Essay / Education

Frederick Douglass Learns to Read

I’ve just finished reading the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Our seniors read it in the Torrey Honors Institute as part of a semester of books on America. Douglass’ is one of hundreds of slave narratives, narratives which played a

Agincourt

Essay / Literature

War is Swell: Crispin’s Day

Okay, war is not really swell. But today (October 25) is the anniversary of two battles that live on in our memory because of the martial virtues conspicuously displayed in them. These battles conjured poetry from two of the greatest poets in the history of

Essay / Literature

California's Bestseller, and Its Author

What’s the most popular and influential book in the history of California? An 1884 romance called Ramona, by Helen Hunt Jackson. It’s a longish book that follows the misfortunes of a beautiful young orphan who is half Scottish and half native American. She is raised

Essay / Literature

Literally, Plato

“This is intended to be a literal translation,” says Allan Bloom in the preface to his 1968 edition of Plato’s Republic. And it is, famously, or infamously, literal. Bloom puts his head down and digs out as word-for-word a translation as he can. What drove

Essay / Literature

Tragedy of King Saul

Reading the story of Israel’s first king this week, it occurred to me that this story in 1 Samuel has all the makings of a classic tragedy: his early promise, his fatal flaws, his downfall, the lament sung over him by David his successor. It’s

Essay / Education

Go To The Ant

Not long ago my whole family listened to a remarkable audio book. It’s a reading of Evelyn Sibley Lampman’s 1960 The City Under the Back Steps. It’s a great adventure story about two kids who get shrunk to bug size, and spend a few days

Essay / Literature

Three Reasons to Write Out Your Ideas Now

Three authors who knew a lot more when they were older, but were glad they had written their books when they were younger: John Wesley: “Nay, I know not that I can write a better on The Circumcision of the Heart than I did five and

Essay / Literature

Menand: Uncommonly Successful in Keeping the Felicities of Prose

I just finished a very fast read-through (with permission to skip some sections) of Louis Menand’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 book The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America. It’s a 500-page book about one school of American philosophy. I picked it up used and

Essay / Literature

Erasmus, Born to Bring Back Literature

Today (October 27) is the birthday of Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, known simply as Erasmus, famous in his own time as Mr. Renaissance. He was “born to bring back literature,” his contemporaries said of him: ad restituendas literas natus. The Renaissance was a defining event in

GirlReading

Essay / Education

What’s a Nice Christian Girl Like You Doing Reading Homer?

Two sisters sit at home, talking. The younger sister does needlework and arranges flowers picked from the garden, as she passes the time until her boyfriend comes to visit. The older sister, on the other hand, is trying to make some kind of sense out

Czeslaw

Essay / Literature

Czeslaw Milosz’ Birthday

Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet who lived his last decades in California, was born on this day, June 30, in 1911. I am told on good authority that we should pronounce his name “Chess-wov Mee-woash,” but I can’t get used to saying those L’s as

Essay / Literature

Elizabeth Barrett Browning Was One Theological Poet

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died on this day, June 29, in 1861. She was the most famous female poet of the Victorian age, easily outpacing other luminaries like Christina Rossetti and Jean Ingelow (who?). During her lifetime, the rumor was that she only missed the post