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Invitation to the Classics

Louise Cowan and Os Guinness (the editors of Invitation to the Classics) stress the idea that "the classics" are not "the canon." The canon is the collection of books comprising the Holy Bible, while the classics are no more and no less than those books providing the foundation of the Western literary tradition, a tradition which we are to keep in perspective by studying and enjoying without worshiping as some do.

This is basically a textbook for adults and older students who want to broaden their knowledge and their understanding. The authors are literate, but also explicitly Christian, and they address all the questions commonly raised in opposition to reading secular literature. Perhaps the most compelling answer to these objections is the idea that Christians have a responsibility to read the classics in order to renew their imagination, their credibility, and their willingness to believe.

If this sounds a bit mystical, the editors are unapologetic. Classic literature isn't simply a rigidly rational collection of propositions in book form; rather, it's a body of work that reveals human nature in all its poverty and glory and wickedness and humility, that shows rather than tells, and that strikes at the root of matters in a way our dry empiricism cannot.

Reading the classics makes us better people, but only if we read them to be improved and not simply as part of an academic program or for what entertainment they may offer. Invitation to the Classics helps you read them properly by providing background information, author bios, and literary analysis of the great works of the West, including theology, philosophy, drama, poetry, and novels.

Difficult works aren't avoided here; in fact, they're embraced. The classics should be hard to read: if their role is to help us explore reality and truth, their content will adapt itself to the weight and sobriety of the task. That's not to say all classic literature is brainy and complicated, just that those works that are shouldn't be skipped over. Reading well is a skill that must be developed, and as one assembles the necessary tools, he or she becomes better equipped for interpreting and wrestling with hard texts.

Invitation to the Classics offers those tools, and shows how each work either supports or contradicts a Christian worldview. The first chapters introduce the concept of "classics," the art and importance of reading them, and the proper Christian attitude toward them (avoiding unwonted admiration or consumerist greed). Chapters are short, and there are many contributors, so the book never gets dull or repetitive.

After the introductory chapters, readers are confronted with dozens of chapters covering important authors, genres, and works, and though each chapter is short, there is far more information here than you'd get in any high school or college course. Not only is there a wealth of information and guidance in the text itself, students are expected to use these introductions as segues to reading the classics themselves.

Not that anyone can read every selection they find here: at least, not in a few semesters, or even a few years (though reading the entirety of Invitation to the Classics is doable and encouraged). Reading all these books isn't the important part; learning to engage texts, to learn from them, and to use the experience for self-improvement is what matters.

We've listed the titles you'll find referenced in this guide below. Whether you want to start with the most well-known, or a personal favorite from school days, or simply to go through them chronologically as the book does, is of little consequence as long as you invest in reading the great books of the past and thinking about them as a Christian. Invitation to the Classics will help you do just that.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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109 Items found Print
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
from Penguin Classics
for 9th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Aeneid
by Virgil (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Vintage Classics
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeneid
Everyman's Library
by Virgil (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeschylus II: The Oresteia
The Complete Greek Tragedies
by Aeschylus (translation by Richmond Lattimore)
3rd edition from University of Chicago
Ancient Greek Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Anna Karenina
Signet Classics
by Leo Tolstoy
from Signet Classics
Realistic Fiction for 11th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Annotated Milton
by John Milton
from Bantam Books
for 11th-Adult
in 17th Century Literature (Location: CLT-17C)
Bacchae and Other Plays
Penguin Classics
by Euripides (translation by John Davies)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Tragedy for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Bacchae and Other Plays
Penguin Classics
by Euripides (translation by Phillip Vellacott)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Tragedy for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Beowulf
by Anonymous (translation by Frederick Rebsamen)
from HarperCollins
Medieval Poetic Epic for 8th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Beowulf
by Anonymous (translation by Seamus Heaney)
from W. W. Norton and Co.
Medieval Poetic Epic for 8th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Beowulf
by Anonymous (translation by Seamus Heaney)
from W. W. Norton and Co.
Medieval Poetic Epic for 9th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Brothers Karamazov
Signet Classics
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
from Signet Classics
Russian Epic Novel for 10th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Canterbury Tales
Penguin Classics
by Geoffrey Chaucer (edited by Nevill Coghill)
from Penguin Classics
Medieval Poetry for 8th-12th grade
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Canterbury Tales
Puffin Classics
by Geoffrey Chaucer (retold by Geraldine McCaughrean)
from Puffin Books
Epic Poetry for 7th-9th grade
in Classics Retold (Location: A10-03A)
Complete English Poems of George Herbert
Penguin Classics
by George Herbert
from Penguin Classics
Lyrical Poetry for 11th-Adult
in 17th Century Literature (Location: CLT-17C)
Complete English Poems of John Donne
Penguin Classics
by John Donne
from Penguin Classics
Lyrical Poetry for 9th-Adult
in Poetry (Location: APO-05A)
Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
by Emily Dickinson
from Little, Brown & Company
for 7th-Adult
in Poetry (Location: APO-05A)
Complete Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
from Penguin Classics
for 9th-Adult
in Poetry (Location: APO-05A)
Confessions of Saint Augustine
Penguin Classics
by Augustine of Hippo
from Penguin Classics
Autobiography/Devotional Material for 11th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Democracy in America
Penguin Classics
by Alexis De Tocqueville
from Penguin Classics
American Government for 11th-12th grade
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Democracy in America
by Alexis De Tocqueville
from Harper Perennial
American Government for 11th-12th grade
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Divine Comedy I
Penguin Classics
by Dante Alighieri (translation by Dorothy Sayers)
from Penguin Classics
Medieval Allegory/Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Divine Comedy II
Penguin Classics
by Dante Alighieri (translation by Dorothy Sayers)
from Penguin Classics
Medieval Allegory/Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Divine Comedy III
Penguin Classics
by Dante Alighieri (translation by Dorothy Sayers & Barbara Reynolds)
from Penguin Classics
Medieval Allegory/Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Divine Comedy set
Penguin Classics
by Dante Alighieri (translation by Dorothy Sayers)
from Penguin Putnam
Medieval Allegory/Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Dubliners
by James Joyce
from Oxford University
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Dubliners
by James Joyce
from Oxford University
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Everyman and Other Miracle and Morality Plays
Dover Thrift Editions
by Anonymous
from Dover Publications
Medieval Drama for 9th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Fear and Trembling
by Soren Kierkegaard
from Penguin Putnam
for 11th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Fear and Trembling
by Soren Kierkegaard
Reprint from Penguin Putnam
for 11th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Federalist Papers
Signet Classics
by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison & John Jay
from Signet Classics
American Political Philosophy for 9th-Adult
in 18th Century Literature (Location: CLT-18C)
Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works
by Flannery O'Connor
from Library of America
for 11th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Four Plays by Aristophanes
by Aristophanes
from Meridian Book
for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Four Quartets
by T. S. Eliot
from Harcourt
for 9th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Go Down, Moses
by William Faulkner
from Vintage Classics
for 11th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Great Expectations
Signet Classics
by Charles Dickens
from Signet Classics
Realistic Fiction for 10th-12th grade
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens
from Penguin Classics
Realistic Fiction for 10th-12th grade
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift
from Oxford University
Satire/Social Commentary for 9th-Adult
in 18th Century Literature (Location: CLT-18C)
Gulliver's Travels
Sterling Classics
by Jonathan Swift & Scott McKowen
from Sterling Publishing Co.
Satire/Social Commentary for 9th-Adult
in Sterling Classics (Location: A04-04A)
Gulliver's Travels
Puffin Classics
by Jonathan Swift
from Puffin Books
Satire/Social Commentary for 9th-Adult
in Fantasy Fiction (Location: A07-02A)
Heart of Darkness
Dover Thrift Editions
by Joseph Conrad
from Dover Publications
Realistic Modern Fiction for 9th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
from Modern Library
Realistic Modern Fiction for 9th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Histories
Penguin Classics
by Herodotus (translation by Aubrey De Sélincourt)
from Penguin Classics
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Histories
Everyman's Library
by Herodotus (translation by George Rawlinson)
from Everyman's Library
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Histories
Penguin Classics
by Herodotus (translation by Robin Waterfield)
from Oxford University
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Histories
Penguin Classics
by Herodotus (translation by David Grene)
from University of Chicago
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia
by Samuel Johnson
from Dover Publications
for 10th-Adult
in 18th Century Literature (Location: CLT-18C)
Iliad
Everyman's Library
by Homer (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Iliad
by Homer (translation by Robert Fagles)
from Penguin Putnam
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Iliad
by Homer (translation by Robert Fagles)
from Penguin Putnam
for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
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