Review of ‘Literature: A Student’s Guide’ by Louis Markos

LiteratureLouis Markos, Literature: A Student’s Guide (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012). Paperback | Kindle

The Greek poet Archilochus said, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” By that standard, I am a fox. For as long as I can remember, I have tried to gain a generalist’s understanding of the world rather than a specialist’s. And I have tried to do this from within a Christian worldview.

So, you can understand why Crossway’s Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series is appealing to me. It consists of brief introductions to various academic disciplines—e.g., liberal arts, natural sciences, social sciences—written by Christian professors for Christian college students, faculty, and trustees. Though I’m well past my college years and not an academic, I still like to learn, so I have been reading my way through the series.

Literature by Louis Markos is interesting, though misnamed. It focuses on poetry rather than other literary genres, such as novels, short stories, and essays. It is valuable precisely as a primer for how to read a poem and why.

Markos divides his discussion of poetry into four topics: rhythm and rhyme (Chapter 1); words and images (Chapter 2); ages, authors, and genres (Chapter 3); and theory and criticism (Chapter 4). Throughout, he displays an appreciation of traditional poetic forms and meters as well as the interpretive techniques of the New Critics.

In the Introduction, Markos makes a general case for the value of literature in a scientific age, one that I resonate with: “We cannot live in such a vast sea of discrete, unassimilated, often anti-humanistic facts [i.e., facts disclosed to us by science]. We must make sense of the facts, must synthesize them somehow with what our race has learned about God, man, and the universe…literature is one of our best tools and guides for achieving this grand and humanizing synthesis.”

Amen to that!


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