Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Awards – 2013

Over the last twenty-five years or so, the media have changed their approach to the end of the annual calendar in many disappointing ways. I remember as a child getting to stay up and watch the ball on Times Square (which is actually a triangle, but then again St. Peter’s Square is a circle, so I guess I shouldn’t look for geometrical accuracy here) – as I was saying before I was interrupted, I used to watch the ball on Times Square descend at 11:00 Central Time, and then again at 12:00 Central Time, when the generous and thoughtful New Yorkers celebrated New Year’s a second just for me, and then again at 1:00, when they celebrated on behalf of Boise, Idaho. But I don’t think the networks have shown the ball drop more than once per year since I reached adulthood. I also used to watch Dick Clark host a great concert with top acts. All aspects of that formula have sadly passed. I used to count on television to offer a review of the top news stories, which some years was the only way I kept up with the news. I gave up on the Time Man of the Year when they offered the title to a computer. Then I really gave up on the magazine when they couldn’t find a place for Walt Disney among the top 100 entertainers of the twentieth century, a man who mastered multiple media and invented several major forms of entertainment.

But readers of can count on the end of December offering new Book Awards. And without further hubbub, here they are.

Master of Ceremonies: Charles Dickens
I look for a way each year to put the Great Man at the top of the list of awards, mostly so someone else can win in the fiction category.

Best New Read, Poetry: Shelley’s “A Summer Evening Churchyard”
Silence and Twilight come creeping hand-in-hand into a church graveyard, and Shelley, the great atheist poet, gets a glimpse, a whisper, a hope that perhaps his poetic vision isn’t just the product of material forces after all but a glimpse, a whisper, and a hope of a Reality beyond Death.

Best New Read, Philosophy: Charles Peirce
Justus Buchler’s selection and introduction made for a very readable approach to the system of the man generally known as the United States’ greatest philosopher. And since the system includes ontology, epistemology, theology, anthropology, science, ethics, mathematics, and logic, a good guide is essential.

Best New Read, Theology: Anselm, Proslogium
Anselm didn’t offer the Ontological “Proof” as a proof. Who knew? (Apparently not any of the philosophers and historians whose words about Anselm I’d read.)

Best New Read, History: Gibbon
Gibbon’s award results from a combination of (1) providing information on a period of Roman history I knew nothing about and (2) abundantly overcoming his century’s tendency to dryness.

Most Surprisingly Clear and Interesting German Philosopher: Schopenhauer
Overcoming both his century’s (and his country’s) tendency to convolution and my grave concerns after so much recent German philosophy, Schopenhauer presented his dour outlook with great clarity. Again, having a selection arranged by an expert helped.

Best Reread, Fiction: Gulliver
Edging out Charles Williams this year is Jonathan Swift, whose music-theory-loving Laputians hit painfully close to the heart.

Best Reread, Drama: Eumenides
A moving defense of conscience and guilt.

Most Clarified on Rereading: Spinoza
I had read all of Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics before, but it made no sense until I read it all at once, in order. What was Mortimer Adler thinking when he drew up the reading plan for the first ten years?

Best Offroading: John Michell’s Who Wrote Shakespeare?
By the time I finished the book, Michell had convinced me that no one could have written Shakespeare’s works: not the actor from Stratford, not Sir Francis Bacon, not the Earl of Oxford, not the Earl of Derby. Then, remembering that someone did in fact compose the plays, it occurred to me that the sense that no one could have written them was tantamount to the view that anyone could have written them. In other words, a mind this brilliant could have arisen even in a country town and could have overcome the limitations of a bad school.

Well, that’s how exlibrismagnis wrings out the Old Year. Next time, we’ll start ringing in the New Year.

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