Archive for the ‘Meta Reading’ Category

Russian Icon of Isaiah, 17th C.

In case you’re wondering where I’ve been (all ten of you who read this), two weeks ago I broke my leg and had surgery, and was in the hospital for 6 days.

Since coming home I’ve had a lot of opportunity to read our next work, the Book of Isaiah. I’ve read it three times, and read lots of commentary online. It’s hard going, because I’m trying not to have a flip response to it,  e.g., “Well, that was weird,”.

I’m also trying not to be content to just summarize it. There are real summaries available by actual scholars who can read the ancient Hebrew and who have deeper contextual understanding of where and how this book was written.

They can describe differences in rhetoric between proto-Isaiah and deutero-Isaiah (and trito-Isaiah, of course: most reputable scholars agree that three authors wrote the thing). I can’t do that. I’m trying to learn a little bit about that, of course, but I’m also trying to relate to it as a general reader. And it’s tough. (more…)


Read Full Post »

… to link to Kate Beaton cartoons is a good one. I expect I’ll be finding more excuses as time goes on.


Click on Moses! Click him! He will take you to the Promised Land of Mirth!

For instance, she’s pretty much summed up Metamorphoses. Take that, Ovid!

Still looking in to the manna thing. Can’t decide which theory is more hilarious/repulsive: the one that suggests manna was the secretions of scale insects, or the one that suggests it may have been psylocibe cubensis— you know, magic mushrooms.

Read Full Post »

Coin from a Queen of the Sassanid Empire, 630 AD

Coin from a Queen of the Sassanid Empire, 630 AD

Here’s a really fantastic animated map from some folks at Maps of War that takes you through more than 53,000 years of the history of the Middle East and Mediterranean Basin in 90 seconds. It’s a simple, graphic, illuminating depiction of how often that region has changed hands. There were two empires I’d never heard of (Sassanid and Seljuk, being the last pre-Islamic Persian empire and the Medieval Sunni Muslim empire, respectively), and I had not quite grasped the extent of the Macedonian or Mongol empires. Whoa.

In the modern era, it’s pretty horrible to see how Westerners just sort of carved the place up for their own purposes (and still are).

Since this region is so important to the first two sections of the reading list, I thought it was relevant. Found via StumbleUpon.

Read Full Post »

We are about to get into the Ancient Greeks, so I’ve been looking for good commentary and historical works. So far I’ve been working with Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy.

If you want to have a good basic overview of western civilization, you could pretty much get there with this one book. For the general reader who didn’t have a western civ course during college (or didn’t go to college at all), this book helps you understand historical contexts of different ideas in ancient philosophy and gives a more cursory, but still valuable, sketch of modern philosophy.  Now and then it’s even funny.

Marks against it: it was written during WWII, so some of the historical research will be out of date. Russell’s personality is very deeply stamped on it; it bears his own biases (particularly as regards the Catholic Church. Spoiler: he was not a fan).

Marks in favor: it’s written by a genius with a rare gift for clear, simple writing. He was also a mathematician, so mathematical and logical ideas expressed in the philosophies are illuminated in a way that shouldn’t intimidate those with a maths phobia. And Bertrand Russell was a naughty guy who looked exactly like the Mad Hatter in his old age.

If you know a better guide to philosophy that also takes history into account, let me know.

Read Full Post »

Papyrus of Hunefer: The deceased's heart is weighed against the feather of truth.

Papyrus of Hunefer: The deceased's heart is weighed against the feather of truth.

The Egyptian Book of The Dead: Writers Unknown, Dates Various.

The Ancient Egyptians are darned fascinating, so it’s no surprise that all kinds of unsavory or addlepated or merely unscholarly types have latched on to them over the years, spreading a lot of misinformation that results either from poor understanding of what’s actually been discovered, or from wholesale invention. Much is unknown about Ancient Egyptian culture in spite of the relative wealth of artifacts we have from them (how exactly did they build the Pyramids, for example?), so one should tread warily when starting to read more widely on the subject.

It pays to read up a little on Egyptology and Egyptologists first. You shouldn’t, for example, bop uptown to the central library and grab the first edition of The Egyptian Book of The Dead to hand, only to discover that it was written by a pseudonymous martial arts teacher who may or may not actually have a Ph.D., but who definitely believes that the Ancient Egyptians are connected to the mythical Lost Continent of Atlantis. And who also offers this tidbit:

The circulation of earth energy is one of five types of circulation, which affect our lives physically and spiritually. The subtle energy of earth enters the human body through the feet, hips, and kidneys, and has five currents. These currents mix with the energy of the soul (Ba), which resides in the marrow of the bones, feeding the 12 inner organs in a cycle during the hours of day and night. Each organ is fed for two hours….”

Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.


Read Full Post »

So far I’ve found two companion reads for this. One’s a book, the other a series of lectures on a website.

The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh, by David Damrosch, 2007.

From educator Clay Burrell’s “Beyond School” blog: Unsucky English Series on Gilgamesh.

Haven’t read Damrosch’s book yet– I have only just discovered its existence– but I love that sort of non-fiction (I also enjoyed God’s Secretaries, by Adam Nicolson, about the making of the King James Bible).

Mr. Burrell’s lectures are fun, though I found the first one a bit hard to take– he seemed to be trying too hard to get down with the kids, and admitted as much in the comments. Also, I know a few kids of middle-school age, and the ones who would stay on one webpage that long to read anything do exist, but they are exceptional.

Still, the joy he takes in pieceing through Gilgamesh is infectious, and I am really looking forward to his next installment (the last one was in June). If you’re interested in reading what other not-an-Assyriologists have to say about Gilgamesh, I’d start with Mr. Burrell’s page.

Read Full Post »

The Books of All Time reading list has been compiled from a number of sources, which, of course, I didn’t write down. I have split my titles into groups:

  • Pre-Christian Literature (to about 50 AD)
  • Rome and the Middle Ages (to 1500)
  • The Renaissance (to 1750)
  • The Enlightenment (to 1850)
  • The Modern Era (to 1918)
  • Post-World War I (through the present day).

Although the category names are strongly biased towards the west, I have tried to include as many titles from non-European sources as possible. I am limited in my reading to the English Language only, so if you are aware of a monumental classic of, say, Japanese literature, I will only be able to include it if an English translation exists.

Probably the categories will seem overly broad to you, or improperly classified. I don’t want to waste a lot of energy arguing about taxonomy issues, but if you have a burning desire to see something reclassified, please do put it in the comments.

This list is naturally subject to change at any time, and there may need to be a meta-reading list for, say,  some of the thornier philosophical works. I will keep track of any supplemental reading I do on this page here.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: