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.

Book Covers I Like

A few years ago I was cataloguing the library of an eminent theologian, and I started to take pictures of the most interesting book covers. Here you are.

It wasn’t so much the cover of this one as the note inside.

How Children Ought to Treat Books

One of the earliest and strictest lessons to the children of the house being how to turn the pages of their own literary possessions lightly and deliberately, with no chance of tearing or dog’s ears.

Ruskin, preface to Sesames and Lilies

And my ambition now is (is it a vain one?) to be read by Children aged from Nought to Five. To be read? Nay, not so! Say rather to be thumbed, to be cooed over, to be dogs’-eared, to be rumpled, to be kissed, by the illiterate, ungrammatical, dimpled Darlings, that fill your Nursery with merry uproar, and your inmost heart of hearts with a restful gladness!

Lewis Carroll, preface to The Nursery Alice

Child! do not throw this book about;
Refrain from the unholy pleasure
of cutting all the pictures out!
Preserve it as your chiefest treasure.

Hilaire Belloc, dedication of A Bad Child’s Book of Beasts

The first two quotes are from this article. The last I found in my copy of Barlett’s Familiar Quotations.

Until recently, I’ve sided with Ruskin and Belloc, but I’m starting to see the wisdom of Carroll’s ambition.

Since I’m trying not to use Goodreads anymore, I downloaded my To-Read list as a CSV file and am going through the titles one by one, deleting anything I’ve already read (about one out of every ten). I’m amazed by how many of the books I remember putting on the list—who told me about them, in which footnote I tracked them down, where on a library shelf I stumbled across the title. It’s like a reading diary in itself.

The Lost Diary of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Balliol College, Monday.—Read aloud my Essay on Equality to the Master. It began: “Treat all men as your equals, especially the rich.” The Master commented on this sentence. He said, “Very ribald, Prince Hamlet, very ribald.”

In training for the annual fencing match between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Doing my utmost to reduce my flesh which is far too solid.

The poet Maurice Baring wrote a collection of the “lost diaries” of historical and fictional characters, which is available on Project Gutenberg.

From the diary of Emperor Titus:

Rome, Monday.—The eruption at Vesuvius does not after all appear to have been greatly exaggerated, as I at first had thought on receiving Pliny’s graphic letter. One never can quite trust literary men when facts are in question. It is clear that I missed a very fine and interesting spectacle. In fact I have lost a day. Good phrase, that. Must try and bring it in some time or other.

From the diary of Sherlock Holmes:

January 12.—Found a carbuncle of unusual size in the plum-pudding. Suspected the makings of an interesting case. But luckily, before I had stated any hypothesis to Watson—who was greatly excited—Mrs Turner came in and noticed it and said her naughty nephew Bill had been at his tricks again, and that the red stone had come from a Christmas tree. Of course, I had not examined the stone with my lens.

From the diary of Oedipus Rex:

Wednesday.—Saw the Sphinx. Guessed the riddle first shot. It asked what was that which runs on two legs, has feathers and a beak, and barks like a dog. I said “pheasant,” and I added, “You put that in about the barking to make it more difficult.” The Sphinx was very angry and went off in a huff, for good.

What I Read in 2020

Below is a list of the books I finished this year. Back in April, I posted a list of what I’d read up to that point, along with some comments. No comments today, alas.

I also keep a running list of what I’m reading, watching, and listening to in my Media Diary (which I haven’t updated in some time).

(Thanks to my wife, whose yearly run-downs inspired me to do this.)

Theology & Christianity

  • The Reason for God, Tim Keller
  • Partakers of Grace, Douglas Wilson
  • From Silence to Song, Peter J. Leithart
  • Defending Constantine, Peter J. Leithart
  • Fruit of Lips, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
  • Selections from the Table-Talk of Martin Luther, Henry Bell
  • The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer
  • Job Through New Eyes: A Son for Glory, Toby Sumpter
  • Joy at the End of the Tether, Douglas Wilson
  • A Short Essay Toward the Improvement of Psalmody, Isaac Watts
  • Practical Christianity, A. W. Pink
  • Studies in Deuteronomy, Donald F. Ackland
  • The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis
  • Miracles, C. S. Lewis
  • Heretics, G. K. Chesterton
  • Migrations of the Holy, William Cavanaugh
  • Born Again, Charles W. Colson
  • Bruchko, Bruce Olson

Parenting & Teaching

  • Positive Discipline, Jane Nelsen
  • Parenting, Paul David Tripp
  • Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp
  • Something They Will Not Forget, Joshua Gibbs

Adult Fiction

  • The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco
  • Empire of Bones, N. D. Wilson
  • The Starbridge Series, Susan Howatch (Books 1-4)
  • Descent Into Hell, Charles Williams
  • Piranesi, Susanna Clarke
  • Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
  • Beau Geste, P. C. Wren
  • The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope
  • Earthfasts, William Mayne
  • The Unique Miranda Trilogy, H. W. Taylor (Books 1-2)
  • Kill Ship, H. W. Taylor
  • Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank
  • The River, Peter Heller
  • East of Eden, John Steinbeck
  • Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Children’s Fiction

  • New Kid, Jerry Craft
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
  • Afternoon of the Elves, Janet Taylor Lisle

Creative Non-Fiction

  • Blood Will Out, Walter Kirn
  • H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald
  • Girl at the End of the World, Elizabeth Esther

Poetry

  • Motherland, Sally Thomas

Plays

  • Deathtrap, Ira Levin
  • Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Writing

  • Ploductivity, Douglas Wilson
  • The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
  • Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon
  • Show Your Work, Austin Kleon
  • Keep Going, Austin Kleon

Other Non-Fiction

  • Long Live Latin, Nicola Gardini

Total: 58

What’s At a Man’s Fingertips

In this blog post, Alan Jacobs casually quotes Isaiah Berlin, Michael Oakeshott, Robert Conquest, W. B. Yeats, and Christopher Hitchens, and makes several references to George Orwell. I have benefited from Dr. Jacobs’s writing over the years primarily, I think, because of his incredible range of reading and the ease with which he can tie together disparate threads of thought. It’s a skill to aspire to.