With 2016 behind us, now is a good time to reflect. So we asked several of our staff members and contributing writers to share their favorite book that they read for the first time last year. Here are choices from Josh Gibbs, Brian Phillips, Lindsey Brigham, Matt Bianco, Brian Phillips, and David Kern.
It is nearly Christmas. Has any drama of history stirred as much music and poetry, art and imagination, as the stable-birth we celebrate this day? The ancient world could never stop chanting of the battles of Troy; but it is the Incarnation that has filled the mouths and hands of artists ever since Christ’s birth. Of all this abundance, Benjamin Britten’s “This Little Babe” occupies a mere minute-and-a-half. Yet in that breath of time, it offers musical and poetic metaphors of the Nativity that press listeners to wonder and worship at the paradoxes of the Incarnation.
So your students can give the right answers with deference and aplomb. They can promote with articulate clarity the correct worldview. And when they graduate, top of the class, their erudition will no doubt attract the most selective colleges.
But what about their habits and tastes?
Caught in the school year’s relentless current, and bracing against the looming rapids of holidays and vacation, teachers at this time of the year can drift so easily into the eddy of covering curriculum and marching through plans. But we must remember that it’s students, not books, we are really teaching, and that the most treasured classroom moments often come when we defer the question or assignment we’ve set before them to draw out the confusions and complaints they are whispering among them.
A maze of mismatched tables and chairs hosts a dozen simultaneous conversations. Some folks hunch forward, both elbows on the table, in fervent discussion; others lean back in the chairs, the better to illustrate their talk with expansive gesturing. On the tabletops, in hands, and (every now and again) spilled out onto the floor are cups of strong brown brew, wafting their steam and scent throughout the coffeehouse. And wedged in the corner, content and well-caffeinated, some musicians are plucking and strumming and crooning away.
Until the time Plato began teaching, it is likely that the art associated with persuasive speaking in law courts and legislative assemblies had no technical name. Those who taught the skills of persuasion called themselves sophists, wise ones, and purported to teach wisdom in the form of powerful words. In Plato’s Gorgias, for example, Gorgias, sophist extraordinaire, not only boasts of being able to answer any question to his inquirer’s satisfaction, but to do so in as many or as few words as the inquirer would wish.
In the world of classical education, we talk about “Great Books.” However, other than a handful of obvious works (those by Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, and a few others in particular) there is much debate about which books should actually fall in the category of “Great Book”. Which raises the question: what does it mean for a book to be great - is it an actual measurable category of assessment? To find out, I asked a couple of people who have thoughts on the matter, ostensibly anyway. What’s their conclusion? Well, I’ll let you decide. Here is their conversation.
Shakespeare undoubtedly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of authors that classical educators most highly esteem. Other than Homer, and maybe Virgil, what author could possible bump the Bard from such a sculpture? Given that, we classical educators rightly feel the need to give our students a healthy dose of his canon. But that’s easier said than done. Which is where filmic adaptations of his work can helpful.
From his birth in 1875 till his death in 1937, Maurice Ravel encountered change wherever he looked. And for this composer, the era’s changes in musical composition were as significant as the changes brought by technological advancements and a world war. In fact, while we might tend to view developments in music theory as far removed from these historical transformations, Ravel was keenly aware that change in music reflects change in the world. His own compositions can help us to understand this truth.
When friends ask me what my favorite novel is, I tell them, "That's easy. Crime and Punishment. Or Anna Karenina. Depending upon which one I read last."
As a teacher at a great books college, my job demands much reading of literature. It is a task I happily embrace. Accordingly, I have read many of the classics of the Western canon. And, after all that reading I am convinced that for power of psychology, for characterization, and for theatrical tension, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy count among the greatest writers in the canon.