We are passed the midyear mark and into the year’s second quarter. As I look over this passed quarter’s reads, I guess I’m still on a solid pace to read my usual year’s allotment. I don’t know how far into Chesterton’s Orthodoxy I was at the end of last quarter when I hadn’t completed it, but it’s now in the complete column, and I’ve completed two other full length books, the “Cosette” volume of Hugo’s novel Les Misérables and non-fiction work of theology by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope that All Men be Saved? I also completed Stephen Crane’s short novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, seven short stories, as well as started up The Book of Psalms and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment while continuing on in reading Robert Lowell’s poetry and the biography of Julius Caesar.
Orthodoxy is a great work, one that has amplified the way I think on the world. It is the great intellectual dissent to the trajectory of modern culture. Actually one could say that at the time of its publication (1908) it was dissenting to the trajectory of the culture but today, especially with the recent legalization of same sex marriage, it is now fully dissenting with the established culture. It makes a passionate argument against secular modernism and why a Christian worldview is both coherent and culturally beneficial. It’s really a must read whether you agree with a Christian world view or against it. At a minimum you should know what you’re against. If I can get to it, I want to have at least two posts on the book.
The second volume of Les Misérables, “Cosette,” was just as good as the first volume, though I think the digressions in “Cosette” didn’t seem to fit like those in “Fantine.” But more than likely it’s me not getting it. Still Hugo’s novel is a pleasure to read.
Dare We Hope that All Men be Saved? by the great Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar was an unplanned read. It takes on the subject of universal salvation, certainly a controversial subject, and something the Catholic Church rejects. Universal salvation is the idea that in time and by some process everyone is eventually saved. It does not mean an absence of hell as some who strongly oppose the notion characterize, but either hell is not eternal or that on one actually goes to hell. I was challenged to read this when I commented on a discussion board that I have strong sympathies to universalism. Urs von Balthasar was severely criticized for his sympathies, and so has Fr. Robert Baron who wrote the introduction to this current publication. I hope to write a full essay on universal salvation, though I know this is a touchy subject.
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is one of Crane’s very first works, written before The Red Badge of Courage, and I’m afraid not a good one. One could describe Crane’s writing as having two impulses, one toward Naturalism and one toward Impressionism, and ideally he combines the two. Personally I don’t like Naturalism (it selects subjects and details that distorts realism) but I can respect it as an aesthetic movement. Crane is clucky in Maggie with the Naturalism, and he really hadn’t develop his brilliant impressionistic writing yet. Yes, there are a few brilliant flashes, but Maggie is a juvenescent work.
I can’t say any of the seven short stories were classics, except possibly Hemingway’s “An Alpine Idyll.” I might do post on that one. Eudora Welty’s “The Key” was touching, and I posted an excerpt a few months ago. The Wodehouse story was the first I have ever read, and it was funny and enjoyable. I’m not a big science fiction fan, but Johnny Wright’s story was interesting. It comes from a collection called The Book of Feasts and Seasons and each story in the collection is a scifi piece with an association to feast on the Catholic calendar. “Queen of the Tyrant Lizards” is associated with the Epiphany. “Banal Story” was another worthwhile Hemingway story. It was very short (two pages, I think) and it was a work of metafiction and it reminded me of something Jorge Luis Borges might write. The other two Hemingway stories were trite.
I started Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and wow! That is one intense novel. This has the reputation of being one of the greatest novels of all time, and by the time I’m finished I may agree. I’m about a quarter of the way through. I hope to do a few posts on this great work. Because I’m new to cat ownership, I decided to read the ASPCA’s Complete Guide to Cats. It’s fast reading with a lot of pictures, but it’s interesting. I really know little about cats.
I also started The Psalms as my Old Testament read and I’m having a difficult time making up my mind on how to proceed to span them. I could just read them through like I did the other Old Testament reads, but the Psalms are so incredibly rich as literature and as theology that I wanted to do close readings of all 150. I’m finding that doing close readings of that many takes an awfully long time. And then there’s the question of how I perform the close reading. I started by writing out by hand each one into a notebook, and got to Psalm 19 and realized this is taking forever. But I noticed so much as I wrote. There’s nothing like word by word copying to pick up what the reading eye just scans over. For example, I was surprised at how martial the metaphors and subjects were in them. In addition I picked up a couple of courses on understanding the Psalms and picked up Robert Alter’s translation with commentary. Alter is a scholar of Hebrew literature and provides almost line by line commentary. I’m learning so much about them: form, genre, themes, poetic style, allusions. In three months I’ve only gotten to Psalm 25, which is a horrendously slow pace. I’ll have to figure out a way to pick up the pace while continuing to learn. I may have to drop my New Testament read this year and devote the entire year with the Psalms.
Finally I’m soldiering on with Julius Caesar and reading Robert Lowell’s poetry.
Completed First Quarter:
The Sorrows of Young Werther, a novel by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe.
“Give Me Your Heart,” a short story by Joyce Carol Oates.
“The Triumph of Night,” a short story by Edith Wharton.
Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith, a non-fiction memoir by Holly Ordway.
“Master Misery,” a short story by Truman Capote.
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, a non-fiction book of theology by Pope Benedict XVI.
“Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” a short story by Herman Melville.
The Book of Job, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
“Little Miracles, Kept Promises,” a short story by Sandra Cisneros.
“The Portobello Road,” a short story by Muriel Spark.
Orthodoxy, a non-fiction book of philosophy by G. K. Chesterton.
“Queen of the Tyrant Lizards,” a short story by John C. Wright.
“The Key,” a short story by Eudora Welty.
“Extricating Young Gussie,” a Jeeves Collection short story P. G. Wodehouse.
Vol 2 of Les Misérables, “Cosette,” a novel by Victor Hugo.
“An Alpine Idyll,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
Dare We Hope that All Men be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell, a non-fiction work of theology by Hans Urs von Balthasar.
“A Pursuit Race,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Today is Friday,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Banal Story,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, a novella by Stephen Crane.
Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
“The Book of Psalms,” a book of the Old Testament, KJV & NIV Traslations.
Robert Lowell: Collected Poems, an anthology of poetry edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter.
The Book of Psalms, a book of the Old Testament, KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.
Crime and Punishment, a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats, a non-fiction book by James R. Richards, D.V.M.
The Virgin and the Gypsy, a novella by D. H. Lawrence.
No More Parades, the 2nd novel of the Parade’s End Tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford.
“Now I Lay Me,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Sounds,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
“Wingstroke,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.