Authors’ best books read lately
Debra Glover recommends:
An Odyssey: A Father, a Son and an Epic
By Daniel Medelsohn
Kates review: I always try and read the books recommended by our lovely author guests, and so I picked up Daniel Mendelsohn’s memoir about teaching The Odyssey to his elderly father after Debra Oswald recommended it on the show.
The plot is very simple but very powerful:
Daniel Mendelsohn teaches The Odyssey to undergraduates at an American university. His 81-year-old father Jay decides to enrol in the course, as one of his life regrets is never having read the great classics of literature. The rest of the class are young and don’t quite know how to react to finding a grumpy old man in their class. Daniel, meanwhile, has deep misgivings. His relationship with his father has always been troubled.
Through this experience, Daniel Mendelsohn examines the history and meaning and study of The Odyssey, said to have been written by a blind poet named Homer in the 8th century BC but most probably composed and retold by many different tellers over the centuries. It is said to be the second oldest surviving work of Western literature, and the sequel to The Iliad which is the oldest.
Daniel Mendelsohn loves this ancient poem, and loves teaching it. He knows it very well. Yet during the long months in which he teaches his father, he discovers that there is always more to learn – about literature, about life, and – most poignantly – about himself.
The Odyssey is a poem about fathers and sons, trickery and truthfulness, being lost and searching for home, and Daniel Mendelsohn’s book illuminates both the universal and the personal relevance of these themes today. It is cleverly constructed and beautifully written, deliberately echoing the circular structure of the poem. It made me dig out my old battered copy of the poem from my own school days and dip into it again.