Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

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Archive for the category “Critical Reading”

Reading List and Notes: Benjamin McEvoy’s Hardcore University “Get an Oxford-Level Reading Education”

First off, this will be a fairly long post, so feel free to either skim, read, or ignore it.

Second, I have made a few modifications to the list, such as the three books he recommends reading before diving in, and markings to show what books I have read on my own (pitifully few of his recommendations) and what books I will first be reading as part of the course.

Should I have notes on a book or article that I want to include, I will try to remember to put them in a different color, so they will not get confused with anything Mr. McEvoy says.

So, without further ado, here goes the biggest reading challenge I have ever undertaken.

Benjamin McEvoy’s Reading List for Hardcore University

Advice before you embark on your journey:

  • Seek difficulty.
  • Try to read books that are over your head.
  • Connect what you read to everything else you’ve read and the conversations you have in day-to-day life.
  • Treat these works like a mirror held up to your self and to nature.


  • Strikethrough indicates read for this course
  • ✓ indicates I read this on my own outside the course and will probably be reading it again.


  • Bloom, Harold:
    • How to Read and Why  (Note: On page 196-97, Bloom advocates not reading certain novels for plot, then goes and says you should read them for “the progressive development of the characters and for the gradual unfolding, indeed the revelation, of the author’s vision”; in other words..the plot!) 
  • Adler, Mortimer J. and Van Doren, Charles:
    • How to Read a Book
  • Pound, Ezra:
    • ABC of Reading

First Year Reading List:

  • Homer:
    • ✓The Iliad 
    • ✓The Odyssey
  • Aeschylus:
    • Prometheus Bound
    • Agamemnon 
    • The Eumenides 
    • The Libation Bearers
  • Euripides:
    • Hippolytus
    • Bacchae 
  • Sophocles:
    • Oedipus the King
    • The Theban Plays
    • Antigone 
  • Aristophanes:
    • Clouds
    • Frogs
    • Lysistrata 
    • The Assemblywomen
  • Plato:
    • The Republic
    • The Symposium
    • Meno
    • The Apology
  • Herodotus:
    • The History
  • Thucydides:
    • The History of the Peloponnesian War
  • Aristotle:
    • Politics
    • Ethics
    • Metaphysics
    • On the Soul
    • Rhetoric
    • Poetics
  • Plutarch:
    • The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans
  • Epictetus:
    • Discourses 
  • ✓The Old Testament

Second Year Reading List:

  • Marcus Aurelius:
    • Meditations
  • Cicero:
    • The Laws
    • The Republic
  • Virgil:
    • Aeneid
  • Horace:
    • Odes
    • Poetics
    • Satires
  • Ovid:
    • Metamorphoses 
  • Saint Augustine:
    • Confessions
    • City of God
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas:
    • Treatises 
  • Dante:
    • The Divine Comedy
  • Chaucer:
    • Canterbury Tales
    • Troilus and Criseyde 
  • Machiavelli:
    • The Prince
  • Descartes:
    • Discourse
  • ✓The New Testament

Third Year Reading List:

  • Shakespeare:
    • Everything
  • Cervantes:
    • Don Quixote 
  • Montaigne:
    • Essays
  • Thomas Hobbe:
    • Leviathan
  • Erasmus:
    • Praise of Folly
  • Milton:
    • Paradise Lost
    • Areopagitica 
  • Moliere:
    • The Misanthrope
    • The School for Wives
    • Tartuff 
  • Newton:
    • Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
  • John Locke:
    • Essays
  • David Hume:
    • Enquiry 
  • Voltaire:
    • ✓Candide
  • Samuel Richardson:
    • Clarissa 
  • Daniel Defoe:
    • Robinson Crusoe

Fourth Year Reading List:

  • Rousseau:
    • The Social Contract
  • Adam Smith:
    • Wealth of Nations
  • Edward Gibbon:
    • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Kant:
    • Critiques 
  • Mill:
    • On Liberty
    • Utilitarianism 
  • Kierkegaard:
    • Fear and Trembling
  • Nietzsche:
    • Beyond Good and Evil
    • Thus Spoke Zarathustra
    • The Birth of Tragedy
  • Goethe:
    • Faust
  • Balzac:
    • ✓Cousin Bette
  • Jane Austen:
    • Pride and Prejudice
  • George Eliot:
    • Middlemarch
  • Charles Dickens:
    • ✓Great Expectations
    • Bleak House
  • Herman Melville:
    • Moby Dick
  • Charles Darwin:
    • Origin of Species
  • Karl Marx:
    • Das Kapital
    • Manifesto (with Engels)

Fifth Year Reading List:

  • Tolstoy:
    • ✓Anna Karenina
    • War and Peace
  • Dostoyevsky:
    • Crime and Punishment
    • ✓The Brothers Karamazov
  • Ibsen:
    • ✓A Doll’s House
    • Hedda Gabler 
  • William James:
    • The Principles of Psychology
  • Freud:
    • Selected Works
  • John Dewey:
    • Experience and Education
  • Einstein:
    • Relativity
  • Sir George Frazer:
    • The Golden Bough
  • Joseph Conrad:
    • Heart of Darkness
  • Anton Chekhov
    • Selected Short Stories
    • ✓Uncle Vanya
  • Proust:
    • In Remembrance of Things Past
  • T.S. Eliot
    • The Waste Land
  • Hemingway:
    • The Old Man and the Sea
  • Faulkner:
    • As I Lay Dying

Review: How to Read and Why, by Harold Bloom, and Heads’ Up: How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren 

A valiant attempt to discuss reading critically, by an expert in the field. However, without a whole shelf of the books Bloom discusses at hand for references, I found it a bit rough to keep up with.

I read this as part of the Hardcore University program by Benjamin McEvoy, which is designed to give you an Oxford-level knowledge of the classics (yes, mostly dead white males) without you having to, you know, actually attend Oxford. The course sounded challenging, and with much of my health gone, I have lots of time to read, so I figured I’d give it a try. McEvoy suggested this and Mortimer J. Adler & Charles van Doren’s How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading before tackling the first part of the Hardcore University program. Frankly, I hope it’s better than the Bloom.

Review: How to Use the Power of the Printed Word, ed. by Billings S. Fuess, Jr.

How to Use the Power of the Printed Word Ed. by Billings S. Fuess, Jr., contains my absolute favorite article: the late Steve Allen’s “How to Enjoy the Classics.” Witty, with wonderful illustrations, I first encountered the article in Psychology Today back in the early 70s, as part of a series of articles called “The Power of the Printed Word,” sponsored by International Paper. In 1980, the articles were collected and published as this anthology.

While all the articles are worth reading, Steve Allen’s article had an immediate effect on me — I headed to the college library and took out the books Mr. Allen mentioned. While I cannot say I finished them all (some I was just too young to tackle or appreciate), reading as many of the classics as I could became a major part of my reading regimen.

It still is. There are many worthy guides to such reading available. Further, sites like Goodreads are more than happy to furnish such lists, as are various libraries and educational organizations. The Brooklyn Public Library even has a service called Brooklyn Book Match, where you can fill out a form on almost any topic, and a librarian will curate a list of five books to help you start a deep dive into your chosen topic.

Okay, this review has gone a bit far afield, but it is a topic dear to my heart, and I hope you search out How to Use the Power of the Printed Word and enjoy it as much as I did.

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