In literary and cultural studies, “tradition” is a word everyone uses but few address critically. In Reading Old Books, Peter Mack offers a wide-ranging exploration of the creative power of literary tradition, from the middle ages to the twenty-first century, revealing in new ways how it helps writers and readers make new works and meanings. Reading Old Books argues that the best way to understand tradition is by examining the moments when a writer takes up an old text and writes something new out of a dialogue with that text and the promptings of the present situation. The book examines Petrarch as a user, instigator, and victim of tradition. It shows how Chaucer became the first great English writer by translating and adapting a minor poem by Boccaccio.
What We Are Reading Today: The Invention of International Order by Glenda Sluga
In 1814, after decades of continental conflict, an alliance of European empires captured Paris and exiled Napoleon Bonaparte, defeating French military expansionism and establishing the Concert of Europe.
This new coalition planted the seeds for today’s international order, wedding the idea of a durable peace to multilateralism, diplomacy, philanthropy, and rights, and making Europe its center.
Glenda Sluga reveals how at the end of the Napoleonic wars, new conceptions of the politics between states were the work not only of European statesmen but also of politically ambitious aristocratic and bourgeois men.
What We Are Reading Today: How to Find a Habitable Planet by James Kasting
Ever since Carl Sagan first predicted that extraterrestrial civilizations must number in the millions, the search for life on other planets has gripped our imagination. Is Earth so rare that advanced life forms like us — or even the simplest biological organisms — are unique to the universe? How to Find a Habitable Planet describes how scientists are testing Sagan’s prediction, and demonstrates why Earth may not be so rare after all.
James Kasting has worked closely with NASA in its mission to detect habitable worlds outside our solar system, and in this book he introduces readers to the advanced methodologies being used in this extraordinary quest.
What We Are Watching Today: Cosmos: Possible Worlds
Authors: Ann Druyan, Brannon Braga
Ever look up and wonder what lies behind the sparkle of each star? Are we alone in the universe? Is it possible that our planet, Earth, is the only habitable planet out there in the vastness of space?
“Cosmos: Possible Worlds” is a documentary television series that follows up with famous astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s 1980 television series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” Following his one-time mentor’s footsteps, the show is presented by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The series consists of 13 episodes. Viewers are transported through time to a possible future for mankind, first contact with aliens, exploring old civilizations that lived thousands of years ago, and discussing current challenges facing mankind and what the future will hold for today’s children.
While watching, a curious child within you will emerge, asking a thousand deep questions. How will the future of space exploration make the lives of future generations better? Can we explore the universe? Can we survive outside of our comfort zone, our home planet, or will we continue damaging it at such an alarming rate that we one day have to leave?
‘All the Women Inside Me’ a complex tale of coping with family, society
CHICAGO: Shortlisted for the 2021 International Prize for Arabic Fiction is the novel “All the Women Inside Me” by award-winning novelist and journalist Jana ElHassan. The story is about the complex life of a woman and how she copes with her family, society, and the unhappiness that plagues her. Translated into English by Michelle Hartman, ElHassan’s novel is an intimate look at the many things that seem to be out of the young woman’s control and how she navigates a path to help her survive.
Sahar is 30 years old and lives in Tripoli, Lebanon. Her story does not have a linear timeline. Instead, it is told in vignettes of memories: of her leftist father who rejects love, religion, and relationships for the sake of keeping his political persona alive; of her mother who yearns for a love that always seems too distant for her to grasp; of her husband Sami whose love she must now escape from; and of Hala, a friend whose misery matches hers but who gives her the strength to go on.
Admitting as much, Sahar observes her life just like her readers. She is disconnected from reality, which is too harsh and loveless. She believes that those who submit to reality are the ones who are caged and that she is free in her imagination to love and be loved. Although she grows up in a large house, everything has always been closed-off and separated. Each room has always been meticulously kept, not to be lived in but to show a certain decorum, as ElHassan describes: “The place was like a gun with a silencer; there was always continuous pressure on the trigger. Shots were fired and penetrated deep.”
ElHassan seamlessly weaves Sahar’s story into the city of Tripoli and its society. Patriarchy runs deep in the world of her character and so ElHassan’s story is of a woman trying to understand her position in the world, to see where and if she belongs. She explores how society reacts to this woman and pushes to the forefront the choices people have in life. Some live according to their principles, some choose joy, some choose to be miserable and subservient and scoff at those who choose independence. As for Sahar, her choice is to escape.
What We Are Reading Today: Armies of Sand by Kenneth M. Pollack
In Armies of Sand, Kenneth M. Pollack’s powerful and riveting history of Arab armies from the end of WWII to the present, assesses these differing explanations and isolates the most important causes.
Over the course of the book, he examines the combat performance of fifteen Arab armies and air forces in virtually every Middle Eastern war.
He then compares these experiences to the performance of the Argentine, Chadian, Chinese, Cuban, North Korean, and South Vietnamese armed forces in their own combat operations during the twentieth century.
The patterns of behavior derived from the dominant Arab culture “was the most important factor of all.”