For all their convenience, e-books just can’t do for us what physical books do. Something about the physical act of reading a book—the intertwined visual and tactile experience—stamps these things on our memory. An ebook is just too ephemeral—too disembodied, literally.
Author: Matthew J. Franck (Matthew Franck)
We mere mortals may have more in common with history’s unknown shoemakers and privates. But to understand our history, it is more often necessary to look up to the heights occupied by the most visible human beings—those whose thoughts, words, and actions have had the most far-reaching effects.
From the whimsical to the obscure to the most dry-as-dust earnestness, reference books represent our impulse—perhaps our need—to organize the world around us, and even the worlds inside our heads, into some form of order and sharper understanding.
No reader can read all there is, but there is more to the reading life than a duty to edify ourselves. Even the ephemera of our reading will give us something of value if we experience the pleasure of a well-told tale.
Adrian Vermeule’s new book, an attempt to rescue American constitutional law by recurring to the “classical legal tradition,” is undone by the author’s unreasonable attack on originalism and his inattention to the Constitution and its history.
The Hollywood “religious epic” movie genre of the postwar period was all about uplift, toleration, and offending exactly no one. Though entertaining at its best and an important part of the story of America’s rising pluralism, this genre proved finally to be too anodyne and unable to do justice to Scripture or the life of the early Church.
At used bookstores, I’ve discovered lesser-known titles from celebrated authors—Waugh, Koestler, and Cather. These works represent this most precious impulse of twentieth-century literature: that every life that comes within our reach has its claim on us, and is not to be wasted or sacrificed to any cause, program, or system on which we have the conceit to place a higher value.
Anyone who has spent his life in the academy, as I have, has reason to keep his mind open and his interests broad—namely, friends who write. My professional association over the last dozen years with the Witherspoon Institute and Princeton’s James Madison Program has introduced me to a dazzling array of brilliant and productive minds. No, I don’t want my writing friends to stop. They have given me much to ponder, and I look forward to what they will all write next.
My ignorance of many important things gnaws at me, as does the consciousness that the rest of my life is not time enough to learn what I want to know. Lately my thoughts have turned to authors with whom I have some acquaintance but want to know better—specifically those philosophers and theologians who have shaped and transmitted the Catholic faith through the ages.
When the hits keep on coming, it’s difficult for series writers to resist the market demand. Success builds the writer’s treadmill, and it can lack an “Off” switch. Perhaps “keep them coming back for more” should be replaced as the series writer’s motto by “make them wish there had been more.”
The ideas that the truth about the human condition is radically contingent on history (historicism) and that we can speak rationally only about facts and not at all about “values” or moral principles (positivism) lead inexorably to a failure of all conviction, and ultimately to nihilism. What results is fanaticism: the impulse to bend others to one’s will, despite—or precisely because of—the lack of any rational foundation for one’s preferences.
Moving books home has turned my mind toward publishers that seem to be of high value because of the enduring importance of their books. One such is Liberty Fund, which specializes in classic conservative and libertarian texts in politics and economics. Another is the Library of America, which has a broad mission to publish (in its own words) “America’s greatest writing.”
There may indeed be a case for distinguishing the “female voice” and the “male voice” in literature. But don’t let anyone sell you on the false essentialism of a necessary “identity” of a writer with his or her principal subject, whether it be an identity of sex, or race, or culture.
Some of the best perspective-altering reading experiences I’ve had in recent years have come from books that I read well outside the bounds of my own research. Nonetheless they made their way into my thinking and writing in various ways—they “stuck.” And books that “stick” in this way we are apt to recommend whenever an opportunity arises.
Summer—a time of lounging in a shaded hammock between two trees, or under a beach umbrella—is a great time for bite-sized nonfiction. With Public Discourse taking a publishing hiatus for the week following Independence Day, now is a perfect time to stretch out with some small provocation of thought.
Every “no” to the state in the name of religious conscience is predicated on a greater “yes” to a power higher than the state.
“Medicine is a humanistic discipline that uses science to accomplish what all human beings would like to see for themselves, in their capacity to sustain themselves. Ultimately it is to aim for a person who could be what God intended him to be.”
One of the vital experiences of which the current pandemic robbed us for too long is the dinner party with friends. Reading about food, too, can be a pleasure in its own right, whether one tries out daring new recipes or not. My small kitchen library has a few notable classics that are as interesting for their authors’ voices as for their instruction in preparing dishes.
Many of the books behind our favorite films are very much worth reading. But the medium of cinema does not necessarily translate great literature effectively.
What libraries do on the demand side—acquiring the books and other materials that their faculty and students need to do their research—the university presses do on the supply side, bringing important research into print. Unfortunately, one of the best university presses in the country now faces the threat of closure.
Partisanship is strong drink, and moderate consumption of the intoxicant has always been difficult. Herewith some recommendations for reading on partisan moments in American history.
Dipping into Shakespeare’s plays from time to time was unsatisfying; I grew ambitious to read all of his works. Yet how to proceed through it all? Some eight years ago, I resolved to make my own daily reading plan for moving through all of Shakespeare’s works in a year. Here, I present the 2021 version.
Perhaps what unites the books that I’ve dragged my feet about reading is that they are Big Books, long and serious works of great literary merit. These require an investment of one’s time and energy, representing a reader’s marathon. There is no training for these marathons, of course. One must simply plunge in.
I have called books and authors “friends,” and that they are. Aristotle tells us the highest form of friendship is that which aims at another’s good as though it were one’s own, for in truth it is indistinguishable from one’s own. We reread our favorite books in gratitude, not only for the repeated pleasure of the experience but to know once again the good that our old friends have selflessly done us.
There never was a golden age when low politics didn’t enter into the process of Supreme Court nominations, but the furies unleashed by Roe v. Wade have driven the politics lower and lower. Perhaps one day the end of Roe will mean the end of “Borking” too. So we may fervently pray.