Monday, October 17, 2011

Looking Forward to 2012

I know. It seems a little early to be looking forward to next year. Maybe it's the lingering heat of a sweltering summer that has me longing for winter even more than usual. Or maybe it's just that the last book I need for next year arrived the other day. But for whatever reason, I'm looking at my list and thinking eagerly about starting it in January. In a few weeks, I'll post my 2012 calendar under a new tab. But for now, to see what I'll be reading, just look at the tab marked "The Plan." Since 2012 is year 6, I'll be reading everything marked with a 6: Hecuba and other Greek plays, Timaeus and other Platonic dialogs, and so on.

The Patrick O'Brian book I read this summer ended on a cliffhanger. The story in this series becomes increasingly continuous with every book, and I commented in a previous post that I'll have to read the next volume this year and two more next year so I don't lose the thread. Well, I have all three of the next installments now: I'll start one in a couple of weeks and the other two next summer. I love sailing with Captain Aubrey and Dr. Maturin, so I'm happy about getting through the series more quickly.

Other old favorites coming up include Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Durant, Aquinas, Boccaccio, Shakespeare, Boswell, Trollope, Williams, Lewis, Chesterton, James, and of course the Great Man himself: Dickens. But I'm especially excited about some of the selections. Plato's Timaeus, in the pipes for 2012, includes a creation myth, ideas about tuning a musical scale with the music of the spheres, and a theory of matter that includes atoms in regular polyhedrons. I've played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games the last few years, and I always think of Plato when I pick up the dice. Then I'll have my first big portion of Orlando Furioso. I waited almost twenty years to begin reading the book that started this whole project and loved what I read, so I'm looking forward to wandering the woods of medieval France again with Ariosto's knights. I first read Charles Williams's The Place of the Lion while on pain medication, so it should make more sense this time. (But who knows? Maybe reading about Platonic forms becoming material made more sense with drugs) And it's been far too long since I first read Bleak House, the book Chesterton called Dickens's best novel (although he nuanced that judgment by saying cryptically that it was not the best book among his novels).

A few things on the list look daunting, and I know I'll have to take notes and find sources of longsuffering and tenacity to get through some of them. I found Tacitus' Histories dry and difficult, and in my limited view scholars seem to prefer him to Suetonius, so The Twelve Caesars may really test my resolve. I skipped the fourth book of Gargantua and Pantagruel when it came up on the first reading plan. These books are hilarious, but as with (I feel fairly certain I'm the first person in history to make this comparison) Green Acres, a little madness goes a long way. But I think often of two parts of the first three books that I really enjoyed, so I hope some parts of book IV charm me, too. I've heard a lot about Jonathan Edwards and Religious Affections, so I want to read at least parts 1 and 2, but if it goes on and on in that methodical, passionless way that writers from the Age of Reason tended to favor, I may find myself counting the pages and the days. And I'm concerned that Alvin Plantinga's God and Other Minds may simply be too hard for me to understand.

But I imagine I'll enjoy most of the selections that are new to me as much as I've enjoyed Eusebius, Ariosto, Wordsworth, Animal Farm, Christ in Shakespeare, and the Shahnameh this year. I look forward to Chrysostom, Sun Tzu, Confucius, and Greene's The Heart of the Matter. I'm prepared to love Byron's language if not his message. On the other hand, with Forged in Battle, a book about the black regiments in the American Civil War by an author whose name escapes me, I have to say I'm prepared to love its message if not its language. And I've seen Dionysius referred to so many times in medieval books and books about medieval writing, I can't wait to read his visions of the structure of heaven and the hierarchy of angels.

But the book that I'm most looking forward to is Hoogenboom's Rutherford B. Hayes. I've hyped the book to myself so much in my mind, it can't possibly live up to its press. Hayes intrigued me a few years ago when I listened to an audio book about the American Presidents. That book left me haunted by a comparison between Franklin Pierce, who left his tragic Presidency hated by both North and South and then drank himself to death, and Hayes, who used his influence as former President to start schools for black children in the South. People sometimes call Carter our greatest ex-President, but from what I know, I'd vote for Hayes. I know the biography will reveal him for the flawed human he was, so I hope my bubble doesn't burst too loudly.

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