Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
If this book is anything to go by, Matt Burriesci and his wife are people I would love to met and know.
Yes, this is one of those books.
If you are the product of a college education within the last say 30 years or so, you know that there has been a huge, almost never ending debate, about canon. What should be taught and what should be dropped to make room for the newly discovered important things. On one hand, this is a good thing. Undoubtedly there are writers who have been disregarded when they shouldn’t have been. A perfect case would be Christiane de Pizan who was forgotten for many years, and then rediscovered. She can reach across centuries and still speak to students today. On the other hand, however, sometimes what has been rediscovered is better left forgotten. There is a reason why we don’t read many women English Renaissance poets. By and large, their poetry sucks. It should be saved for specialist course reading.
So when I saw this title on Netgalley, I thought it would touch upon this debate. Burriesci’s book does and it doesn’t. Firstly, this book is a father’s letter of love to his daughter. Burriesci’s daughter, Violet, is a young child as this book is published, so the book is to her future self. This is at once moving and slightly off putting. It is the type of technique that is at once endearing, but, and I am speaking from experience here, exiling to a reader as well. When I was a girl, my mother tried reading The Water Babies to me. She stopped because we both couldn’t take the constant use of “my son”.
The other drawback to the audience of his daughter is that it in some way limits a book. A mature reader or student, someone who is familiar with the works of literature discussed here, will know everything that Burriesci says about the works. It is here that the debate about canon comes into play, but it doesn’t really. There is no discussion of canon, just a reason why the work of each chapter is important.
And therein lays the charm and power of the book. Burriesci structure his book along the lines of the series of Great Books of the Western World, and each chapter focuses on one of these books. The power isn’t in the well thought structure of chapters, but in the purpose of each chapter. Each chapter is a basically a letter to Violet about why the book is important, the power that each book has. Burriesci does this by making historical connections that any mature reader will know and by making connections to his own life. And he is brutally honest.
This is the charm and power of the book.
For instance, in a chapter about The Acts of the Apostles, Burriesci details how he went from a young man who made fun of homosexuals to realizing he was a bigot and changing that. There is the chapter about his drug use. He uses his life experiences to illustrate the theses of the work under discussion. The chapters become part plea to read the books, but also a parent’s request to his daughter to continue to grow as a person, whether or not she learns from his mistakes. The books are way to this self discovery, self realization, and self change.
As someone who has read the works in question, I can’t say that I found anything new here; however this book should be given to every incoming college freshman (or freshwoman to avoid sexism) because it is about the power of learning, the power of books, and the power of thought.