsletter: “These books are cheesy. If they had a soundtrack, it would be a cross between a 1940s Hollywood romance and the radio drama Suspense! They are scandalous. Sex is a major theme, especially the recurring question of how on earth an unmarried clergyman is supposed to remain celibate. They are also, at times, surprisingly insightful. I saw reflections of myself in more than one character, and I don’t just mean a passing characteristic. I mean the kind of characteristic that you’d need a bone-saw to remove. Oh, did I mention the books are theologically literate, at least in the Anglican tradition? Every chapter opens with a quote from a C of E luminary like Rowan Williams or Austin Farrer.”
  • The Siege of Troy, Theodor Kallifatides – Reviewed for Forma. Subscribe here to read it.
  • Evangellyfish, Douglas Wilson – A good start that meandered and finished too quickly. Mega-church satire is so familiar to me not many of the jokes were new.
  • Behind Closed Doors, B. A. Paris – A forgettable thriller about a woman who unwittingly marries a psychopath. One of the few books I’ve read in which a main character has Down’s Syndrome.
  • The Thing Itself, Adam Roberts – Alan Jacobs speaks highly of the book here. I jotted down some thoughts in my newsletter.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Maria Semple – Recommended by my wife.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke – An impressive book. After listening, I bought myself a copy so I can re-read it at my leisure.
  • We Run the Tides, Vendela Vida – Josh Gibbs mentioned this in passing. Not my favorite.
  • I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith – If I had gone in knowing this was not a children’s book, I would have enjoyed it more.
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh – Another one I got from Gibbs. I wasn’t impressed at first, but it’s grown on me since.
  • The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis – Fiction, I know, but Lewis perceives so much about human nature, it’s easy to imagine this is a realistic picture of what awaits our souls after death.
  • The Children of Men, P. D. James – Really good.
  • Favorite Father Brown Stories, G. K. Chesterton – Not my favorite Father Brown stories, but still good.
  • Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout – Interwoven tales about a tiny town in Maine. Perhaps the most impressive thing is how Olive, who is a pretty unpleasant person, becomes a lifeline for the reader amidst the turmoil of other people’s lives.
  • Very Good, Jeeves! P. G. Wodehouse – Great. Reading Wodehouse is kind of like watching good TV: you know exactly what you’re going to get and it’s always satisfying.
  • Leave it to Psmith, P. G. Wodehouse – Great.
  • Ride, Sally, Ride, Douglas Wilson – All over the place.

Teaching (5)

  • Teacher in America, Jacques Barzun – Once in a while, you pick up a random book that turns out to be a gem.
  • The Amazing Dr. Ransom’s Bestiary of Adorable Fallacies, Douglas Wilson and N. D. Wilson – More fun as a read-through than a textbook.
  • The Golden Fleece, Padraic Colum – A bunch of Ovidian myths woven into the story of Jason and the Argonauts. It’s a good way to introduce the kids to a bunch of stories all at once, and Colum captures the tone of the ancient stories.
  • Gilgamesh the Hero, Geraldine McCaughrean – If you’re looking for a children’s version of the Gilgamesh story, this is a good choice.
  • The Odyssey, translated by Stanley Lombardo – Not my favorite translation, but accessible to seventh-graders.

Poetry (4)

  • Death of a Naturalist, Seamus Heaney – Wonderful.
  • Adam, David Langstone Bolt – Thoughts here.
  • The Life of Merlin, Geoffrey of Monmouth (trans. by Basil Clarke) – Mysterious.
  • Piers Plowman, William Langland – Tough sledding.

Essay Collections (1)

  • Both Flesh and Not, David Foster Wallace

Graphic Novels (14)

  • Amulet (1-8), Kazu Kibuishi
  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • The Odyssey, Tim Mucci, Ben Caldwell, Rick Lacy
  • Cardboard, Doug TenNapel
  • Nnewts (1-3), Doug TenNapel


Books I read a significant part of, but did not finish:

  • The Well at the World’s End, William Morris
  • Duet, Kitty Burns Florey
  • Birds of America, Lorrie Moore
  • The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Eothen, A. W. Kinglake
  • Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, Lardner Gibbon and William S. Herndon
  • The Eternal Pity, Richard John Neuhaus
  • Codependent No More, Melody Beattie
  • Birthing from Within, Pam England
  • The Fourth Turning, William Strauss and Neil Howe
  • Letters of C. S. Lewis

A Few Titles

That I’ve been reading lately.

  • Eothen by A. W. Kinglake – Once upon a time, travel narratives were all the rage, perhaps because, as someone (I forget who) guessed, tourism wasn’t viable for most people. Kinglake traveled to “the Orient,” by which he meant Turkey and Arabia. I came across this book in one of C. S. Lewis’s letters, where he speaks highly of Kinglake’s descriptions of the landscape. To my ear, the descriptions are fine enough, but nothing compared to, say, Mary Austin or John Muir. Maybe the comparison isn’t fair, though, since they were describing different landscapes. Lewis also praised Kinglake’s sense of humor, which I have enjoyed. Some sample quotes:
    • “…as grim as an army of giants with a thousand years’ pay in arrears.”
    • Describing Turkish: “The structure of the language, especially in its more lengthy sentences, is very like to the Latin: the subject matters are slowly and patiently enumerated, without disclosing the purpose of the speaker until he reaches the end of his sentence, and then at last there comes the clenching word, which gives a meaning and connection to all that has gone before. If you listen at all to speaking of this kind your attention, rather than be suffered to flag, must grow more and more lively as the phrase marches on.”
    • On the curmudgeonliness of the Greeks during their fasts: “The number of murders committed during Lent is greater, I am told, than at any other time of their year. A man under the influence of a bean dietary (for this is the principal food of the Greeks during their fasts) will be in an apt humor for enriching the shrine of his saint, and passing a knife through his next-door neighbor.”
  • Leave It to Psmith, P. G. Wodehouse – I realized partway through this book that I may have only ever seen the play. The book more than lived up to it. Psmith is the kind of character who should annoy you, but somehow does not, rather like Innocent Smith from Manalive. Incidentally, Wodehouse said that Psmith was his only character who was drawn from real life—apparently from Richard D’Oyly Carte, the man who brought Gilbert and Sullivan to the admiring masses. [Edit: Psmith was actually based on Richard’s son Rupert.]
  • House, Tracy Kidder – I bought this for my wife thinking a) it was by a woman and b) it was a collection of essays meditating on the significance of different rooms in a house. That would be a great book, but that’s not what this is. For one thing, it was written by a man. It is not a collection of essays. It is, however, about a house. It’s a non-fiction novel (think Capote’s In Cold Blood) chronicling the construction of a large home in New England. Though it’s not what I was expecting, it has been great so far.