I’ve read them all before, except the Faulkner. But recently, for some reason or other, I have revisited them all. Something about the times we live in now made me remember something in them I wanted to read again. Lysistrata? Well, that’s obvious! If only the women in Russia and Ukraine… well, don’t get me started.

Mitchell? That’s a 1936 edition, pre-WWII. Since covid came along, much of our way of living is gone with the wind. The Hemingway critical essays belonged to my mother-in-law, a woman I never met; it has her scribblings inside, which give me some imagined insight into her mind. And A Farewell to Arms states Hemingway’s existential philosophy quite clearly — “We were all cooked. The thing was not to recognize it.” Keep calm and carry on.

The Odyssey? Well, when Odysseus is hit with yet another terrible trial, he stoically says, (free translation) “Let this new trouble come; it will just be one more.”

Marrou’s magisterial Education in Antiquity describes the “smug anarchy” of Spartan spelling; they took pride, like many anti-intellectuals in our society, in “an attitude of morose distrust.” Those Spartans were tough, but they “made it a point of honour to remain semi-illiterate.” In the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. “art was flourishing in Laconia.” But “this sudden development was subsequently abruptly checked. After leading the march of progress, Sparta reversed its rôle and became the supreme example of a conservative city grimly holding on to the old customs that everyone else had abandoned.”

The Mahabharata, even the abridged children’s version I got my son years ago, has everything in the world inside it, like Paradise Lost.

All these lovely books do what books are supposed to do. They provoke thought, and they evoke “wonder and amazement.”

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