Book Review: “On Reading Well” by Karen Swallow Prior

on reading well

I took the English class “Literary Criticism” in 2012. This class taught me how people have interpreted literature over the years- whether they’re looking at what the author intended, how the text affects the reader, or how the text stands completely on its own. While diving into Derrida and other writer-philosophers like him could be confusing, I always appreciated learning why we read the way we do and how we figure out just what books are trying to tell us.

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books is about literary criticism, but it’s not just for English majors. The author, Karen Swallow Prior, makes classic books accessible to people who may not have read them before or only have a passing knowledge of them. Prior strives to teach us that it’s not enough to read widely- we have to read well. She examines the virtues present in different stories and how we can learn from them.

What On Reading Well gets right: Prior called me out on reading too quickly. Too often I fly through books because I’m trying to get to the next one on my list, when really I should slow down and engage with the text. On Reading Well reminds us how to read and actually learn from what we’re reading.

Prior does a great job of connecting virtues, such as temperance and prudence, with literary, historical, personal, and pop culture examples. She looks at popular and formative books such as Silence, The Road, and Persuasion. This makes On Reading Well a treasure trove of experience. Plus, Bible verses are frequently referenced to help the reader understand and place the virtues in context. You will definitely be encouraged to think by this book!

What On Reading Well gets wrong: It’s certainly not a crime for a book to contain academic references and notes. However, I think On Reading Well was marketed to appear as more of a fun, albeit educational, book than it truly is.  Prior quotes extensively from other authors and thinkers, especially when she’s defining each virtue, and the little notations by each quote can get distracting if you’re trying to read for pleasure rather than for research.

Who should read On Reading Well: Anyone who appreciates literature and, in particular, taking a moral lens to literature. People who are interested in connecting stories with biblical principles. English students looking for accessible literary research and references.

Who shouldn’t read On Reading Well: Scholars who reject taking a moral lens to literature (On Reading Well mentions other forms of literary criticism but does not espouse them; this book sticks strictly to Sir Philip Sidney’s views). People who would rather read a book with less of an academic tone.

 

You can check out On Reading Well from the library.

Tips For Incoming Freshmen (From A Sophomore)!

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Brennan Kress reflects on his freshman year so that he can pass on some tips to new freshmen!

When I came to Union University in the fall of 2018, I can say that I felt a little out of my element. I struggled in certain areas of academic and social life. But now as a sophomore I look back, and with the benefit of better vision, I can see where I went wrong and what I could have done better. So, here are a few tips for freshmen as you start your journey at Union University.

 

  1. Don’t Be Intimidated By A PhD: Every professor at Union University cares for your academic career. They are also all well-versed in their area of study. As a freshman, I was impressed and sometimes intimidated with the vast knowledge that my professors held. Many times the feeling of inferiority on a knowledge level made me feel disconnected from my professors. Instead, I should have used their knowledge and gotten to know them better. So get to know your professors, and don’t let their wealth of knowledge intimidate you!
  2. Be Free To Change Your Mind: Many times I found myself in conversation doubling down on ideas I had little knowledge to support. I reverted back to what I had always been taught and failed many times to ask the right questions. College is, at a very basic level, about learning. You will be presented with ideas you have never heard before on topics you didn’t know existed. So, first, be open to new ideas even if they sound strange, bizarre, or at the outset, heretical. Take time to form your opinion and then once you have, feel free to change your mind! We are all learning and growing in multiple facets at college so don’t expect to think the same at the end of the year as you do now. And if somehow you do, I would argue you didn’t learn like you should!
  3. Take A Sabbath: One of the hardest parts about college is finding good time to rest. Many people struggle from a common inability to rest well. Some of us rest too much, sleeping in and missing classes, and some of us rest too little, staying up late grinding away on projects and homework. Thankfully, we all have a very Biblical mandate to rest, and one of the best ways to rest is to take a Sabbath. Every weekend my freshman year of college I chose either Saturday or Sunday (depending on which day made sense) and I would do no school work on that day. I would not study, read, or do any homework. Surprisingly, this practice actually made me a better student as I would prepare better in the days leading up to my rest. I would take that Sabbath as a day to sleep in, hang out with friends, and occasionally play a few video games. And the best part was that my grades never suffered. I have told countless people about my Sabbath and many thought it would be impossible to get all the work done and take a Sabbath. I don’t say this to brag, but I still managed a 4.0. All that to say, taking a Sabbath is doable and shows faith and trust in God. Pick a weekend day and take the day off! You won’t fall behind. In fact, it will keep you ahead!
  4. Be Willing To Sacrifice The Good For The Great: College is filled with many amazing opportunities for growth and learning. There are endless clubs and organizations on campus and one of the greatest challenges can be finding out what you feel most inclined to do. This can lead some people to try to do everything. A good skill to learn, especially as a freshman, is the ability to say “no” to some things so you can say “yes” to others. Don’t fill your plate to the brim. Find the things which you consider to be most valuable and pursue those.

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Pan’s Labyrinth”

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Pan’s Labyrinth is from the visionary and imaginative mind of writer and director Guillermo del Toro. This dark fantasy film is widely considered a masterpiece in bringing magical realism to the big screen.  Magical realism is loosely defined as adding fantastical or mythical elements into a story’s narrative when its setting is otherwise highly realistic fiction. Pan’s Labyrinth takes place in Francoist Spain in 1944. This was a dark and oppressive time period for common people living under fascism. The realistic setting is in contrast to the magic and wonder our protagonist experiences.

Ofeilia, played by Ivana Baquero, is an eleven-year-old girl who is traveling to the Spanish countryside with her mother Carmen (Airadna Gil) who is with child. They are going to live with Ofeilia’s stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Captain Vidal is a vile and cruel man dedicated to the fascist cause of exterminating any resistance to the Spanish regime.

One night, Ofeilia discovers a fairy that leads her through an underground labyrinth, where she meets a mysterious goat-like forest creature called a Faun. He reveals to her that she may be a long lost princess of the underworld, but to return and be with her real family, she must go on a magical quest to prove her worth.  The quest is fraught with danger as she sneaks out of her house each night to complete the tasks, each one becoming stranger and more perilous than the next.

Pan’s Labyrinth is best described as a fairy tale for adults, as some of the scenes and real world problems are too intense for young children. The film itself is in Spanish, but the subtitles are done quite well and English speakers won’t feel as if they’re having to try and keep up. Pan’s Labyrinth was highly regarded by many to be one of the best films of 2006 and still holds a score on the website Rotten tomatoes of 95% with its critic’s consensus stating:  “Pan’s Labyrinth is Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups, with the horrors of both reality and fantasy blended together into an extraordinary, spellbinding fable.” The film would go on to win three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Makeup.

Pan’s Labyrinth is available at the Union University Library.

* This film is rated R for some graphic violence and some language.*

 

Moments In History: August 23rd, 1305

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Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

 August 23rd, 1305

Execution of William Wallace

 

Many historical figures become enshrined in the annals of history as larger than life folk-heroes. This is certainly the case when it comes to William Wallace. He is not only celebrated as a national hero of Scotland, but has become a symbol of resistance against oppression worldwide.

William Wallace was born in the year 1270 A.D. at a time when Scotland’s squabbling nobility was threatening civil war due to a session crisis which started with the death of their king (who left no heir). The English King Edward I offered to mediate the crisis but in reality invaded Scotland and turned the country into a vassal state of England through oppressive taxation and forced conscription into the English army. The Scottish peasantry were rife with grievances, and a revolt seemed imminent. What they needed was a leader who could unite the clans under a common cause: namely, driving the English out of Scotland for good.

William Wallace was just that man; he had to have been a charismatic figure and was likely born into nobility. A common misconception, thanks to Hollywood and popular fiction, was that he wore a kilt and was a Highlander. In fact, he was born in the Lowlands and wore dress that would have been nearly indistinguishable from an average English Knight. Wallace would go on to lead a revolt that would become known as the First War for Scottish independence.

Wallace had early successes and inspired his countrymen by defeating a large English army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1297.  This came as a shock to the English and Scots alike as his army did not rely on heavy cavalry. This was traditionally the deciding factor in warfare at the time as the knight on horseback was thought to be invincible by infantry of the era. Wallace was successful though his use of Scottish Schiltron’s, which basically turned an army of peasants into a hedgehog of spears to ward off horses.

Unfortunately for Wallace, his successes would not last forever. He was defeated in 1298 at the Battle of Fallkirk two years later and would go into hiding. Wallace would continue to be something of a bogeyman and a thorn in the side of the English until his betrayal and capture in 1305. He was brought to London and put on trial on the charge of treason. William Wallace boldly defended himself against this charge by saying that he had never sworn allegiance to King Richard in the first place. It was, however, a forgone conclusion that he was going to be found guilty.

Upon the guilty verdict, Wallace was executed by the gruesome method of hanging, drawing, and quartering on August 23rd, 1305. His head was set on a pike on London Bridge and his limbs sent to be displayed across parts of northeast England and Scotland as a warning, but ultimately they had the opposite effect. Eventually, Scotland was united under a contemporary of Wallace, Robert Bruce, who would go on to be crowned King of Scotland and rule it as an independent power.

A plaque now stands near his execution site and the last portion of it is inscribed in Latin and reads: “Dico tibi verum libertas optima rerum nunqual servili sub nexu vivito fili.”  (I tell you the truth. Freedom is what is best. Sons, never live life like slaves). There is also the Gaelic “Bas Agus Buaidh” (Death or Victory).

If you would like to know more about William Wallace and the War for Scottish Independence, check out the links below:

 

 

 

 

Spotlight On “Zoom”

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Zoom is the perfect tool for meeting with a Research Coach even if you’re miles away. Through Zoom, you can schedule a video conference with one of our Research Coaches. All you need is a computer!

To get started with Zoom, you’ll need to create a free account. We have a guide on how to do this here.

Once you have a Zoom account, you can schedule an appointment with a Research Coach (click this link)!

Featured eBook: “Ethics In Health Administration”

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Identifying changes in the United States’ health care structures, Ethics In Health Administration by Eileen E. Morrison seeks to educate healthcare professionals on using ethics in the workplace. The library has access to the fourth edition of this manual, which has additional chapters that the previous editions did not.

Ethics In Health Administration talks about generational challenges, the emerging senior service market, insurance issues, and examples of ethical dilemmas. It’s a great resource for decision makers in the healthcare field as well as for new doctors and nurses as they prepare for their roles. Each chapter defines key terms to make the reading easier as well.

You can access Ethics In Health Administration by searching for it on the library website and clicking its eBook link. If you are off campus, you will need to sign in with your Union credentials to view the eBook.

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Ocean’s Eleven”

In 2001, director Steven Soderbergh gave us a fantastic remake of the classic 60’s era Rat Pack film. Ocean’s Eleven features a star-studded cast of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, and Julia Roberts. The plot centers around Danny Ocean (George Clooney), a recently paroled thief who plots the unthinkable caper: robbing not one but three Las Vegas casinos.

Now your average Las Vegas casino has more money than a federal bank and more armed security and cameras than most military bases, so this isn’t a marginal undertaking. Danny decides to enlist a dream team of fellow thieves, hackers, and con-artists to pull off this impossible heist.

Too cool for school is the name of the game here: every actor is on point. They do a fantastic job in portraying a motley crew that each uses their individual talent and charisma to stay one step ahead of the casino security and the law. While the task they set out to accomplish is quite serious as the odds aren’t stacked in their favor, this film truly shines on its lighthearted and sharp-witted comedy through near misses and close calls that could spell doom for the thieving band. At this film’s heart is actually a quasi-love triangle between three characters as Danny Ocean desperately tries to win back the love of his ex-wife.

Ocean’s Eleven was a big hit at the box office, racking in $450 million dollars based off of an $85 million budget. It’s no wonder this film went on to become a three-part trilogy as well as inspire an ensemble all-female spinoff. This is a fantastic film filled with thrills and tasteful comedy that aims to please mainstream audiences. Ocean’s Eleven will leave you with the desire to see it again and again. You’ll want to catch all the subtle slights of hand in this picturesque heist

 Ocean’s Eleven is available at the Union University Library.

* This film is rated PG-13 for mild violence and some suggestive scenes.*

How To Find New Books At The Library

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Want to see the latest books that we’ve purchased? We have 3 different ways that you can see new books at the library!

 

The New Books Shelf

Did you know that we have a special section for the new books we acquire? The New Books Section is located on the second floor of the Logos. The shelves include selected titles on display, and each new book is marked with a green sticker on its spine indicating the date of its acquisition. The New Books Section makes it easier to browse the latest books by shelving them in a group together for a time.

 

The New Books List (On Our Website)

We keep an updated list of our new books and movies on our website. You can find the link to this list under the “Quick Links” section of the website’s homepage; or just click here!

 

Scrolling New eBooks

The new eBooks that we’ve purchased can be seen on the library website’s homepage. They automatically scroll across the screen just below the library chat box.

 

If you need any help finding the new books, ask a library team member at our Circulation Desk or our Research Desk!

Book Review: “The Bigfoot Files” by Lindsay Eagar

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The Bigfoot Files by Lindsay Eagar is a new middle-grade book at the library. Miranda Cho is a young girl with big aspirations and anxiety; she struggles to cope with her mom’s Bigfoot obsession and frequent travel (which makes Miranda miss school).

 

What The Bigfoot Files does right: Miranda has “to make things perfect. Even if other elements of her life threatened to ruin everything.” She struggles with Trichotillomania, a hair-pulling disorder, and her anxiety is often worsened by her mom’s inconstancy. Miranda’s desire to do her best, coupled with her fractured home life, make her a sympathetic character. She’s only 12, and yet she feels like she has the whole world on her shoulders.

The sense of “what if” is fun to read about, even as Miranda tries to deny the existence of cryptozoology animals. I also appreciated the Bigfoot clues that Miranda and Kat find, as my dad often looked for the same signs in real life. The author did her research!

What The Bigfoot Files gets wrong: This is more of an editing issue, but some of the wording is a little confusing. British words and spellings are used throughout the book- like “crisps” instead of “chips.” There’s nothing wrong with the British dialect, but it’s confusing because the book’s setting is in the United States. I kept wondering if Miranda and her mother were British immigrants, since Miranda called Kat “mum” so often. The characters’ dialect does not match where they are from, and there is no explanation given for this, so it might take you out of the story at times.

Who should read The Bigfoot Files: Anyone who enjoys biology and botany- the nature descriptions are spot-on. People who like stories about mothers and daughters with a little mystery thrown in.

Who shouldn’t read The Bigfoot Files: If you don’t enjoy woodsy descriptions, then this book is probably not for you. Most of The Bigfoot Files takes place in a national park.

 

The Bigfoot Files is available in the library’s Family Room.

Moments In History: August 13th, 1961

berlin wall

 

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

 August 13th, 1961

Construction of the Berlin Wall

In the early morning hours of August 13th, 1961, East and West Berliners were awoken to the sounds of shovels digging into the streets, as well as the unwrapping of barbed wire strands and the pouring of concrete. All along the demarcation line running through the middle of Berlin, work was being undertaken in an attempt to permanently seal off the communist east from the capitalistic west.

Eastern Germany had been experiencing a “Brain Drain” since the 50’s. This was due to the flight of disillusioned young and intelligent East Germans who were emigrating to the West in hopes of political asylum, better jobs, and freedom from the communist regime.  The communist government, fearing a total collapse of their economic output, finally received the go-ahead from their Soviet counterparts. Construction began at once around the demarcation line, a fortified area running through the middle of Berlin, in order to stop the flow of people trying to escape from the communist regime.

The Eastern German government dubbed the project the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart, whereas the West Germans referred to it as The Wall of Shame.  The Berlin Wall would come to represent the starkest difference between a free and open society vs. a society bent not on keeping others out but keeping its own people locked in. The Berlin Wall would remain a barrier that hundreds of thousands of people would attempt to cross, with only a few thousand being successful enough to make it to the other side and as many as two hundred deaths in the process. It would remain until November 9th, 1989, when after twenty-eight years of separation between East and West Berlin, the Wall’s gates were flung opened. Many people became so emboldened by this that they finally began to mount the wall, and a short time later the crowds began to tear it down.

The Berlin Wall’s destruction was in part to the Soviet Union quickly losing control over the countries of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Hungary, who each began the deconstruction of their separating border fences. Today marks the 58th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s construction, and later this year will mark the 30th anniversary of its fall.

If you found this post interesting and would like to learn more on this topic, the Union University Library offers numerous books and films related to this subject: