Shortcuts to Being a Copious Reader

reading kid“Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.”

-C.S. Lewis, “Preface to On The Incarnation” 

The following is a selection from a longer piece I published recently over at Kuyperian Commentary. The audience there was readers of political blogs and journals, but many of my comments have more general appeal, which is why I chose to reproduce them here. Hopefully you will see similar posts appear here periodically.

Spending at least one day a week (e.g. Saturday) varying your normal reading habits:

1. Read Literature
Give time to Shakespearean plays like Coriolanus and Julius Caesar. The payoff will be a whole lot of insight into demagoguery, tyranny, patriotism, et al that can’t help but be relevant to considerations of American politics, Rand Paul, Barack Obama, etc.

2. Read Poetry
Poetry trains us to simplify complicated matters. The poet does that when he writes (in the hands of Donne or Emily Dickinson, death is a far more manageable concept with far less sting), and the reader does that when he interprets. If it is the glory of kings to search out a matter, poetry is the discipline of biblical kingly wisdom.

3. Read Biographies
The best insight into Man is men. That is, one way to better understand the human character (a keen political power) is to study individual men. And, as even the ancients knew, the study of particular lives is a valuable moral education—as you discover virtues to emulate and vices to repudiate.

4. Read Incarnationally
Take the paper or, better yet, a literary publication like Books & Culture or Poetry Magazine (see pt. 2); pick up a hardback while your kindle recharges. Web publications, all digital texts in fact, lack the Trinitarian characteristic of dimension—height, depth, and breadth. Words on a screen lack special definition and fixity, while words on a page have become incarnate and bound to a place and time. Our greatest civic duties and greatest opportunities for Christian labor are all found at the parish level. Reading the printed word is an important exercise in recognizing that we have more power over and responsibility to the things close enough for us to touch, grip, wash, or kiss.

Now for a little moral support–what am reading on Saturdays?

The Life of Graham Greene
– the official biography of one the 20th century’s most significant religious novelists
The Crisis of Western Education, Christopher Dawson
– a thorough summary of the western liberal arts tradition and modern setbacks
Deep ExegesisPeter J. Leithart
The Odysseytrns. Robert Fagles
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
 – my wife and I are currently reading this aloud to each other.

Bonus reading lists:
The fine folks over at Poetry Magazine (they aren’t paying me, I promise) have begun collecting reading lists from their contributors each month, and you can see the most recent here.

Or, if you’d like a list of what not to read, Jimmy Fallon’s got you covered.

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