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A book is a literary compass that has the potential to direct our thoughts and actions:

"Everything we read stimulates our mind to think, and what we think determines what we desire, and desires are the seedbed of our actions. Given this iron law of human nature--from reading to thinking, to desiring, to acting--we are shaping our destiny by the ideas we choose to have enter our minds through print." - Fr. John Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

Welcome to my own personal exploration of life through reading the great books of the world.

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"Every soul that uplifts itself uplifts the world." --Elisabeth Leseur

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Are ROMANs Elite?

John at SF Signal reviewed my free ebook ROMAN Reading in post called When in Rome...Do as Elitists Do? I really appreciate the time he took to read the book and write about it. His comments actually illustrate a couple of the elements of ROMAN Reading: Asking questions about what you read, and Naming your experiences.

One of the questions he asks is if the neighborhood analogy is elitist. Here are his thoughts:

Encouraging reading is a good thing, but I detect a smack of reading elitism here, particularly in this passage:
Books are like neighbors, and your personal library is your neighborhood. Take a look at your bookshelves. What kind of neighborhood are you living in? Are you in a slum or in the suburbs? Who are your neighbors? Are they trash talkers or shrewd sages? If you live next door to Socrates, then invite him to dinner every night. If you live next to Dan Brown, then put your house on the market.
He goes on to say:

I sometimes hear people speak as if (or say outright that) reading is not a worthwhile activity unless you are reading Literature with a capital L. Enter self-doubt. Am I wasting my time by reading anything else? Am I denying myself the true value of reading? Am I becoming a literary snob? Is this self-doubt the beginning of a midlife crisis?

What great questions! I began to leave John a comment, but it kept getting longer and longer, so I thought I'd respond here. Again, I'd like to thank John for mentioning the book and linking to it.

First let me say that I have "lowbrow" tastes in books, too--my favorites span a wide range: on the "lower" end I have such favorites as pulp hero Doc Savage, the Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison, the Conan series, and any short story collection with Alfred Hitchcock in the title.

Reading for fun is as necessary as taking the weekend off from work, or going on an extended vacation every once in a while. Not every book is meant to educate or inspire. What I was trying to say with the neighborhood analogy (while poking a little fun at Dan Brown), is that behind every book is a real person. Books have as much power to influence us as the friends we hang around.

Each person must choose their own friends, but if I see my teenage son constantly getting into trouble because of the influence of his friends, I will try and point that out to him. In the same way, books can have a positive or negative effect on us, and I was trying to remind my readers of that. I'd like to insert one of my favorite quotes here. It's by Father John Hardon, and you can find it on every page of this blog:

"Everything we read stimulates our mind to think, and what we think determines what we desire, and desires are the seedbed of our actions. Given this iron law of human nature--from reading to thinking, to desiring, to acting--we are shaping our destiny by the ideas we choose to have enter our minds through print."

Are there some books that I think everyone should read? Yes, I must admit that I believe there are. Not necessarily because they are "better" than others, but because they have so much to offer everyone. Think of it this way: Aren't there some people who are just so inspirational and intelligent (and even holy) that everyone would benefit from meeting them? Mother Teresa comes to mind. Well, I can't meet Mother Teresa in person anymore because she has passed on, but I can read what she left behind and get to know her through her books. She is someone I think everyone would have benefited from meeting.

There's also some faulty logic that people can slip into when talking about books. I'm guilty of it myself at times. I occasionally fall into the trap of putting books into two categories: (1) fun books, and (2) literature. The mistake is thinking that these two categories are mutually exclusive. What has happened to me as I've expanded my reading is that the books I used to think of as "fun" (like Conan, for instance) have actually become a bit boring and not as entertaining as they used to be. What I find now is that literature is more fun and entertaining to me, and much of the enjoyment comes from wrestling with the author's ideas.

If you "wrestled" with my ideas in ROMAN Reading, I hope it gave you some enjoyment. I'm sorry if it seemed elitist, and I hope this post has clarified things a bit. Thanks again, John, for your challenging remarks and for linking to Literary Compass.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:03 AM

Comments on "Are ROMANs Elite?"


Anonymous John D. said ... (Monday, May 21, 2007 6:59:00 AM) : 

Thanks for the clarifications, Nick!

I'm glad the post didn't offend -- it was not meant to. My position is that dictating what someone should read doesn't quite seem right to me. Your clarification here makes your stance more clear: read what you want, but know that there are books out there that offer deeper meaning.

BTW, I like the ROMAN approach to reading -- though it will take some time before I can bring myself to mark up a book. :)


Anonymous Steve Jenkins said ... (Monday, May 21, 2007 3:37:00 PM) : 

One way I look at the different books I read is to think of them like tastes in food.

Sometimes I'm in the mood for something substantial (a full meal) like a "great book" or technical reading in my professional areas (Music, Church).

Sometimes a I serve a lighter salad-based meal which might be similar to my tastes in graphic novels (ex: Blankets by Craig Thompson, Bones by Jeff Smith).

Sometimes I want an ice cream cone which is like reading something for fun, a contemporary mystery (ex: O Jerusalem: A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her partner Sherlock Molmes by Laurie R. King) or even a YA novel.

Sometimes I want a meal from a cuisine that is exotic to me. Maybe that's like when I try a contemporary author I don't know very well but seems to have something to say to me.

For me, book nutrition is like food nutrition: it's best to always begin with the best quality ingredients and keep the diet is varied.

Kind of a silly metaphor, I know, but it works for me.

Graham Greene divided his work up into entertainments and serious novels. I happen to like both kinds of his works and sometimes even have difficulty telling the difference.


Blogger Nick Senger said ... (Tuesday, May 22, 2007 5:11:00 AM) : 

John: You're welcome!

Steve: I like your food metaphor. It's very concrete and it gets the point across. Thanks.


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