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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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Location: Spokane, Washington, United States

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

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

John Fogerty at People of the Book

If you're a baseball fan, like I am, be sure to visit People of the Book to watch the video for John Fogerty's "Centerfield." Thanks for sharing it, Jim.


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Making Sense Out of Suffering

I got to thinking about suffering this morning. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because Holy Week is about to start, or maybe it's just one of those random thoughts that just kind of bubbles to the surface every so often. Whatever the reason, I went to my shelf of influential books--you know, the few books that have changed my life (I hope everyone has a shelf like that)--and I took down the one book that was able to help me get through the darkest period of my life.

A few years ago our daughter became frighteningly sick (you can read her story here), and I suddenly found myself facing the most inexplicable of phenomena: the suffering of an innocent. My five-year-old daughter was sick and I wanted to know why. It was then that I chanced across Peter Kreeft's Making Sense Out of Suffering. That single book helped me make it through all the pain, anger and doubt. It didn't provide quick and easy answers, which is one reason I trusted it. As Westley says in The Princess Bride, "Life is pain...Anyone who says otherwise is selling something." Kreeft's book gave me the mind-set I needed to navigate through the pain, the questions and the despair.

Anyway, I thought someone out there might need a book like this today so that's why I'm writing this. Peter Kreeft changed my life, and maybe he can help you. As he himself says, "This book is for everyone who has wept and wondered. That includes everyone who has ever been born."

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Two Tales of Redemption for First Line Friday

It's First Line Friday, and because I missed last week I'll offer two opening paragraphs for your consideration. Both are from autobiographies by a pair of Catholics that some consider 20th century saints, though neither of them has been canonized.

The first comes from Dorothy Day's autobiography, The Long Loneliness. Day co-founded the Catholic Worker movement in the 1930s. Here is how Day begins her story:
When you go to confession on a Saturday night, you go into a warm, dimly lit vastness, with the smell of wax and incense in the air, the smell of burning candles, and if it is a hot summer night there is the sound of a great electric fan, and the noise of the streets coming in to emphasize the stillness. There is another sound too, besides that of the quiet movements of the people from pew to confession to altar rail; there is the sliding of the shutters of the little window between you and the priest in his "box."
Next comes the opening paragraph of The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. Merton became a Trappist monk in the early 1940s and went on to be one of the 20th century's most influential Catholic writers and thinkers.
On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadow of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God and yet hating Him; born to love Him, living instead in fear and hopeless self-contradictory hungers.
Both Merton and Day offer the modern reader an honest and moving account of how one moves from selfishness to selflessness, from materialism to spirituality, and from earth to heaven. Both are well worth reading.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Book on the Bookshelf Reading Update

I've had very little time to read lately, but I have been able to snatch a few pages here and there of Henry Petroski's The Book on the Bookshelf. Here are a few interesting things I've learned so far:
  • Early writers did not put spaces in between their words. Word separation became common only after printing was invented.
  • I knew that the word Bible came from the Greek word for book, biblion, but I did not know that biblion came from byblos, from the Phoenician city that was a major exporter of papyrus.
  • It took the skin of one sheep to make one page of vellum.
And one of my favorite quotes:
  • "Books spend a lot of time on bookshelves, hanging around near the curb, as it were, waiting for someone to come along with an idea for something to do. Books are the wallflowers at the dance, standing up but leaning on one another and depending upon one another for their collective status. Books are the Martyrs of Saturday nights, ending up in the same place at the same time week after week. Books in dust jackets are the queue at the bus stop, the line of commuters with their faces hidden in their newspapers. Books are the thugs in the lineup, all fitting a profile but with only one of them expecting to be picked out. Books are the object of searches."
I can't wait for Spring Break next week, so I can read it more leisurely.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:51 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tristram Shandy the first Blogger?

Today in 1760 the first two volumes of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy were published. I read it three years ago and remember smiling through much of it. Here are the notes I wrote to myself at the time I finished it:
What a pleasant book. Tristram Shandy takes its own sweet time to be told, really goes nowhere, but manages to be engaging in spite of itself. I love the narrator's personality and the wonderful depictions of Uncle Toby and Trim. Sterne reminds me somewhat of Cervantes and somewhat of Dickens. It is the first book I have read (and maybe it is the only one of its kind) where the majority of the book--the vast majority--is digression. The only section I disliked was the travelogue section in the second half, but that led to one of my favorite sections, the courting of Mrs. Wadman. I thoroughly enjoyed Tristram Shandy and look forward to reading it again.
From my commonplace book, here is one of my favorite quotes from the novel, that could also stand as a sort of raison d'etre to bloggers everywhere:
I have undertaken, you see, to write not only my life, but my opinions also; hoping and expecting that your knowledge of my character, and of what kind of mortal I am, by the one, would give you a better relish for the other: As you proceed further with me, the slight acquaintance which is now beginning betwixt us, will grow into familiarity; and that, unless one of us is in fault, will terminate in friendship.
When you think about it, blogging is very similar to what Tristram Shandy does. He tries telling us his life story, just as we try to tell our stories, usually focused on a particular topic or theme. But much of the enjoyment and enlightenment I derive from blogs that I read come from a person's digressions and ramblings. That's where a blogger's true character is revealed. And through that revelation, we "grow into familiarity" which, for some of us, leads to a kind of friendship.

Looking at my reading log, I can't believe it's been three years since I read Tristram Shandy. I see that there is a film adaptation out now on DVD. I'd love to hear a review from someone who's seen it.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:37 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Last Rites: Mysteries Featuring Catholic Detectives

For some reason there a lot of Catholic detectives on the mystery shelves. I'm sure there are amateur detectives from other faiths (Rabbi Small, for instance), but Catholic priests and nuns seem to form their own sub-genre. Here are a few examples:
  • Father Brown - The greatest of all ecclesial sleuths, G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown belongs in the ranks of the great detectives with Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple. Chesterton's stories are witty and clever, and very satisfying. All of his stories are collected in The Complete Father Brown.
  • Brother Cadfael - Ellis Peters' medieval monk Brother Cadfael is a former soldier who now tends the garden at Shrewsbury Abbey--when he's not investigating mysterious deaths. I always recommend Brother Cadfael to fans of fantasy books who want to try their first mystery but don't know where to begin. Cadfael's stories begin with A Morbid Taste for Bones. Also see the great tv series starring Derek Jacobi.
  • Father Dowling - Don't judge this priest by the tv series. Ralph McInerny's Fr. Dowling is a complex character written by an engaging storyteller. Highly recommended. Though most of the early Father Dowling mysteries are out of print, newer titles are still available, such as 2005's Blood Ties.
  • Sister Mary Helen - I have not had a chance to read any of Sister Carol Ann O'Marie's mysteries featuring amateur detective Sister Mary Helen, but my wife loves this series, and that's saying something. My wife doesn't read very often, but she went through all of the books in the series and really enjoyed them. I love the titles: Novena for Murder, Advent of Dying, The Corporal Works of Murder.
Other ecclesial sleuths include the 14th century clerk Brother Athelstan, and the contemporary Jesuit priests Father Mark Townsend, and Father John O'Malley. Have I left anyone out? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

101 Essential Web Sites for Readers of Literature

(Updated May5, 2007)

You've heard the saying, "So many books, so little time." It's also true of book resources on the internet: "So many websites, so little time." To help you navigate through them all I've put together this list of essential web resources for readers.

This list reflects my own tastes, so no doubt I've left some of your favorites off the list, or put some on that you find fault with. Leave a comment and tell me where I've done you wrong, or tell me about your favorite book sites. And please let me know if you have any problems with the links.

Be sure to bookmark this page so that you can find these websites quickly and easily.

Audio Books
1. Librivox - Audiobooks. Unabridged. Free. Need I say more?
2. Recorded Books - My favorite source for audio books. Top quality narrators.
3. Naxos Audio Books - Another great source audio books, especially the classics.
4. Audible.com - I love the fact that you can listen before you buy.
5. Ejunto - Free historical and philosophical audio books; Plato, Lincoln, Pascal and others.
6. The Poetry Archive - Recordings of famous poets reading and discussing their poems. Fabulous!

7. Arts and Letters Daily - Comprehensive and engaging
8. Bibliophilic - Personal reflections on reading, writing and publishing - one of my favorites
9. Brit Lit Blogs - A collection of British literary blogs
10. Classical Bookworm - Another favorite of mine; beautifully designed, excellent content
11. Claw of the Conciliator - Science fiction and faith
12. Kimbooktu - Where I always go to find out the latest book gadgets
13. A Life in Books - Personal reflections on being a book lover
14. Metacritic.com: Books - A roundup of critical opinion on new books
15. New York Review of Books
16. New York Times Book Review
17. People of the Book - Publishing from Catholic perspective
18. Powell's Books - An overview of new books from Powell's bookstore
19. A Reader's Journal - She's never met a reading challenge she didn't like...
20. Reading Matters - Book reviews by a Australian journalist living in London
21. So Many Books - "The agony and ecstacy of a reading life."
22. Liam's Pictures from Old Books - Some great scanned images

23. Amazon.com
24. Abebooks - My favorite used book site
25. Alibris - Another great source for used books
26. Barnes and Noble
27. Powell's Books - A HUGE brick and mortar store with a great online presence
28. Booksense - A large group of independent booksellers
29. Auntie's Bookstore - My favorite local bookstore; be sure to visit it if you are ever in Spokane

Children's Literature/Teaching/Homeschooling
30. SCORE Cyberguides - This is a great site for enriching a student's reading experience
31. Glencoe Study Guides - Study guides in .pdf format for many different titles
32. Children's Literature Web Guide - A comprehensive website for teaching children's lit
33. Reading Aloud to Children
34. Linda's Links to Literature - General resources for teaching literature

Genre Fiction
35. Recommended Fantasy Author List - Annotated list of fantasy authors; one of my favorite sites
36. Refracted Light: A Christian Perspective on Fantasy - Excellent reviews, helpful rating system
37. Fantastic Fiction - Information on 10,000 authors and 200,000 books
38. Encyclopedia of Arda - The best Middle-earth encyclopedia on the web
39. Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide - Not very pretty, but extremely thorough
40. Adherents.com: Religion in Science Fiction - Fascinating list of the presence of religion in sci-fi
41. Course Materials for the Study of Science Fiction - College-level study materials
42. John's Nautical Literature Page - For fans of Patrick O'Brian or C.S. Forester (like me)

How to Read Well
43. Radical Academy's Mortimer Adler Archive - Don't miss this site if you love reading and philosophy
44. The Great Books Foundation - Teaches the Shared Inquiry method of discussing books, based on Adler's work
45. Northwest Great Books Foundation - Be sure to check out the Leader Resources
ROMAN Reading: 5 Practical Skills for Transforming Your Life through Literature, my free eBook

46. The Library of Congress
47. The British Library

48. Today in Literature - Daily stories of literary events and people; great for teachers or homeschoolers
49. Book Crossing - Share your books with the world and find out whose reading them
50. Fictional Cities - This is a must-see for book lovers who travel to Venice, Rome or London

Online Books/ebooks
51. Project Gutenberg - One of the foundational sites of the Internet, in my opinion
52. Prepare a Gutenberg Text for eReading - Easy-to-use directions from Lifehacker
53. Christian Classics Ethereal Library - Premiere source of public domain Christian texts
54. Online Books Page - A searchable catalog of online books to be found on the web
55. Google Books - Scans of complete books and lengthy previews of others
56. Wikibooks - Open-content textbooks in every area; great potential here
57. Bartleby - Another great source of etexts, especially quotations
58. The Wondering Minstrels Online Poetry Anthology - Easiest-to-use poetry archive on the web
59. Rare Book Room - Awesome scans of rare books; check out Euclid and Newton
60. Anthology of Middle English Literature - Texts and background information
61. HTI American Verse Project - Well organized American poetry database
* Bonus site: The Baldwin Project - Online children's literature

Organizing Books
62. Librarything - If you don't have librarything you don't have anything

Palm/PDA Books
63. Manybooks - Free ebooks for handhelds
64. Memoware - Another database of free ebooks
65. Palm Pilot eTexts for Catholics

66. NPR: Books - High quality news, reviews and interviews (Subscribe)
67. NPR: A Way with Words - One of my favorites; dont' miss the quizzicist! (Subscribe)
68. SimonSays Podcast - Simon & Schuster's podcast (Subscribe)
69. Amazon Bookclips - Audiobook previews (Subscribe)
70. Barnes and Noble Meet the Writers - Entertaining author interviews (Subscribe)
71. The BookShow: ABC Radio International - Australian book talk (Subscribe)
72. KCRW Bookworm - Author interviews from KCRW in Santa Monica, CA (Subscribe)
73. Maria Lectrix - Public domain audiobooks read to you each day (Subscribe)

Reading Groups/Communities
74. Habitual Reader - A comfortable, friendly online fiction book community
75. Book and Reader Forum
76. The Great Conversation Yahoo! Group - Following the Britannica Great Books reading plan
77. More Great Conversation Yahoo! Group - A complement to Britannica's list, featuring mostly Asian and other Eastern literature

Reading Group Resources
78. Book Clubs Resource - Comprehensive information on reading groups
Penguin Groups Reading Guides
80. ReadingGroupGuides.com
81. Modern Library Reading Group Guides
82. Sparknotes Literature Guides
83. Reading Group Choices
84. Bookbrowse.com
The Book Group List

Reading Lists
86. Robert Teeter's Great Books Lists - All bow before Robert Teeter for this incredible site; don't miss it!
87. Philip Ward's A Lifetime's Reading - A 50-year reading plan! Start young or live long
88. Great Books Ten Year Reading Plan - Britannica's suggested reading plan
89. Whichbook.net - A fun way to find what to read next
90. Center for the Study of Great Ideas - Mortimer Adler's legacy
91. Alan Nicoll's Great Books of the Western World - Companion site to the ten year reading plan
92. Essential Baseball Library - Why is it that baseball is the only sport with a consistent history of great literature and film?

93. Online Etymology Dictionary - Got a question about the origin of a word? Get your answer here.
94. Encyclopedia Mythica - Mythology, folklore and religion
95. Malaspina Great Books
96. Start of the Hero's Journey - Explore this archetypal literary structure
97. Dictionary.com
98. Oxford English Dictionary
99. Book Rags

100. Bookworm - A highly addictive online word game (don't go here unless you have time to kill)
101. Crossword Links

Bonus Links

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:21 AM 6 comments Links to this post

Saturday, March 24, 2007

How to Mark a Book

One of the most important skills in reading well is marking the text. Mortimer Adler gives an excellent introduction to writing in books in his essay "How to Mark a Book." Here are a few quotes, followed by my thoughts:
You know you have to read "between the lines" to get the most out of anything. I want to persuade you to do something equally important in the course of your reading. I want to persuade you to write between the lines. Unless you do, you are not likely to do the most efficient kind of reading.
My comment: Once I started writing in my books (sometime in college), I began understanding and retaining much more of what I read. It does take longer, but when I do it the payoff is worth it.
There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best sellers -- unread, untouched. (This deluded individual owns woodpulp and ink, not books.) The second has a great many books -- a few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many -- every one of them dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back. (This man owns books.)
My comment: I aspire to be the third kind of owner, but I am afraid I am more like number two. Most of the books I've read look as brand new as the day I bought them. I think it's because I treasured reading so much when I was younger. Intellectually I agree with Adler, but emotionally it is still very hard to make myself write in a book.
The front end-papers are to me the most important. Some people reserve them for a fancy bookplate. I reserve them for fancy thinking. After I have finished reading the book and making my personal index on the back end-papers, I turn to the front and try to outline the book, not page by page or point by point (I've already done that at the back), but as an integrated structure, with a basic unity and an order of parts. This outline is, to me, the measure of my understanding of the work.
My comment: I agree completely with what Adler says about outlining here. To me, outlining is the single most effective way to understand a text and make it a part of me. Outlining forces me to see how the book fits together, but it also makes me summarize and paraphrase, which is how I truly understand what an author is trying to accomplish.

For more great essays by Adler be sure to check out the Radical Academy.

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posted by Nick Senger at 8:21 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Friday, March 23, 2007

How to Find Time to Read

Not enough hours in the day for you to read? Take a look at this excerpt from David McCullough's 1999 commencment address to the University of Connecticut (and listen to a short audio clip here):
Reportedly the average American watches 28 hours of television every week, or approximately four hours a day. The average person, I'm told, reads at a rate of 250 words per minute.

So, based on these statistics, were the average American to spend those fours a day with a book, instead of watching television, the average American could, in a week, read:
  • The complete poems of T.S. Eliot;
  • Two plays by Thornton Wilder, including Our Town;
  • The complete poems of Maya Angelou;
  • Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury;
  • The Great Gatsby; and
  • The Book of Psalms.
That's all in one week.

If the average American were to forsake television for a second week, he or she could read all of Moby Dick, including the parts about whales, and make a good start, if not finish, The Brothers Karamazov.

Could you imagine the change that would take place if everyone substituted reading for television viewing? We're about a month away from TV-Turnoff Week, and if you're like me you've got a whole shelf full of books you want to read and precious little time to get to them. Why not go without TV for an entire week and see how much reading you can fit in?

For more about the effects of television on our culture, see these books:

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ever Wonder How Audio Books Were Recorded?

Naxos Audiobooks has released a video trailer of Neville Jason recording War and Peace. It's fascinating to watch him act out the book as he reads. I never realized that audio book narrators actually read from books. I always thought the book was made into a script before recording. But you can see for yourself that he's using a hardcover copy of the book, and has even dog-eared some of the pages:

I read War and Peace once, but I have to admit that I went through the last quarter of the book pretty quickly. If you've always wanted to read War and Peace but never found the time or the persistence, try the audio book. You can find it unabridged in two volumes at the Literary Compass bookstore.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Secret Life of Bookshelves

Bookshelves make for strange bedfellows. On my shelves I see Hank Aaron's I Had a Hammer next to Flatland by Edwin Abbot. Hmmm...

I got to thinking about bookshelves because I'm about to start reading a book by Henry Petroski called The Book on the Bookshelf. Petroski's book is both a history and a tribute. He traces the development of bookshelves while at the time celebrating their usefulness. And, as he says,
"The story of the bookshelf cannot be told without telling the story of the book, and how it evolved from scroll to codex to printed volume. These are not arcane subjects that have little relevance for for the new millenium; they are among the basic data of civilization that provide a means to a better understanding of the evolving technology of today and to extrapolating it into the future..."
As I glance through the pages of his book I notice many illustrations and photographs: scrolls on shelves, rolling book presses, the first-floor plan of the Library of Congress. The book looks fascinating, and I'll give my review of it when I finish reading it. For now, take a look at this incredible picture by Thomas Eagle of Bassano, Italy:

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Read This Book and Get Out of Debt

My wife and I bought Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover about eight months ago and it's proving to be one of the best investments we've ever made. Using Dave's philosophy we've been able to almost completely eliminate our debt. In three more months we will be totally debt-free except for our home mortgage. Dave's approach is not simply a system, it's a philosophy--a change in the way we think about money and debt. And it works.

The book is very easy to read, and is padded with all the personal stories you come to expect in a book like this, but these stories are actually motivating and encouraging. A great side effect of reading The Total Money Makeover is that my wife and I haven't been as stressed out about money, even though it's been tight as we pay down our debt.

It's a great book, and the philosophy really works--at least it's working for us. Thanks to the SQPN network for letting us know about it--it has changed our lives.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

9 Short Books That Will Change Your Life Forever

A book doesn't have to be long to have long-reaching effects. Here are 9 books that can profoundly change you, in order from shortest to longest:
  1. The Practice of the Presence of God - Brother Lawrence (96 pp.): Brother Lawrence was a humble monk who cooked for the monastery, but found God in the daily chores of his life. This book contains the lessons he learned about experiencing God's presence throughout his entire day.
  2. The Rule of St. Benedict (112 pp.): St. Benedict wrote this to regulate the lives of the men with whom he lived in community, but it has since become one of the most practical guides to spirituality in the history of Christendom. The Prologue alone is life-changing.
  3. Abandonent to Divine Providence - Jean-Pierre de Caussade (119 pp.): Surrendering to God does not mean losing ourselves in the process. de Caussade's beautiful book should be read slowly and savored deeply.
  4. To Know as We are Known - Parker J. Palmer (125 pp.): Palmer's book explores how our motives for learning shape what we learn. If our reason for learning is to gain power or control, then what we learn will only lead to destruction and misery. Should be read by every student and every teacher.
  5. Prayer for Beginners - Peter Kreeft (125 pp.): Kreeft's simple primer on prayer can work wonders on a person who is beginning to pray, but can also help give focus to those whose prayer life has become stagnant. Like all Kreeft's works, clear and practical.
  6. What Does God Want: A Practicial Guide to Making Decisions - Michael Scanlon (127 pp.): An excellent guide to knowing the right thing to do, no matter how small the decision. Simple to read, profound in its effects.
  7. Life and Holiness - Thomas Merton (128 pp.): Merton writes about how our daily work and activities can lead us to holiness.
  8. The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims - Peter Kreeft (128 pp.): Using a journey as a metaphor, Kreeft introduces us to the main schools of modern thought and explores each of them. The readers meets the Skeptic, the Cynic, the Nihilist, the Materialist, the Relativist, and others.
  9. Lying Awake - Mark Salzman (181 pp.): The only novel on the list is a beautiful story of a nun who is a poet and a visionary living outside Los Angeles in the modern day. A realistic yet respectful portrayal of convent life and the struggles and joys of living a life of religious vocation.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Do You Recognize the 7 Early Signs of Manchegan Madness?

One of the biggest risks facing readers today is the danger of falling prey to Manchegan Madness. Manchegan Madness is an obsessive compulsive desire to act out the events of a fictional story and/or become a fictional character. The first known manifestation of Manchegan Madness was documented by Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote. If you are a habitual reader, you should learn to recognize these early signs of the onset of the disease:
  1. Naming your pets after literary characters: Our dog's name is Pippin, and we constantly have to explain to people that he is named not for the basketball player Scotti Pippen, but for Peregrin Took from The Lord of the Rings.
  2. Cooking and eating dishes that your favorite characters have eaten: After reading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series I went to the store and bought a bottle of Madeira just to taste what they were drinking on board ship. It was delicious, and I have drunk many a bottle since. I haven't had the courage yet to try English pudding.
  3. Using lines of dialogue in daily conversation: Does saying "Oh bother," like Winnie the Pooh count?
  4. Owning (and wearing) clothes in imitation of a character: Harry Potter? Hercule Poirot? Once I dressed up as Doc Savage for Halloween, but no one knew who I was. I can't imagine why.
  5. Naming one (or more) of your children after your favorite characters: I personally have not done this (yet), but my parents told me just this year that I was named after the character Nick in The Big Valley TV series (thank you for not naming me Heath!). FYI, Atticus was the 704th most popular name in the U.S. in 2005, and Frodo was the 2772nd most popular name in Belgium in 2002.
  6. Purchasing or building a character's home: See this story of Dan Price's hobbit-hole.
  7. Quitting your job to take up the occupation of a fictional character you admire: Not yet, but going around the country with a sword trying to right wrongs is beginning to sound pretty good.
To date, the only known cure for MM (assuming a person wants to be cured) is to tell other people your symptoms. So if you have these or any other symptoms, be sure to let us know.

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posted by Nick Senger at 9:35 PM 2 comments Links to this post

Video Book Talk: Don Quixote

This week I read from Edith Grossman's translation of Don Quixote. I also mention the superb audio book narrated by George Guidall

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Don Quixote as You've Never Seen Him

Wow. Take a look at some of the illustrations from this 1880 edition of Don Quixote illustrated by by Ricardo Balaca and Jose Luis Pellicer. It's on eBay right now, so if you have an extra $6,000 laying around, let me know and I'll give you my shipping address :-)

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Irish Poetry

A beautiful poem from an Irish poet for this St. Patrick's Day:

Sailing to Byzantium - William Butler Yeats

THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

How Not to Read|Britannica Blog

There's an interesting post over at the Britannica Blog by J.E. Luebering about a new survey of books people have purchased or borrowed and yet did not read. A few notables: Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire, Crime and Punishment, and Bill Clinton's My Life.

Some quotes from the article:
the British survey, for instance, found that over half of respondents purchased books not to read but to decorate their homes. Others blame the books themselves: too long, too boring, too “difficult.”
What doesn’t draw much extended attention – because, no doubt, it’s simply a given — is the fact that there’s simply too much in this world to read. Alan Riding, in his NYT/IHT article, picks up and immediately drops the issue with his first sentence: “It may well be that too many books are published, but by good fortune not all must be read.”
My favorite quote of the whole article, though, is from Isaac D'Israeli's "The Man of One Book," which concisely expresses my feelings about reading:
Pliny and Seneca give very safe advice on reading: that we should read much, but not many books.
Also, be sure to check out Bob McHenry's comment on the post.


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posted by Nick Senger at 1:41 PM 0 comments Links to this post

10 Famous Irish Authors

In honor of St. Patrick's Day tomorrow, here is a list of 10 Irish authors and their most famous works:
I can't comment on too many of them, since I haven't read most of them, but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed Tristram Shandy. It's a book you can really savor.

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Dickens' Hard Times

For this week's First Line Friday here is the opening to Charles Dickens' Hard Times:
"Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!"
What an effective introduction to Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, the educational theorist of Coketown. Gradgrind believes that things like poetry and fairytales are "destructive nonsense." Unfortunately, judging from ongoing news about budget cuts to music and other arts programs, it appears Thomas Gradgrind is still alive and well in the 21st century.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Compass Quote

I came across this great quote today in Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual:

Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life.
--Jesse Lee Bennett

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posted by Nick Senger at 7:58 AM 0 comments Links to this post

The Thinking Machine

I'm currently reading "The Problem of Cell 13" by Jacques Futrelle to my eighth grade students. Futrelle is probably the best mystery writer you've never heard of. He could have been the next Arthur Conan Doyle except for one tragic event in his life: he bought a ticket to sail on the Titanic. He and his wife were in Europe and decided to return to American on the Titanic, cutting their vacation short. When the ship began sinking his wife May boarded a lifeboat and survived, but Futrelle refused the lifeboat and did not survive.

Futrelle's mysteries are short on character development, but if you like a good puzzle some of them are quite clever. He is most famous for "The Problem of Cell 13" in which his main character, Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen--also known as "The Thinking Machine"-- agrees to be locked in the death cell of Chisholm Prison to prove he can escape from it in a week. It's one of my favorite mystery short stories, and I highly recommend it.

All of Futrelle's Thinking Machine stories are available online at the official Futrelle site, or you can buy them in a collection published by the Modern Library. And apparently Futrelle himself becomes a detective in Max Collins' The Titanic Murders. I haven't read it, but if you like mysteries and are interested in the Titanic, give it a try. Leave a comment if you've read it to tell others about it.


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posted by Nick Senger at 5:25 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Video Book Talk: Philosophy and Plato

Where should you begin if you want to read philosophy? How about by reading The Last Days of Socrates, a collection of dialogues by Plato? Check out the video for more:

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posted by Nick Senger at 7:28 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Emily Douglas Makes a Difference

Here's a great story from the folks over at Karmatube:

Emily Douglas, as a high school senior, had delivered over 70,000 books and tons of clothing and toys to the children of Appalachia in Ohio. Emily's "Grandma's Gifts" program is proof, she says, that "anybody can make a difference who wants to."


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posted by Nick Senger at 9:54 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, March 12, 2007

Getting Back to Writing

I've decided to really make a big push to finish the first draft of the book I've been writing. If I really get serious about it, I could have a solid draft done by the middle of April. It's time I get this thing finished and ready to publish.

Unfortunately, that means taking time away from reading. But I can't let reading keep me from accomplishing one of my major life goals of having written a book. So wish me luck, and I'll keep you posted on my progress and maybe talk a little bit about what I'm writing.

I forgot first line Friday (of course!) so here it is, a little belated:
Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades' dark,
And left their bodies to rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done."
From Iliad by Homer, translated by Stanley Lombardo

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

In Flanders Fields

I'm experimenting with Windows Movie Maker and have created this video illustrating John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields." The audio comes from Librivox.org and the photos come from the Wikimedia Commons Project. Let me know what you think.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Google Earth and Literature

I've been focused more on technology than on literature for the past few days because I've been attending the 2007 Northwest Council for Computer Education conference here in Spokane. Still, I did manage to find this technology/literature connection from Will Richardson's Weblogg-ed blog:
So this is pretty cool…take the great piece of literature that you’re studying and plot out the travels of the characters on Google Earth and then, of course, share the goodness. This GoogleLit Trips site is put together by Jerome Burg in California and features Google Earth downloads for Candide, MacBeth, The Odyssey and The Aeneid among others. Just save the .kmz file to your computer, then open them up in Earth. He also has a document that shows how to format the bookmarks to add relevant information about he book.
I had the pleasure of listening to Richardson speak yesterday about using RSS and social bookmarking, and their implications on teaching and learning. Great stuff.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Free EBooks for Portable Devices

I'm attending an educational technology conference this week, and my first workshop was a terrific presentation by Karen Fasimpaur on using handhelds in schools. As she was telling us about eBook readers for the Palm like Mobipocket, Plucker and eReader, she mentioned two sites for free books: manybooks.net and memoware.com. Both sites have thousands of ebooks for download, many of them classics that are out of copyright in the United States.

As more people begin to embrace handhelds, sites like these will become more popular. Manybooks.net reports that in 2005 alone over 10,000 people downloaded H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds.

My mother told me to always carry a book with me, because you never know when you're going to have a long wait and reading a book is a great way to use your time. Now I can carry many books with me. So if you have Palm, iPod, Pocket PC, or other handheld device, be sure to check these sites out. And, since today is the day that Sherwood Anderson passed away in 1941, why not start by downloading Winesburg, Ohio from Manybooks.net?


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posted by Nick Senger at 5:10 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Commonplace Books

The Lyceum: "Commonplacing is the act of selecting important phrases, lines, and/or passages from texts and writing them down; the commonplace book is the notebook in which a reader has collected quotations from works s/he has read. Commonplace books can also include comments and notes from the reader; they are frequently indexed so that the reader can classify important themes and locate quotations related to particular topics or authors."

I've kept a commonplace book for about fifteen years. First I used a special notebook, but now I just keep it on my computer. Here are a couple of lines I've recorded over the years:
It is as possible for a man to know something without having been at school as it is to have been at school and to know nothing! Henry Fielding from Tom Jones

…if everyone in the world were to bring his own problems along to market with the intention of trading with his neighbors, a glimpse of his neighbors' problems would make him glad to take back home the ones he came with. Herodotus from The Histories

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barett Browning was born on this day in 1806. Her most famous poem:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints!---I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!---and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

A piece of trivia: Lord Leighton, one of my favorite painters, designed her tomb. It is made of Carrara marble and can be found in the "English Cemetery" in Florence Italy:

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:12 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Great Conversation

I've finished How to Think About the Great Ideas by Mortimer Adler, and am moving on to Herodotus' Histories. I recently joined the Great Conversation discussion group and that's the next title on their list. The Great Conversation is following the ten year reading plan suggested in the first volume of Britannica's Great Books of the Western World.

If you're interested in the Great Books you should click on over to The Great Conversation and join in the discussion.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:12 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Video Book Talk: Fr. Gabriel and Fasting

Here is the third in a series of three book talks about prayer, almsgiving and fasting. This week's book talk features Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:36 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Saturday, March 03, 2007

First Line Friday

Okay, so it's Saturday, but I meant to do this yesterday, so I'm going to pretend it's still Friday. And anyway, it's 5:30 in the morning and dark outside, so it's still Friday to me.

If I can make myself remember to do this, every Friday I'll post some of my favorite book openings. Today I'll give you two--one opening line, and one opening paragraph.

From The Princess Bride by William Goldman:
"The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette."
I just finished reading The Princess Bride to my eighth graders, and if your only exposure to the story is through the Rob Reiner movie, you really owe it to yourself to read the book.

From The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs:
Several centuries (or so) ago, in a country whose name doesn't matter, there was a tall, skinny, straggly-bearded old wizard named Prospero, and not the one you are thinking of, either. He lived in a huge, ridiculous, doodad-covered, trash-filled two-story horror of a house that stumbled, staggered, and dribbled right up to the edge of a great shadowy forest of elms and oaks and maples. It was a house whose gutter spouts were worked into the shape of whistling sphinxes and screaming bearded faces; a house whose white wooden porch was decorated with carved bears, monkeys, toads and fat women in togas holding sheaves of grain; a house whose steep gray-slate roof was capped with a glass-enclosed, twisty-copper-columned observatory. On the artichoke dome of the observatory was a weather vane shaped like a dancing hippopotamus; as the wind changed, it blew through the nostrils of the hippo's hollow head, making a whiny snarfling sound that fortunately could not be heard unless you were up on the roof fixing slates.
John Bellairs is mostly known as a writer of children's books, but this book is more for grown-up children. It's short but powerful, and both Ursula LeGuin and Lin Carter raved about it when it was first published. Try it out.


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posted by Nick Senger at 5:25 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Friday, March 02, 2007

March Poetry

"March Wind" by William Ross Searle

I'm a bit under the weather today, so I'll just reproduce two bits of poetry about March:

From Earthly Paradise: March by William Morris

Slayer of the Winter, art thou here again?
O welcome, thou that bring’st the Summer nigh!
The bitter wind makes not thy victory vain,
Nor will we mock thee for thy faint blue sky.

"March is the month of expectation" by Emily Dickinson

March is the month of expectation,
The things we do not know,
The Persons of prognostication
Are coming now.
We try to sham becoming firmness,
But pompous joy
Betrays us, as his first betrothal
Betrays a boy.


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posted by Nick Senger at 5:50 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Best Old Movies for Families

I was browsing through Borders Books the other day and came across a new book called The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together byTy Burr. Old movies are an interest of mine, and I have struggled with trying to get my kids to watch them, so I picked this book up hoping to get some help.

Burr, the film critic for The Boston Globe, does a great job listing movies from the golden age of cinema that kids of different ages will appreciate. He also has a good approach to introducing children to these movies. He suggests starting with comedies, and I agree with him. In fact, the day I bought the book I came home and put in Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush without telling the kids or inviting them to watch. Like a moth to flame, all four of our kids eventually drifted into the TV room to see what was on, and they all ended up watching most of it.

I like most of Burr's film suggestions, and his comments on the films are very helpful. He gives little bits of trivia that might interest the kids (the shoe that Chaplin ate was made of licorice) and occasionally guides the reader to the best DVD version to buy.

If you like old movies and want your kids to like them, you need this book. And if you think you don't like old movies and want to see what all the fuss is about, buy this book for yourself and pretend you're young again. You won't be disappointed.


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posted by Nick Senger at 5:28 AM 0 comments Links to this post