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Thursday, July 3, 2008

THE ENGLISH READER Revisited: a book for all seasons

“THE ENGLISH READER is a homage to an entire civilization that gave us DEMOCRACY, JUSTICE and HOPE FOR EQUALITY AND LIBERTY FOR YOUNG AND OLD, for rich and poor.”

The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Hardcover)
by Michael Ravitch (Editor), Diane Ravitch (Editor)
• OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS ,USA (December 18, 2006)
• Language: English
• ISBN: 0195077296

My English Reader arrived today and I glanced at it before dinner.

My hearty congratulations to the editors and authors Diane and Michael Ravitch. This is a modern classic. I loved Dr. Ravitch's American reader and found it useful in teaching American history but this volume is even better as it has great cultural and literary depth make this book a cultural landmark and a accomplishment. I know this is a volume I will cherish and teach from for many years to come. I have been waiting since the summer for my copy –which I pre-ordered.

I will read it cover to cover many times I can assure you and then return to it many, many times.

As a teacher and citizen and a member of the English-speaking realm, I recommend THE ENGLISH READER to school libraries and everyone I know.

THE ENGLISH READER is not overwhelming or overstuffed but just right. It really is a splendid anthology and a charming introduction to the best of the popular and classical heritage of the English speaking peoples.

The introduction is outstanding and historically wise and deserves re-reading and to be quoted by critics, teachers and historians.
Ravich wrote “The national identity{of Scots, Welsh and Englishmen} cohered not only because Great Britain enjoyed military glory and economic success, but because the Scottish and English were developing a common culture.”

And this culture as Ravitch correctly noted is not one of religious uniformity or merely English but a heritage of FREEDOM which included respect -and increasing tolerance- for religious diversity.

I was moved that some of my mother’s favorite hymns and songs were there too…such as JOY TO THE WORLD, O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST, JESUS, LOVER OF MY SOUL, THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND ME and I KNOW WHERE I AM GOING ( Dr. Ravitch also made an indirect illusion to the great MICHAEL POWELL film which was my mother’s all time favorite –she saw it in New York in 1945 while my father saw it with MacArthur in the Philippines.) She very correctly identified the song as being part of the Irish as well as the Scottish tradition as the song belongs to the race of 'joad flittin' hairst laddies and lassies' (migrant harvest workers of Ulster and Argyll of the 19th century). That kind of care and accuracy in the background is truly impressive.

It is right to include the popular ballads and folk poetry of the people such as BARBAR ALLEN, GREENSLEEVES,RULE BRITANNIA, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND, HEART OF OAK by David Garrick and AMAZING GRACE. Almost all Americans know and love this tune as a beloved hymn and pipe melody but how many know its author JOHN NEWTON was a former repentant slaver-trader. This is a song that Robert Burns knew and that Lincoln heard and it was a an important document of the Great Awakenings in the USA as well as the abolitionist movement. And of course Amazing Grace is still universally respected and known but almost never included in school anthologies. But AMAZING GRACE is a very important part of America's popular lyrical and musical tradition.

Here is Lloyd George's Speech at Queen's Hall (Sept 21,1914) AND the Roger Casement (the Irish patriot) speech at the Old Bailey in 1916.

I was impressed to see William Shakespeare AND Marlow, Samuel Johnson AND Thomas Gray, William Pitt AND John Wesley, Orwell AND Chesteron AND the Major General’s Song AND Gerard Manley Hopkins AND Walter Pater –little remembered today –I learned about him from Gibert Highet ( I remember Marius the Epicurean) AND John Donne AND the majestic KJ Bible AND Alexander Pope AND William Pitt AND Edmond Burke AND William Blake –AND Mary Wollstonecraft and Byron AND Sir Walter Scott AND John Henry Newman AND Christina Rossetti and KIPLING and TS Elliot and of course Winfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Yeats, Dylan Thomas and then two great favorites PHILLIP LARKIN and SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL.

The very best in short prose essays, speeches, poems and songs of the last four hundred years of British heritage are contained in this volume. Each selection has biographical notes and commentary in just the right amount so as to place the pieces in their cultural context.

I think it right and honorable the Ravitchs began with “Good Queen Bess” and ended with the man who was the peer of Cicero, Dickens, Jefferson, TR and Shaw and greater than Caesar or Napoleon or even Washington I think, but perhaps not Abraham Lincoln, or his great contemporary Mahatma Gandhi, Sir Winston Churchill.

THE ENGLISH READER as E. D. HIRSCH jr. has written is a "unique collection {that} offers the best that has been thought and said, not just in our unmatched literature but also in the evolution of democratic ideas. It is a book to teach, to inspire, and delight all who can read the English the language."

As a teacher of ELD (English language Development) Students of English and history I also add this is a book that all immigrants to English-speaking lands be it South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Ireland should read and get to know. If a person can read this volume a person can read anything worthwhile in English because all the high frequency vocabulary terms and literary and cultural allusions of our central literary heritage are in THE ENGLISH READER.

THE ENGLISH READER BY DIANE AND MICHAEL RAVITCH is a book that glows with the light of the very best of the Island people as Churchill referred them, a people that 'never, never, never' gave in despite the most terrible odds and 'never, never' would be slaves. This connection to the free heritage of the English-speaking peoples is one of the best attributes of the book. This is not just the story of literature but the story of the growth of Democracy and government by consent under the rule of law. The essays and poems and speeches presented here are permeated with that spirit of dignity, courage and freedom which has long been the hallmark of English-speaking peoples everywhere.

If we love the English more than the Persians or Russians (with all due respect) it is because they have always been a free and vital people. "Upon the whole and it is upon the whole such things must be based, British influence is a kindly and healthy influence" as one great Briton truthfully said at the end of the 19th century.

Here are the great words of Democratic reformers and statesmen such as William Pitt, words that are not often quoted today.

I REJOICE THAT AMERICAN HAS RESISTED. THREE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE SO DEAD TO ALL FEELINGS OF LIBERTY, AS VOLUNTARILY TO SUBMIT TO BE SLAVES, WOUD HAVE BEEN FIT INSTRUMENTS TO MAKE SLAVES OF THE REST...a great deal has been said...of the strength of America. It is a topic that ought to be cautiously meddled with....America if she fell, would fall like a strong man. She would embrace the pillars of the state, and pull down the constitution along with her....the Americans have not acted in all things with prudence and temper. They have been wronged. They have been driven to madness by opinion ...{is} that the Stamp Act be repealed absolutely, totally and immediately......(SPEECH TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS JANUARY 14 1766).

This is just one of the gems of the ENGLISH READER by Diane and Michael Ravitch. THE ENGLISH READER is a book for all Americans and everyone all over the world who wants to know the secret of the greatness of the English-speaking peoples. Gandhi knew it. Lincoln knew it. Churchill knew it. It is the principle of FREEDOM and LIBERTY UNDER THE LAW.

The ENGLISH READER IS FOR EVERYONE who is interested in the heritage and language of the English-speaking peoples. I have one copy and I think I am going to go out this weekend and get several more. This is one book that deserves to be a perennial best-seller.
I daresay the Ravitchs understand this too very well and are appreciative, I think of this free heritage which they have made their own because English was for them as it was for my family the language of our liberation. THE ENGLISH READER is more than a good literary anthology.

The ENGLISH READER is really an indispensable book. Get it! Read it. Sing with it. Cherish it. Keep it by your bedside. Take it with you on ocean journeys and above all share it with your comrades in arms and with the children.

THE ENGLISH READER is a homage to an entire civilization that gave us DEMOCRACY, JUSTICE and HOPE FOR EQUALITY AND LIBERTY FOR YOUNG AND OLD, for rich and poor. EVERY person who considers himself or herself literate should be acquainted with this book. It's that good.

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