Books I Read in July and August 2014

Young Girl Reading Jean-Baptiste-Camille CorotThe Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton — I read this while traveling to and from Chicago by train. It contains an interesting discussion of order vs. chaos between two poets. Lucian Gregory claims, “The poet delights in disorder only.” While the hero, Gabriel Syme, maintains, “Chaos is dull” (ch. 1).

Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett — A humorous book, but containing some annoying vulgarity. An amusing quotation from chapter 3: “Being an absolute ruler today was not as simple as people thought. At least, it was not simple if your ambitions included being an absolute ruler tomorrow.”

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, read by Rob Inglis — I listened to this audiobook with my brother. Having seen the new Hobbit movies, he informs me that Tolkien left out the orcs. Nonetheless an interesting story.

Daisy Miller, by Henry James — A short story containing James’s signature ambiguities. The heroine is either rather stupid or very foolish.

The Silence of the Sea / Le Silence de la Mer, by “Vercors” (pen name of Jean Bruller), translated by Cyril Connolly — The first book published by the underground (so as to be uncensored) Les Éditions de Minuit (Midnight Press), founded by the author and a friend of his in 1941 during the German occupation of northern France. This story is beautifully written. Apparently it was also very well translated. The author wrote in his memoir The Battle of Silence:

“In Tunis, the novelist Pierre Moinot, having only the English version by Cyril Connolly at hand, re-translated it himself into French in order to circulate it. When many years later [a friend] came upon this counterfeit version, he let me read it out of curiosity. It was amazingly close to the original, an exploit which redounds to the honours of the two traduttori who, in this instance, proved to be no traditori at all…”1

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, by Ken Ludwig — A good book about introducing children to the delights of Shakespeare’s plays through an appreciation of his language. I don’t agree with everything the author says (for example, he describes ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ as “the story of a misogynist who meets his match amid episodes of knockabout comedy and mistaken identity”2), but he presents a well-chosen selection of Shakespeare’s poetry and prose for memorization and good descriptions to get children excited about Shakespeare’s stories. Had I children to homeschool, I would like enough use this as a resource. As it is, it left me wanting to reread many of Shakespeare’s plays.

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, read by Frederick Davidson — I started listening to this audiobook in December of 2013 and have now finally finished it. I first attempted reading War and Peace when I was seventeen. Astonishingly, the local library did not have a copy at that time, so I borrowed one from another library. When I was about half-way through the book, I had to return it. Enough time passed that I felt like I should begin the book over again, which was discouraging as it is a long book. Now I have finally gotten back to it and I am happy to say that it was worth the effort.

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Painting is “Young Girl Reading” (c. 1868) by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796 – 1875).

1 The Battle of Silence, by Vercors, translated from the French by Rita Barisse (London: Collins, 1968), Part Three, chapter VII, p. 230. “Traduttore, traditore” is an Italian adage, literally translated as “translator, traitor” and meaning roughly that translating from language to language involves distortion — betraying the original.

2 How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, by Ken Ludwig (New York: Crown Publishers, 2013), p. 221. I don’t recall anything in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ which indicates that Petruchio hated women. Calling Katherina a misanthrope who meets her match would be more accurate. Really, the description sounds much closer to ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ than ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.

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