The Great Books Reader is the tapas of the great books canon.
If you don’t know, ‘tapas’ is a Spanish appetizer that, over time, became popular and sophisticated enough that entire bars are dedicated to only serving it. The analogy breaks down quickly, as The Great Books Reader makes no apologies in wanting to push readers toward the main courses. But as an introduction to what is sometimes called “the Western canon,” GBR is a helpful and interesting guide.
Full disclosure: the book is edited by John Mark Reynolds, a friend and endorser of Earthen Vessels, and populated with essays by several people that I count as friends and one (Gary Hartenburg) who writes for Mere-O.
The book is laid out with a brief introduction by Dr. Reynolds followed by an excerpt from the text itself, and then a brief essay by either an established thinker or an emerging scholar. Locating the original source in the middle is a helpful touch, as it makes it clear that any commentary is supposed to serve and drive people into the text, rather than the other way around.
There is just enough of an intro to situate the text and author in the “great conversation” of ideas and help us catch a glimpse of their relevance, and just enough of a concluding thought to help us see the author’s depth of thought and the shallowness of our reading–not to turn us off from the text, but back toward it, in the full version.
Neither the book nor essays will satisfy everyone, but then if they did the book would have failed. As Dr. Reynolds highlights in defending the “(nearly) indefensible,” the work is meant to “fill the role of a good tutor in a great books discussion.” And in any such good discussion, the real conversation begins when the time runs out and people return to reread the text anew, with better questions and a deeper awareness of our ignorance in light of them.
I’m giving away two copies of the book. To win yours, write a tweet or Facebook status update about your favorite “Great Book” and link to this post, then leave a comment. Winners will be chosen next Monday.