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Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World

Great Books My Adventures with Homer Rousseau Woolf and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World As September rolls around do you find yourself longing to go back to school despite the fact that you graduated years ago Would you remember how to read critically Could you hold your own alongside t

  • Title: Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World
  • Author: David Denby
  • ISBN: 9780684835334
  • Page: 309
  • Format: Paperback
  • As September rolls around, do you find yourself longing to go back to school despite the fact that you graduated years ago Would you remember how to read critically Could you hold your own alongside today s college students Would you find the Western literary classics culturally relevant and applicable to your life At the age of 48, David Denby, film critic for New YoAs September rolls around, do you find yourself longing to go back to school despite the fact that you graduated years ago Would you remember how to read critically Could you hold your own alongside today s college students Would you find the Western literary classics culturally relevant and applicable to your life At the age of 48, David Denby, film critic for New York magazine and contributing editor of The New Yorker, enrolled in Columbia University to rediscover the masterpieces of the Western tradition He chronicles his journey in the New York Times bestseller Great Books My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World What brought Denby back to his alma mater was not a sense of nostalgia, but the current academic debate surrounding Western literature This culture war centers on the left s denunciation of dead white European males as oppressive and exclusionary and the right s reverence of the Western canon as the foundation of traditional values and patriotism Like many of the extremists engaged in the debate, Denby found his memories of these works faded and forgotten I possessed information without knowledge, opinions without principles, instincts without beliefs And I wanted to add my words to the debate from the ground up, beginning and ending in literature, never leaving the books themselves Thus Denby returns to Columbia for the two great books courses Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization During his yearlong education he explores the difficulties of going back to reading seriously analyzes today s college students observes the teaching styles of four professors and enters into a period of self discovery as he learns to deal with life as a middle aged student, father, and husband Along the way he gains a new appreciation of writers such as Homer, Boccaccio, Austen, Nietzsche, Conrad, Machiavelli, Marx, and Woolf He walks away from his experiences believing deeply that students today, than ever, need this type of humanistic education and that both sides of the culture war are simplifying the Western tradition.

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      Published :2019-08-18T09:43:02+00:00

    1 thought on “Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World

    1. 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 c [...]

    2. I am enough of a romanticist to buy Denby's central point, that the "great books" of Western Literature are valuable for aesthetic and instructive reasons. Indeed, when describing his response to the classic authors in those terms, the writing is fun and enjoyable.Unfortunately, there is more to this book. Much of it is devoted to Denby's social/political commentary, which might best be described as the ultimate middle class white man's perspective on the culture wars of the 1990s. Not all of it [...]

    3. This book should be required reading for every English/literature teacher, and really is a good book for anyone interested in the most important writinigs of Western civilization. It sounds a bit ordinary: a journalist decides, as an adult 20 years out of college, to go back and repeat his Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities classes required for freshman at Columbia. And then he writes about what he reads and what the class and its professor discuss about all of these basic texts [...]

    4. My thoughts on this are a mostly incoherent mess that I emailed to Katie and got out of my system. This is partly very dated, partly very timely, partly suffering from that "critic unable to view without imposing his own opinion, when really the professor and the students are much more interesting" thing that Lit Up, the author's most recent book, also had. And there's this, from one professor in the book: "ABCDEFABABABABCDEF that's your cultural baggage, what you bring to a book. You know what [...]

    5. (review originally written for bookslut)Great Books by David Denby is by no means itself a great book, though it is entertaining enough, I suppose. Being the avid bookslut that I am, I am always fascinated by other people's lists of books. "100 Greatest Books of All Time," "100 Best Books of the Twentieth Century," "Sixteen Books to Read This Summer," -- I'm a sucker for them all. So it is no wonder that when I saw this book about the controversy over the dead-white-European-male-centrism of the [...]

    6. David Denby, a prominent film critic returns to the Ivy League classroom as a front-line correspondent on the culture wars. For this book, he spent an academic year attending Columbia University's famous ``core curriculum'' classes in the great books, Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization. Denby recreates how he read, pondered, and discussed classic texts from the ancient Greeks (Homer, Aeschylus, Thucydides, Euripides, and Sappho) to Nietzsche, Freud, and Conrad, all the time main [...]

    7. I can relate to Denby’s Great Books. I’ve been meandering through them for a few years now. But Denby is a little more structured in his approach. He returns to Columbia University to attend classes on the classics and what comes out is a travelogue through the Western Canon. It’s not an attempt at scholarly reflection. It’s about connecting with these monumental works in a way that gives them personal meaning and dimension. There are some insightful observations about the works themselv [...]

    8. The author, David Denby, spent his professional career as a film critic. Good for him. People need to be taught what is a good film, and what causes a film to fail. Unfortunately he thinks his skills translate into writing a book about great works of literature and philosophy and they don't quite. He begins well. He goes back to school and audits the same two courses by several professors to get an overall look at what passes for a great work at Columbia thirty years after he originally went the [...]

    9. A well-written account of Denby's decision to go back to Columbia University to re-take their "Great Books" program. The best parts are when he relates the books to people and events in his life. Thinking of Hobbes after being mugged on the subway, memories of his mother when reading King Lear, etc. He spends too much time dichotomizing his perspective as a middle aged man to that of his young classmates. He is also took quick to discount the leftist revisions of the canon. I don't think he cont [...]

    10. I listened to this as an audio book and as such it was charming to have a survey of some great books. I doubt I would have had the patience to read it- if I were going to read something about these books I would either read something of higher quality or read the books themselves.I think Denby was fair in his analysis of his fellow students and himself, but I still found myself irritated by his discussion of his fellow students. Criticizing young people with zero life experience or education is [...]

    11. This was pretty disappointing. I waited six years after graduating from Columbia and nearly 10 years after commencing Lit Hum to revisit the material via Denby's experiences. I found his take to be a combination of saccharine, patronizing, and dated (it's nearly 15 years old). Don't even get me started on his chapter on Simone de Beauvoir and the perils of Take Back the Night. I'm so glad that I didn't go anywhere near this prior to seeing the Core (which I adore) for myself, and I will continue [...]

    12. This book came out about the same time that my (adult) daughter started at Columbia. I think that I became aware of the book because I loved Denby's reviews in the New Yorker. It was such an incredible opportunity to share his and my daughter's experience. I love this book because it opened me up to so many different writers and enhanced my knowledge.

    13. At age forty-eight, Denby, a theatre critic for New York magazine, decided to return to Columbia University and retake two courses, Literature of the Humanities and Contemporary Civilization, both required of all Columbia graduates. His motivation was to force himself to read through the "entire shelf," not to rediscover his youth, " most overpraised time of life," but to get a second chance at school. He was " of not really knowing anything." The result is a fascinating intellectual journey thr [...]

    14. A thought-provoking work that becomes more engaging as it progresses. I initially picked this up out of jealousy. Having embarked on a personnel exploration of classic literature 4 years ago, the thought of being able to explore these works in the context of college classes at Columbia is very appealing. My expectation was that I would really enjoy the first half of the book covering mostly works that I had read over the past few years and "endure" the second half covering works I was less famil [...]

    15. Over four hundred and fifty pages, this one took me a long time to read, but it was worth it. Denby, former New York Times critic and now New Yorker film critic, writes of his reading experiences when he audits a couple of literature classes he had taken at Columbia University in the early sixties. I read this book rather belatedly, as it was published in 1996, but it’s never too late to learn of someone’s love affair with literature. There are so many things I could talk about: the number o [...]

    16. Denby's exploration of the Western Canon is engaging and thoughtful. I found myself reliving my own experience with required Humanities and Classical Civilization classes as an undergraduate. Despite Denby's claim that his book is not an academic venture, he definitely inserts himself into the discourse. Sometimes, these frank discussions are enlightening. Other times, his attempts at literary analysis are embarrassing. I found this especially true in the chapter on Conrad in which Denby openly [...]

    17. I was once stranded with just this book in my bag--and how I loved it. I'm familiar with Denby's work in New Yorker but I have to say that I love Anthony Lane's movie reviews better than Denby's, although I remember a particularly incisive article that Denby wrote about Charles Darwin. Because of this book, I re-read the Iliad very very closely and realized how awesome it really is. It was only in my second reading that I realized that the Iliad's first word is "rage." Bloody, brutal thing that [...]

    18. This book was extremely relevant for me, though our degrees of separation are at different scales: I am a 32-year-old, married, full-time professional, who is getting ready to pursue my PhD in English soon (in my "free" time). And I often daydream about going back and taking old survey courses now that I've got more experience and so on. So, I lapped this book up, sentence by sentence, living vicariously through Denby. Alas--halfway through I became a bit bored. But, overall, Denby keeps it inte [...]

    19. It took me way too long to read this book but that was not entirely Denby's fault.I came very close to giving this book 5 stars, but unfortunately as much as I enjoyed it, as illuminating as it was there, were nonetheless sections where his opinions were too blinkered, too myopic. He saves himself by both admitting and even questioning how who he is, his privilege of class and race, may be affecting his judgement, but he still falls short of overcoming that privilege. And he also dovetails into [...]

    20. Read this for book group. Denby returned to college to take the Great Books courses. He briefly goes over some of the courses with snippets of text and his reaction as well as those of some students. It did inspire me to do some additional reading of a few of the texts discussed but there is no way I have the brain power to understand something like Hegel - even the overview went over my head :( The discussions on Marx, Mill and Woolf were my favorites. I did enjoy hearing how Denby had trouble [...]

    21. Well written but I had hoped for more detail, more commentary about the books in the course. A lot of personal reflection, which was to be expected, but the side stories sometimes felt like filler material. The last chapter seemed like an eternity and ended rather abruptly. But the points he made were spot on, and I highlighted many pages.

    22. The book is not for the lazy reader. Still, I enjoyed making the effort. It is probably the only way I could ever afford to attend classes at Columbia University and take a guided trip through philosophy classics.

    23. Disappointing. I was hoping for a new reason to take another look at the "classics." He didn't offer me a good one and in fact made me less interested in going back to these and I ended just being irritated by his "rich white male" perspective.

    24. Thirty years after graduating from Columbia, a New York film critic returned to his alma mater to study the Great Books. Denby's love song to literature inspired me to spend 10 years (a Homeric period: Trojan War--10 years; journey home--10 years) studying the Great Books.

    25. Denby interacts well with the texts, explaining his mission and his reasons for completing it well.

    26. In the fall of 1991, film critic David Denby returned to Columbia University, his alma mater, to retake the university's two required humanities courses: Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization. These are two of those "great books" courses that several universities continue to require their students to take, despite continued criticism from some groups that the courses are too full of works by dead white guys, and biased too much toward Western (i.e dead white guy) civilization at th [...]

    27. (Originally published on my blog: randoymwords/)Oh, those middle class problems. For me, the only thing more ridiculous than people claiming that gun ownership is a right rather than a class privilege is the complaining that goes on about the courses in higher education. Much as one has to have time and money to invest in an automatic weapon, people such as myself don't have the luxury to consider going to school in order to learn things. Yet political arguments are constantly drawn from the ass [...]

    28. Reading this book is like having a gluttonous diner while you are ravenous. I was rushing myself to have it all at once, but then it stuck. There was something that I could not comprehend, like Kant, Hegel and so many other more contemporary authors, not mention those earlier ones. It was exciting on one hand, because I was revealing myself to it and couldn’t have been more eager with the intention on raising consciousness. But, it was very frustrating too on the other hand. I remember how I c [...]

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