The Bookshelf: Keep It Short

If short stories are the wardrobe through which young people can pass into a world where they learn to appreciate novels as well, then the demise of magazine fiction is truly unfortunate. Let those teachers assign lots of classic short fiction. The taste of the young is developed in small helpings.
It seems the utopian impulse and the dystopian nightmare are never very distant from one another. If we are to love Big Brother, as Winston Smith does at the end of Orwell’s novel, all our other loves must be intruded upon, damaged, even sacrificed entirely. The case for freedom begins with the case for love.
The plight of the Palestinians is indeed a tragic one. Peace with their stronger neighbor will not come easily to them. Only a cessation of terrorism, of attacks on civilians, and of demonization of the Jewish people will enable them to make any substantial progress. Sad to say, the first steps may have to be taken by the Western elites who have learned to make anti-Semitism fashionable again, and have a great deal of unlearning to do. 
Is there friction between the social proclivities generated by our liberal institutions and the demands of Christian faith and teaching? It is perfectly reasonable to argue that there is—though there may be fruitful interaction as well, in which the politics of freedom and the virtues of faith foster one another.
There are no blackout curtains, only more or less obscurity to be overcome by the work of interpretation. Much of the burden of Hirsch’s two books is to describe the methods and account for the limitations of such work. The discussion is richly informed by linguistics and epistemology, governed by rigorous logic, and elegantly written.
The country is divided. Many people support Donald Trump, and many revile him. Whatever is decided on his eligibility, or his criminal culpability in federal and state prosecutions, large numbers of people are going to be very unhappy.
November is a month for looking back in gratitude at where we have been, where we come from, who has trod the boards of our stage before us. Gratitude is the proper spirit to lift us up during these shorter, colder days (at least in these latitudes), while the seasonal life of nature turns with the leaves and falls with them to the ground.
What young readers need and deserve are models of virtue they can aspire to emulate.
It is a natural thing for southerners to be drawn to Lee’s memory and to look up in admiration at a statue in his likeness. But the fact remains: such statues say to black Americans, in the voice of the unreconstructed white majority, “We’re back in charge, and don’t you forget it.”
A book review is not an opening-night party for a book’s author, and it is not a quarrel carried on with brass knuckles. It is an exercise in considered, contextualized judgment for the benefit of readers.
Such a substantial proportion of this book is devoted to textualism, originalism, and traditionalism that it is hard to escape the sense that Sunstein protests too much by repeatedly claiming that his moral-philosophizing “reflective equilibrium” is “the only game in town.” And in truth, he leaves his own preferred approach woefully underdeveloped.
A book in its entirety, once given to the world, is a kind of integer, a whole from which nothing should be subtracted if it is to remain what it is.
It is not always easy to buy books for friends—or even for family. The nature of the relationship one has with another, and the knowledge of the other’s interests and capacities, will affect one’s choices. Of books in the pleasure reading category, we have as many choices as our knowledge of our friends’ and loved ones’ tastes and reading history allows. But it is in the third category of books, the ones Francis Bacon said must be “chewed and digested . . . with diligence and attention,” that a real challenge arises.
Prose is not poetry, yet it has its own rhythms; and the writer’s meaning—conveyed not in bare words alone but in emphases, inflections, punctuations—can be clarified by speaking and hearing it as well as by seeing it. But reading well aloud takes practice.
The bad good (or great) books must be read and taught in just the same way as the good great books. The teacher must be a wrestling coach, instilling in his students a readiness to grapple equally with every kind of argument, accepting nothing on which they have not tested their own grip.
James Bradley Thayer sternly taught an iron discipline in constitutional judging of holding one’s own views—even one’s conviction that one understood the Constitution better than the legislature did—firmly in check. And he taught this because he believed it was the only approach consistent with the Constitution’s text, purposes, structure, and traditional interpretation.
The attempt to control thought can do incalculable damage, however doomed it is ultimately. Just as Plato’s guardians are to be kept on the path to virtue by the elimination of all examples of vice, so the self-appointed guardians of contemporary culture have decided that “inclusion” is the virtue of our time, and all literature that might make the path to inclusion a bumpy one must be flattened, bulldozed, paved over.
Whether it is an account of one’s whole life, or a memoir focused on a certain period or aspect of one’s life, or a published journal or diary, the author of an autobiography is too deeply interested (in both senses of that word) to achieve a really critical distance. Can the autobiographer, the memoirist, or the diarist be trusted?
There is a lot of mileage to be gained out of mockery, and nowhere more than in satire and parody. But successful parody depends on close study, intimate familiarity with the target, and that can often produce a certain gentleness and sympathy in the result.
Is literalness the true criterion of a good translation? It may be that for study, the literalness to which Allan Bloom and Harvey Mansfield aspire in their translations of Plato and Machiavelli is the thing needful. But a good case can be made that for readers of English translations to get a sense of a story’s power, small departures from literalness, and perhaps even large ones, will be necessary on the translator’s part.
National Review midwifed and nurtured the modern conservative movement into being. Conservatism today is in a very different situation from the one that Bill Buckley confronted in 1955. There is this vast conservative enterprise now; it’s kind of hydra-headed. But the basic need is, first, to think about the circumstances in which we find ourselves and how to apply conservative principles to them—or a conservative disposition, if one prefers—and second, how to build a coalition that is large enough to take these ideas off of the shelf.
A temptation today is that we will “silo” ourselves, choosing to listen only to voices congenial to our own views, and walling off our access to other points of view. This temptation to live in a cozy silo can afflict our book reading habits as well, which is too bad. You won’t know how to shore up the weaknesses in your own arguments unless you encounter critics of them, and you won’t know even what is mistaken in others’ perspectives until you grant their strongest form a patient hearing.
For all their convenience, e-books just can’t do for us what physical books do. Something about the physical act of reading a book—the intertwined visual and tactile experience—stamps these things on our memory. An ebook is just too ephemeral—too disembodied, literally.
We mere mortals may have more in common with history’s unknown shoemakers and privates. But to understand our history, it is more often necessary to look up to the heights occupied by the most visible human beings—those whose thoughts, words, and actions have had the most far-reaching effects.