Category Archives: Reading

“Our Evening Land”

Harold Bloom, "The Western Canon: The Boo...

Harold Bloom, “The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages.” (Photo credit: nikkorsnapper)

Unfortunately, nothing ever will be the same because the art and passion of reading well and deeply, which was the foundation of our enterprise, depended upon people who were fanatical readers when they were still small children. Even devoted and solitary readers are now necessarily beleaguered, because they cannot be certain that fresh generations will rise up to prefer Shakespeare and Dante to all other writers. The shadows lengthen in our evening land, and we approach the second millennium expecting further shadowing.

– Harold Bloom, from “The Western Canon: The Books and Schools of the Ages”

Published seven years after Allan Bloom’s monumental “The Closing of the American Mind,” Harold Bloom’s “The Western Canon” sounded yet another alarm about the state of education in our universities, specifically about what is being read and how reading is approached. His opening and closing essays, “An Elegy for the Canon” and “Elegiac Conclusion” are worth the price of the book themselves. Read them and see how the American university is becoming an “evening land.”

What is it about Blooms anyway?


Posted by on July 16, 2013 in Authors, Education, Quotations, Reading, Worries


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More Educational Folly

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few days back I posted on a textbook I found. “The Garden in the Wilderness”  explored the themes found in the first few books of the Bible and how they have influenced the literature of Western civilization. It was from the 70s, and I wondered if schools would even use such a text today.

Well, it turns out our schools are going to be using even less literature now. If this article in The Telegraph is correct, our children will be exposed to fewer works of fiction. It seems such works as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Catcher in the Rye” (which I am not a particular fan of, by the way) will be replaced by what are being called “informational texts.” These new texts could explore such things as proper insulation levels and invasive plant species. Wow.

The change will supposedly happen by the 2014 school year. The reason for the change is that schools want to better prepare students for the work force.

Is that what we as a culture view education as being about?. If so, we are in worse trouble than I thought.

Any thoughts out there?


Posted by on December 8, 2012 in Education, Reading, Worries


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What Kind of Reader Are You?

What Kind of Reader Are You?

We book lovers and readers tend to take reading for granted. It is an activity we engage in everyday, for greater or lesser periods of time. Some of us read fiction, some of us prefer nonfiction and some of us enjoy mixing the two together. Some readers like to be challenged with complex plots, ideas or subjects. Others enjoy the escape of the paperback equivalent of a comic book. Reading is wonderfully diverse in its offerings to devotees.

No matter what type of reader you may be, you would benefit from exposure to “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. Adler was one of America’s leading public intellectuals during the middle of the last century and this book, originally published in 1940, is still considered by many to be a classic. To Adler and Van Doren reading was, and is, a complex activity involving much more than recognizing and mentally linking words on a page.

They have identified four levels of reading here. First is Elementary Level, basically what a person is capable of after graduating from elementary school. Next is Inspectional Reading, or the art of systematic skimming of a book to get the necessary information needed within a limited amount of time. Third there is Analytical Reading, which is a deep and thorough reading when one has as no time limits to worry about. Finally they identify Syntopical Reading, describing it as a kind of comparative reading. In their words, “It is the most complex and systematic type of reading of all.”

While the book explores and explains these levels of reading, it also goes into other areas, including how to read different types of books and how to use a dictionary properly. The key is that Adler and Van Doren take reading seriously. Adler was one of the driving forces behind the Great Books of the Western World, a 54- volume set published by Encyclopaedia Britannica. He helped set up a great books program at the University of Chicago. For Adler, effective reading was truly the key to learning, so important that advanced reading skills should be one of the teaching goals of high schools and colleges:

A good liberal arts high school, if it does nothing else, ought to produce graduates who are competent analytical readers. A good college, if it does nothing else, ought to produce competent syntopical readers.

So, what kind of reader are you? Are you a casual reader, or someone who really digs-in to a book to get at what the author offers there? Or does it depend on what type of book you’re reading? Do you feel your high school or college trained you to read effectively? And do you think e-readers will influence how people read in the future?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Posted by on October 2, 2012 in Authors, Education, Old Books, Reading


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Books You Read To God

I like prayer books. I have at least a dozen of them, probably more. I have Anglican, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish and even a Billy Graham, Evangelical prayer-book. Yes, there is an Evangelical prayer-book, though it’s not a standardized one intended for corporate worship.

My wife and I attend an Anglican church that uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It is designed for both liturgical and personal use, as are the Roman Catholic, Jewish and Lutheran ones. Not all prayer books are meant for liturgical use. I have several that are designed for personal devotion and meditation, and some that are simply collections of prayers through the ages.

Of course, I have many books that are ABOUT prayer, including Richard J. Foster’s “Prayer.” I’ve lost count of how many of those I own.

I’ve always felt that prayers were a type of poetry. Some of the most beautiful words I’ve read were arranged in prayer to God. Offerings, if you will. In reading these various prayers, I often find myself actually praying, which is a good thing!

There are some, I know, who are skeptical of using prayers that are written out and arranged for corporate or personal use. These prayers may seem to be mechanical or “canned.” However, if read with a real awareness of the words, these prayers are actually teachers which can lead us into deeper communication with God. They can widen the areas we speak to God about and help us to become better pray-ers.

I will share some of these prayer-books with you in future posts.

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Posted by on August 17, 2012 in Prayer, Reading, Words


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Captain Malcolm Reynolds

Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Photo credit: Jessica Finson)

I picked up an old issue of Parade Magazine that was lying around our friends’ house this past week, mainly because Nathan Fillion was on the front cover reading an old paperback copy of Peter Benchley’s “Jaws.” The cover was promoting the issue’s main theme of summer reading, which was the second thing that grabbed my attention. Parade’s cover identified Fillion as the star of “Castle,” but anyone with any knowledge of true classic television will know that Nathan Fillion is better known as Mal Reynolds, captain of the ship Serenity in the wonderful but regrettably short-lived TV series “Firefly.” The geek-boy in me back flipped in excitement.

It seems that Fillion is a big-time reader and has been ever since he was a kid. Even though he reads digital books because of his shooting schedule, he does love real books: “The smell, having it in your hands – there’s really no substitute.”

That’s my kind of guy.

It also turns out that some of his favorite books are some of mine as well. The series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin, better known by the title of the first volume “A Game of Thrones,” is a Fillion favorite. So are the Spenser books by the late, great Robert B. Parker. Fillion also stated that if they ever decide to revive the old “Spenser: For Hire” TV series, he’d be interested in the Spenser part. Yes!

On top of all of that, it turns out that Nathan Fillian is a cofounder of an organization called Kids Need to Read. This group donates books to libraries and schools who can’t afford to buy the books they need. You should definitely check these folks out.

As you can tell, I’m impressed with this guy. Not only is he a fine actor but he’s also a reader and a generous human being. That’s something anybody can get all geeky about!

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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in In The News, Libraries, Reading


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What Do You Read on the Fourth of July?

English: Frontispiece of the 1922 edition of R...

English: Frontispiece of the 1922 edition of Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg. Illustration by Maud and Miska Petersham. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I realize this may be a rhetorical question. After all, who actually reads on the Fourth? What with picnics and barbecues and trips to the beach or lake, who has time to read, right? Well, maybe the Declaration of Independence, but beyond that?

Yes, I did read the Declaration earlier today. It is still a remarkable piece of writing that retains its strength and relevance for our day. I’ve also been perusing a book called “American Fairy Tales: From Rip Van Winkle to the Rootabaga Stories,” compiled by Neil Philip (Hyperion, 1998.) This is a collection of fairy and fantasy tales by some of America’s finest writers: Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, L. Frank Baum, and Carl Sandburg are just a few of the writers included. The wonders of the American imagination are on full display in this book.

So, if you were going to read something today that represented the American spirit of freedom and independence, what would you choose? Heaven knows, our country has been blessed with some amazing authors. Who would you choose? Would you pick stories from history, or fiction?

What stories speak to you of our country?


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A Miscellany for Monday

Famous posthumous portrait of Niccolò Machiave...

Famous posthumous portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, if there is such a thing, “Happy Monday!”I have finished the writing assignment about Johnny Appleseed that I posted on about a week or so ago. Not having written under a deadline in many years, I must say it went pretty well. Now it’s up to the editors. I’ll tell you more when I’m able.


I was thinking about my previous post on Chesterton and the opening quote has stuck in my mind: “This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately.”

It seems so obvious, yet everywhere one looks there is an emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism, things that divide and separate us as a people.

In the “Dictionary of Phrase & Fable” there is an entry titled “Divide and Govern.” Here’s what it says: “Divide a nation into parties, or set your enemies at loggerheads, and you can have your own way. A maxim of Machiavelli. . .”

So, who’s having their own way?


The book I’m currently reading is “A World Lit Only By Fire; The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance” by William Manchester (Back Bay Books, 1993).

Be glad you don’t live in the Dark Ages. It was a nasty, brutish time when human life was very cheap. Manchester is an excellent writer and brings to one’s attention many fascinating aspects of this time in history. Like this: “The most baffling, elusive, yet in many ways the most significant dimensions of the medieval mind were invisible and silent. One was the medieval man’s total lack of ego. Even those with creative powers had no sense of self.”

What a contrast with today, where even people with no creative powers are absolutely full of self!

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Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Quotations, Reading, What I'm Reading


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