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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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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mr. Bean in the Library

Enjoy! (Hat tip to Kimbooktu.)

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:23 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The 15 Greatest Movies with Novels as Source Material

Not only are these great movies, but the novels on which they are based are classics, too. If you're in a reading group, why not read the book, then watch the movie? I only chose novels, no non-fiction (i.e., A Beautiful Mind) or drama (i.e., Much Ado About Nothing). Movies are listed alphabetically.
  1. Ben-Hur - Novel by Lew Wallace
  2. The Bridge on the River Kwai - Novel by Pierre Boulle
  3. Field of Dreams - Based on Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella
  4. The Godfather - Novel by Mario Puzo
  5. Gone with the Wind - Novel by Margaret Mitchell
  6. The Grapes of Wrath - Novel by John Steinbeck
  7. The Lord of the Rings - Novel by J.R.R. Tolkien
  8. The Maltese Falcon - Novel by Dashiell Hammet
  9. Master and Commander - Novel by Patrick O'Brian
  10. The Natural - Novel by Bernard Malamud
  11. A Room with a View - Novel by E.M. Forster
  12. The Searchers - Novel by Alan Lemay
  13. Shane - Novel by Jack Schaefer
  14. To Kill a Mockingbird - Novel by Harper Lee
  15. 2001: A Space Odyssey - Novel by Arthur C. Clarke
What are your favorite movies based on novels? Leave a comment and let me know.

Related posts:
The Best Old Movies for Families

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:34 AM 10 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Perfect Book?

Are you a bibliophile in search of the perfect book? Are you a perfectionist like I am? Then read on.

The following excerpt is taken from a fantasic book for readers called A Passion for Books: A Book Lover's Treasury, edited by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan (Times Books, 1999).

The Perfect Book
William Keddie

The Foulis's edition of classical works were much praised by scholars and collectors in the nineteenth century. The celebrated Glasgow publishers once attempted to issue a book which should be perfect specimen of typographical accuracy. Every precaution was taken to secure the desired result. Six experienced proof-readers were employed, who devoted hours to the reading of each page; and after it was thought to be perfect, it was posted up in the hall of the university, with a notification that a reward of fifty pounds would be paid to any person who could discover an error. Each page was suffered to remain two weeks in the place where it had been posted, before the work was printed, and the printers thought they had attained the object for which they had been striving. When the work was issued, it was discovered that several errors had been committed, one of which was in the first line of the first page.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:52 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, May 28, 2007

Literary Compass Meets Harry Dresden

I can take a hint.

First, there was the big display at my local Hastings store: Jim Butcher. Harry Dresden. I ignored it. After all, Hastings gets paid to display products.

Then, I saw a few respected bloggers mention the names and I thought, "Hmmm, maybe I should check this Harry Dresden thing out." So I did. The next time I was in Hastings I picked up Storm Front and started paging through it.

It didn't take long for me to make up my mind. In fact, I can tell you the exact phrase that sold me. And it wasn't "Think Philip Marlowe meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer." No, it was a little phrase the postman used to ridicule Dresden on page 2. The postman asks if Dresden is an actual wizard. "Spells and potions? Demons and incantations? Subtle and quick to anger?" And there it was. Subtle and quick to anger. Any book in which the postman quotes Tolkien can't be all bad.

So I bought it. I'll let you know how I like it.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:30 AM 3 comments Links to this post

Sunday, May 27, 2007

What is Reading For?

I saw this comment on a post in someone else's blog the other day:
My theory is, at least they're reading. Who cares what they read? Just read, damn it.
If the discussion were about kids who were just learning to read, I'd be inclined to agree--there is a point in everyone's life when the best way to improve as a reader is to read as much as you can, regardless of the content (mostly--I hate Captain Underpants!). But the blog post was about reading in general, and I just can't agree with this comment. There is no point in reading for reading's sake, unless you're trying to build fluency. You either read to be entertained or to be educated.

Both kinds of reading are worthwhile, but I think too many people stop at merely being entertained (and here I must say again that reading for entertainment and reading for education are not mutually exclusive). Henry Fielding offers this comment on reading for amusement:
The present age seems pretty well agreed in an opinion, that the utmost scope and end of reading is amusement only; and such, indeed, are now the fashionable books, that a reader can propose no more than mere entertainment, and it is sometimes very well for him if he finds even this, in his studies.

Letters, however, were surely intended for a much more noble and profitable purpose than this. Writers are not, I presume, to be considered as mere jack-puddings, whose business it is only to excite laughter: this, indeed, may sometimes be intermixed and served up with graver matters, in order to titillate the palate, and to recommend wholesome food to the mind; and for this purpose it hath been used by many excellent authors: "for why," as Horace says, "should not any one promulgate truth with a smile on his countenance?" Ridicule indeed, as he again intimates, is commonly a stronger and better method of attacking vice than the severer kind of satire.

When wit and humour are introduced for such good purposes, when the agreeable is blended with the useful, then is the writer said to have succeeded in every point. Pleasantry…should be made only the vehicle of instruction; and thus romances themselves, as well as epic poems, may become worthy the perusal of the greatest of men: but when no moral, no lesson, no instruction, is conveyed to the reader, where the whole design of the composition is no more than to make us laugh, the writer comes very near to the character of a buffoon; and his admirers, if an old Latin proverb be true, deserve no great compliments to be paid to their wisdom.

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posted by Nick Senger at 1:55 PM 4 comments Links to this post

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Enhance Your Summer Travel with Novels

A few summers ago I drove my family down the west coast of the US to visit friends in San Luis Obispo, California. I don't travel much, but when I do I like to read novels that take place in the places I visit. Since I knew we were going to stop in Monterey, I read Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. Not the most exotic novel or locale, but reading the book did add another layer of enjoyment to the trip.

Those of you with more ambitious travel plans (and larger pocketbooks) may want to check out Jeff Cotton's Fictional Cities. Jeff has done a thorough job of listing major novels that take place in London, Venice and Florence. Read some novels before your trip to prepare yourself for the historical sites you'll visit or take a few with you to completely immerse yourself in your temporary home. When you get back, revisit your favorite places by reading some more.

Or, if you're like me and don't get out much, here's your chance to do some armchair traveling to some of the most interesting places on the planet.

Don't miss Fictional Cities, one of the 101 Essential Web Sites for Readers of Literature.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:28 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Friday, May 25, 2007

Les Miserables in 4 Minutes and Lego Raiders of the Lost Ark

I don't have much time to post today, so here are a couple of fun videos to get your weekend started.

First, here's a Lego version of the Les Miserables musical that my eighth graders showed me yesterday. We're almost done reading the novel in class, and I couldn't show them the whole thing because it reveals the ending, but it's very well done. Don't watch it unless you already know how the story ends.



And here's a classic Lego version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Don't miss this one!

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:59 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Title Blending Meme

I've never started a meme before, but I've always wanted to (Well, maybe not always, but at least since last Thursday. Anyway...) Here are the rules:

Blend two book titles together by using the last word of one title and the first word of the second title. If you want, you can blend the authors' names too. Like this:
  • The Divine Comedy 0f Errors by Dante Shakespeare
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince of Tides by J.K Conroy
  • The Canterbury Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Geoffrey Blume
  • The Screwtape Letters to a Young Poet by C.S. Rilke
and of course,
  • The Last Don Quixote by Mario de Cervantes.
Now it's your turn. Write as many or as few as you want. Tag six people. Extra credit for blending titles with my other two favorite books, Lord of the Rings and Master and Commander. Extra extra credit if you can find another title that blends with Don Quixote.

I tag Sylvia, Stefanie, John D., Love2Learn Mom, Maureen, Jean, and anyone else who wants to play.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:33 AM 16 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What if Tolkien Wrote Stairway to Heaven?

I was purging some computer files the other day when I ran across these song lyrics I wrote a few years ago after Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring had just been released. It was something I did just for fun to show to my eighth grade students when we were studying The Hobbit. I forgot about until I found it the other day. I thought some of you might find it amusing.

The song is about Aragorn and his role in the Fellowship and Middle-earth. It's meant to be sung to the tune of "Stairway to Heaven," so you might want to listen to that song before you read these lyrics. Or, you can listen to this midi file (from Diamond-back.com) and sing along! On second thought, maybe you should just listen to "Stairway to Heaven" and call it good.

Anyway, here it is, with my apologies to Led Zeppelin:

He's Guiding a Hobbit to Mordor

There's a ranger who knows
All that glitters ain't gold
And he's guiding a hobbit
To Mordor

When he gets there he knows
If the Black Gate is closed
With a sword he do what he came for.
Ooh, ooh, and he's guiding a hobbit
To Mordor.

There's a sign on Khazad-dum
But he wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes runes have two meanings.
In a tree by the falls, there's an elf lass who sings;
Sometimes all of her hopes are misgiven.

Ooh, it makes him wander.
Ooh, it makes him wander.

There's a feeling she gets
When she looks to the west
And her spirit is crying for leaving.
In her thoughts she has seen
Rings of smoke through the trees
And the ranger is fighting the goblins.

Ooh, it makes him wander.
Ooh, it really makes him wander.

And it's whispered that soon
Rohan riders will swoon
For the worm tongue will lead them to treason.
And the new day won't dawn
For those who fight long,
But the forests will echo with entmoot.

If there's a traitor in the comp'ny
Don't be alarmed now,
It's just a vision by the elf queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But after Moria
You must determine which road you're on.
And it makes you wander.

Your head is humming and it won't go
In case you don't know.
The ring is calling you to take it.
Dear ranger can you hear the wind blow
And did you know
Your stairway lies through the paths of dead?

And as you wind on down the road
The Shadow taller than your soul
There walks a hobbit we all know
Who shines white light where cobwebs grow
And always bears that band of gold.
And if you listen very hard
The reign will come to you at last
Wherefore Arwen and Elessar
Will tie the knot and be made whole.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:55 AM 5 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

5 Great Books to Read Aloud at the Family Dinner Table

One of my favorite things to do is share stories with my family at the dinner table. A few years ago when I was reading Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series my boys asked me each night at dinner to tell them what had happened to Captain Aubrey and his friend Stephen Maturin. It gave me a chance to share the joys of reading with my sons, and it also encouraged me to keep reading.

Another great way to encourage reading in your kids is to read to them at the beginning of dinner. Reading to your family at dinner has several benefits:
  1. Everyone has to be quiet while you read.
  2. The stories give you something to talk about as a family.
  3. You get the chance to model good reading skills.
  4. You create family memories that last a lifetime.
Reading at the dinner table should be brief, for three reasons: (1) kids have short attention spans; (2) you need time to talk about what you've read; and (3) you need to eat.

Here are several titles that contain short readings that are perfect for reading aloud at the dinner table (Be sure to preview each story before reading it to your kids--some of these books contain stories that would launch the kind of discussion you may not be ready for, if you know what I mean):
You can also read from your favorite saint book, Aesop's fables, or chapters from books like the Magic Treehouse series.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:30 AM 1 comments Links to this post

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 3 comments Links to this post

Saturday, May 19, 2007

How to Turn a Book into a Treasured Heirloom

(Cross-posted at ROMAN Reading)

Stefanie at So Many Books has just posted a review of ROMAN Reading and it's generating some great comments about marking in books. Here's one by Whatladder that I particularly like:
My husband claims that his favourite book ever is the copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetry I gave him that had all my pencilled notes in it.
What a terrific reminder of the value of marking in books. Besides helping you engage in the text, writing in a book also leaves a visible sign of your presence. When Whatladder's husband reads her marked up book of poetry, he's not just coming into contact with great writers, he's getting to know his wife more intimately. She's there in those pages--her ideas, her reactions, her spirit. I think it's beautifully romantic that her husband has recognized that.

Can you imagine a more meaningful and personal family heirloom than a library of books full of our own thoughts, comments and insights? Think of our children and grandchildren reading through them, getting to know their ancestors. I would love to have a set of books written in by my grandparents. We only get to know our parents and grandparents when they're older; what if we could read their minds when they were our age? What if I could know what my own father thought about life when he was twenty or thirty or forty? Leaving comments in books gives us that chance.

Let's take it a step further: What if your grandmother wrote comments in her copy of Pride and Prejudice, for example. And what if your mother inherited it and added her comments to her mother's? And now the book is yours. Not only do you have a treasured physical possession, you also have something far more valuable: your mother's and grandmother's intimate thoughts and emotions captured for a brief moment on paper. But there's more: Now you have the chance to add your own reflections, insights and reactions to the book for your daughter to read.

Here's an idea: Buy a book with one of your children or grandchildren in mind and read it, marking it up as you go. You can direct the comments directly to them, or you can simply mark it up as you would any piece of literature. After you've finished the book, wrap it up and give it to them as a present. Save it for graduation, or their wedding, or a significant birthday. Maybe give it to them on their confirmation or bar mitzvah, or at a baby shower.

For more about marking up a text, download my free ebook ROMAN Reading: 5 Practical Skills for Transforming Your Life through Literature.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:11 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Friday, May 18, 2007

What's New at Literary Compass?

I've been getting quite a bit of traffic lately, thanks to Darren Rowse's Top 5 Group Writing Project and Jeffrey Trachtenberg's article in the Wall Street Journal which mentions my post Literary Testosterone: 30 Must-Read Classics for Teenage Boys (scroll down to the bottom--it's there under Blog Posts about this Topic).

If you're new here, welcome. I encourage you to subscribe to Literary Compass and to leave comments whenever you feel like it. If you add me to your blogroll, let me know and I'll add you to mine.

With all the new readers, I thought I'd acquaint everyone with what's been going on lately here at Literary Compass.

First, here are some of the more popular posts:Next, I've been very busy trying to promote my free ebook:
Be sure to check out my other other blogs:And finally, here's a sneak peak at what's coming up in the next couple of weeks:
  • The ROMAN Reading Online Book Group: This is going to be BIG, so make sure to keep checking back for the official launch. My plan is to start a summer reading group for all you parents who want your kids to be reading over the summer and want to give them some incentive and support. It's perfect for kids on summer vacation and kids who are homeschooled.
  • But this group is for you as well. This is going to be a family reading group where everyone can participate. Books will be chosen for their ability to appeal to all ages. Families can read them together at night on campouts, or each member can read them separately and discuss them over the dinner table, however it fits your family's schedule. Others are welcome too: college students at home for the summer, empty-nesters and retirees--all are invited to join.
  • I don't want to say too much more now, but I will say that the book group is going to be fairly informal and very fun--I'll be on summer break, after all. I hope to use video and audio, and to make it as interactive as possible.
  • I'm not quite done planning everything yet, so if you have any ideas, please let me know and I'll take them into consideration. Leave a comment or send me an email: literarycompass @ gmail.com

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posted by Nick Senger at 12:13 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Were You Wondering about Me?

Whether you were or not, Sylvia at Classical Bookworm has tagged me with Eight Random Things about Me, so you have to suffer through this anyway:
  1. I'm a fan of Doc Savage and I own a complete set of Doc Savage novels.
  2. I used to live in North Dakota.
  3. I can't stand glitter in my classroom.
  4. I only drink water.
  5. When I was first learning how to drive, I knocked a stop sign down and my dad took me to the police station to report it.
  6. One of my guilty pleasures is the very cheesy Hudson Brothers movie Hysterical.
  7. One of my second cousins, Glenn Hanson, played basketball for the Chicago Bulls.
  8. I won the National Catholic Education Association's Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award in 2001.
Now it's my turn. According to the rules I have to tag eight people, so I tag Julie, Will, Becky, Willa, Kim, Jim, Stefanie, and Maureen. Have fun!

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:35 AM 5 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Literary Testosterone - 30 Must-Read Classics for Teenage Boys

This is a follow-up to Maureen's question about recommendations for 12 and 13 year-old boys. Without getting into a big discussion about gender stereotyping, let me just say that in general boys at this age tend to read books that are more action and adventure oriented, while girls enjoy reading more about relationships.

Case in point: I teach The Hobbit and Les Miserables to my eighth graders each year. Both boys and girls love these books. But when I look at the few students who didn't like them, I have more girls who didn't like The Hobbit, and more boys who didn't like Les Miserables.

The books I'm about to recommend for boys are also great for girls to read, and there are many books not listed here that boys would like. I think boys should read Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Louisa May Alcott, but I don't think most boys would pick these books up on their own. The following books are titles and authors that I think most boys would enjoy, and that contain themes that are valuable for teen and pre-teen boys to think about.

Fantasy/Horror
  • Anything by Ray Bradbury: I think of Ray Bradbury as a modern-day Edgar Allen Poe, and his books are perfect for teenage boys. There's always something to talk about after reading Ray Bradbury.
  • Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs - Along with Treasure Island, probably the perfect action/adventure story.
  • The Belgariad by David Eddings - Lord of the Rings lite; lots of fairly innocent fun; not much depth, but a good read.
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell - An excellent introduction to talking about political systems.
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White - Classic story of King Arthur.
  • The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr. - This book is a hidden gem--important spiritual themes, connections to Chaucer and the middle ages. I once had the opportunity to interview the author with my eighth graders after we finished studying it - they loved the interview and the book. Don't miss it.
Science Fiction
  • Flatland by Edwin Abbott - A brief fairytale-ish book that explores mathematical concepts like the fourth dimension. Fun and educational.
  • The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov - A sort of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire set in space; great plot twists. A true classic of the genre and very accessible to teens. The first book in the series is Foundation.
  • The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov - A great murder mystery set in the future. Combines elements of science fiction and classic mystery stories into one.
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - I hesitated to put this on the list because it contains some profanity and a few disturbing elements, but every single student of mine who has read this has loved it. Without exception. Read this with your kids so you can talk about it with them.
  • The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Before Michael Crichton's version, the author of Sherlock Holmes had already written about a lost island of dinosaurs.
  • Time and Again by Jack Finney - A terrific time travel story; the amount of historical detail in this book is mind-boggling. Part mystery, part romance, part sci-fi, it really defies categories.
Historical
  • The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara - Pulitzer winning novel of the battle of Gettysburg; would be great to read in conjunction with an American History class. After they finish, show them the movie Gettysburg.
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas - Look up swashbuckle in the dictionary and you'll find this book. Young readers may need help understanding church politics.
  • Mr. Midshipman Easy by Captain Frederick Marryat - a great precursor to Forester's Hornblower series or Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series. Fun and easy to read.
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott - Classic medieval adventure.
Mysteries
  • The Father Brown stories by G. K. Chesterton - The gentle, intelligent Father Brown makes a great role model for boys, and gives them a healthy portrayal of a priest.
  • Anything by Agatha Christie - Her books are continual favorites of my students, especially the novels featuring Hercule Poirot. Make sure they read Curtain (but only after reading four or five other Hercule Poirot mysteries first).
  • The Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters - Brother Cadfael is a monk in the thirteenth century who always seems to end up in the middle of murder investigations. The first book is A Morbid Taste for Bones.
Assorted other titles:
  • Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling - Terrific coming of age story set at sea.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Explores many issues, but one key issue is the definition of courage.
  • The Ox-bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark - Not only a great Western, but an insightful exploration of justice and vigilantism. Perfect for discussing over the dinner table.
  • Hondo - Every boy should read at least one Louis L'Amour novel in his life, and Hondo is one of the best.
  • Shane by Jack Schaefer- The all-time greatest Western ever written (in my humble opinion). Another must-read for pre-teen or teenage boys.
  • Hiroshima by John Hersey - A nonfiction account of survivors of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. This can be a frightening book for young readers, so use your own judgement.
  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot - Nonfiction account of a rural veterinarian; another perfect book for boys.
For more titles for both boys and girls download my Books to Be Tasted Junior High Reading List. You may need to sign up at FreeIQ to download it, but the account is free.

Also, I'm currently developing a summer reading group for junior high and high school students and their families that I plan to launch in the next week or two. Stay tuned.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:53 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Don Quixote for Young Readers?

Maureen asks:
I have 12 and 13 yo boys and would love some book recommendations. Is Don Quixote appropriate for their age group? They are voracious readers, and I find we're on the brink of children's and adult books. Thanks for any advice.
What a great question! One of my favorite things to do is recommend books. First, concerning Don Quixote: In sixteen years of teaching junior high students, I only recall three students who read Don Quixote all the way through, but each of them really enjoyed it.

My wife and I have a sixteen-year-old boy and a twelve-year-old boy (not to mention our two daughters ages 8 and 2), and I have to say that our sixteen-year-old who is not a habitual reader yet (sigh), would not touch Don Quixote with a twelve-foot pole; but our twelve-year-old laughs out loud whenever my wife listens to the audiobook in the car. I'm not sure he's ready to read it, but he definitely gets the humor.

One caveat: Don Quixote can be a bit risque at times, almost like a vaudeville show. It's very tame compared to society's standards (alas!), but there are a few sections where an innocent young man might come to his parents to ask what something means. Purity, honor and religion are always upheld as virtues, but there are occasional references to things like prostitutes and consummating marriages.

Finally, Part I of Don Quixote is filled with digressions, side stories, and one out-and-out novel that is inserted into the story. I happen to enjoy the side-stories, but young readers may not have the patience to read about secondary characters for long periods (and most of the side stories are love stories). However, if they can make it to the second half of the book it will be worth it. Part II was written about fifteen years after Part I, and as enjoyable and necessary as Part I is, Part II is by far the better half, in my opinion. You could even suggest that they read Part I then take a break and read something else before coming back to Part II, so they don't get burned out on too much Don Quixote.

Wow, I didn't expect to say so much about Don Quixote. But then, I do have Manchegan Madness, so I guess it's to be expected. I'll follow this post up with some book recommendations for pre-teenage and teenage boys.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:13 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Reading Roundup 01

What are people reading in the literary blogosphere?
Here's a roundup of what's new in the world of reading groups:

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:35 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Monday, May 14, 2007

Are you a Horizontal Reader or a Vertical Reader?

No, I'm not talking about your body's position when you read, I'm talking about the way you read.

I was thinking about my reading habits the other day while working on another book, and it occured to me that there are two ways to approach reading:
  • Horizontal reading: this is an approach where you try to read as many books as possible; the idea here is that the more you read the more you know. Horizontal readers voraciously devour books day after day, week after week.
  • Vertical reading: vertical readers are deep readers, spending more time with their books and reading them more in-depth. Their philosophy is to get as much as they can out of one book before moving on to another.
What kind of reader are you? If you're like me, you probably go through periods of time when you do more horizontal reading (for me it's summer time, when I read book after book), and other times when you savor your books, marking in them, outlining them, discussing them with a reading group. I can also be a genre "binge reader," where I go on a binge reading a bunch of mysteries or Catholic-themed novels, or classics, for instance. Last summer I went on binge with books about great teaching. Last fall I went on a Mortimer Adler binge.

Is it better to be a horizontal reader or a vertical reader? I don't know. I suppose they're both necessary. Most of the practical skills I've learned have come from horizontal reading. Most of my philosophical and religious views have come from vertical reading.

What's your opinion?

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:47 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Sunday, May 13, 2007

5 Books about the Blessed Mother for Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all of you moms today. In honor of Mother's Day, here are five books about Mary, our Blessed Mother:

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:37 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Frodo and Sam Sing in Lord of the Rings Musical

I love this song from the new Lord of the Rings musical now playing on Drury Lane in London:

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:03 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Introducing Free Daily Learning

Because things at Literary Compass are not all books and no play, I'd like to tell you about the newest addition to my blog family, Free Daily Learning. At Free Daily Learning you will learn something new every day on a variety of topics:
Subscribe to the feed and get a new tutorial each and every day. Increase your knowledge. Impress your family at the dinner table. Visit Free Daily Learning.

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posted by Nick Senger at 8:34 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Read for Your Life

Motivational speaker Pat Williams has an important new book out called Read for Your Life: 11 Ways to Transform Your Life with Books. Pat is the father of nineteen children, a marathon runner, the senior vice president of the Orlando Magic basketball team, and a reader.

His book is designed to encourage people to read for an hour every day. He says, "Hey, if I can do it with nineteen kids, so can everyone else." Yeah, but does his wife read for an hour every day, too, or is she the one taking care of the children so he can read? :-)

(Cranky aside: Some of you may have noticed how similar his title is to my ebook, ROMAN Reading: 5 Practical Skills for Transforming Your Life through Literature. Not only is the title similar, but he basically wrote the book I was intending to write, and [grits teeth] he did it better. It was released just last month, and I couldn't believe it when I took it off the shelf to look at. It was one of the most demoralizing moments of my life. He even used some of the same quotes I was planning on using. Oh well, I have lots of other books inside me, even if I'm not the father of nineteen kids, or a marathon runner, or the vice president of an NBA team, or a motivational speaker with a crack team of researchers and ghost writers. And I'm not bitter at all.)

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:47 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Grief Observed

About ten days ago I wrote about a former student who had been ordained a deacon. Yesterday I saw him again, but the circumstance were far from joyful. He was the assisting deacon at a funeral mass I attended.

The funeral was for my friend's husband, who passed away at the age of 49 from cancer. He found out he had cancer about ten months ago, shortly after he found out they were expecting their third child. Their daughter was born a few weeks before he died.

C.S. Lewis lost his wife Joy to cancer when she was only 45, and he wrote about it in his book A Grief Observed. Here are a few of his thoughts:
No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

Meanwhile, where is God?...Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, "So there's no God after all," but, "So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer."

Once very near the end I said, "If you can--if it is allowed--come to me when I too am on my death bed." "Allowed!" she said. "Heaven would have a job to hold me; and as for Hell, I'd break it into bits."
Rest in peace, Kevin.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:14 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

ROMAN Reading Now Available as a Free Audio Book

(Cross posted at ROMANReading.com)

My free eBook ROMAN Reading: 5 Practical Skills for Transforming Your Life through Literature is now available as a free mp3 download at FreeIQ. To download the file you have to get a free acount, but once you join you'll have access to some great content. I've also made the audio book available as streaming audio, so that you can embed the file on your blog if you want, like this:

Get the Flash Player to see this player.


For more on why I wrote the book and why I'm giving it away for free, see this post, where you can also find a link to download it.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:52 AM 0 comments Links to this post

The Ultimate Blook Guide: Blogging Your Book

One of the great things about joining a group writing project is that you discover some other good bloggers and blog posts, like Novlr.com's Ultimate Blook Guide: Blogging Your Book. Whether you're currently writing a book or just thinking about it, you might find Novlr.com's ideas helpful. Topics include:
  • Choosing a blogging platform
  • Set it up
  • Optimize
  • Copyright
  • Write!
  • Promote
  • Publish

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:36 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Top 5 Web Sites for a Deserted Island

If you were stranded on a deserted island with your laptop and a satellite internet connection that could only access 5 websites, which 5 would you want? Here are my choices:
  1. Hotmail.com - so I could check my email (oh, yeah, I guess I could email someone to come and get me, but being stranded on a deserted island for awhile might be kinda nice--for a little while at least)
  2. Google Reader - so I could keep up with all my blogging friends
  3. FreeIQ - So I could learn from the best content providers in the world and make money at the same time
  4. Blogger.com - so I could update all of you on my day to activities ("Broke open a coconut today...")
  5. Project Gutenberg - so I could finally get to all those great books I've been wanting to read (as long as my glasses didn't break, like Burgess Meredith in the Twilight Zone...)
A bit off topic today, but I wanted to enter ProBlogger's Top 5 contest; why not come up with an entry of your own? You could win $1001.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:48 AM 18 comments Links to this post

Sunday, May 06, 2007

New Secrets of Lord of the Rings Podcast on SQPN

A new podcast reveals the secrets behind J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

As many of you know, about two weeks ago Tolkien's new book The Children of Hurin was released and has been topping best seller lists since then. In fact, according to Ireland Online, over 90,000 copies are already in print worldwide and Houghton Mifflin has doubled its printing from 250,000 to 550,000.

To coincide with the release of the book and the new online multiplayer game Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN) has created a new podcast called Secrets of Lord of the Rings, hosted by the podcasting priest Fr. Roderick Vonhogen. And since it's an SQPN podcast, you know it's going to be extremely high quality in both production and content.

If you're not familiar with SQPN, you should most definitely check them out. Remember, you don't need an iPod or mp3 player to listen to podcasts. You can listen to them right on your computer.

And when it comes to great podcasts there's SQPN, and then there's everyone else. Fr. Roderick founded SQPN with its flagship podcasts the Catholic Insider and the Daily Breakfast, but the network has since exploded in both popularity and number of podcasts offered. Here are its current offerings, with a few of my comments:

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

Friday, May 04, 2007

My Reading Life Is a Shopping Cart with Wobbly Wheels

As far as my current reading goes, I feel like a wobbly-wheeled shopping cart going out of control, swerving down the aisles of the supermarket about to collide with a big display of cereal boxes. I keep veering back and forth between different kinds of books, trying to keep up with my insatiable hunger for knowledge. Here's what I'm reading:
I'm in the middle of all of them at the same time, and I don't like it. I don't mind reading two or even three books at a time, but six is too many, and I haven't even mentioned The Liturgy of the Hours, which is my daily prayer book. And I'm also listening to an unabridged audio recording of Don Quixote during my commute. It's out of control.

So I'm either going to have to finish a couple of them soon, or I'm going to have to set some aside. The Liturgy of the Hours and The Intellectual Devotional don't really count, since those are meant to be read daily, but I have to do something about the others.

The problem is that they're all just so good. Oh well, so many books, so little time...

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:01 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Music to Listen to While You Read, Part III - Lord of the Rings

As promised in part II, here are some CDs I like to listen to while I read The Lord of the Rings:
  • The Tolkien Ensemble has done a beautiful job setting all of the songs in The Lord of the Rings to music. Their work is collected in four CDs: An Evening in Rivendell, A Night in Rivendell, At Dawn in Rivendell and Leaving Rivendell. The sound is more classical than I expected, but it really grew on me.
  • Another album I listen to is Broceliande's Starlit Jewel. This is another interpretation of songs from Lord of the Rings, but with a more ethereal sound. The CD also includes songs from The Hobbit.
  • Finally, there is Johan de Meij's Symphony No. 1, also known as The Lord of the Rings Symphony. Composed and recorded long before the movies, this symphony is a series of movements inspired by the books and titled Gandalf, Lothlorien, Gollum, Journey in the Dark, and The Hobbits.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:03 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My Apologies

I'm sorry if some of you were asked to join FreeIQ yesterday when you tried to download my new eBook. I didn't realize FreeIQ required you to log in to download free items. I have since changed all the links to Scribd, so there shouldn't be any more problems. You can still visit my FreeIQ page to sign up for the ROMAN Reading newsletter.

Sorry for the mix-up. If you tried unsuccessfully to download it yesterday, give it a try today. Alternatively, you can email me and I'll send it directly to you as a pdf attachment.

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

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

ROMAN Reading Will Improve Your Reading Habits in Under an Hour

My new eBook ROMAN Reading: 5 Practical Skills for Transforming Your Life through Literature is available for free today!

Download ROMAN Reading (1.86 mb) and in less than an hour you'll have learned reading skills that last a lifetime. I've been teaching these skills for over sixteen years, and I can teach you. For free.

Why? Because I have a mission, and I want you to share it with me.

The mission? Changing lives one page at a time. I want to make the world a more literate place, a place where people think for themselves, learn about their world, and share their ideas with each other.

A literate world is a world of peace, tolerance and vision. We've got our work cut out for us.

To help accomplish this mission, I'm giving this eBook away for free.

But I need your help. I need you to turn this eBook into a virus that sweeps the world, a reading infection that keeps spreading itself from friend to friend, reader to reader. We need to get this book into the hands of reading groups, teachers, homeschoolers, high school and college students, and interested readers of all ages.

How can you help?
  • Download the book and read it!
  • Share it with all your friends.
  • Visit www.RomanReading.com often for more tips on reading literature. (Linking to it would help too!)
  • Sign up for the ROMAN Reading newsletter at FreeIQ.
Together we can make the world a more literate place by changing lives one page at a time.

On this feast of St. Joseph the Worker, please pray that ROMAN Reading makes a positive difference, no matter how small.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:31 AM 6 comments Links to this post