More of What I’ve Read

It has been awhile since my first post in this irregular series, but at last there is a second. What follows are some brief thoughts on several of the works I have recently read, or am currently reading.

Henry VIII: This is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays, but lesser-known plays are all that I have left to read at this point. It is certainly not his best play, but it particularly suffers when being read. You see, much of the play is spectacle, and reading stage directions is always the most boring part of a play. Still, the Cardinal’s speech upon his downfall is good poetry, and there are other parts that make worthwhile reading as well.

Shadow of the Hegemon and Shadow Puppets: These sequels to Ender’s Shadow continue to follow the adventures of various Battle School graduates in earth’s future. I loved Ender’s Shadow, and loved Shadow of the Hegemon almost as much, but Shadow Puppets is a little weaker. I think part of the problem is that I wanted Achilles to die far sooner than he did, so I got tired of things dragging on. Still, the competing strategic and political machinations of rival geniuses is quite stimulating, as well as entertaining, in the latter book as well as the former. Card must have done a massive amount of research to come up with scenarios as intelligent and plausible as he did.

News from Nowhere and Other Writings: This is a collection of several shorter works and one utopian novel by William Morris. I knew of Morris as a 19th-century reviver of various medieval arts and crafts, and as a famous writer, but had never actually read his work. I am reading selections in this collection to get a better idea of what he did and thought. It turns out being a socialist in love with the Middle Ages makes for an odd combination. For example, he follows John Ruskin in loving medieval Gothic architecture for its giving opportunity to individual craftsmen to do creative work, but ignores its religious significance. He also sees the medieval economic system as far more moral than 19th-century capitalism, and wishes for pure communism (in the theoretical Marxist sense), but does not explain why people’s behavior would become better with a change of system. He seems to believe that people will become moral again, without religion, if capitalism is eliminated. I still have much to learn of Morris’s thought, and I have found ideas of value, but he does have some clear errors.

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What I’ve Been Reading

A writer, of course, also must read. This post is the first in what will be a series of occasional posts letting you know some of the things I have been reading recently, why I read them, and what I think of them. Eventually I will have news on what I am writing next, but for today I have three books you might (or might not) want to look at.

Two Gentlemen of Verona: I am slowly reading through Shakespeare’s complete works. This is the play I read most recently. It is one of Shakespeare’s early plays, and although it is written cleverly and well, it is not the classic that some of Shakespeare’s other works are. The two gentlemen in question are Proteus and Valentine; it should not surprise anyone who pays attention to their names to learn that Valentine falls in love, and Proteus changes his affections, during the course of the play. Unfortunately, the character developments and plot turns are not always convincing.

When I Was a Child I Read Books: This new collection of essays is by the well-respected author Marilynne Robinson, whose work I have unfortunately not read before now. I had heard the name of this collection somewhere, and saw it at the library, so I picked it up. I have read about half of it now, and I am very much enjoying it. She likes John Calvin, it turns out, and has actually read his writing, rather than caricatures of it; that’s always nice. All the essays I have read so far are intelligent and thought-provoking.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version: This is a selection of fairy tales retold by Philip Pullman. I did not read the entire book, but the author’s name made me take a look at it. He is the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, a sort of anti-Narnia fantasy that begins in a wardrobe and ends in eternal separation. (Did I mention Pullman hates C. S. Lewis?) I wondered if Pullman would ruin the fairy tales, but surprisingly, for most of the tales I read, he does a rather excellent job. He tells them mostly straight, makes occasional improvements, and of course makes use of his excellent stylistic abilities to give them a sort of transparency that I do not always achieve in my own writing. He also has interesting commentary on the stories. But there are a few problems. In “The Girl Without Hands,” for example, his commentary condemns it as overly pious, yet also immoral in certain ways. I rather like that story, and I suspect it is for some of the same reasons he hates it.