Liberal Education

December 1, 1995

The Ashbrook Center teaching staff recommends the following works of wonder as holiday reading:

Cormac McCarthy writes with breathtaking clarity and vigor. Hemingway seems boring and limpid in comparison. All the Pretty Horses (1992) is about a youth who must leave his Texas ranch. He and his friend mount their horses and go south, to the dust and blood of Mexico. They survive and swiftly grow into their manhood. Their souls and their horses drive the story that will envelop you in the meaning of hombre and honor. You will learn why men need heaven and horses don’t. The Crossing (1994) continues what McCarthy calls "The Border Trilogy." The characters are different, the condition of the myth is similar, but the writing is less crisp, even more philosophic.

Mark Helprin won our hearts with A Soldier of the Great War (1991). An old a and wise Italian professor of aesthetics explains the meaning of life to a young boy, illiterate and atheist. The retelling of his life is full of adventure, beauty, and grace, leaving you breathless, exhausted, and glad. Helprin’s latest, Memoirs from the Antproof Case (1995), has another old man reminiscing, an American now living in Brazil. He has been everything, war hero, multimillionaire, thief, murderer, and knight errant. And he was always in love.

Kingsley Amis’s recent passing reminds us of his classic spoof of professors, Lucky Jim (1958), guaranteed to produce guffaws. A more droll and recent satire is Robert Grudin’s Book (1992), which takes the form of a murder-mystery about a traditionalist English professor in a department full of deconstructionists. You’ll never look at academic life the same way again.

Recommended on speculation is Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled (1995), by the author of Remains of the Day (1989), which may prove to be additional consolation during the season of Christmas.