Open Thread: What are you reading?

The current number of The University Bookman devotes some of its space to a symposium on the “summer reading” of its contributors.  (R. J. Stove points out that it is winter in Australia, but he participates anyway.)  It occurs to me that The Orthosphere could do worse than to imitate The Bookman. I therefore invite “Orthospherians” to say something informally about their summertime reading projects. 

I describe my own somewhat fluctuating summertime reading-list in the Bookman article, so I will refrain from embellishing it here until others have thrown their readerly hats into the ring.


66 thoughts on “Open Thread: What are you reading?

  1. I’ve been reading Augustine’s City of God. I skipped to the second half after a few chapters in the first part because I’m not all that interested in the many heresies that were floating about in Rome in Augustine’s time. The second half is fantastic though and it has been a great learning experience for me.

    • Bravo! I often teach Augustine’s Confessions in my Western Heritage course and I have occasionally integrated passages from The City of God in (believe it or not) my Science Fiction course.

      • Confessions is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Although, I hasten to add, I’m not very well-read!

  2. Just started Beasts, Men, and Gods, by Ferdinand Ossendowski. Coming off a sci-fi kick lately, Stranger in a Strange Land, Anathem, The Algebraist. Also, working my way through George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons (well spaced, as they require much reflection).

    • I wonder — how did Stranger in a Strange Land strike you?

      PS. I’ve never been able fully to discern what Heinlein’s attitude is towards his protagonist or towards the protagonist’s followers. Stranger is obviously satirical, but is it satirizing the cult that forms around Michael Valentine Smith or the larger, quasi-totalitarian society within which MVS’s cult forms? The name Valentine is provocative. It’s a sign of Smith’s sexually libertine behavior, of the erotic; but Valentine was also the name of one of the most articulate of the Gnostic thinkers of Late Antiquity. Religious themes occur throughout Heinlein’s work, but I doubt that they constitute a coherent pattern.

      • The smugness is annoying, and obviously it is disastrous if taken as some kind of prescription. The first half reminded me very much of The Idiot, but when the libertine preaching started I got bored. Towards the end I developed an inkling that maybe the Martian society was a parody of progressive attitudes, whose plans would work great if they had Martian abilities.

        The only aspect of the book I found worthwhile was the message that we are stuck with freedom, and that that does not mean that there is no such thing as wrongness.

      • I’ve read Stranger in a Strange Land before and I’m afraid there’s little sophistication to it. Heinlein was simply a utopianist pervert, and several other of his works (e.g., The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, For Us the Living, etc.) fetishize the free love society that has brought so much ruin to the West. He is on record saying that he thinks the demolition of sexual mores is a good and necessary thing.

      • Heinlein was simply a utopianist pervert, and several other of his works (e.g., The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, For Us the Living, etc.) fetishize the free love society that has brought so much ruin to the West. He is on record saying that he thinks the demolition of sexual mores is a good and necessary thing.

        I’ve just finished listening to the audiobook of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I had never read anything by Heinlein before; the idea of line marriages made me laugh, given that he came up with this idea in the mid-sixties, pre-sexual revolution. I guess we have line marriages now, except without the pesky marriage part.

    • Ossendowski! It’s not often I see reference to that old talespinner. The only one of his books I’ve read is Man and Mystery in Asia, which C. S. Lewis read, being particularly struck bythe tale of the Black Monk. (The reference for Lewis is to his diary published as All My Road Before Me. The usually meticulous editor, the industrious Walter Hooper, renders the name as Oddenowski, as I recall; he would have been working with a handwritten original.)

    • Ian, I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while now. A couple years ago I read Will Durant’s 13 volume survey history which leaves off with Napoleon and having decided recently it was time to read Fletcher I figured I needed to finish my survey of history through the present before doubling back to look at Frederich List, Fletcher and nationalist economics. So next up is A.J.P. Taylor’s Struggle for Mastery in Europe which actually shows up in the Symposium link under R.J. Stove. Synchronicity abounds.

      I may ask for your thoughts or impressions at the next Orthosphere meetup.

      • Sounds good! I’m not too far into the book yet, but so far it seems good.

        I think next up on my list might be Jim Kalb’s new book.

    • Ha ha — just kidding. Everybody please excuse my peculiar sense of humor.

      In reality, I just finished Solzhenitsyn’s “The Russian Question At The End of the Twentieth Century” and am now working on Ezra Pound’s “Guide To Kulchur”.

      Solzhenitsyn’s short book is a great summary of suffering-filled Russian history ever since the Time of Troubles, as well as a good (albeit underdeveloped, it seems to me) theory of nationalism.

      Pound is difficult to follow, but definitely worth reading. He’s definitely not Christian but for some reason keeps talking up St. Ambrose, of all people.

      • St. Ambrose was one of the Patres who reconciled Christianity with pagan literature (others are Justin Martyr and St. Basil of Caesarea). Pound, who fancied himself a kind of modern pagan, was honest enough to grant a debt where it existed. St. Ambrose also made a breakthrough in Western literacy — as St. Augustine observes in the Confessions, Ambrose read silently, without moving his lips or whispering or speaking the words to himself.

      • St. Ambrose also made a breakthrough in Western literacy — as St. Augustine observes in the Confessions, Ambrose read silently, without moving his lips or whispering or speaking the words to himself.

        This is very curious to me, if I understand you correctly. I have, up until recently, read silently as St. Augustine attributes to St. Ambrose, without speaking aloud or even moving my lips, and it didn’t occur to me to do anything else. I discovered a couple months ago, however, as if by chance, that moving my lips to form the words, even if only slightly, helps me to comprehend what I am reading better.

    • Wasn’t Burns’ original title, Surprised by Gracie?

      PS. Dear “r”: I was pulling your leg. Surprised by Grace is the name of C. S. Lewis’s book about his wife, Grace. I couldn’t help myself. Please accept my apologies. (T)

      • I must confess a lack of knowledge on that point. I did check Wikipedia’s entry on the book and found only Gracie:A Love Story mentioned, so I’ll have to trust them on this point.

      • Mr. Bertonneau: I’d like to say that I was trying to emulate the great Gracie Allen, but sadly, I cannot. Instead, I must quote the immortal Homer, “Doh!” No apologies necessary, but you are very kind.

    • Kidnapped is great. It is an example of a genre that I call the “topographic romance,” an adventure story set in real locales. An outstanding example is Alan Garner’s 1960 fantasy novel The Weirdstone of Brisingamen; you can follow the action on a detailed British Ordnance Survey map for Macclesfield in Cheshire. Richard Adams’s Watership Down is another example.

  3. In between statistics textbooks, I’ve been reading Fr. Michael Muller’s The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a defense of the Mass, its components, the practices and traditions surrounding it, the Eucharist, etc., written for laypeople in the 19th century. One of the things that impresses me about it is both its size and erudition, and the fact that this wasn’t generally regarded as a book for the elites but for ordinary Catholics.

  4. Just finished Philip Dick’s “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said” and am starting on Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep”. I am also in the middle of Toland’s “Adolf Hitler” biography and Lambert’s “Nelson: Britannia’s God of War” as well as just finished Patrick O’Brian’s “The Mauritius Command” with “Desolation Island” on deck; am reading Kerry Bolton’s “Stalin The Enduring Legacy”.

    • Quite a few “Orthospherians,” who are presumably tradents (as Kristor calls them) or at least sympathetic to the tradent view, are also readers of science fiction. Is it that we’re predominantly male and slightly nerdy or is there some deeper cause? What do you think?

      • I think it’s simpler than that: we like to read good and important books, and there are lots of good books that fall into the science fiction category. Ditto for historical fiction (e.g., the Aubrey-Maturin cycle, the books of Kenneth Roberts), detective stories (Chandler, Chesterton, Sayers), autobiography (Churchill, CS Lewis), or any of the other genres. Especially fantasy. Books from all these genres appear already on this thread. Which, by the way, is a valuable exercise: I have already added several books to my shopping cart that I heard about for the first time here.

  5. The Red Horse by Eugenio Corti, in English of course. Not far enough into it to comment very knowledgeably, but I will venture to share my thoughts thus far, that I am impressed by his ability to weave Catholic morality into a modern setting without the effect being contrived or sermonizing.

  6. I’m working my way through Shakespeare’s tragedies (mostly for the first time other than what I had to read in high school) before taking on the histories and the comedies. Thus far my favorite is MacBeth, then Hamlet and Othello together followed by Romeo and Juliet and King Lear. Interestingly, I haven’t found the Roman epics, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, as moving as the others. Next up are Titus Andronicus, Troilus and Cressida and The Merchant of Venice.

    I am watching various film versions of the plays as I read and have discovered some true gems. Brando as Marc Antony in Joseph Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar is terrific and brings an energy to the story I didn’t sense as I was reading the play. Also, Laurence Olivier as Othello and King Lear may be two of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen on screen.

    • Andrew, I agree with you about Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar. I’d nominate it for the best Shakespeare film ever, better than the Olivier films from the 1940s. The crowd scenes are especially deftly handled.

      • Yes, the plays are really meant to be seen acted out on stage so it’s tough to judge them solely by the text. Caesar is definitely one that benefits from a staging or an epical treatment like the one Mankiewicz gave it. I would probably point to Roman Polanski’s Macbeth. Jon Finch is superb and Polanski, like Mankiewicz, is utterly successful in moving the story from a stage to real world locations which is much easier said than done. The climactic standoff between Macduff and Macbeth is the best choreographed and executed sword fight I’ve ever seen.

    • Shakespeare is really readable and needs less critical supplementation than some folks assume; but allow me to recommend S. L. Bethell’s Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition as a great help in reading him in the context of the time and the contemporary stage.

      It’s worthwhile to learn about how his language sounded when first performed, since later pronunciations lose some of his puns (e.g. on whores/hours, lines/loins, etc.).

  7. Just finished Humphrey’s biography of Tolkien. The lesson I drew was that you have to be careful reading his letters because he can be quite gloomy, but in his everyday life he was full of mirth and able to make friends of anyone whether high or low station.

    Next is When Hitler took Austria by von Schuschnigg which I picked up at the library on a lark.

  8. I finished Julius Evola’s Metaphysics of War for the second time last week, I had forgotten how correct he was about the degeneration of values in the West to a sentimental, greedy bourgeois way of life at the time he was writing.

    Also! I just finished Geoffroi de Charny’s “A Knights Own Book of Chivalry”. This was an excellent look into the mindset of the greatest knight of his age. What is most interesting is his insistence on the spiritual merit of chivalry. He sees it as a path to God as holy and necessary as the clergy. I highly, highly recommend this book, particularly the copy I ordered with the forward by Richard Kaeuper, very good background information on the time period and the author.

    • “I highly, highly recommend this book…”
      Yes. Oh, yes.
      One of the best books on Chivalry (written by a knight!), I fell in love with almost immediately! Just read it the other year too. I’m glad to see a fellow orthosphereian has read the book!
      There are other good works on Chivalry, but that was one of my favorites.
      But whatever you do, stay away from “Chivalry-Now: The Code of Male Ethics” by Joseph D. Jacques. That was stomach turning. In it, Jacques tries to “update” the chivalric code for the modern age…”rape” is more like it. It’s a literal dragging through the mud of modern leftist ideologies. It’s “chivalry” for the modern metrosexual!
      Besides gaining a deep loathing for Jacques after reading the book, I admit I’m still dumbfounded as to how or why someone would want to pair up Chivalry with things so antagonistic to it’s very concept.

  9. The ones I’m working on now:

    “Introduction to Planetary Science” (to prepare for my fall class)
    “Geometric Algebra for Physicists” (for fun)

    A couple of books sitting around the apartment, making me feel guilty because I don’t know when I’m going to get around to reading them:

    “Lectures on Phase Transitions and the Renormalization Group”
    “The Book of Mormon” (lot’s of Mormons in my town, including all of my daughter’s friends)

    and another that I got more than half-way through, but can never seen to finish:

    “Toward a Truly Free Market” (John Medaille’s book on Distributism). If I ever finish this one, it would probably make for a good Orthosphere book review.

  10. Right now I’m reading Eric Perl’s Theophany: The Neoplatonic Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite and next on the list is Dolpopa’s Mountain Doctrine: Tibet’s Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha-Matrix.

  11. Current reading includes David Masson’s 6-volume Victorian work on John Milton’s life and times; Tolkien’s Notion Club Papers (in the book Sauron Defeated), which I am relating to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time” and Alan Garner’s The Owl Service in a short piece for Mythprint; Gavin Young’s In Search of [Joseph] Conrad, a travel book; Tony Lester’s The Fourth Part of the World (good, but covering some of the same ground as David Abulafia’s The Discovery of Mankind, which I liked more); David Kynaston’s newly-published (in the UK) Modernity Britain: Opening the Door, 1957-59; and I am continuing with my resolution for the year, to read at least two short stories every month from science fiction anthologies edited by Groff Conklin. The latter project has, alas, revealed how many of this famous editor’s selections haven’t stood the test of time and, in fact, would not have impressed me, at least, very much even when they were recent. The best stories in Conklin’s anthologies (e.g. Moore and Kuttner’s “Vintage Season”) are well-known elsewhere too.

    • I share your appreciation of Catherine Louise Moore, whose work shows a marked interest in sacrificial aesthetics, which she invariably denounces. While superficially different from the “Northwest Smith” and “Jirel of Joiry” stories, “Vintage Season” is at one with them in exposing and condemning sacrificial aesthetics, which the same story also proposes as the dominant modern aesthetic. There are no heroes in “Vintage Season,” but there are in the “Northwest Smith” and “Jirel of Joiry” stories. In an article a couple of years ago in The New York Review of Science Fiction, I referred to Smith and Jirel as “Paracletic Heroes.” These are heroes whose main function is to expose sacrifice and act on behalf of the victims. Moore’s fascination with sacrificial aesthetics and her sense that modernity is essentially sacrificial stem, I believe, from her having absorbed the French Symbolist poets of the mid-nineteenth century, particularly the poetry of Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire considered himself the successor of Joseph de Maistre, a quotation from whose work appears on the masthead of The Orthosphere. In pursuing your interest in Moore, you have linked yourself to a common source of her work and the work here at The Orthosphere!

  12. I recently finished reading “Old Books, Rare Friends” by Madeline Stern and Leona Rostenberg. It’s a joint autobiography by a pair of spinster antique book dealers. Although at times it could be a bit dry it did have its moments where it captured the enthusiasm of bibliophilia. What I thought was of particular interest, however, was their uncovering of Louisa May Alcott’s secret career of writing pseudonymous sensationalist thrillers, which often had themes of female revenge against men. Given as the two book dealers regarded themselves as feminists, they were very enthusiastic about their discovery and regarded Alcott as being a sort of role model.

    I’m also in the middle of reading “Sexual Authenticity” by Melinda Selmys. It deals with the issue of homosexuality from the perspective of a former atheist lesbian feminist who ended up converting to Catholicism, getting married and becoming a mother. It’s part conversion story, but it also tries to deal with the issue of homosexuality from a philosophical and historical perspective.

    Lastly, I’ve started reading Karl Popper’s “Logic of Scientific Discovery”. He does a good job of taking apart the positivist position, although I’m not sold on his idea that science is a purely deductive procedure of testing for testing theories that we happen to dream up.

  13. I’ve recently finished John Médaille’s ‘Toward a Truly Free Market’ and Prince Hans-Adam of Liechtenstein’s ‘The State in the Third Millennium’. Both were enjoyably concrete – I sometimes struggle with overly-abstract treatments of politics and economics.
    Next up is Edward Feser’s ‘The Last Superstition’, or possibly Eamon Duffy’s ‘The Stripping of the Altars’.

  14. The Way Toward Wisdom: Ashley O.P.
    How Science Enriches Theology: Ashley O.P and John Deely
    Evolution in Four Dimensions: Jablonka and Lamb
    The Science Before Science: Anthony Rizzi
    Dynamics of World History: Dawson (ISI)
    One Body: Alexander Pruss
    My Life Among the Deathworks: Philip Rieff

  15. I’m halfway through Mark Smith’s Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts. I’m also halfway through Walter Miller’s Canticle for Liebowitz. Something tells me I’ll finish it first!

    I also need to finish The Anti-Alzheimer’s Prescription, by Vincent Fortanesce. Turns out that the diet you need to eat in order to avoid Alzheimer’s is the same diet you need to eat in order to avoid obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer: a low carb, high protein diet with lots of nice fat and lots of vegetables, plus a few fruits. I.e., paleo, more or less.

    When those are done, I’ll be starting in on the Catechism.

  16. Partly in anticipation of my progeny getting to the age where they can read literature for children, partly for my own entertainment, and partly to fill the gaps in my own reading, I have taken to buying children’s literature and reading it. Thrift stores and, sadly, library sales are good sources for such works.

    I have just recently purchased both the Narnia and Lord of the Rings books, not having read them since I was in my teens (or so). I just finished The Magician’s Nephew.

    I am in the middle of The Iliad (Lattimore translation, Lawrence Auster’s favorite), and have just started Wodehouse’s Leave it to Psmith.

    I have my Shorter Catechism with me on vacation, and I go over the First Catechism with my eight-year-old. I read some stories from a children’s Bible to my four-year-old every night—he won’t go to sleep without it! I am also working on Machen’s The Origins of Paul’s Religion on my iPad, which assumes more familiarity with late-19th and early-20th century theological issues than I have, yet is readable nonetheless. Also on my iPad is Plutarch’s Lives, which I find surprisingly difficult.

    I’ve read a book on the history of the railroad that ran on the Long Beach Peninsula, and also started a book on the Etruscans. So many books, so little time!

      • I’ve recently read a number of the Arthurian tales to my children; they loved them.

        I read Robin Hood to them last year, but one of them asked, “So was Robin Hood a good guy or a bad guy?” I had to think about that for a few minutes before I answered.

    • I also have (and have read) Wind in the Willows. I have Steinbeck’s version of King Arthur; do you recommend another? I’ll get the others, too.

      • I would go for Malory. The language is old, but that won’t hinder young ears. Rather, it will expand their notions of English, the same way that Shakespeare does.

        Read them Malory before TH White, whose book is a gloss on Arthur. Once they have a good familiarity with Arthur, Twain’s Connecticut Yankee will be a hoot for them. Then they’ll want to read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

        Verne’s Mysterious Island was another favorite of my kids. And who could speak of that classic without mentioning Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe?

        More great books come to mind. Madeleine L’Engle is gripping for kids, and will show them how cherubim might be real. Last of the Mohicans is a page-turner too, once you’ve grown accustomed to the stately prose. Kenneth Roberts wrote a whole series of novels about New England in the colonial and Revolutionary periods, full of drama, adventure, interest, and comedy – I remember my father reading them to us, tears of laughter streaming down his face.

        When they get older, you can’t beat Hornblower, Mary Renault and Patrick O’Brian.

        Reading to children, and answering their questions, is a fantastic opportunity to educate their moral imaginations and stretch their vocabularies. And it is a lovely family tradition, which they will value highly (it makes the transition to bedtime fun, too). My youngest is a senior in college, and we are determined to finish the Aubrey-Maturin books this summer while he is home.

      • Not a fan of Steinbeck’s work in general, but I fell in love with his “The Acts of King Arthur and his noble Knights”! One of my favorite renditions of the Arthurian saga. But yeah, read Mallory, he is at the top of the food chain in Arthurian literature (Steinbeck based his own stuff off Mallory’s I believe).

  17. In addition to the syllabus that I contributed to the article in The Bookman, I have been re-reading Order and History by Voegelin, most recently The Ecumenic Age. In connection with the central chapter of The Ecumenic Age, I read for the first time William Woodthorpe Tarn’s The Greeks in Bactria and India (1951). Major portions of what today are Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Northern India were from the late fourth century to the end of the first century BC Greek-ruled kingdom-societies in which various strands of Ionian and Attic philosophy mingled with Buddhism, to the mutual enrichment of both traditions. This aspect of my current reading is the basis of an article that should soon appear at The Brussels Journal.

    I have been reading the latest book by Eric Gans, A New Way of Thinking (2011), which applies his “Generative Anthropology,” a theory of the origin of language, consciousness, and culture, to religious, philosophical, and artistic features of the contemporary condition. A New Way of Thinking draws on Gans’ “Chronicles of Love and Resentment,” which interested readers can consult at the Anthropoetics website.

    Purely for recreation, I have been reading novellas and novels by Manly Wade Wellman (1903 – 1986), a prolific writer of genre fiction of all sorts from the late 1920s until his last years. I recommend to those looking for a good “read” The Martian Client (19745), which tells the story of what Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger (two creations of Arthur Conan Doyle) were doing in London during the Martian invasion, as described by H. G. Wells in The War of the Worlds.

    Thanks to everyone who has participated or will participate in this open thread. (TFB)

    • Dr. Bertonneau, in the perhaps unlikely event that you don’t know it already, I recommend Peter Levi’s The Light Garden of the Angel King as a travel book about the region of Afghanistan in which Greeks and Buddhists interacted. Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush is also relevant, but less learned.

    • Thank you for the mention of Bactria. One of the few useful nuggets I cherish from my quarter century squandered in academia is my interest in the interactions between the Greeks and Indians in Central Asia. Ninian Smart, my Pali professor in graduate school, supported my interest, and these days I still restrict my studies to the best of philosophies (Platonism) and the best of religions (Mahayana Buddhism).

      • It’s a fascinating text.I haven’t read the Milindapañha since graduate school. I was taught by men who sincerely believed that the only way to understand classical Indian philosophy was to read it in Sanskrit and Pali. In retrospect, I’m immensely glad they were so traditional.


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