Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking Forward

Each December as a part of my annual routine, I review the closing year by rereading my notes from the past twelve months, and I start to look over the next year's book list with anticipation.  This year I think back over the fun and learning and even the disappointments of 2010 with great satisfaction and no regrets, and 2011 promises to be another pleasurable, fulfilling year.

Each year begins with Greek classics, and 2011 begins with a return to some favorites.  The three plays by Aristophanes are among his most accessible for the reader of 2500 years later.  Many college students of today read Lysistrata and discover great troves of humor.  I can't help but think that the name of Thesmophoriazusae is all that keeps its sneaking and crossdressing and silliness from entertaining today's youth.  And The Odyssey tells one of the world's greatest stories.  I talk about it at least once every year to my music classes as an iconic model of a plot that works well in music also: the journey is full of adventure, and more dangerous surprises await even after we get home.  Beethoven and Homer are not all that different.

The philosophical selections always require a lot of pondering and note-taking, but I love getting stumped on some given day's six-page assignment, pondering and wondering during the rest of the day, having a moment of clarification the next morning, and then reviewing the notes of the last few days to see how much clearer the whole thing seems – including passages that I was too clueless about even to be stumped on.  Sometimes the moment of clarification comes, not just a day, but years later.  Reading Aristotle's Topics for the first time made much in his other works clearer.  (It will probably have this effect again this year.)  Reading Aquinas often makes Aristotle clearer and vice versa.  And Kant is nearly indecipherable on first reading, so I know rereading a crucial part of his most important treatise will light a lot of bulbs.

I don't know if I'm going to enjoy Hegel or not; I'm hoping to understand him at least.  Having read his Philosophy of History, I recognize some of the ideas when his name comes up in other (usually academic) reading.  But I don't get it – and not just because it's not the kind of philosophy I'm not going to agree with.  Plato talks of a world soul, and I get it.  Spinoza talks of the universe as a unity, and I get it.  Darwin talks about all life forms evolving through undirected variation, and I get it.  I don't believe any of these ideas, but their authors make the ideas clear enough that I know what it is I don't believe and can see why others do believe it.  But Hegel talks about a single universal consciousness that evolves, and I don't get it, perhaps because he seems to write in terms that made sense only to him, not to me.  I'm hoping that both the variety of selections and the editor's notes in the anthology I chose will help.

Most of the fiction and history for the year is fated to give me great pleasure and understanding.  David Copperfield is one of the world's very greatest novels, and my second favorite book by my favorite author.  If there were fewer books in the world, I could read David Copperfield once every year for the rest of my life and not get tired of it.  O'Brian, Plutarch, Thackeray, Durant, Williams, Catton, Trollope, and Waugh have all entertained me greatly in the past, and I'm sure the books of theirs that I've picked for 2011 will please.

Then there's Richard Blackmore's Lorna Doone.  Both names are rather famous today: the first as the name of a member of the rock band Deep Purple, and the second as a cookie.  Neither is a household name in reference to literature, though, so I don't have high expectations in this quarter.

The most wondrously glowing item on the reading list for 2011 is the beginning of Orlando Furioso.  Twenty years ago or so, I was reading something or other by C. S. Lewis, and he mentioned Orlando Furioso as an example or analogy that he assumed was familiar to every reader.  My heart ached as I read the passage, and I had my last really angry regret about my weak, space-age education.  Just after thinking, "Why weren't my schools better?!" I thought, "You can read all the classics you want to.  Just start reading."  Soon afterwards, I began my search for the right set of books and the right reading plan.  I settled on the Britannica set and its ten-year reading plan, and I loved the experience so much I drew up my own second ten-year plan, some of the fruits of which you are enjoying (or at least experiencing) now.  But as much as I felt I was finally getting the education in classical lierature I had always wanted, it occurred to me that I had not read the book that started it all.  This year, I go back to the beginning and start Orlando Furioso.

It will be a great year of great literature and the first full year with my blog.  Happy New Year, and thanks for sharing part of the experience with me.

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