"Re-reading is one of life's joys," Anne Drury Hall reminds us. Not simply from the sweetness of remembering or because of the way a book can be like an old friend, but because returning to a great book is inseparable from the endeavor to succeed at being human. The "pull of something old and steady and reliable, the pull to rise to a higher plane" is an important aspect of this experience, where the reader truly "notices" and "connects" with the world and himself. This is why books are the cornerstones of education and the source of the power of concentration.
After leaving school and becoming lost in adulthood, can one return to these books and revive the quest to be great? For this is why we call such books "great". Yet as Hall says, "few people use the phrase 'great books' any more except ironically, because there is an odd view in the current intellectual fog that there is no such thing as 'greatness'". She is compelled, then, to reexamine the so-called great books and make the case for their eternal importance. It is a task that requires not only swimming against the disenchanted march of the post-modern reader into adulthood, but also asserting the unthinkable––namely, that great books were written by great men who achieved this status through their own labor and endurance. Hall reintroduces the reader to Plato, Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton and Melville and hopes this will expose the fraud of most of contemporary literature, and encourage taste and stamina for the works that promise to exhilarate. And Hall argues well that the thrill of these books draws from one shared feature: "The heart of these books is the drama of choice." If Roger Scruton is famous for showing us that ideas have consequences, Hall provides the reader the vision of himself as standing on the brink and the urgency of taking life seriously again. For many this means taking books seriously again.
This book is an important companion to the works treated therein, for teachers and students alike. Both need encouragement in the laboring of instruction or reading the impressive classics. Particularly apt is Hall's treatment of the difficulty of teaching Shakespeare. For the not-so-recent university graduate, perhaps this book will bring him once again to wander where the Muses still haunt. Indeed, even the well-read will enjoy Hall's keen interpretation of the glory of these stories. This is a book written by a true teacher.
Anne Drury Hall (Ph.D., Stanford University) was a lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania for nearly two decades, and former editor of Studies in Philology (UNC). She is the recipient of several teachings awards throughout her career and has published widely in the fields of literary history and philology. She is also the author of Ceremony and Civility in English Renaissance Prose (Penn State University Press, 1991).