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For years, I've wanted to start the "On-the-Run Reader." It would be a Reader's Digest-type publication, but weightier and lighter. The subject matter would be more serious than RD, but the length of the "articles" (more like blurbs, quotes, summaries, and essays) would be briefer. It would feature a mix of old material (from philosophers and theologians whose copyright has expired) and current material: my writing, submissions, and recent stuff in the public domain. It would be the kind of thing that people could read in odd moments, when they have 45 (but not 46) seconds to kill.

Of course, I never got the project off the ground, but I have assembled a small group of books that do the job fairly well. They're books that can be consulted profitably in short snatches. To date, here are my top ten:

10. Josef Pieper, An Anthology. Flip open, read five words, answer kid question, read three words, respond to kid screech? No. You'll need more than 45 seconds per sitting. It arguably shouldn't even be on this list, but it's great stuff and has a very encouraging digestable-to-length ratio. Recommended to me by Fr. James Schall over lunch. Won't disappoint.

9. Montague Brown, The One-Minute Philosopher. Is this baby out of print? Too bad. Great stuff, especially if you're trying to get your philosophical sea legs.

8. Epictetus, Enchiridion. Available cheap from Dover, take lessons on being cool from a cripple.


7. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. Also available from Dover, take lessons on being morosely cool from an emperor.

6. The Quotable Chesterton. This gem is out of print. A crime, but if you can find it, snag it.


5. Chesterton Day by Day. Published by Inkling Books out of Seattle. It's a one-man publishing company, I think, but it puts out quality product. Funny email story: I wrote the owner (Michael Perry) a few times, with lengthy Chesterton references and such. After a few emails, a different Mike Perry (now my neighbor) emailed me, asking "Why are you bouncing all this bizarre stuff off me?"

4. Johnson's Dictionary, A Modern Selection. Just sit back and party like it's 1699.

3. Volume II of The Philokalia (English edition from Faber & Faber), consisting mostly of hundreds of aphorisms by St. Maximos the Confessor. You're stuffed after three sayings, like eating high-calorie energy bars.

2. The Imitation of Christ. The number one devotional book of all time. I don't want to look like a freak, so I brown-paper it while reading in public and tell acquaintances that I'm looking at porn.

Human Wisdom of St. T homas.jpg

1. The Human Wisdom of St. Thomas: A Breviary of Philosophy. The ultimate breviary book. High octane, extremely small doses, like drinking an ounce of Red Bull with an ounce of Vodka . . . over and over again, but you come away feeling elated for entirely different reasons.