In Great Books, film critic David Denby returns to his freshman year at Columbia to re-read in a classroom setting the canon of Western literature. What ensues are thoughtful, interesting, enriching essays on writers from Plato to Woolf. Early in the book, Denby says the reader can skip around. I've been doing just that and finding it a rewarding experience.
Denby delves into the experience of reading, the joy of reading, but also the implications of reading, the academic, cultural and social struggle over canon. Some of his observations knock me out. On Conrad, for example: "The great achievement of modernism was is union of the discordant and the metaphysical." On Lear:
The devastating power of King Lear, I now realized, is derived from emotions that we barely admit. We are obsessed, so many of us, with power, with work, with money, with love, sex, and art, and meanwhile two of the most essential and unfathomable tasks in life - raising our children and lowering our parents into the earth - pull away at us steadily, unacknowledged and sometimes unattended... no rules or guidelines, no training or expertise, really helps you take care of children or elderly parents.