How to read

Modern man is a voracious reader who has never learned to read well. Part of the trouble is that he is taught to read drivel that is hardly worth reading well. (There was a time when Jewish children learned to read by reading the Bible.)

One ends up by reading mainly newspapers and magazines — ephemeral, anonymous trash that one scans on its way to the garbage can. One has no wish to remember it for any length of time; it is written as if to make sure that one won’t; and one reads it in a manner that makes doubly sure. There is no person behind what one reads; not even a committee. Somebody wrote it in the first place — if one can call that writing — and then various other people took turns changing it. For the final result no one is responsible; and it rarely merits a serious response. It cries out to be forgotten soon, like the books on which one learned to read, in school. They were usually anonymous, too; or they should have been.

In adolescence students are suddenly turned loose on books worth reading, but generally don’t know how to read them. And if, untaught, some instinct prompts them to read well, chances are that they are asked completely tone-deaf questions as soon as they have finished their assignment — either making them feel that they read badly after all or spoiling something worthwhile for the rest of their lives.

We must learn to feel addressed by a book, by the human being behind it, as if a person spoke directly to us. A good book or essay or poem is not primarily an object to be put to use, or an object of experience: it is the voice of You speaking to me, requiring a response.

How many people read Buber or Kierkegaard that way? Nietzsche or Hegel? Tolstoy or Euripides? Or the Bible? Rather, how few do it?

Walter Kaufmann, in his prologue to his translation of Martin Buber’s I and Thou, pp. 38-9

Review: The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas

The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas
The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas by √Čtienne Gilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gilson offers an insightful, relevant, and engaging introduction to the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. He does an excellent job of presenting it in a systematic form, a feat that Aquinas himself was, unfortunately, never able to accomplish, that allows the reader to understand, appreciate, and evaluate. Gilson also does an excellent job of relating the material to the reader, no matter how fine or difficult the points sometimes may be. Finally, Gilson demonstrates, against Aquinas’s detractors, that Aquinas’s philosophy is one that is vitally and essentially Christian and a development of earlier Christian thought such as in the works of Ss. Dionysius the Areopagite and John of Damacus, and not a departure in favor of pagan or Islamic Aristotelianism. I recommend this book to anyone interested in philosophy, especially Medieval and Christian philosophy, and anyone interested in the development of Christian thought.

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Mark Antony’s sails

Although triremes were meant to be rowed in battle, each ship had a mast and sail that were used when there was a considerable distance to go and a wind on the stern quarter. If a battle was expected, the bulky mast and sail were left on shore. In fact, it was so much the custom for early warships to leave the sails and masts ashore, that carrying them into battle, even though they were stowed below, was regarded as a sign of cowardice, since it implied the intention to leave the battle early. Mark Antony’s decision to take sails along into the great naval battle at Actium, in which he and Cleopatra VII were defeated by Octavian, is said to have demoralized his forces and contributed to his losing that battle.

Willard Bascom, Deep Water, Ancient Ships: Treasure Vault of the Mediterranean


Review: The Vital Needs Of The Dead

The Vital Needs Of The Dead
The Vital Needs Of The Dead by Sakhnovsky, Igor

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book was a major disappointment. The writing often came off as the kind of badly translated Russian one might get from Google Translate. I found myself more than once reading it in the Russian accent of a Soviet character from a Cold War-era spy movie. As for the subject of the writing, it was, at least for me, entirely unrelatable. Perhaps if I had been born and raised in the Soviet Union, I might have been able to identity a bit. As it was, there was little in any character, place, or event that bore any similarity to my world; as a matter of fact, there was so little character development, place description, or events recorded that it would be hard to say that even someone born and raised in the Soviet Union would find anything to identify with. Finally, the story went absolutely nowhere and seemed, ultimately, the be little more than the sex-obsessed ramblings of a Freudian neurotic.

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What about God?

Those without ties to organized religion who feel that, although much of institutional religion is repulsive, not all scriptures are bare nonsense, have to ask themselves: what about God?

Those who prefer the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Job to the God of the philosophers and theologians have to ask: what about God?

Those who read the Bible and the Sacred Books of the East not merely as so much literature but as a record of experiences that are relevant to their own lives must ask: what about God?

They do not ask: what is he really like? what are his attributes? is he omniscient? can he do this or that? Nor: can his existence be proved? They do not assume that they know him and need only one additional piece of information. What they ask about is not some supernatural He. And the theologians are of little help, if any.

If only one knew the meaning of one’s own question! If only one could ask it properly or formulate it more precisely! Is it really a question? Or is it a deep concern that finds no words that do it justice?

… God as the eternal You whom men address and by whom they in turn feel — Buber would say, are — addressed makes sense of much literature and life.

Walter Kaufmann, in his prologue to his translation of Martin Buber’s I and Thou