This will be a bit of a wall of text, since it’s everything significant I’ve read in the past five or six months.
Richard III – had some great passages here and there but overall I would definitely not rank it among Shakespeare’s half-dozen best. Was pretty amazed by how overt the references to Christianity are compared to Shakespeare’s later plays. Also, I’m not sure what Shakespeare is trying to say about cursing: there are some characters who mention that cursing another person is not behavior fitting for a Christian, but then pretty much the whole plot revolves around the efficacy of Margaret’s curse at the very beginning of the play and how it all gradually comes true.
Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka – There were quite a few things that were completely incomprehensible to me due to my utter ignorance of Yoruba culture. Despite that, however, the overall plot structure is quite clear and is extremely powerful and well-written.
An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde - It’s more serious in tone than The Importance of Being Earnest, and although the comedy is there, it doesn’t sparkle quite as much, and there was a sense of a very real possibility of tragedy that was always lurking and which was scarcely averted in the end. It tackles some serious issues of morality, and the flaws that people have, and the way that people who pride themselves on being morally upright often have difficulty forgiving faults in others.
Overall I would consider the play very highly if it weren’t for one thing: Wilde espouses the idea that men are made to live life in the public and intellectual spheres and that women live theirs in a purely emotional sphere. This is what his hero, Lord Goring says: “A man’s life is of more value than a woman’s. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. A woman’s life revolves in curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man’s life progresses.” Then the person he is addressing, Lady Chiltern, unquestioningly accepts what he says and repeats it all to her husband, having instantly been persuaded to what Lord Goring says—not because of persuasive arguments, logic, or use of reason, but merely because he says it. I can’t tolerate that sort of empty-headedness in women characters . . . or anyone, really, but it particularly irks me that according to Wilde’s views Lady Chiltern is empty-headed in this fashion because she is a woman, because apparently that’s what Oscar Wilde thinks women are like. And I’d better not even start in on the false dichotomy between intellect and emotion.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck -Won several prestigious awards, and the author grew up in China and learned Chinese before English—so I suppose that in addition to being well-written the book is probably also quite accurate. Its scope, which concerns the fall of one great house and the rise of another in its place during pre-revolutionary China, is grand. Yet at the same time, the book is intensely personal and has Realism’s interest in the quotidian details of an (initially) ordinary person’s life. The plot arc follows the life of one man, Wang Lung, from his wedding day in his youth to his preparations for death, and the reader is able to see his life come full circle in several ways. His life also feels very universal and concerned with the basic things of life: working to eat, rises and falls in fortune, getting married, having children, lusting after other women, encountering troubles in raising his children, and so on. In the end, however, despite the fact that Wang Lung’s fortune throughout the book is good more often than it is bad, and it seems the story of the life of a person who has had (for the most part) a good life, I find the book to be agonizingly sad. Overall, this is another very powerful and well-written book.
Cup of Gold by Steinbeck - “He wanted something, and he was idiot enough to think that he could get it.” This pretty much sums up the thesis of the book, which is a short historical fiction novel about the buccaneer Henry Morgan. It drags some in places and does not have nearly the well-shaped plot of Of Mice and Men. Not Steinbeck’s best to begin with, and then my mild interest throughout most of the book completely turned to hate towards the end because Steinbeck has one of his female characters say that she wishes the main character had raped her, which is perpetrating the execrable “women want to be raped” myth.
The Weight of Glory by C.S.Lewis - Some essays were more interesting and better than others, and even within essays some parts of essays were better than others. “Transposition” was notably excellent.
Desiring God by John Piper – Read the first two chapters on this, had various qualms with it, and decided to drop it.
Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones - Fantastic. The plot is about a homebody wizard who’s forced to pretend to be a Dark Lord because of a contract his world has with a man whose business is to take groups of off-world tourists through Derk’s world so that the tourists can experience stereotypical fantasy-genre adventures like wars, getting treasure from dragons, and defeating the Dark Lord. The title character happens to have several mostly-teenage children, all of whom are important to the story, so there’s an interesting family dynamic. Those of you who have been posting in this thread about Howl’s Moving Castle and its sequels should consider branching some of Diana Wynne Jones’s other books; she’s written tons of things, not just that one trilogy, and anyone who likes Howl’s Moving Castle is likely to enjoy her other works as well.
The Incarnation of the Word by Athanasius – Reread this, and oddly, it doesn’t exactly match up with what I remember from the previous time I read it. There are some discrepancies between the verses Athanasius quotes and the same verses in modern translations, which might be due to differences in manuscripts or other advances in Bible translations or something, and there are also some places where I just don’t think that the Scriptures say what Athanasius says they say (these things I had noticed previously, but they stood out to me more the second time around). Also, the apologetic chapters are just not going to be of much use to a modern reader. Nevertheless, there are some really worthwhile passages in this, like where Athanasius explains about how since corruption has become part of man’s being, it’s necessary for life to be infused into mankind from within, rather than without. He explains why it is logical and necessary for the Word to become incarnate much more eloquently than I could ever hope to.
Finally, for class I’ve reread Medea, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Lord of the Flies.
Let others believe in the God who brings men to trial and judges them. I shall cling to the God who resurrects the dead.
-St. Nikolai VelimirovichMAL