Tag: Reading

What is a Perfect Piece of Knowledge?

An allegory of sorts:

I once read the following (the source escapes me):

Our surroundings call forth certain behavior. We tend to act like students when we step in a classroom, and we tend to act like shoppers at the mall. This is . . . the logic of ‘ecological psychology’: I am not a wholly separate entity from my surroundings, but rather, my [surroundings] and I form an interdependent behavior setting.

I loved it. “Ecological psychology.” Whatta concept. It told me why I’ve always insisted on having a study/library in my house, where the kids’ clutter doesn’t roam and the kids themselves are vowed to civilized behavior when they enter. It explained why I reserve the room for calm reading, thought, and writing. It explained why I want to drink when I’m in a bar.… Read the rest

How to Listen to The Great Courses

Well, gardening season is here.

And that means one thing: I need lots of listening material.

I’ve mentioned it (quite a few) times: One of my favorite activities is to listen to lectures, podcasts, and audiobooks while I garden. My favorite source: The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series. (Caveat below.)

I spent awhile reviewing the various options for acquiring these splendid lectures. I believe there are four (besides just buying each lecture independently at enormous cost):

1. Subscribe to Audible through Amazon. $15 per month. You get a free book once a month, plus offers. It appears the entire Great Courses catalogue is available.

2. Subscribe to Audible independently with its Audible Plus Plan. For $8 monthly, you get access to its “Plus” catalog, which is a misnomer. It means, “Our 500,000 audio selections, minus 489,000.” Only 11,000 titles. There are very few Great Courses books, but there were dozens of audible books that greatly interest me (including a big selection of C.S. Lewis and Thomas Sowell). With this plan you can listen to any of them at no additional charge.… Read the rest

The Weekly Eudemon

A round-up of good reading from the week

Saving your marriage from the Oxford comma, Bitcatholic, and rolling back restrictions. (Excerpts to follow in the Traditional TDE Blog over the next couple of days. “M” denotes “Medium.com” and, therefore, you may need a subscription to read.)

Bitcoin is anti-institutional. It’s anti-authoritarian. It’s linked to buying sex and drugs. It’s . . . Catholic? That’s not exactly what Eric Sammons argues here, but he endorses the Bitcoin approach for the Catholic Church in the 21st century. Bitcoin is all about decentralization, especially online. In this era when Google, Twitter, and other behemoths throttle traditional religion, we need to embrace a decentralized approach. (Which is one reason I encourage everyone to set up a “junk” email folder and use it to subscribe to the heterodox writers out there you enjoy. I hope to set up a TDE newsletter this year, btw.)

“I like depriving myself of things,” said Kramer on Seinfeld. “It’s very monastic.” I think it’s a natural human trait, though people find it kind of weird and resist it. Even in my small town, middle-aged men want to “look cool” and “with it.” That’s one thing millennials seem to have right: they resist conventions, including the ones that say we should be obsessed with acquisition. Their bohemian resistance is often frustrating, but at times, it borders on the graceful, like when one millennial declares that “Owning a Decrepit Shack in The Middle of Nowhere Is The New American Millennial Dream.” (M) But warning: the article isn’t very good. It’s a Socialist rant against “unregulated” landlords and that’s about it. This is one of those articles in which the entire value is in the headline.… Read the rest

The Weekly Eudemon

A round-up of good reading from the week

Looking to live slow? You like Stoic wisdom? Think the vaccine is working? Those are a few of the topics touched on this week. (Excerpts to follow in the Traditional TDE Blog over the next couple of days. “M” denotes “Medium.com” and, therefore, you may need a subscription to read.)

I have signed up for this: The Live Slow Challenge. For a few years, I’ve been preaching the importance of slow living, with no autobiographical empirical evidence whatsoever. I, in other words, have been a hypocrite, albeit unintentionally. We’ll see if this challenge gets me into the non-groove.

The may who has made Stoicism into a cottage industry, Ryan Holiday, offers 100 Very Short Rules for a Better Life. I don’t think Ryan is even 35 years old yet, so I question his level of wisdom, but I feel like I know less and less every day, so maybe wisdom declines with the years. Okay, I don’t really believe that, but regardless, Christ was only 33 when he died, and he had some pretty good things to say (I know: he had an advantage). Ryan also relies heavily on a thorough reading regimen. Acquaintance with great minds is a great substitute for gained wisdom. (M)

Ryan Holiday also suggests three books to help you understand what’s going on right now. Disclosure: I haven’t read any of them and have only even heard of one of them: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry; Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin; Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954–63 by Taylor Branch. (M)

(I gotta be honest, I envy Ryan Holiday. The guy has fashioned a comfortable living for himself … Read the rest

Twenty 20th-Century Books to Make You a Smarter Catholic

(Actually, there are 33, if you count the honorable mentions)
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Joseph Epstein is the best essayist alive. He’s urbane, funny, self-deprecating. He’s a fine stylist, and he’s remarkably well-read.

I remember William F. Buckley marveling at Epstein’s erudition and wondering how Epstein could have so many anecdotes and references at his disposal. Coming from a guy of Buckley’s learning, that’s high praise.

So it was with great interest that I turned to his essay, “Joseph Epstein’s Lifetime Reading Plan” (found in this book) and his attempt to respond to a recent college graduate’s question: “What books should I read?” This question, Epstein said, was nothing less than asking, “How do I become an educated person?”

Epstein used the question to launch his essay, but he didn’t provide a list of books. He suggested that a person always have a classic going: Cervantes, Tocqueville, Montaigne, Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Plato. That’s thumpingly good advice, especially for someone like Epstein (and me), who always has two or more books going at once. It keeps one’s reading life varied.

But what about a list? Epstein said there is no dispositive list, and he’s right. The canon of Western civilization alone is neither settled nor static, there isn’t enough time to read everything in one lifetime, and everyone’s situation is different.

One list won’t fit all.

Still, I think a list is possible.

Mine is below.

The list doesn’t include any classics (Epstein’s advice to keep a classic going at all times stands) and it ignores the Bible (which should be a mainstay if you’re Catholic). Every book was published after 1900.

Although the list is geared toward young men and women, maturer adults would also benefit from them as well.

I won’t argue … Read the rest

Optimism for Me and Other Slow Learners

The Good, the True, and Beautiful Unfold Slowly for Some of Us, but They Do Unfold

I’m not looking to join the old Tropic Thunder velitation, but about 20 years ago I volunteered to sell Tootsie Rolls to help people with mental disabilities. I figured it was an easy way to do some good, so I stood on the steps of my Catholic church as people came out of Mass and enthused, “Help the retards! Buy a Tootsie Roll. Only a buck. Help the retards!”

The next day, I thought about the funny look on parishioners’ faces. I asked my law partner: “Your sister has Down’s Syndrome. Is it offensive to refer to such people as ‘retards’? Because I was at church yesterday . . .”.

He stared (okay, glared) at me and said, yes, it was highly offensive and that I’d probably cost the firm a dozen clients. He also said something to imply that I was a slow learner.

It’s not the first time I felt like a slow learner. I’d been at politically-correct institutions of higher learning for five years before I learned that off-color and politically-incorrect comedic music isn’t proper casual listening with people you’ve just met.

There’s also a litany of weightier things that I haven’t penetrated facilely. I read Hayek’s Road to Serfdom at age 16, but am still learning its lessons. I started reading Chesterton at age 20 and even edited Gilbert Magazine for a short spell, but I’m still a bit cloudy on the whole distributism thing. At age 24, I remember sitting down on a stairwell bench at Notre Dame Law School to ponder the idea that actual sin hinders spiritual development (something not emphasized in my Lutheran upbringing—Luther said my soul is snow-covered dung—but still one that I should’ve … Read the rest

“Introducing a Person Who Needs No Introduction . . .”

My inadvertent love affair with book introductions

Plus a dozen introduction recommendations

I have a problem.

A serious, humiliating problem, one that reveals me as a man lacking fortitude, strength, energy, and determination. A man both poseur and dunce.

I don’t finish books.

Oh sure, I finish a lot of books, but if I had to guess, the number of books I have read all the way is fewer than the number of books I’ve abandoned partway through.

I see them on my bookshelves, marked with that hideous symbol of failure: the bookmark.

I use so many bookmarks, one of my young children once asked me if I collect them.  What’s even worse, I had to nod.

Father James Schall observed that no one has time in one life to read all the great books. I don’t even have enough time left in one life to finish all the great books I’ve started.

There’s virtually no type of writer that has escaped my inconstancy. I’ve abandoned them all:

The masters: Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Dante, Montaigne, Pascal, Boswell. (And if you don’t think I’ve jilted Shakespeare a couple of times, you’re more naïve than me when I thought I’d get through Dostoyevsky’s two-volume, A Writer’s Diary . . . both volumes host bookmarks as of this writing).

The saints: Augustine and Aquinas, of course, but even those more modern, and therefore more accessible, holy men and women: Day, Doherty, Groeschel.

The twentieth century: Guardini, de Lubac, Gilson, Sheen, Sheed, Merton, O’Connor. Even my beloved Chesterton.

Even fiction. As I go through my bookshelves, I come across Bernanos’ The Diary of a Country Priest . . . with the bookmark on page 201 (of a 298-page book). I thought for sure I finished it (I know how the book ends, so perhaps … Read the rest

Misshapen Creatures that Live in the Earth Can Give Us Sage Advice?

Well, no. But: Don’t Fear the Gnome

man people art tree
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The first philosophical event in the Greek world, the selection of their seven sages, gives the first distinctive and unforgettable characteristic of Greek civilization. Other people have saints, while the Greeks have philosophers. They are right when some state that a people is not defined by its great men it has but by the way it recognizes and honors them.

Friedrich Nietzsche

When you hear “gnome,” you probably think of a scary little creature.

That’s because of the Rosicrucians, a 17th-century mystical movement in Europe that said gnomes are little misshapen creatures that live in the bowels of the earth.

But well before the Rosicrucians, the word “gnome” meant something different. It meant a short statement that expresses a general truth, like a proverb or maxim.

There were seven men in ancient Greece who were well-known for the particularly-insightful gnomes attributed to them. These men were called “The Gnomics.” Today, we refer to them as the “Seven Sages of Ancient Greece.” They were philosophers, poets, rulers, statesmen and lawmakers who were renowned for their wisdom.

Actually, there were a lot more than seven.

One ancient writer (Hermippus) said there were 17 of them. That’s probably because ancient Greece was an amalgamation of city-states and different city-states had different lists.

But all the Greeks agreed that wisdom is a great thing. The ancient Greeks’ veneration of the Gnomics was, in the words of Nietzsche quoted above, the “first philosophical event in the Greek world.”

In any event, although there were various lists of Gnomics, the following seven were most often agreed upon: Thales, Solon, Bias, Pittacus of Mytilene, Periander of Corinth, Chilon of Sparta, and Cleobolus of Lindus. The following is a short summary of each Gnomic, along … Read the rest