Category Archives: Reading

Caesar, Cicero, and Middlemarch

I read recently an article about Dorothy Sayer’s education in Latin.  She assess various teaching techniques, pronunciation methods, why Latin is essential for one’s education, and what content to include.  For much of the article, I found myself in agreement with Miss Sayers.  However, I disagree with Dorothy Sayers about Cicero, when she said something like “throw that old fool out the window.”  I felt that way about reading Caesar when our Latin III class was reading from the Gallic Wars.  We found out that Caesar was extremely selective in the battle reports that he presented and that he liked himself a lot.    Although Cicero is way over my head and has a number of idioms, I’m enjoying him more because of his facility with language.
middlemarchI started Middlemarch this weekend. Some bill it as “the greatest novel in the English language.”  I had begun reading Rebecca Mead’s My Life In Middlemarch, an interesting enough memoir about how reading Middlemarch at different stages of life has shaped her as a person.   About halfway through this book, I decided that Middlemarch itself may be more interesting than Ms. Mead’s experience of the novel.    I’m only to chapter six, but so far, I haven’t seen any reason why Middlemarch can’t live up to this billing.  Moby Dick and a couple of other novels, maybe Bleak House, compete with MIddlemarch for this but it’s absolutely top drawer.  I love reading books in which it appears that the author has read everything that you have and the book is a conversation between the author and you.  That’s what I enjoyed so much about both Moby Dick and am enjoying about Middlemarch.  

Of Books and Such

Currently, I’m licoming-apartstening to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart:  The State of White America 1960-2010. I decided I needed to get myself a little more grounded again after The Handmaids Tale. It’s a controversial and fascinating account of social developments that have taken place in America over the last fifty years of so, particularly the development of a new “upper class” and a new “lower class.”  There is a point in which the numbers of statistics from studies become rather mind-numbing to listen to, but I’m far enough into it that I’m going to tough it out.   My observations seem to be in line with the narrative of Dr. Murray, at least as far as the rise of the new upper class.  I just started the part on the new lower class.  I’m expecting it to be as on point as part one was.
 I’ve also gotten into Werner Jaeger’s Paideia.  It’s quite an interesting read on the educational aspects of ancient literature.  He makes the point that the poets were seen as educators, and brings out what each of the poets shows us and teaches us.  I’m really starting to think that these mid twentieth century literary criticism classics, like Paideia and Mimesis are classics for a reason.  Part of me is thinking that I should have read Paideia earlier, and part of me thinks that it wouldn’t have made that much since apart from a few readings of the Iliad and Odyssey.  It’s good to start taking the whole aspect of continuing education and preparation seriously.  Paideia has been on the shelf for a long time and it’s good to finally get into it. Jaeger has a great eye for making connections across all of the classical works.  He is able to teach out of depth in a way that very few contemporaries are able to do.
I don’t feel like I’m producing anything that close to something I’d want to share with cyberspace..  It’s kind of disturbing.  A few weeks ago, I was just churning it out. It’s possible that the cause of this is not making space in my life to think.  I’ve become a little too task oriented over the past few weeks, which may lead to shallow living.  It’s probably time to dial it back a notch and to live as if the people in my life really do matter, rather than having my nose to the grindstone 24/7.

Of Books and Such

I finished The Handmaid’s Tale last night.  It continued to be absolutely gripping to the very end.  I’m not a big fan of ending —there’s no resolution to anything.  But I suppose with the setting and the plot of the novel, it’s an appropriate ending.  In the alternative world that Margaret Atwood creates, the nature of life is that there really isn’t much change.  Still, Ofwarren is a sympathetic enough character that the reader is rooting for her to “overcome the odds” and to find a rich and meaningful life.
1848-261926Woke up clear headed and rested for the first time in a long time.  Went for a four mile run yesterday.  Although it was really slow, it felt good to get out, and it appears that it helped me sleep last night and put some pep in my step for today.  I woke up at 5:30 for the second day in a row.  Yesterday, it was so I could do some Latin translation to prep for Latin III.  Today, it’s to be selfish with my time.  To take time to think, to pray, to write, time that no one is asking or expecting anything of me.
Hopefully today, I’ll feel a bit more connected with my classes than yesterday.  For the entire day, I felt like Robo Teacher.  I went over the material scheduled for the day and made appropriate disciplinary interactions, but for some reason, felt no connection with my students.  Hopefully, it was the lingering effects of the sickness and the cold medicine and today, I’ll do a better job in connecting with them.  I really dislike feeling that way, and more so when it’s for all my classes.
I completed eight books in the month of January, which is abut three more than I had planned for.  I’m on pace to complete 96 for the year.  With summer and breaks in the mix, I should be able to finish 100 if I continue with my present efforts.  A shoutout to Book Oblivion for the 100 books per year suggestion.  I thought I was doing well to aim for 52 — a book per week, but it may be possible to double that.  Challenge accepted!

Yard Sale

1506_405323316216228_14675588_nI’ve finally turned the corner on this deathly virus.  All I’ve been able to do is the bare minimum to be prepared for class and to survive.  I was sick enough to go home early from work Thursday, which for me, means near death.  It seemed a bit narcissistic to call in sick for the blog, but I had to suspend posting until I experienced a turn for the better.
I did finish Paradise Lost.  I’m not sure I feel any more prepared to teach it but I did outline the introduction to our class discussion and was surprised how much I was able to put it all together.  This is one of those works where you really need to trust the author to take you where he wants you to go.  Being familiar with the Scripture is a big help in getting through this tome.  Even though I get the big picture, I feel like I’m missing so much.  It’s really an inexhaustible treasure.
I started listening to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale a couple of days ago.  Absolutely gripping.  The setting is a futuristic dystopian society that is controlled by a cult that has some Christian elements in it.  I haven’t gotten very far into it, but it appears that the ability to sire and bear children is rare due to the collateral damage done by the wars that have plagued that society.  The protagonist is a “handmaid,” one who is set apart to bear children for the wife of one of the commanders.  Anyway, I got to thinking about this book along with a book that came out a couple of years or so ago by Jonathan Last called What To Expect When No One’s Expecting.  For years, the worry among the progressive elites of Western culture has been overpopulation.  But now, the West is experiencing something unprecedented — a demographic death spiral that is taking place throughout the West, as many families have instituted their own voluntary one child policy.  Last forecasts an alarming decline in economic growth, productivity, standard of living, and quality of life.  It’s an eye-opening read.  The juxtaposition of the two books is almost enough to make one paranoid that we are teetering on the edge of a collapse of civilization, and we don’t recognize it.  Quite interesting.  I don’t think Atwood realized that there may be a time when her effort at speculative fiction may be closer to the mark than she thought.
I’m mostly working on sermon preparation for when I preach in two weeks and Latin III translation.  We’ve moved further into Latin than I’ve ever been in this year’s Latin III class, so I’m having to do the translations with pencil and paper before class now rather than just sight read them.  I’m enjoying the challenge and I’m seeing myself become more competent in the language.  My Latin is completely self-taught, so this milestone and challenge is rather gratifying.
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It Takes A Long Time To Learn To Do Something Well

I’m planning on finishing up Paradise Lost tonight.  It’s quite a challenging read.  Even having been to seminary and having taught Homer, Virgil, Plato, and Augustine for the past eight years and even having taught Dante before, I still feel like I’m missing so much.  It’s going to need more than one reread before I think I can do a good job of teaching it.41Ux+jGSkCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

However, I keep telling myself I have to start somewhere.  The good part of this is that I can sympathize with my students as they struggle with the text.  Also, most of my students have a degree of familiarity with the Scripture, so we can all follow the basic plot.  But thinking about this made me consider how long it takes and how much effort it takes to become really proficient in a craft.  It’s taking me eight years of teaching Plato’s Republic to get me to a place where I can read it both sympathetically and critically, and engage the students in a reading that’s both sympathetic and critical, and to really be able to enjoy this process.  It’s taken me six years as a Latin teacher (starting out literally one lesson ahead of my students) to be able to enjoy the rhetoric and the rhythms, the timing and the pacing of Cicero, and to take pleasure in reading an author who makes a language sing.

It’s rather ironic that I’m closer to having this experience with Cicero in Latin than I am with Milton in English.  But Paradise Lost is so rich that the time invested in it will be repaid a hundredfold.  Maybe after I teach it eight years, I’ll have a greater degree of confidence in engaging students with the text, rather than us all sharing ignorance.  Diligence.  Industriousness.  Making the most of my time.  Applying myself.  These were virtues that were largely absent from my misspent youth and young adulthood.  So I’m making up for lost time, and enjoying the journey.  I’m getting to read all the books that I’ve wanted to all of these year, and getting paid to understand them and to share them with others.  It’s a great life. But I have not been able to get around just how long it takes to get good at something.

Any shortcuts out there for becoming competent and proficient to a high degree in something that you are passionate about?

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Early to Rise!

Screen-shot-2012-10-11-at-2.15.22-PM-300x421I’ve discovered that I have a self-sabotaging habit that I need to stop.  I have the habit of going on Readability, Longform, Medium, and other such sights and sending articles that may be of interest to me to my Kindle.  When I open my Kindle, I ask, “why is this here?”  And I’m determining more often than not, that it’s “because I could send it there.”  The result is a feeling of unresolved guilt.  Who cares if I don’t get around to reading all of those articles.  Better yet, I should delete them all and just read books!

Had a worthwhile Lord’s Day yesterday.  Amy and Hannah were both ill, so I went to church by myself.  I was inspired to read some Puritan literature from A Puritan Theology by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones.  Finally got over the intimidation factor to crack the covers.  I read the first chapter on preaching, on the Sabbath and Religious Worship, and a couple of other chapters  Pure gold!  For those who really want to see the best of theology applied, I can’t recommend this volume highly enough.  I’m sensing a new appreciation for the graciousness of God in the gospel and a personal renewal in Bible study, prayer, worship, and studying the Word to preach.

I got up earlier so that I could spend more time reading and studying.  I’m in the process of turning my internal clock back to getting up at 5 AM so that I can be a little more selfish with my time and read and study more when there are no other demands on my time.  Right now, this is about the only way that can envision doing the reading and writing that I’d like to do.  I’m pretty worn out by the time evening comes, and this is also the only opportunity that we have as a family to visit and check in with each other and see how the day went.  So, here we go!  Early to rise!

Yard Sale

Self-Talk-Poster-2-15-13Self Talk.  I knew it would a good day today because I slept late and woke up with an attitude!  I don’t remember the last time that I did that.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever done it.  Typically, if I wake up at 8:30, my internal taskmaster screams at me with his loud voice, “YOU’RE BEHIND!”  But today, I’m talking back.  “Behind WHAT?”  “Behind WHO?”  Generally, if I wake up with that much of an attitude, it’s going to be a great day.
Today, what gives this self-talk credibility is that I am in a good place for being ready for next week.  Grading for the week is finished and posted.  Lesson plans still needed to be done and copies of quizzes and handouts still need to be made, and the “play chart” still needs to be made, but that only takes about 2-2.5 hours.  Domestic chores need to be done too, but again, the amount of work is far from overwhelming.
Daily Run.  I ran three miles today, continuing to listen to A Year of Reading Dangerously.  It’s still a compelling listen.  I love books about books, but it will truly do its job if it spurs me on to devote greater time and effort to reading.  However, heading south down the beach into the cold, driving rain, it may have been more enjoyable to listen to the cornucopia of sound provided by nature in the crashing of the waves against the shore, the swish-swish of my feet upon the sand, and the driving wind and pelting rain I headed out into.  Close call.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll opt for immersing myself in the echoes my surroundings instead of an audiobook.
Plato’s Republic.  The detailed reread of Plato’s Republic plus taking notes and outlining it is taking its toll on other books that I want to get to.  However, it’s well worth it as I’m getting much more out this read (I think it’s my eighth) than any previous reading.  Halfway through it and still going strong!
Paradise Lost.  I still need to make it through Paradise Lost with some degree of comprehension of the plot, structure, characters, allusions, and an informed opinion about what Milton is trying to do in this epic, which is no mean feat.  Right now, I’m having to trust our Puritan forebear with this.  I’m finding it the literary equivalent of finding a 32 oz. chateaubriand on my plate and being expected to at least make a dent in it to show gratitude to my host.  It’s about the richest work I’ve ever read outside of the Scriptures.  I feel like I’m missing so much every time I pick it up.  Maybe I need to think about what I’m taking away rather than what I’m missing.
What kind of self-talk do you give to yourself so that you can get through the day with “attitude”?  What are your strategies for getting through difficult tomes like Paradise Lost?
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An Audiobook Got Me Out The Door Today

51eJJdCffZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Well, yesterday’s run didn’t completely kill me.  I was hesitant about heading out today but once I shuffled about half a mile or so, I felt alot better and managed to put in four miles.  So, four days in a row.  In itself, this won’t exactly get me to the starting line but if I can keep it up for another several months I’ll at least make a dent in the fitness situation.

I started listening to audio while running recently.  It used to be that I only listened to audio if I absolutely couldn’t get myself out the door otherwise.  Then I would crank up some tunes . . . either mostly bad 80’s music that provides an initial burst of energy but gets annoying after a while because it’s just bad music, Motown, or in some cases, chill out to some jazz.  Lately though, I’ve started listening to either audiobooks or podcasts on the way home and gotten so enthralled that I’ve taken them out on the run — and even end up running farther just because I want to get more into the book.  Today, it was The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller.  It’s a memoir of a English man who has a rather mild midlife crisis  — no red corvettes, blingy gold chains, or anything like that, but rather, a sense of disappointment with some aspects of his life that he has passively settled into. He begins to desire to “improve himself,” makes a “list of betterment,” with books that he has resolved to read, and sets out to read about a book a week, and writes about his experiences with these books.    Some of them are classics such as Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice and Middlemarch.  Others are books he became interested in for one reason or another.  In one of the most memorable sections, he relates the experience of reading Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea.  From what I gather, the protagonist of the novel is a rather pompous and disturbed retired actor.  Food plays a major part in the novel, and Andy Miller’s relating of some of these dishes is ‘laugh out loud” funny!  What’s even funnier is, not knowing much about cooking, he attempted some of the recipes of the novel’s protagonist himself, and got to experience firsthand Iris Murdoch’s irony.  Anyway, now I need to put The Sea, The Sea on the reading list.

My wife is at class tonight so it’s reading time tonight.  Another book and a half of Plato’s Republic with taking notes to get ready for class Monday.  Need to keep moving through Paradise Lost because I’m teaching it later this year and feel woefully underprepared.  Of course, I’ve taught the Republic for eight years now, but it’s so rich that every year, I feel like I’m starting all over again.  Then, I’m hoping to get into something that I’m not reading to prepare to teach a class.  So, that’s the daily wrap-up.

What tricks have you used to get yourself out the door to exercise?  Is there a particular kind of music or audio that is helpful?  I’d love to hear about it!


Desert Island Books

Desert_Island_(8685053723)This idea is not new to me.  I find, though, that you can learn alot about a person by finding out about the books that they would take if they knew that they would be stranded on a desert island.  Here’s my top ten:

1.  Hamlet by William Shakespeare.  Quite simply the greatest artistic creation in the history of the universe.  I billed it this way to my eleventh grade English students and it managed to live up to this billing.  Ol’ Will really hit one out of the park with this one!  Can’t say enough great things about it.  My favorite book to teach, by far!

2.  Homer’s Iliad.  Still possibly the greatest epic in human history.  Homer is especially unsurpassed for his descriptive powers of blood, guts, and the reality of the battlefield.  This always makes me wonder if he is glorying in the heroic ideal, or showing us the futility of the heroic ideal.

3.  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  At least I’d have time to finish the darn thing.  On several occasions, I’ve gotten about 400 pages into it and found it to be a great story, well written.  It’s reputation for being more useful as a doorstop than a book is thoroughly undeserved.  I’ve always gotten distracted and never kept the momentum going to finish it.

4.  The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis.  My favorite book by Lewis.  I reread it probably once a year to remind myself of why I’m a teacher and what my core values as a teacher are.

5.  Summa Theologica  by St. Thomas Aquinas.  Lest I become conceited or no longer think that I need to be challenged in doctrine and devotion, learning and piety.  Possibly the greatest mind who has ever lived, and surely one of the most holy.  I’m counting the Summa as one book.  You may not think that’s fair, but it’s my post.  Again, I’d at least have time to read the whole thing.

6.  Calvin’s Institutes. Gotta have at least one book from my own tradition.  Same criteria as the Summa.

7.  The Book of Common Prayer.  Beautiful, well composed, Scripture-saturated prayers.  A great resource to remind me of both the transcendence and the immanence of God.  Thomas Cranmer makes the English language sing in the service of worship and prayer to our Lord.  Wouldn’t want to be without this one.

8.  Something by Charles Dickens but I can’t decide which one  Maybe Hard Times, Bleak House, or Tale of Two Cities.

9.  Bible.  I’m a convinced Protestant so this might seem like an odd edition.  If I was going away for a while, I’d want to read the Apocrypha.  The RSV is not a bad translation either.  I’d either go with that, the ESV (which is descended from the RSV), or the Authorized Version.

10.  Can I take my Kindle?

What books would you want to take if you were going to be stranded somewhere?

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Broad and Narrow Reading

   Both of my vocations require a fair amount of reading merely to stay current with my
responsibilities.  I’ve often considered how, why, and even if it’s beneficial to read more broadly outside of these demands.  I’ve come to the conclusion that if I don’t read more broadly, I stunt my intellectual growth and lose the ability to speak to the issues that I write, teach, and speak about.
Today, one of the choices that I need to make is whether or not to take the time to stay current on my Bible reading plan, or go straight to the sermon and claim this as my “Bible reading” for the day.  I don’t necessarily think that there’s a right or wrong answer, but I do believe that if I don’t maintain the daily habit of reading other parts of Scripture than I’m studying to preach and teach from, then I’ll regress in my understanding of and command of Scripture, not to mention personal godliness and enjoyment of God’s Word.
Likewise, whether it’s mass-market fiction or other genres, reading broadly helps me to think through the connects between the material for my current projects and other items that create interest in them and relate to them.  So, I need to continue to make the effort and schedule the time to read broadly outside my disciplines.
What are your reading habits?  What has been most helpful to your spiritual, personal, and professional growth?
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