What I’ve Been Reading Lately

By: Justin Shelby


Given that no small number of you have trusted my company and I to help you write your college essays, and given that what one reads is tremendously important for determining what and how one writes, you should probably be interested in what I’m reading. So, periodically, I will update you.

In the last few weeks, I have finished:

1) The Communist Manifesto. I’m not sure if this really counts as a book or not, but I read it cover to cover one morning with a student of mine. Certainly, some interesting stuff here, though a lot of it is pure propaganda. Well worth a couple hours anyway.

2) The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. I didn’t really get this book, and to be honest, I never really got Hemingway. I mean I get the Christ imagery, the longing for youth but being unable to return to it, the portrayal of a kind of manly love that develops for a worthy adversary. And I can even see how really pressing the book could yield some interesting interpretive insights. But I just don’t like it very much and never really liked Hemingway. I have promised myself that I will read Death in the Afternoon before putting Hemingway down for good.

3) The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis. I reread this so that I could discuss it with one of my students. For those unfamiliar, it’s a short book, less than 200 pages, well worth reading if you want a Christian perspective on the different kinds of loves that exist in the world. And you should want such a perspective. On Lewis’ account there are four distinct kinds of love: Need-Love, Gift-Love, Affection, and Appreciation. It’s not a bad start for if you want to understand your own feelings of love in higher resolution. The first time I read this book, I had been a practicing Catholic for many years. Now, having been a lapsed Catholic for many years, the book feels a little heavy on the Christ, but I also understand it better. I think really getting your head around all that love is and can be takes experience. In a few year’s time, having had even more experience loving and hating, I suspect I’ll feel differently about it. I would recommend anybody interested in this book read some sort of introduction to Christianity first, unless you’re already familiar with the main thrust of basic Christian theology. It’s not 100% necessary, but there’s enough Christianity specific content that you need to some background to get the most of it.
4) Life in the Middle Ages, by Richard Winston. This book was alright, sparse on details, and totally lacking footnotes or references. It’s also only about 200 or so pages long. The author takes you through the basics of the daily life for each of the classes of Medieval France: the peasantry, the nobility, the clergy, and the growing bourgeoisie. As many other commenters noted, the title is misleading. It would be better titled, Life in Medieval France.

Although I don’t have a whole lot of time, I also try and maintain my Greek and Latin. My main Latin project has been a vocabulary and grammatical commentary for the first book of Martial’s epigrams. I made pretty good progress on it in 2015 (got about 60 epigrams done), but then had to stop because I started Bedrock. Hopefully I’ll have more time to work on that going forward, though I might move onto another of one of his works, De Spectaculis, instead. It’s shorter and might be more interesting. In Greek, I’m making my way through the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, though it’s been tough going. The result of this reading will also be a sort of vocabulary and commentary – in this case, producing one isn’t much different than recording the information I myself need to review to read the text. Lastly, when I feel guilty for doing too much Latin poetry and too little prose, I read one of Seneca’s Letters to Lucillius. Because I don’t have a whole lot of time, I’m trying read things that can be read, in their entirety, in one sitting. So, it’s mostly letters and epigrams for now.

I’ll post again when I’ve got some other good books under my belt.

Justin Shelby