Another Year of Reading
A number of friends, real and virtual, on Facebook have listed the books they most enjoyed or profited from reading this past year. I was surprised how many were books about books, that is, tertiary rehashings of movements or developments for which there are superior first-hand sources. De gustibus etc, but why read a modern work on ancient education until you have at least made it through Aristotle and Quintilian? It's like gushing over Ayn Rand without reading Nietzsche or Mandeville.
When I consider how much time I have spent on frivolous mystery novels, I am a little embarrassed. I'll only name a few of the authors--in most cases I have rave several novels: George Bellairs, Michael Innes, Gladys Mitchell, Cyril Hare, F.W. Crofts, Patricia Wentworth, Colin Dexter, John Rhode, Michael Gilbert, Rex Stout, et al.
I also read a good deal of Fredric Brown, both his science fiction and his detective series. I recommend the first Ed and Am novel , Madball, and Night of the Jabberwock. I also reread Hammet's The Glass Key and The Dain Curse. Most of this I read before turning the light out and on nights of insomnia, that is, several times a week, early in the morning on Audible. As low as detective novels get, they are still first-hand attempts at grappling with reality, while "nonfiction" works that make the bestseller lists today are like college survey courses in one volume. If you have no knowledge of the events and personalities and ideas that are being dissected and repackaged, you are merely a slave to the author.
I enjoyed most of the mysteries I read, but I put Georges Simenon in a separate category, partly because I enjoy his prose and partly because of his deep understanding of human weakness. Also in French I read some Balzac and have been making forays into Henri Bergson, whom I read in English back in my teens. There may well be too much science in Bergson, but there are also powerful examples and telling insights.
I did not do much in Italian literature, though I read some Pirandello, both stories and plays and the "gialli" of Augusto de Angelis. I don't know if this counts, but I also read an Italian translation of a detective novel by the Greek Petros Markaris.
In serious English literature and history, I reread Gulliver and some other pieces of Swift, some of Pope, biographies of Queen Anne, Pope, Robert Walpole, William III, and James II, Freeman's History of the Norman Conquest, and perhaps half of Kinglake's marvelous but incredibly long history of the Crimean War.
In ancient and Medieval literature and history, I reread Procopius and Boethius, Zosimus' History; dipped in and out of Xenophon's Hellenica and some Plato, Venantius Fortunatus, Sidonius Apollinaris, and Babrius. I also read several histories of Ravenna, Sweeney's History of Troy, Breasted's old history of Egypt and the two volumes of John Romer, and lots of the New Testament. We also reread, together, Eusebius' history and Gibbon's Autobiography. I read book swatches of Hodgkins' volumes on the History of Italy and Her Invaders.
But, sorry, no Jordan Peterson or any of the innumerable derivative writers who recyle, in drab prose, the thoughts of more original minds.
All in all, a dismal performance for a one-time serious reader. I recall Proust saying somewhere in his great novel that most of us spend our mornings reading gossip in the newspaper and once or twice a year take down a leather-bound volume of Pascal. He suggested that we get newsprint editions of Pascal and other classics and several times a year dip into the news in an expensive leatherbound edition.
What did I most enjoy? Perhaps Simenon, Xenophon, Bergson, Swift and Pope, though it was fun to read Venantius and Sidonius, though they are far from great poets.
My only New Year's resolution is to read less of The Daily Mail and my daily mysteries and "take Plato and Plotinus for my friends."
I invite readers to name their favorites of the year/
Dr Fleming, I am closing out the year with a novel I’m predicting you’ll say you like: ALECK MAURY, SPORTSMAN by Caroline Gordon (longtime Mrs Allen Tate). Apparently this was a paean to Gordon’s father, an avid hunter & fisher. The main character makes his living as a Classics scholar, teaching Greek & Latin, but reserves his best efforts for the rituals & exertions of bream fishing and quail shooting. I don’t believe Ms Gordon had first hand knowledge of her subject, but her descriptions of the natural world, seines and bird dogs, fishing flies and Greener shotguns is first rate. Or at least it made me wish I’d grown up hunting and fishing myself. As you probably know, the Catholic Convert Gordon was an important mentor to Walker Percy, and I was immediately reminded that the shotgun that was so fateful in the fictional life of Williston Bibb Barrett (and maybe in the real life of the author?) was a Greener.
What else for 2021? I finally got around to Boswell’s Life of Johnson, a 1402 page explosion of high-speed & joyous prose. I just finished Stalin’s War by Sean McMeekin, WWII from the POV of Uncle Joe. There is essentially nothing good to say about FDR, after reading this, precious little more on behalf of Churchill. Hard to remember everything going back to January. I do recall enjoying Muriel Spark’ THE BALLAD OF PECKHAM RYE, another of her quirky (in a good way) little concoctions, not on the level of A FAR CRY FROM KENSINGTON, but worth the time.
Happy new year!!!
Ken, thanks for the observations. I haven’t read Gordon in years but always liked her. The Greener shotgun, I believe, was highly regarded.
What to say about the fool Boswell’s Life of Johnson? Is there a more entertaining book in English? Some competitors are Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, Powell’s Dance, the best of Dashiel Hammet and Mark Twain? I am judging by how many times I have read reread them. Throw in three Jane Austen’s, half a dozen Trollope’s, a good third of Scott.
Muriel Spark was a sort of friend of mine. The only novel I don’t like is a long tedious work, Mandelbaum Gate, but other than that I have enjoyed everything else. I completely agree that A FAR CRY is my favorite–suggested to me by Fr Ian Boyd.
Happy to share my best books of the year; I hope not to be the latest insomnia cure by the time I’ve finished!
I can never get too much Solzhenitsyn. I have gotten through “The Red Wheel: March 1917, Node three, Book One and Book Two. Happily, Book Three just arrived the other day, a Christmas present to myself. A masterful, almost hour-by-hour historical-fiction account of Russia as the world war ends and the revolution begins. I also recommend “Between Two Millstones, Books One and Two.” Solzhenitsyn describes moving to the West, his introduction to the “free press” and the machinations of unscrupulous publishers in the US, UK and Israel. The second volume details his life in Vermont and his work on the Red Wheel series.
“Sevastopol’s Wars: Crimea From Potemkin to Putin.” Mungo Melvin. An antidote to the neo-con version of Crimea’s place in history.
“DeGaulle,” by Julian Jackson. Even if you do not like this book, one can use it as cover when the shooting starts; it’s immense.
“After the Apocalypse,” by Andrew Bacevich. His latest book, and it continues his analysis of our strategic blunders and realist prescriptions for America’s future. All of his books are well-done, in my opinion, and besides, he was my immediate boss for the last few months of my service along the Fulda Gap back in the day. A good man.
“Exploring the Southern Tradition.” An Abbeville Institute book with essays from Prof Wilson and other fine writers I suspect others here will recognize.
“”Jean-Claude Colin: Reluctant Founder 1790-1875,” by Justin Taylor. Founder of the Marist Order, and maybe, just maybe, related to me. The downside is the book makes the DeGaulle book look like a third-grade reader; must have been paid by the word!
“The Catholic Writer Today – and Other Essays,” by Dana Gioia. A fascinating view of current writing and writers from a serious poet.
Finally, two books poetry that I’ve enjoyed: “Colors of the River,” by Stella Nesanovich and “The Favor of My Lord, ” by Donna Sobilo.
Thank you, gentlemen.
I’ve posted my favorites of the year on FB for 2019 and 2020 and will post a similar list for 2021 shortly after New Year’s Eve. I shall share it here.
My favorites from this past year include Johnson’s History of Rasselas (an annual re-read), the first six books of the Aeneid in Latin, Trollope’s biography of Caesar, Livingston’s Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium, the Gospel of Mark in the Greek, and Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger. I knew it would break my heart to read the last of the Barsetshire novels. It did, but I nevertheless enjoyed every page. Besides that, much that one wouldn’t be surprised to find a Lutheran pastor reading––Holy Scripture; Luther’s Great Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper; a new edition of Luther’s Church Postils; “The Knights of Rhodes,” a novel by the late Swedish bishop Bo Giertz; a dear friend’s dissertation on the Lutheran martyr Robert Barnes. In the new year, I look forward to the Palliser novels, the first of which (Can You Forgive Her?) I wrapped up last week and appreciated very much. Am also in the middle of Alan Walker’s biography of Chopin. Ditto to Dr. Fleming’s New Year’s Resolution––fewer newspapers, print or otherwise, and more literature and primary sources.
Overwork made for a dismal year for me. I finally managed to get around to buying The Blondes of Wisconsin a couple weeks ago. Waiting on me at the post office right now is a book called The Horns, which is intended to be the first in a planned Zambezi Trilogy by Jill Baker, a Rhodesian journalist now living in Australia. I don’t yet know how good her writing will be, but from what I can gather she may be Rhodesia’s answer to Faulkner. I am considering buying J.R.R. Tolkein’s translation of Beowulf, and I’m going to buy Hannes Wessels’ trilogy on the Rhodesian war (Men of War; A Handful of Hard Men; We Dared to Win) if I can get myself to let go of any more money.
As for what I’ve actually read, like I said, it was a dismal year, except that I finished Herotodus’ Histories and also read Bulldog Drummond. Other than that nothing of real significance.
Along with her other videos, Jill Baker can be heard reading excerpts from The Horns here:
And if you watch enough of her videos you’ll by stunned to learn just who she and her family were acquainted with or were friends with when she was a child, and I don’t just mean one single person either.
Thanks to all for some interesting suggestions.
I have read a lot of murder mysteries this year as well, with a mind sometimes unable to handle anything heavier at the end of the day, and how you can leave Edmund Crispin off the list, Tom, I cannot imagine. Buried for Pleasure has the funniest and most accurate commentary on political life I have ever read. I love to re-read it.
I also went back to Robinson Crusoe and Tom Sawyer this year, after thirty or forty years, having forgotten the Christian sanctimony of the first (taking nothing away from the wonderful conceit of that story) and the religious mockery (mild enough, I suppose) and social darkness of the second.
Probably my favorite experience of the year, however, was listening to a good audiobook recording of Paradise Lost. The poem rolls along beautifully in its blank verse and is wonderful to listen to–composed audibly as it was, surely it was meant to be read aloud much more than to be read silently. “Better aloud” is probably true of all good poems, but having mostly read Milton in my head it was very fine to hear it.
Kate, you wound me to the quick. Having read all of “Edmund Crispin” and most of it twice, I did not reread any this past year. He’s a queer duck, a composer who wrote mysteries and drank so much his later works became incoherent. I really do not like his hero, Gervase Fenn, who seems a composite of the worst characteristics of Chesterton and John Dickson Carr, neither of whose mysteries I can any longer bear to read. But Crispin’s impish brilliance survives even his tedious professor.
We have had a similar experience, to your listening to Milton, in hearing Dryden’s Aeneid. One forgets, after having read it with the eyes, how beautiful it is.
My favorite book this year was our Fleming Fdtn foray into the Sienkiewicz trilogy: With Fire and Sword. I’ve purchased the next two but haven’t started. I enjoyed “Seven Against Thebes” and read 5 different translations.
I finished Huysman’s “Against the Grain”. Read over 7 months because I wasn’t interested in the character, des Esseintes, I continued in order to enjoy the rich feast of English, and could only wonder what the French might reveal. At Ken’s urging I read Percy’s “The Movie Goer”. Huxley’s “Ape and Essence” was worse than I remembered; that won’t happen again! It wasn’t his atheist theme but rather the amateurish way it was presented that disappointed.
I’ve also read Dr Brownlow’s book “Two Shakespearean Sequences” and the six previously unread plays among the many he analyzes. Tom Wolfe’s little book on Darwin, “The Kingdom of Speech”, was the topic of one of Dr Patrick’s Saturday discussions. Wolfe does for Darwin what he did for painting and architecture! All three are highly recommended.
Kellen, I’m happy your liked With Fire and Sword. Let me know when you are starting the next volume, and I’ll do the same. Huysman is an awful writer, tacky in the extreme, but his Des Esseintes is significant, partly as a vulgarian’s portrait of the genuinely original Robert de Montesquiou, and partly because it can be paralleled with Wilde’s Dorian Grey and Proust’s character, the Baron de Charlus, a far more interesting portrait of Proust’s friend Montesquiou.
Now that you have read “The Moviegoer,” you should certainly read “The Last Gentleman” and “Love in the Ruins.” Huxley was at his best in his early novels, Antic Hay, Crome Yellow, et al, but I find I cannot reread even these with pleasure.
Wolfe’s impudent reading of architecture and painting was refreshing, but I cannot imagine that he had the background to do a similar job on Darwin. What did he say that sticks in your mind?
I had a banner year in the classics having read the Iliad, The Seven Against Thebes and Herodotus, all for the first time. This doesn’t touch the grand and noble effort of Mr. Olson but baby steps will get me there eventually if I stay away from the stairs (sorry if I am mentioning a sore point, Dr. Fleming). I read The Once and Future King by T.H. White partly on a seeming recommendation in an old article by Russell Kirk, but mostly to evaluate it as a gift for a niece. I thought that the first book in the collection to be quite good, the rest was tolerable except that I have always loathed the Lancelot and Guenevere story and White seems to have been obsessed by it. I read Northanger Abbey. This is widely supposed to have been Austen’s weakest work. All I can say is that if a fraction of what is being published now even approached Austen’s weakest effort our culture would not be in nearly as disgraceful a shape as it is. Bulldog Drummond was entertaining and even profound in one or two spots. I read The Forayers by Simms. I’m hooked and plan to spend much more time under the spell of his work in future. I read How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles Dowding and a short book on surf fishing by Captain Al Ristori to inspire me to get my equipment in order and hit the beaches again after a twenty year hiatus, because, I believe, needs must. Dowding is wonderful, which anyone can see from his Youtube videos. He is the perfect teacher, kind, gentle, encouraging and extremely knowledgeable, a quintessential English market gardener with a program that is easy to replicate with some adjustments related to climate and other circumstances. Finally, I read Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce on the recommendation of Prof. Brosman elsewhere. Joyce is a good writer and the book was engaging and entertaining, if a bit frantic, at times. Her subject is, in essence, how a collection of characters, broken by the catastrophic events affecting England in the first half of the twentieth century cope, or not, and seek a path for themselves toward some sort of fulfillment of their horrible lives.
I read TH White in my 20’s and almost became diabetic. The treatment of Arthur is tacky and he has no grasp of the tragedy of Arthur. Tennyson is ten thousand times deeper and more entertaining. Northanger Abbey is charming and more obviously satiric than most of her other work. It teaches you to beware of Jane the way The Warden taught me to realize there is more to Trollope than meets the eye.
Tom, ref: your question as to what struck me about “The Kingdom of Speech”
Wolfe wrote to attack Darwin’s theory of Evolution and Darwin himself. Wolfe asserts that speech cannot be accounted for by Darwin’s theory. As you say, Wolfe had not the background to delve into the science of evolution. What he has done is popularize the linguistic efforts of Daniel Everitt who attacked Chomsky’s theory of human speech – speech originating in an “organ” evolved to further human development. You probably are aware of Everitt’s research among the Piraha in which he found that their language is not part of Chomsky’s “universal language” resulting from that mysterious organ. Thus it is an artifact of culture. This was new ground to me as I was not aware of the challenge to Chomsky. Neither Chomsky nor Everitt have yet had the final word. Dr Patrick, of course, found Wolfe lacking and unaware that language springs from the very creation of Man by the spoken Word of God.
Wolfe’s attack on Darwin the man gathered all the evidence that suggests Darwin blatantly stole the ideas of William Wallace, refused to credit him, and was basically a poor specimen of human. As I recall the book, Darwin gathered three years of evidence on the Voyage but used the work of Wallace to formulate the Origin and only did so when he realized Wallace was going public with his work. I think this has been known but hidden for years and Wolfe has assembled a lot of evidence.
Kellen, this is perfectly dreadful, even worse than I had supposed. Where to begin? First off, an argumentum ad hominem against a scientific theory is absolutely deplorable, unless the scientist’s flaws are directly relevant to his theory. Rousseau’s humane idealism is, to some extent, undermined by his mistreatment of his own family, to say nothing of his paranoia. Secondly, the Darwin/Wallace controversy has been gone over from multiple points of view by competent biographers and historians of science, and, while different positions have been taken, what you present as Wolfe’s position is far from authoritative. A theory of evolution, per se, was not exactly new: Charles’ grandfather Erasmus had proposed a theory in a long poem, and we can see such thinking in Empedocles. Natural selection is the key and Darwin and Wallace were thinking along parallel lines. What and when Darwin knew of Wallace is of some interest to historians of science, but Wallace, brilliant as we was, never had the comprehensive grasp that Darwin was to develop.
As for Everitt, I only know bits about his work from others, but I have no reason to trust anthropological research that presents societies that are radically different. Remember the Gentle Tasaday, a tribe in the Philippines without property or aggression concocted by the minister of tourism who turns out to be the cousin of a friend of mine. Until one makes a serious study of Evereitt’s research, it has to be bracketed. There was a point at which the major society for linguists laid an interdict on any papers dealing with the origin of language. Would that Chomsky had obeyed. I hope you understand that any argument attempting to reduce language to an “artifact of culture” is part of a general movement to make a similar reduction of marriage, sexual differences, morality.
Chomsky’s theory of language is entirely off the subject. It is essentially a materialist reduction of Descartes, which is too bad, since when he began work on his notion of an innate universal language, he seemed an apostle of human moral freedom. And, while I find theological speculation on language to be engaging, it can have no place in science as it has, alas, developed since the Renaissance.
I liked Tom Wolfe until he started pretending to be a great novelist. I once discussed his first novel with George Garrett, who said he enjoyed it. I asked, incredulously, “You mean as a novel?” Of course not, responded George, “It’s not a novel.” What he enjoyed was the satire on New York. I would have enjoyed it a great deal more in an essay or two. Poor Wolfe did not have a clue what a novel is, and he had no clue about science.
In 2021, I continued reading the ancient classics–in translation, for, alas, I was a poor and cowardly young student–in chronology. The beginning of the year had me corralling translations of Plautus and cracking the two Loeb Classical Library volumes of Terence that I own. On New Year’s Eve, I wound up a perusal of Horace with the first title on my list of favorites for the year. Polybius, Catullus, Lucretius, Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, Virgil, and Propertius occupied me during the interim. I also backtracked to take in a further work of Aristotle and leapt forward to read Boethius.
I also read plenty of fiction, either in preparation for seeing films based on some of them, in the ongoing attempt to exhaust my personal library, or to discover older authors of distinction. Good film bases included Under Satan’s Sun and Mouchette by Georges Bernanos, The Thin Red Line by James Jones (I’ve yet to see the movie), and Balzac’s “The Unknown Masterpiece”. From among my own books, I read Stevenson’s Kidnapped, David Balfour, and The Master of Ballantrae, drawing on Hennepin Co. Library to get a copy of his and his son-in-law’s facetious crime story, The Wrong Box. Other home-library items included The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, said to be the first modern spy novel and so crowded with nautical details that if one doesn’t want to be a serious littoral sailor (for me, such an ambition would have to be realized in a subsequent life) you may not make it through the book; Annals of the Parish by John Galt, which reminded me of The Vicar of Wakefield (Galt’s own model), but set in newly industrializing Ayrshire; and one of the most beautiful works of English prose I have ever read, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Although I don’t read a lot of short stories, I read every story of Anthony Bukowski’s I can get my hands on. His new collection, The Blondes of Wisconsin, focuses on neighboring households of first- and second-generation Poles on Superior’s east side and on one son of an immigrant, Ed “Bronco” Bronkowski. Nobody I know of is writing better short stories than Tony’s.
I read a few topical works of nonfiction, none of any great distinction; a superior history of children’s literature that emphasizes how the classics of the genre/manner were used by readers, whether for learning or for recreation; and a couple of the collections of the cultural and political essays of Richard M. Weaver, whose best-known work is Ideas Have Consequences, which prompted me to also read Aristotle’s Rhetoric.
Perhaps my most moving reading of 2021 was the poetry of Ethna McKiernan, a close friend to some of my best friends who had been very ill for some time and who scheduled a last reading and “book launch” (a term I learned in Irish poetry-publishing circles) of her collected poems last August. In December, she died.
The books I read in 2021 that I most enjoyed, listed in no particular order, are
Horace in English (1996), edited by D. S. Carne-Ross and Kenneth Haynes
The Blondes of Wisconsin (2021) by Anthony Bukowski
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; An Annotated Edition (1908; 2008) by Seth Lerer
David Balfour (Catriona) (1893) by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Thin Red Line (1962) by James Jones
The Ethics of Rhetoric (1953) by Richard M. Weaver
The Art of Rhetoric by Aristotle, translated by Robin Waterfield (2018)
Speaking and Language: Defense of Poetry (1971) by Paul Goodman
The Republic and The Laws by Cicero, translated by Niall Rudd (1998)
Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time (1964) by Richard M. Weaver
Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History, from Aesop to Harry Potter (2008) by Seth Lerer
Annals of the Parish (1821) by John Galt
Interesting list, Ray. Now you can answer that perennial question posed by the ineducable: Who is John Galt?
I haven’t read the Wind in the Willows in decades but remember it fondly. I’ve never read James Jones, though George Garret, his friend, also spoke very highly of his novels. If you’ve read David Balfour, then you must have read Kidnapped, which is more thrilling, though David is just as interesting. I never read the Goodman book and may look into it. I have read The Wrong Box several times and found it irresistibly funny. I don’t know how much Stevenson’s stepson had to do with the collaboration. He did little on his own, and I had the impression that his stepfather was doing him a favor, though I think Osbourne was fertile in plot ideas and apparently wrote the first draft. ralph The film, although it departs greatly from the novel, is also quite funny, with great performances by Ralph Richardson and John Mills. Sellers, while funny, is so over the top that it is more ham than art. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were as funny as they would ever be.
I read very little if the latter half of this yeas as I was distracted by attending to the conclusions of the nearly century-long lives of a family member and close family friend. This should not have been a reason though and I wasted quite a bit of time. All of the reading recommended on this website was profitable, Herodotus being the best. I read The Blondes of Wisconsin and enjoyed that. Rather strangely, I packed that for the trip camping trip to western Colorado which I was invited to by friends, but for some reason we ended up going to northern Wisconsin instead and I read Bukowski’s stories in a tent in the location they were set in. Rather unexpected. I started reading Winston Churchill’s Marlborough, His Life And Time’s but stopped right before 1688 as I wanted to pay close attention. I started re-reading Gulliver’s Travel’s for the first time since childhood and stopped for the same reason. I’ll pick those up again soon. I recently read the first chapter of From Jacobite To Conservative Reaction and Orthodoxy c. 1760-1832 by James Sack which is supposed to be about the evolution of political taxonomy of this time and the “thickening” of the Tories. It is a new book and I know nothing at all about the author, so it may well fall into an unreliable category, but if so, I suppose it at least gives the reader a rough idea of the subject, to be weighed against other sources. I read a few of the Oxford Very Short Introduction series and the same goes for them. Other than this I had some light reading with some local histories of Schuyler County IL, and the surrounding area, and I looked over the diaries of George Rogers Clark. For insomniac occupation I flipped through The Names Of Towns And Cities In Britain by W.F.H Nicolaisen and The American Language by H.L Mancken.
Tom, Thank you for not laughing at my memory’s trick: supplying a wrong Christian name for Wallace, noticed only after clicking “post”. It’s Alfred, so as not to confuse any future readers.
All is as you wrote, but I may have presented his attack on Darwin as being an ad hominem critique of Darwinian science. (Wallace, of course was as much a Darwinian as Darwin.) Wolfe obviously despises Darwin as a person and lampoons him in his Wolfe-ish way. A more serious charge he makes against Darwin is that, per Wallace, natural selection can’t explain man’s ability for abstract thought and speech. After Wallace made these points in an article, Darwin wrote “I hope you haven’t murdered [our] child”.
Darwin’s second book, “The Descent of Man” set out to provide evidence that speech, abstract thought, morals, etc, are part of natural selection. The interdiction you refer to came (1872) as a result of the failure of this book and works by others. But, says Wolfe, the search for an universal synthesis never disappeared and was given new life by Noam Chomsky’s work. Try as they might, neither Chomsky nor his acolytes could ever substantiate an evolutionary origin of speech. In 2014 8 scientists, including Chomsky, wrote that “the origins of language remain as mysterious as ever.”
Wolfe introduces Everett as a chief “Chomsky Slayer”. Whether he is or not, he has an impressive CV: PhD 1983 and many faculty positions since including chair of linguistics at U Pitt, and prof of phonetics and phonology at U Manchester and , best of all, chair of Dept of languages/lit/cultures at ISU-Normal. His dissertation was a Chomskyian analysis of the Pirahã language but after years of trying to make it fit, he challenged certain assumptions of Chomsky’s universal language; namely: “all languages are based on a hard-wired mechanism” [wiki].
It’s this that Wolfe built on to discredit the Darwinian concept that man is just an advanced ape. He didn’t seem to have a problem with natural selection. I don’t know where he got the idea that language is an artifact of culture with the pernicious implications of that idea. His “Kingdom of Speech” was a fun read and introduced me to several new ideas which you have now caused me to investigate further. I will now relegate his novels “A Man in Full” and “Charlotte Simmons” to my “don’t bother” shelf….
The trouble with Wolfe is one that plagues Americans: We like to think we don’t need to acquire technical knowledge to talk about difficult subjects. So, journalists and pundits on both sides of COVID and Global Warming, are talking through their hats, but, since no one wears hats, they are forced to talk through their ball caps. Look at all the jackcass converts to Christianity or the Catholic Church. Over night they become experts, with blogs, columns, speaking gigs in which they reinvent the wheel as an octagon. This is a country that listens to people like Bill Maher and Alex Jones, when the spout off on political subjects about which they know less than nothing. Which is about what the language faculty at Bloomington-sub-Normal know. (I have a good friend who teaches zoology at ISU, and he is also fellow of an Oxford College, and for him I invented the name.)
A small side-note. About 1973 I started thinking about certain fallacies of modern leftism having to do with sex differences, marriage, the origin of political authority. I spent a dozen years studying, admittedly in a haphazard way, evolutionary theory, genetics, the endocrine system, and anthropology and political theory. Finally I began writing and eventually produced a tedious book that stinks too much of the lamp. When I started my work, I was an anti-Darwinist, but the more I studied, the more I saw the compatibility of natural selection and sociobiology with a classical Christian view of human social and political life. Ignorance is only bliss for bovines.
Iain McGilchrist addresses human development and evolution by looking at the feature that makes us who we are: our brain, which has two asymmetrical hemispheres that perform unique functions. I recently finished his The Master and His Emissary and just started his just published The Matter With Things. Most interesting reading I have enjoyed in a long time. Based on his review of the evidence of the development of the brain music was our first language.
As one who confesses his ignorance on most things quite readily, does a pragmatic man have to simply bow down before every whim of the so-called experts? I feel like one doesn’t have to have studied the technical jargon of modern gender theory to say the experts claiming boys can be girls and vice versa on the whim of a preference are full of bunk. Or that one can say that those who claim Scripture endorses sexual perversity are fools and entirely wrong even if one is not fluent in Greek and Latin and Hebrew. Or one does not first have to read every first hand historical source of the nation’s founding before scoffing at Critical Race Theory. One also does not have to have studied all of virology and biology to say experts who say one must wear a mask when standing but not when sitting and eating to be safe from a virus are just making stuff up. Or that a porous cloth mask could even stop a virus in the first place is an absurd notion.
Given that we seem to have a particularly bad crop of “experts” in charge of everything, at what point does the regular man have the right to ignore them? How many times do they have to cry “wolf” before we can shave their heads and tar them and feather them and run them out of town on a rail?
I confess I am shocked at how many Protestant converts to the Catholic Faith are given book deals and/or TV shows and held up as model Catholics while espousing stuff that is either old news or heterodox, all to wild acclaim and even sometimes given professorships. But I tend to ignore those experts, including some rather high ranking members of the hierarchy when it comes to liturgical matters, and trust my own experience and judgment over their decrees.
I ask all this only to deflect from the fact that I’ve done such little reading over the past year I have nothing to list other than a handful of recipe books, the “Just William” stories, and part of a book about the history of science that I couldn’t stay awake through. That and Bulldog Drummond and a little Shakespeare. I am so embarrassed that I’ve sworn off reading any modern news outside of my morning cup of coffee for all of 2022.
Once upon a time the United States produced classical scholars and theologians of distinction, but there were still large numbers of people who preferred to make things up on their own. We used to call this bad habit sturdy individualism. Of course there will always be rank imposters, frauds, and people who prostitute their undoubtedly superior knowledge base in order to gain all of the usuals–wealth, power, and women. These false experts and those who trust them are a different matter.
Here is a small example. I heard an Evangelical pastor give a sermon the other day. He built part of his argument on an English translation of Scriptures and was misled by an English word that was a crude equivalent of the Greek original. If you are going to pass yourself off as an authority on the New Testament, someone who gets paid for explaining its message, then you should be required to have learned sufficient Greek not to fall into error. This is especially true of people who belong to “roll your own” churches where creativity of interpretation is not repressed, as it should be. A Catholic or Orthodox priest, a Lutheran or strict Calvinist pastor, all are supposed to be bound by a tradition of interpretation that does not permit much innovation. Such people are relatively safe.
When we come to the harder sciences, one has the choice of either studying enough to find out the more reliable authorities and safest lines of reasoning or one has to be content with saying, “I don’t know if there is global warming or if vaccines work, but I am not having anyone use scientific knowledge as a club.” But that is exactly what Americans don’t do.
I first began to notice this disturbing tendency in arguments between Christian apologists and atheist scientists. Neither side had the slightest hesitation in rushing in to make judgments on questions they did not understand. Read Hitchens on Christianity. He apparently once read “Elmer Gantry” and formed his view based on that and other travesties of Christianity, but his opponents were hardly any better. I once had a nice Lutheran lady tell me she knew that G-d had deliberately misled men to their doom by planting dinosaur fossils to trick them into believing the diabolical creed of diabolism. This dear lady couldn’t tell a fossil from a fuel cell.
And no, someone who does not know at least Greek is not entitled to an opinion on the Scriptures’ view of sexual perversity or abortion or marriage. I hear the most incredibly stupid things from sincere Christians who are willing to accept any argument that seems to give strength to their own opinions. What a particular kind of Christian CAN say is that the authoritative figures in his Church tradition–say, Augustine, Thomas, and Alphonsus dei Liguori and any number of church councils–have passed judgment on the question and must be obeyed.
One of the first questions intellectually honest people have to ask themselves, when confronted by a question or a challenge, is: What do I really know about this? And, on what authority is this argument being put to me? In Critical Race Theory, it was put forward by a typical American nutjob who knows no history and cannot go from A to B without committing an error. When such is the source of a new theory, we know better than even to debate it.
PS The only way a Catholic can dissent from the hierarchy today is by pointing to the sentence of the universal Church throughout history. One cannot rely on one’s own judgment, much less on the judgment of the previous generation–which is generally what conservatives do. Even St. Thomas thought on purely rational grounds, belief in the eternity of the universe was more probable than the Christian view of creation, but since Creation was a revealed doctrine, his job was to explain it in credible terms.
I did once watch a debate between Christopher Hitchens and an Episcopal (I think) Apologist. As absurd as was everything Hitchens said, the wriggling Episcopal was so incoherent and wishy-washy on every single topic that I had to grudgingly concede Hitchens won the debate (I definitely lost in that I had an hour of my time completely wasted).
Now-a-days I think we need a brand of experts whose sole purpose is to separate the actual experts from the quacks in American public life. Things like PhDs and MDs and even Nobel Laureate awards don’t seem to be decent indicators anymore. Of course, then we can get down to arguing about whose expert of experts is better.
I should probably just get back to my recipe books.
Ah, but what makes you think you are in a position to judge which recipe books are worthy of study? Cooking is a fairly serious business, and of the hundred thousand books on cooker and millions of blogs, perhaps 1% is worth your attention. Ask yourself how much you really know and on what authority the writer is presuming to instruct readers? If we were dealing with Italian cooking, of course, we could name people highly esteemed over the years: Ada Boni, Giuliano Bugialli, and, I suppose Marcella Hazan, and, when once we have learned to cook reasonably well, well enough to make traditional recipes turn out correctly–by correctly I mean so that they taste something like meals prepared by competetnt Italian cooks, then we can begin to assert ourselves a bit more.
A have a friend who thinks he likes good food, but when I discuss recipes with him, he has no stable beginning point, except that he likes what he likes. That way lies heresy.
One more thing. If we Americans are guilty of presumption, in thinking that ignorance justifies us in thinking we have the right to our own opinion, the so-called experts, even people who know something, are equally presumptuous in thinking that certain forms of knowledge give them the right to dictate how we are going to live. Suppose a serious student of constitutional law were to come to the conclusion that the Second Amendment, like the other enumerated rights, has been subsumed by the 14th amendment. Would he be justified in demanding that state laws on the right to bear arms were now null and void?
Well, I’d wait for the official Fleming Foundation cook book with Chef Garret, but I’m afraid I might starve to death first!
If he ain’t careful, a man could get paranoia-induced paralysis in these parts. Fortunately, like most good Americans, my ignorance is nigh invincible!
Any home cooked meal , no matter how inedible, when made from real foodstuff contains the one key ingredient for fine cuisine: Love – it’s all you need!
I wish it was that easy! I love my kids, but trying to learn how to cook at my age and in this world we live in – Dr. Fleming is right – almost all of the cookbooks I’ve looked through have been pretty worthless. I had a bunch of cookbooks from my wife’s side of the family from her Grandmothers’ churches (one Baptist, one Presbyterian), and I figured, “surely Southern Protestant ladies would have some good recipes to offer” – but if they did they sure as heck didn’t publish them in the church cookbook. Practically every recipe is “Make a casserole, add rice, 2 cans of Campbells soup, top with Velveeta cheese, and bake for 30 minutes at 350.” As Mr. Strenk has previously mentioned, they appeared to have been infatuated with all the modern “conveniences.”
But then I watch a bunch of YouTube videos and wind up even more confused. Between the editing jumpcuts and the commercials and the random commentary and the specialized ingredients I’ve never heard of and which they don’t sell at my local Food Lion, I give up on a lot of those, too.
But I’ve learned a lot of butter and/or bacon can save many a dish. And love. But also definitely bacon.
It’s not just half-educated pastors and priests who abuse Biblical Greek. A parishioner lent me a Teaching Company DVD series on great speeches, taught by a Ph.D. from Cambridge. I decided to start with the lecture on Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Two minutes in, the professor loses all credibility by claiming that the Greek “agape” is the basis for the English “agape”––the kind of love that makes your jaw drop. I am not making this up.
Giuliano Bugiali dedicated his book on classic Italian cuisine to his mother, the worst of cooks. That is love. Love plus Kraft Mac and cheese = a rotten meal. So long as home cooks have a mother or grandmother to teach them traditional methods and recipes, I agree. Otherwise bad amateur cooking is like bad amateur auto mechanics or brain surgery
It’s hard to find any “authorities” on anything who don’t at least unconsciously buy into some kind of propaganda here or there. When I find a book or a podcast that looks interesting I sample a part of it, say a page or two or an episode which covers some aspect of the broader subject matter that I at least know something about. Is the author or podcaster repeating some kind of propaganda? Does it sound like he knows what he’s talking about? Then I’ll decide if it’s worth the trouble.
If one can learn to look past the prejudices of someone who actually has something to say which is worth knowing, one can learn something. Modern Americans seem incapable of this because of their “schooling”. They are unbelievably gullible and simply look around for something to identify with and believe in. Once they find it, then they identify with it and run the risk of losing their sanity. Americans today are not a very stable lot anyway.
“All Americans,” “amateur cooks”: too many generalizations and not enough specifics here. Do we live to eat or do we eat to live? Eating is part of life but only a small part. People who eat simple, natural foods tend to be healthier. Healthier people tend to be happier because they can enjoy the better things in life that interest them. Like profitable reading.
Mr. Cornell, ingredients of excellent quality cooked simply will get you a long way down the road. I can cook a very simple meal that is quite edible, my wife is far more accomplished when she puts the time in because she was raised in a tradition of cooking and had a good teacher. Butter and bacon will cover many sins, but it is essential to learn how to recognize and source good ingredients and how to treat them once acquired. We have found the books of the lushly named Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to be of very great value, especially The River Cottage Meat Book and The River Cottage Fish Book, pricey but comprehensive and humorous (he is also a TV personality with a very good sense of humor, we enjoyed watching The River Cottage collection). Odd Bits by Jennifer Mclagan is a solid introduction to preparation of the “nasty” bits. The Cook’s Guide to Fish and Shellfish by Kate Whiteman gets a fair bit of use. It concentrates on the basics of what’s what and how to handle and prepare a wide variety of seafood. Vegetables From Amaranth to Zucchini by Elizabeth Schneider (if you can find a copy) is one of the most used books in our house, of any kind. She tells you how to recognize good produce, where you might find it and how to prepare it properly including any pre-cooking steps. I have used it extensively in deciding what to grow, when to harvest and how to treat the things grown after harvest, although it is a cook’s book not a gardening book.
Thank you, Mr. Strenk! I will see what I can do about acquiring some of those books. I’ve gotten better at straightforward meals, but there’s a whole art to home economy in utilizing what one has, knowing how to handle leftovers well, and not wasting so much that I clearly need to get better at. And figuring out the timing of side dishes to go with the main dish so that one thing or the other doesn’t wind up on the plate cold and unappealing – it’s definitely more challenging than I anticipated! Thank you for the resources. While I’m still a rank amateur, I have come a long way from the college kid who ate Ramen noodles out of a pot! There are days when I find myself making 13 grilled cheese sandwiches (on homemade bread) for lunch and I marvel to myself about the unpredictable twists and turns of life.
I think that you’ll like Hugh F.-W. Any tradesman or artist needs to now the qualities of the materials with which he works first of all and Hugh delivers all but what you’ll learn from your own experience. I intend to read his books more or less cover to cover eventually. In what I’ve read as needed, I find his writing to be very engaging for, what is essentially, a manual. I also like him for his relentless work in promoting, supporting and defending English small farmers and fishermen and for his being a scourge to those who claim that meat is to blame for all the world’s ills.
In a recent and inevitably futile attempt to organize my basement and personal library, I re-discovered a handful of Doc Savage paperbacks. I am curious if others remember these action-packed adventures that seemed to pop up everywhere in my youth.
I read a few of the Doc Savage books when I was in my teens. I hadn’t thought of them for years.