maanantai 29. helmikuuta 2016

Great Books on English Language

The Elements of Style

by William Strunk Jr., E.B. White

William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago, and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte's Web, took English with him in 1919.

This style manual offers practical advice on improving writing skills. Throughout, the emphasis is on promoting a plain English style. This little book can help you communicate more effectively by showing you how to enliven your sentences.

"The Elements of Style" is one of the definitive texts on all elements of English language style, usage, and composition. Strunk covers such topics as "elementary Rules of Usage," "Elementary Principles of Composition," "A Few Matters of Form," "Words and Expressions Commonly Misused," and "Words Often Misspelled."

Strunk asserts that one must first know the rules to break them. This classic reference book is a must-have for any student and conscientious writer. It is intended for use in which the practice of composition is combined with the study of literature, and it gives in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style and concentrates attention on the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated.

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One

by Stanley Fish

Outspoken New York Times columnist, and the professor of humanities and law at Florida International University , Stanley Fish offers an entertaining, erudite analysis of language and rhetoric in this delightful celebration of the written word. Drawing on a wide range of great writers, from Philip Roth to Antonin Scalia to Jane Austen and beyond, Fish’s How to Write a Sentence is much more than a writing manual—it is a penetrating exploration into the art and craft of sentences.

Fish treats the sentence as more than a purely utilitarian construct. His interest is piqued primarily, he tells us, by “skill” — admiring sentences is like watching sports highlights, with “a rueful recognition that you couldn’t do it yourself.” That said, he believes one should try one’s best, and his aesthetic appreciation is matched by a practical drive. Having taught composition courses and workshops at universities since the ’60s, Fish has long insisted, against the grain of many an English department, that writing should be taught as an end in itself, that learning to write involves learning to think.

As its title suggests, How to Write a Sentence is in part a how-to manual; it’s also a book of analysis, and a paean to the written word and the ways it can be organized. Fish is a personable and insightful guide with wide-ranging erudition and a lack of pretension: To illustrate his points, he trots out sentences by writers and rhetoricians from Edgar Allan Poe to Martin Luther King, from John Milton to Elmore Leonard.

keskiviikko 24. helmikuuta 2016

A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law

"...Devotion signifies a life given, or devoted, to God." So begins William Law's Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.

William Law was a priest at the Church of England in the 18th century. Law's book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life is considered a classic that all Christians should read. In the book Law suggests practices which will lead to good Christian living through prayer and devotion.

Originally published in 1729, Law's book stands as a powerful challenge to Christians. Law teaches that if God is "our greatest good," then the wisest way to live is to please God through a life of worship, adoration, and devotion.

Since many fail to live this way, Law diagnoses why and suggests certain concrete practices as a remedy. Thus, no one interested in becoming more devout can ignore this dynamic book. Law's call has encouraged several generations, and does not fail to encourage believers even today with a serious call to a devout and holy life.

William Law uses fictional characters to illustrate what true devotion is, and what it is not. This makes for a very interesting reading experience. Every Christian will find themselves challenged to a closer scrutiny of their lives after reading this book, and will, I believe, be inspired to a personal revival of their consecration and dedication to God.

Life of William Law

William Law was born on 1686. He was a son of a prosperous businessman. Law had received an excellent education at Cambridge and had a solid future as a scholar or clergyman ahead of him.

As a young adult preparing for university studies, Law had written a list of 18 rules to guide his living. They included the commitment to the will of God, the primacy of Scripture, the value of time, a distrust of the world, temperance in all things, humility and charity, prayer, and constant self-examination.

From a professional perspective, William Law's life seemed to be over when he was 28 years old. Then Queen Anne died without an heir. On the ascension of the German George I to the English throne, Law refused to swear an oath of allegiance.

As a "nonjuror," Law was forced to give up his fellowship and was denied further advancement in the Church of England or in any academic institution.

Clearly Law was not a product of his age. Catholic, Anglican, and Puritan factions warred within the English church. Morality and piety were correct in form but devoid of spiritual passion in many quarters. Many found "philosophical religion"—deism or rationalism—more to their liking.

Law would have none of it. Regarding "philosophical religion," for example, he said, "There can be no such thing. Religion is the most plain, simple thing in the world. It is only, 'We love him, because he first loved us.' So far as you add philosophy to religion, just so far you spoil it."

The outer structure of his life to his death 47 years later is easily told. For many years, he served as tutor to Edward Gibbons, father of the renowned historian.

When Edward left home, Law retired to his family home where he devoted his life to writing. Celibate, rigorous, and solitary, Law honed his writing skills.

Law's writings aimed at uncovering shallow devotion and stirring up readers to renewed moral vigor and holiness. Some writings were responses to published works; others were more broadly addressed, such as The Absolute Unlawfulness of Stage Entertainment. But most of his works were in the area of Christian spirituality, which he refused to relegate to a comfortable corner of life.

William Law's most widely known book, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, pulls together many of his thoughts in a lucid work addressed to the "average" Christian. It challenged Christians to wake up from their spiritual stupor and apply all their energy to the holy life.

In his later years, Law, influenced by German mysticism, produced The Spirit of Prayer and The Spirit of Love, which emphasized the indwelling of Christ in the soul. (This, however, alienated some, like John Wesley, who had up to this time eagerly followed his work.)

The day before he died, he said, "Oh what hast thou done? Thou has awakened such a spark of divine love that quite devours me. Who would have thought that all my life should end in my dying a martyr to love!"

A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

The eighteenth-century and Enlightenment was a time when rationalist criticism of religious belief was perhaps at its peak.

William Law's A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life succeeded in inspiring the most cynical men of the age with its arguments in favor of a spiritual life.

The book is much more than simply articulating a set of rules to live by. Law's book examines what it means to lead a Christian life and criticizes the perversion of Christian tenets by the Establishment—whether secular or spiritual—whose real aim is temporal power.

Devotion, as William Law defined it, should involve all of life—living according to God’s will and not for one’s own selfish desires. If religion covers all of life, then it follows that Christians must observe rules that govern all their actions and not merely times of worship.
Scripture does not contain a single instruction regarding worship, but almost every verse gives something on the ordinary actions of life. If we do not practice humility, self-denial, renunciation of the world, poverty of spirit, and heavenly affection, therefore, we do not live as Christians.

Why do we Christians fail to live devout lives? Law asks. We can plead neither ignorance nor inability, for we have the same knowledge and the same Spirit early Christians did.

What prevents us, rather, is a lack of intention. Failure of intention puts us in real spiritual danger. Although we have ample assurance of God’s mercy when we sin unavoidably, we cannot count on that mercy when we sin through a lack of intention, as many Scriptures prove. 

Scriptures show that “our salvation depends upon the sincerity and perfection of our endeavors to obtain it.”

Law’s main contention is that we can please God only by intending and devoting all of life to God’s glory and honor. God takes no more delight in one station or position than another. His concern, rather, is that we offer reasonable service in whatever place we occupy in singleness of heart and thus live lives of reason and piety.

From the beginning, Law writes, there have been two orders of Christians: those who feared and served God in secular vocations and those who devoted themselves to voluntary poverty, virginity, devotion, and withdrawal so they might live wholly for God. Nevertheless, all orders of Christians are obliged to devote themselves to God in all things; to do otherwise is contrary...

A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life is a book that can still speak to our time.

maanantai 22. helmikuuta 2016

Ageless Classical Novels

Winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton’s masterful portrait of desire and betrayal during the sumptuous Golden Age of Old New York, a time when society people “dreaded scandal more than disease.”
This is Newland Archer’s world as he prepares to marry the beautiful but conventional May Welland. But when the mysterious Countess Ellen Olenska returns to New York after a disastrous marriage, Archer falls deeply in love with her. Torn between duty and passion, Archer struggles to make a decision that will either courageously define his life—or mercilessly destroy it.

I read Age of Innocence first when I was in High School. While I was fascinated by the novel and the language, I couldn’t understand the choices the people made. Why they didn’t just do what they wanted? Why they were such slaves of convention, society and public opinion? Why did Archer marry May when he was in love with Ellen? Why didn’t Ellen just divorce her horrible husband? Why everything had to be so difficult?

I read the book again, over twenty years later, and I can see the subtle critique and loving fondness to the gilded New York and social conventions. I can also see the good in those conventions.

I don’t agree with married couples not communicating and just understanding what other is thinking. As we can see in the book, it lead to many confusions. And finally Archer didn’t even know who really knew his heart, May, before she was already dead.

In my opinion we will never see a perfect world, before Heaven. But I think that perfect world will have the quality of making sacrifices and knowing to wait and do what is right that Archer possess in the book.

Not everyone in New York is as good. Not everyone in Europe is corrupted. But there is goodness in Archer, as Ellen can see, and she is right to love that goodness. And to run away from the man.

More classical novels to enjoy: 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

This is the supreme novel of the married woman's passion for a younger man. I read Anna Karenina for the first time in High School and then later on when I was pregnant of my son. The way I saw the characters and the tragedy of Anna's life changed completely.

Leo Tolstoy’s classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky.

In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colorful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.

Emma by Jane Austen

Near impossible choice between this and Pride and Prejudice. But Emma never fails to fascinate and annoy. Who hasn't done the facepalm (even in secret) when reading about the mix up Emma manages to create in everyone's lives. And then sighed in happiness when her hero finally confesses his love to her.

'I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.'

Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen's most flawless work. 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

A revenge thriller set in France after Bonaparte: a masterpiece of adventure writing. I was infatuated with the book (and the hero of it) when I first read it in High School. After it I have read The Count of Monte Cristo various times and in different languages, and enjoyed it every time as much.

'On what slender threads do life and fortune hang'

Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. Dumas' epic tale of suffering and retribution, inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment, was a huge popular success when it was first serialised in the 1840s.


David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

This highly autobiographical novel is the one its author liked best. It is also my favorite from Charles Dickens.
David Copperfield is the story of a young man’s adventures on his journey from an unhappy & impoverished childhood to the discovery of his vocation as a successful novelist. Among the gloriously vivid cast of characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr Murdstone; his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood; the eternally humble yet treacherous Uriah Heep; frivolous, enchanting Dora; & the magnificently impecunious Micawber, one of literature’s great comic creations.
In David Copperfield—the novel he described as his “favorite child”—Dickens drew revealingly on his own experiences to create one of his most exuberant & enduringly popular works, filled with tragedy & comedy in equal measure.