Books I Read in April and May 2016

Girl with a book, by Pietro Rotari (1701-1762)In April I read:

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen, read by Harriet Walter, Kim Hicks, Carole Boyd, Jonathan Keeble, Nigel Anthony, Patience Tomlinson, and Ruth Sillers (Naxos AudioBooks, 2001) — A novella, one of Jane Austen’s early works. Lady Susan is an unscrupulous widow out to arrange things to her advantage. All of Jane Austen’s works have a comic vein, but, as part of her juvenilia, Lady Susan is more of a burlesque than her adult writings. The Naxos audiobook is very enjoyable. The story is written in epistolary form, making it simple to have a dramatic cast without resorting to a dramatic retelling (or abridgment). All of the voice actors are excellent, with Harriet Walter being especially enjoyable as Lady Susan.

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin — My foray into detective fiction beyond Sherlock Holmes (just about the only books I’ve read in the genre). The characterization was interesting.

Conceived in Liberty, Volume 2 — “Salutary Neglect”: The American Colonies in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century, by Murray Rothbard, read by Dr. Floy Lilley. — I highly recommend this series. It is a fascinating look at early American history as a narrative, instead of a series of disjointed facts. You can download the audiobook for free on the Mises website.

How Children Learn, Revised Edition, by John Holt (De Capo Press, 1983) — I agree with much that the author has to say, although I don’t think it harmful for children to have some structured (by which I mean not entirely child-led) education — definitely not, however, to the extent that schools (and even many homeschools) enforce. As he did with his earlier book, How Children Fail, the author revised and expanded How Children Learn based on further experience, so if you want to read it, make sure you get an edition from 1983 or later.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — After finishing volume 2, I took a break from listening to Conceived in Liberty to listen to a couple of Shakespeare’s plays.

“Study is like the heaven’s glorious sun, / That will not be deep-search’d with saucy looks” (Berowne, Act 1, Scene 1).

“Adieu, valour; rust, rapier; be still, drum; for your manager is in love; yea, he loveth. Assist me, some extemporal god of rhyme, for I am sure I shall turn sonnet. Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio.” (Armado, Act 1, Scene 2).

“And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods / Make heaven drowsy with the harmony.” (Berowne, Act 4, Scene 3).

“They have been at a great feast of languages and stol’n the scraps.” (Moth, Act 5, Scene 1).

Measure for Measure, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — Unlike the bulk of Shakespeare’s plays, Measure for Measure is not comedy, tragedy, or history. The play focuses on Angelo and Isabella, their characters and struggles. In case you weren’t convinced by Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing, this play drives home the fact that Shakespeare’s friars (even the ones who are only pretending to be friars) have a habit of coming up with unconventional ideas.

“He who the sword of heaven will bear / Should be as holy as severe” (Duke, Act 3, Scene 2).

Fans of Northanger Abbey will recognize: “Dar’st thou die? / The sense of death is most in apprehension; / And the poor beetle that we tread upon / In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great / As when a giant dies.” (Isabella, Act 3, Scene 1).

— — —

In May I read:

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro — This book amazed me. Given the story, or the lack of it, it should have been rather boring than otherwise, but it wasn’t. It helped that the author knew exactly when to stop. As a long novel, it would not have worked, but as it stands, I enjoyed it very much. The story consists of a butler, Mr. Stevens, reflecting on his past life while taking a motoring trip.

“But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently? One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way. In any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points’, one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one’s life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had. Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”

One subject Mr. Stevens gives some care to is defining a “great butler” — dignity being a core quality. He deplores, among other things, butlers who spend too much time acquiring “general knowledge on wide-ranging topics such as falconing or newt-mating” and employers who encourage this by displaying their butlers “as a kind of performing monkey”. I don’t think Mr. Stevens would have approved of Jeeves.

Conceived in Liberty, Volume 3 — Advance to Revolution, 1760-1775, by Murray Rothbard, read by Dr. Floy Lilley — From the Preface:

“What! Another American history book? The reader may be pardoned for wondering about the point of another addition to the seemingly inexhaustible flow of books and texts on American history. One problem … is that the survey studies of American history have squeezed out the actual stuff of history, the narrative facts of the important events of the past. … without the narrative facts, the reader is deprived of the data from which he can himself judge the historian’s interpretations and evolve interpretations of his own. A major point of this and the other volumes is to put back the historical narrative into American history.

“Facts, of course, must be selected and ordered in accordance with judgments of importance, and such judgments are necessarily tied into the historian’s basic world outlook. My own basic perspective on the history of man, and a fortiori on the history of the United States, is to place central importance on the great conflict which is eternally waged between Liberty and Power, a conflict, by the way, which was seen with crystal clarity by the American revolutionaries of the eighteenth century. …

“I see history as centrally a race and conflict between “social power”—the productive consequence of voluntary interactions among men—and state power. In those eras of history when liberty—social power—has managed to race ahead of state power and control, the country and even mankind have flourished. In those eras when state power has managed to catch up with or surpass social power, mankind suffers and declines.”

The Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — I recently watched a couple of adaptations of The Winter’s Tale, so, after finishing the third volume of Conceived in Liberty, I took a break before beginning volume four to listen to the play again.

— — —

There won’t be a “Books I Read” post for June. Although I have three books I am in the process of reading, there aren’t enough days left in June for me to finish any of them — at least, not if I want to get anything else done!


Painting: Girl with a book, by Pietro Rotari (1701-1762).

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