Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: History 01

Americans Colonial Experience. Daniel Boorstin. The seeds of American culture were sown in the Colonial period.

Civilization: A Personal View. Kenneth Clark. This was a TV series turned into a book. Could not make law and philosophy visually interesting, so those topics are not covered as fully as others. Answers the question, “What is civilization?”

Building of Christendom. Warren H. Carroll. The cruelty of Christians to other Christians and Jews. The cruelty and success of Islam.

The Devil in Massachusetts. Marion L. Starkey. Young girls set off the hysteria of being hurt by witches, leading to a time of chaos in which people charged anyone they disliked or anyone who was different as witches. People were hanged. A study of madness and irrationality in society.

Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down Over Germany in World War II. Thomas Childers. From the Cover: “On April 21,1945, the twelve-member crew of the Black Cat set off on one of the last air missions in the European theater of WWII. Ten never came back. This is the story of that crew—where they came from, how they trained, what it was like to fly a B-24 through enemy flak and who was waiting for them to come home.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Essays 02

Tales and Sketches. Part One. Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I have tried to reduce these tales and sketches to their essence. Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of my favorite authors. His novels depict the darker side of the human spirit: the unpardonable sin (The Scarlet Letter), the family curse (The House of the Seven Gables), the importance of sin to humanizing humanity (The Marble Faun), the inhumanity of reformers and the rejection of women as intellectuals (The Blithedale Romance), but his tales and sketches reveal the creativity and variety of human character. He has thought deeply about the human experience. 

Best American Essays of the [20th] Century. Editors: Oates and Atwan Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company
The essays are in chronological order, from Mark Twain's "Corn-Pone Opinions," 1901, to Saul Bellow's "Graven Images" in 1997. If you expect these essays to be pleasant, comforting and fun to read, you are mistaken. Joyce Carol Oates, one of the editors of the book, says, "My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment, and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish." Most of these essays provoke. Many of them I had never read, but they paint a vivid portrait of the twentieth century

Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle. Washington Irving. The years are 1802 and 1803 in America. The commentator is Jonathan Oldstyle, an older man, a conservative, someone who does not like innovations on old habits. He sends letters to the editor, commenting on the fashions of the young, on the foppishness of young men, on the habits of playgoers, most of which modern readers will recognize in the movie-plexes of today—except, for cell phones—and on the contemporary methods  of dueling when pistols replaced swords. It’s all in good fun.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Essays 01

A Collection of Essays. George Orwell. Includes the well-known essay, “Politics and the English Language.”

The Essays of E.B. White. E.B. White believes that what he finds interesting to write about others will find interesting to read. He is well known for his work at the New Yorker magazine. He was a superior stylist in writing. He is co-author with William Strunk of Elements of Style, a thin reference book on writing that is often quoted by people in the field of writing.

Montaigne: Selected Essays. Montaigne’s thoughts on life provoke our thoughts on life.

Essays and Lectures. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson will make you think. He writes in sentences, each sentence suggestive, freighted with ideas. His sentences are like the stone skipping across the pool—each idea leading to other ideas in never-ending concentric circles. He writes in prose, but his images create poetry. When you read Emerson, be ready to think and to reflect for surprisingly long periods.

Sketches by Boz. Charles Dickens. A collection of brief scenes of English life that are wonderfully entertaining and sometimes quite moving.

The Spectator, Volume One. Addison, Steele and Others. Ed. Gregory Smith.  The Spectator essays were not sermons. They amused. They were short. They made fun of anything that was not common sense. They recommended good manners by making fun of awkward and clumsy manners. The authors’ contemporaries recognized the targets of their humor. The authors also commented thoughtfully on life.

The Spectator, Volume Two. Addison, Steele and Others. Ed. Gregory Smith. In a way the Spectator Papers fulfilled the need for the “Dear Abby” of the 18th century. Unlike Abby’s plain statements, short sentences and familiar vocabulary, the sentences in the Spectator Papers are sometimes convoluted and lengthy, and the vocabulary stretches the reader, but the purpose of the Spectator is similar to Abby’s, to resolve problems by using common sense.

The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley. Loren Eiseley is a remarkable essayist. A professional scientist, a paleontologist, he used words with a skill of a literary artist. Unlike scientists, who often analyze and dissect to kill, Eiseley retained his understanding of the mystery of life. His essays are unforgettable in the sense that the reader will spend considerable time thinking about their meaning.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

195 Books

195 of My
Favorite Books
This list of book reviews began as a blog,

I read books for ideas and entertainment. I am excited by ideas which I find mostly in books. I am fearful that today’s American pop-electronic culture will make reading books obsolete. The pop-electronic culture of text messaging, tweets, TV, the Internet, video games, DVD movies. Ipods, talk radio, cell phones with their many “apps” that take pictures and movies and provide repeats of TV shows etc., is taking thought and ideas and reflection out of daily American life.

Types of books, electronic, hardbound and paperback, have advantages and disadvantages. E-books slow the reader’s quest for ideas, reducing the reader’s progress to page by page. Hardbound and paperback books, on the other hand, enable the reader to skip, browse and select in the search for ideas, procedures that are clumsy with e-readers. But hardbound and paperback books go out of print. E-books have staying power, in that even if they go out of print, they can be called up electronically.

 Reading books of any kind requires active involvement, sustained thought, patience, visualizing, and the desire to reflect on and apply abstract ideas. American pop-electronic culture today leaves little time for reading books, and, therefore, for thinking. American pop-electronic culture kills the habit of reflecting on ideas in books and, therefore, affects the quality of the American spirit.

The books in this list are of a certain quality. In my master’s degree in English from Villanova University I studied the literary canon: Greek and Roman dramas and comedies, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton and the seventeenth-century poets, Dr. Johnson, Boswell and the Neo-classics, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Shelley and the Romantics, the English novelists, Dickens and the Victorians, the Americans, including Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, poets, Dickinson and Frost, etc. and novelists like Melville and Twain.

However, the books in the following list are “Tier Two” books, vital and interesting, but, although containing some of the works normally associated with the literary canon, of interest as individual works, some of which are contemporary, many of which are non-fiction, involving science, society, history, language, writing, etc. My reason for selecting them? I liked them. They made me think and reflect on ideas.
I am assuming that electronic books will be the future existence of books. It is partly to keep my favorite books, first published in hardbound or paperback formats, before the public that I am preserving a blog that summarizes my favorite books, books with ideas that have enriched my understanding of life. It is my hope that these books, many of which are out of print, will be resurrected by electronic scanning, so that they can provide many more generations with their ideas. Perhaps the reader who stumbles on this blog (or in book format) sometime in the bookless future will sense the importance again of the ideas in these books. Ideas that came mainly from some of my favorite books.