Many of the books behind our favorite films are very much worth reading. But the medium of cinema does not necessarily translate great literature effectively.
Author: Matthew J. Franck (Matthew Franck)
The Bookshelf: In Praise of University Presses—and of One in Particular
What libraries do on the demand side—acquiring the books and other materials that their faculty and students need to do their research—the university presses do on the supply side, bringing important research into print. Unfortunately, one of the best university presses in the country now faces the threat of closure.
The Bookshelf: Partisan Moments
Partisanship is strong drink, and moderate consumption of the intoxicant has always been difficult. Herewith some recommendations for reading on partisan moments in American history.
The Bookshelf: Reading and Watching Shakespeare in 2021
Dipping into Shakespeare’s plays from time to time was unsatisfying; I grew ambitious to read all of his works. Yet how to proceed through it all? Some eight years ago, I resolved to make my own daily reading plan for moving through all of Shakespeare’s works in a year. Here, I present the 2021 version.
The Bookshelf: Big Books Still Ahead
Perhaps what unites the books that I’ve dragged my feet about reading is that they are Big Books, long and serious works of great literary merit. These require an investment of one’s time and energy, representing a reader’s marathon. There is no training for these marathons, of course. One must simply plunge in.
Isolation Bookshelf: The Pleasures of Rereading
I have called books and authors “friends,” and that they are. Aristotle tells us the highest form of friendship is that which aims at another’s good as though it were one’s own, for in truth it is indistinguishable from one’s own. We reread our favorite books in gratitude, not only for the repeated pleasure of the experience but to know once again the good that our old friends have selflessly done us.
Isolation Bookshelf: The “Borking” of Supreme Court Nominees
There never was a golden age when low politics didn’t enter into the process of Supreme Court nominations, but the furies unleashed by Roe v. Wade have driven the politics lower and lower. Perhaps one day the end of Roe will mean the end of “Borking” too. So we may fervently pray.
Isolation Cinema: Family-Friendly Classics
Although kid-friendly movies continue to be made—usually animated ones rather than live action—the movie theater is no longer the safe space it generally was before 1960. Fortunately, the best family films of yesteryear are still available to us.
Racism Is Real. But Is “Systemic Racism”? That Time I Was Published by Newsweek—For Two Hours
The opinion editor of Newsweek should be commended for striving to publish a diversity of views at the site, but its editor-in-chief committed journalistic malpractice by taking down an essay already published in order to reschedule it when it could be “balanced” by a view less challenging to the site’s readers.
Isolation Bookshelf: Teachers and Influences on the American Project
In this strange season of the academic year, as classes begin with students and teachers scattered about and many gathering only “virtually” through their computer screens, my mind is cast back to a fall semester 44 years ago, when I arrived as a freshman at Virginia Wesleyan College (now University). It seems an age of...
Isolation Bookshelf: Hail to the Chief
Can the American people and their representatives set aside their immediate interests and attachments and “think constitutionally” about the presidency, and about how we choose presidents? Some scholars hope so. But the passionate partisanship of the most attentive Americans, and the inattentiveness and apathy of the least partisan Americans, make this hope seem forlorn indeed.
Isolation Cinema: Crazy Love
What is it that makes screwball comedies so much fun? With their manic scripts and their depiction of characters of both sexes who will say anything and do anything for love, they bring together men and women—whose senses of humor often differ sharply—to laugh at the same crazy antics, and to see what mad joy love can be. In the summer of COVID, as we stay home with our loved ones, the screwball may be just what the doctor ordered.
Isolation Bookshelf: History Outside the Academy
For reasons that pass all understanding, modern academic disciplines are where English prose goes to die. Fortunately, profound and compelling historical writing has a history of its own that predates the modern research university by two and a half millennia, stretching back to Herodotus in the fifth century BC. Such a tradition is resistant to the chloroform of the modern academy, so long as gifted storytellers find publishers and readers.
Isolation Bookshelf: College Daze
Like the spirit of liberty itself, the spirit of liberal education is “not too sure that it is right.” As colleges and universities are beset by the twin challenges of the pandemic and of ideological activism, will we able to keep that spirit of inquiry alive?
Isolation Bookshelf: Independence Day Edition
Americans love America because it is their own and because it is good. Our ability to detach ourselves from America and decry its injustices only increases our attachment to it as a continuing project that is truly our own.
Isolation Cinema, Father’s Day Edition
The best depictions of fathers in classic films.
Isolation Bookshelf: Classic Texts on the Problem of Justice
Accommodation and half measures—the stuff of everyday political life—will not do when we encounter the politics of mastery and subjugation. Aristotle’s “partnership of free persons” demands more.
Isolation Bookshelf: Words Matter
Each of the books I mention here can help us to be conscious—to be “in the know,” which is what Austen meant by the word—thus using the gift of speech in ways that accord with our nature as “the reflexive animal,” as Lewis calls us, governed by “the inner lawgiver” (Lewis again) of our conscience. And these conjoined obligations—to our nature and to our speech—are why even pronouns are a field of battle that truth-tellers should not surrender.
Isolation Bookshelf: Laugh Out Loud with P.G. Wodehouse
Wodehouse’s work, from virtually any period of his long career, is amazingly consistent. One learns after a while that when one begins a Wodehouse story, satisfaction is guaranteed. Like a fresh whisky and soda, his work promises an easing of the tensions of daily life, an invitation to merriment, and a quiet contentment that in the end all will be well.
The McHugh Factor: The Ideology of Transgenderism Will Brook No Dissent
The point of recent attacks on Dr. Paul McHugh is not to take him down. Rather, it is to signal to every other mental health and medical professional in the country—from psychiatrists to endocrinologists to surgeons to therapists and counselors—that the ideology of transgenderism will brook no dissent.
Isolation Cinema: The Films of John Ford
John Ford’s America is a good deal like Ford himself—loud, brawling, and hard-charging. Ford’s Americans are also honorable, self-sacrificing, and faithful to their promises. That’s not the whole truth about America, not by a long shot. But it’s true enough that in John Ford’s films, we will forever see something of ourselves.
Isolation Bookshelf: Escaping into Historical Fiction
There is a great deal to be learned about the virtues and vices by following the long and eventful lives of D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. And isn’t this finally what good novels of any kind do for us—present the fullness of human characters for our consideration, so that we may reflect on our own characters?
Isolation Bookshelf: Science Fiction Classics
What can human beings endure? How can they adapt to radical changes in their environment and in themselves? How will their choices reshape their society? Science fiction at its best invites us to consider such questions at the extremes of human experience.
Isolation Bookshelf: Great Cases in Constitutional Law
Chief Justice John Roberts complained five years ago, in the Obergefell marriage case, of some of his colleagues’ “extravagant conception of judicial supremacy.” To understand how such a conception has come to grip the judicial mind, studies of some of the Supreme Court’s most notable cases make for instructive reading.
Isolation Cinema, 1939 Edition
While you’re stuck at home, why not elevate your viewing with some classic films from the golden age of American filmmaking?