Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Twenty-Four

The Book Meme Challenge: A book you wish more people would’ve read

This took a great deal more thought than I expected.  I could say that I wished more of the general population had read, for example, Lewis; Tolkien; MacDonald; Chaucer; Dante; Virgil; Homer; the Holy Scriptures.*

But many among my more intimate acquaintances have done so, or have begun to do so, thanks to their upbringing or education or some combination thereof.  And of those who are not in my close circle – what would bring them to it?  What would (for example) a legal secretary who seldom reads get out of such books, since she has declared herself to have little experience with such things, nor (to all appearances) any basis in such literary traditions?

Therefore there are 2 books I will spend my wishing on: one for people who do not read, and one for people who do.

For the non-readers:

Wheelock’s Latin

“But Terpsichore,” you will say, unless you will be more familiar and address me by my Jellicle name.  “You just noted how people who do not read have no basis for understanding or enjoying the most delightful selections from your bookshelf.  Why on earth do you think they would ever subject themselves to Wheelock – and why ought they consider it?”

A good question.  Certainly it is unlikely that anyone would encounter Wheelock by accident.  But I wish more people did, because if non-readers were to have a good, honest try at going through Wheelock – or even better, a bloody struggle for domination over Wheelock – then those non-readers would return from the field of battle, bearing on their shields strange new devices.  Suddenly they would understand how sentences are assembled, the construction of paragraph, the blocks of argument.  They would behold now-English words, once thought to be of a rather impenetrable vein, with new eyes, for those seized from Rome carry their pedigree with them.

These non-readers would have taken up the most helpful tool** for comprehending their own tongue, such that they would better understand how to speak aright, and henceforth be troubled less by reading convoluted prose.  Not to mention the classic authors whose words they would brush against in the course of translation.  All those phrases which have worked themselves into cliché would begin to take root in their native ground once more.***

Granted, Wheelock does not teach the most virile of pronunciation.  But you knew that.  I reckon the non-readers shall have hair enough springing up on their chests: for if nothing else, we know that suffering produces perseverance.
For those who have already given Wheelock the ol’ college (or high school, or primary school) try, I would wish that they would read

The Complete and Unabridged Shakespeare

            Nota bene that I myself have not read all of this, though it has been on my shelf these ten years.  I wish that I had by this point.  But, having read at least a portion of it, I shall try my hand at supposing what would come of more readers ruminating rapaciously on the bounty of the Bard:

Our vocabulary would perforce grow and flourish under the light of his example, as though he shared Mercury’s sphere of influence.  With this profusion of symbols comes profusion of feeling, as with the Savage of Brave New World.
Were we only to quote him (as we do with a thousand other songs and stories), the allusions would strengthen the bonds between us and broaden the mind of each; recall the exchanges between Lord Peter and Superintendent Kirk in Busman’s Honeymoon.

As we examined each character, we would find ourselves to be examining the nature of man: how he ought to live, how he must die, what comes of believing prophecies and succumbing to passions.  And we should grow a touch wiser, a tad subtler, as we contemplate honor, and justice, and whether self-destruction could preserve either.  We would better understand what makes us to laugh, what makes us weep, and what is beautiful.

*I really do wish more people read the Holy Scriptures, although I think certain people are determined to pluck verses out with a random eye, and thus lose a good deal of meaning and value which they would have received had they taken the context with it.
**Here I am writing of non-readers who speak and read English, rather than other tongues.  Possibly the same effect (on reading comprehension) could be achieved by studying Anglo-Saxon, German, or (for all I know) Greek.  But it seems to me that studying Latin brings greater benefit where roots, suffixes, and abbreviations are concerned.  Sometimes I think that Latin 101 would have been worth it even had I not learned anything beyond the difference between “i.e.” and “e.g.”
***I say “begin” because it is always better to meet the original phrase in the context of the original writer.  But one must know Latin to have such a meeting anyway.

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3 thoughts on “Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Twenty-Four

  1. Oh, good old Wheelock! I’m so glad I met him, even if it was four years ago and I haven’t looked at him since. My Latin prof was wonderful (the same man who introduced me to Strunk and White) and knew how to use Wheelock well, and I really enjoyed it. Someday I’ll brush up on my Latin. As for writing styles, though, I prefer those who take inspiration from Old English more than Latin, as I think Paradise Lost is an example of how the Latinate epic style and diction is an awkward imposition on English, whereas Anglo-Saxon and Germanic-style poetry seems a more natural fit. *shrug*

    Shakespeare is necessary for the sheer effect he had on English-speaking culture. He’s not one of my favorite writers, and I don’t usually read him for pleasure. I don’t think much of some of the stories he chose to tell (even some famous ones), but he was a master writer and we owe him many debts.

    • Hmmm…perhaps I ought to have been clearer. Where writing is concerned, I find that Anglo-Saxon words are more direct and their flow more natural. But since Latin (as I understand it) depends a bit more on declensions and enclitics, word order matters less and thus the sense of a Latin sentence may take a bit more untangling than Anglo-Saxon sentences (though, that said, Anglo-Saxon retains most of the Latin declensions and word order was a bit more fluid than the English of today).

      Generally, my feeling is that anyone who learns to read Latin will find his *reading* much improved, and his mechanics as well – but for writing style I think I would direct him, like you, to Strunk & White.

  2. HA! My turn to copy unwittingly. Although you go into greater detail that I did. Well chosen! (But I will with-hold judgement on Wheelock, depending on how badly he kills me next week.)

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