Music/Book Reviews

Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World by David Denby (Review)

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(2007) This is an interesting read if you want to get an idea of what the prominent Western classics are and how they are taught at Columbia college in New York.

Denby goes back to retake his classical literature courses and recounts conversations in class, reflections outside of class and his deeper relationship with the characters in the classics.

Throughout the work there is strung a theme of defense against those who call Western works courses elitist. I didn’t buy it and found that Denby talked in circles. It was clear to me that he hadn’t ever spent a significant amount of time living outside of the Western sphere of influence.

Having lived in Africa and having married a Turkish man and integrated partially into the Turkish-American community, I would say that it’s impossible to mount a defense against the mixture of Western and Eastern literature in higher institutions of education here in the US. People need exposure to the structure and thoughts shared by Eastern Literature. Now more than ever, we need to explore cultures that pull us out of our self-satisfied sense of human development.

I liked how Denby highlighted the over-indulgence in emotion by rape activists and people who live as victims. But I found this a strange branching off of the argument between those who want to expand the curriculum of great books to include Eastern thinkers and more females and those who believe that the Western classics explain everyone on earth’s motivations. Doesn’t the second part of that last sentence sound preposterous? It is and that’s why this book only gets 3 stars.

The stars it does get are for assembling so many different angles and pieces of information into a relatively tightly woven book–the writing is engaging as well. But if you’ve exposed yourself enough to the world, be prepared to be baffled by the arguments in this book.

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