Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Archive for the category “Hardcore University”

Review: Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism, by Harold Bloom

I think that Harold Bloom’s Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism is a good book, but I also think that it is a bit more than I was ready for at this time.

I will, therefore, count it toward my Challenge, but will also put it aside to read again once I am more familiar with the works Bloom covers in it.

Review: Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare

First, I must admit that Twelfth Night is one of my two favorite Shakespeare plays. That’s probably because it’s the first Shakespeare I ever studied and my high school English teacher, Miss Alma Doherty, chose to have us learn it by listening to the recording she hauled into class for each lesson.

So, while I was in a meeting today, I got a message that the next up in Hardcore’d Shakespeare read is Twelfth Night! Needless to say, I was delighted. I grabbed one of the recommended text versions and one of the Audible audiobook versions. Just listened to the Audible, and — while the actors are different — it was just as delightful as I remembered it.

For those of you who are not familiar with the play, it’s one of Shakespeare’s identity-change romantic comedies. Brother and sister, Sebastian and Viola are shipwrecked. Viola disguises herself as a man and finds employment with Duke Orsino. Orsino, of course, is in love with a countess, Olivia, who falls in love with the disguised Viola. This being a Shakespeare play, much chaos and silliness ensue.

Twelfth Night has been called “the perfect comedy” in theguardian‘s 21 April 2014 article “Best Shakespearean Productions,” as well as being “consistently ranked among the greatest plays ever written” (timeout, “The 50 Best Pays of All Time,” and theguardian 2 September 2015 article, “Michael Billington’s 101 Greatest Plays of All Time.”

If you want to start falling in love with the Bard, you could do far worse than plunging into Twelfth Night. It’s two hours or so that you won’t regret spending.

Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens

I’m reading Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood as part of Benjamin McEvoy’s Hardcore Literature Book Club. There will probably be multiple readings of various editions because of that.

I grabbed this, however, because I wanted a relatively quick and painless first run-through. What I got instead was much more: I remembered how much I actually like Dickens’ writing. I like his word choices, I like the sound when his work is read aloud, and I love the clarity of his prose. Admittedly, I only have five other Dickens’ pieces under my belt so far (A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, and Nicholas Nickelby), but I expect to change that. I’ve attempted Bleak House several times, but was clearly not ready for it.

Like many of us, I read my first Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities) in high school. I was very lucky, however — our teacher, Miss Alma Doherty, loved both Dickens and Shakespeare, and made sure we heard the works of theirs that she taught in Saudi, schlepping in her own copies of the recordings and her own portable phonograph. It was a wonderful way to get me engaged with the literature, and a great way to discover the precursor to audiobooks. In fact, I spent much of that summer in the Queens Central Library (it had air conditioning) listening to various recordings of books and plays, guided by the knowledgeable staff and Mr. Miton Byam, the Director of the Queens Borough Public Library.

Anyway, I fell in love with Dickens’ work, although reading it kind of got lost among all the other things I’ve read over the years. I’m really glad I decided to take part in this club read; it helped me find my way back to one of my favorite authors, so I can resume reading his work.

If you do choose to try some Dickens there are a couple of things to remember. First, the man was a product of his time. There are unkind portrayals of Jews and others. Second, his works often started out as weekly serials in the papers, so there are lots of cliffhangers…this is not a bad thing, by the way; it keeps you engaged from one major plot point to the next. It also means that if you have a busy life (and, who doesn’t) there are plenty of places you can pause and pick up the story later. Third, his characters may stay with you long after you have read them. I find this a Good Thing, and a mark of a really memorable book. Four, there is always a lot to think about in a Dickens story. Having lived at one time or another at pretty much every economic level, Dickens had a unique way of observing society. Nor did he shy away from doing so.

So, take the plunge — if you dare — and jump into the Dickens pool. I’ll be waiting for you.

Review: The Iliad, by Homer: A New Translation by Caroline Alexander

When I was in fifth grade, my mom was on the school’s Book Fair (remember them?) committee. Knowing I loved Greek myths when a prose copy of The Iliad came in, she grabbed it for me. I won’t say it blew me away, but I wanted to be either Athena or Atalanta when I grew up. In fact, I was Atalanta for Senior Day in high school, but that’s another story altogether (Senior Day in my high school fell on May 8th, 1970, the day of the Kent State massacre, so I spent a large part of that day at school sitting in a stairwell, crying because one of the four students killed had been someone I knew through the anti-war movement.)

I fell in love with The Iliad right then, though, and meant to read it as poetry when I grew up. I even made a few abortive attempts at teaching myself Greek over the years (I have better luck singing than learning languages, sadly). Still, I somehow missed reading it as poetry, and I do feel the lack. Ms. Alexander’s translation is lovely but does not feel like poetry to me, and I suspect that the next time I read this I will definitely seek out a version in verse.

That said, I still love the story, and this version contains much more information-wise than the version that was obviously abridged to be appropriate for an 11-year-old girl in 1963. For example, it actually (in the introduction) explains why Achilles has had it with Agamemnon and the war in general.

Still, this is a credible, if somewhat pedestrian, version, and I will be listening to the whole thing. After all, I expect that I will listen to many different editions of this (and of The Odyssey when I get to it).

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.

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