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Tuesday, December 04, 2018


“I cannot see that lectures can do so much good as reading the books from which they were taken.” So said Samuel Johnson, compiler of the 1755 “Dictionary of the English Language,” the first of its kind.

Christmas, or the Mass of Christ, ‘tis the season for giving! What better way to say “I love you” than with the gift of a book? The recipients’ only prerequisite is an intellect imbued with curiosity.

The following suggestions from favorite books and DVDs in my library are meant to be edifying, revealing, and instructive; not light, inconsequential, or superficial. Readers do not share the same tastes and space limits detailed descriptions of selections. However, reviews are always available on-line.

For starters, every home library should contain the Bible (New King James Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible, or New Revised Standard Version are preferred), the US Constitution, and The Declaration of Independence.

A broad and important genre traces the demise and regression of Western civilization and culture in general and that of the United States in particular.

“Grasping for the Wind: The Search for Meaning in the 20th Century,” by attorney John W. Whitehead, founder of The Rutherford Institute. His book is an analysis of 20th century Western civilization, the historical and cultural forces that have shaped it, and where it is headed.

“How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture,” by Christian philosopher and theologian Francis A. Schaeffer. His opus is a personal analysis of key moments in history and of the thinking of the men who brought those moments to pass.

DVDs based on Whitehead and Schaeffer’s books are also available under the same titles.

“The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. Understanding the Nature and Function of Language” by Sister Miriam Joseph, Ph.D. This classic work is fundamental to all education but its themes are largely ignored in schools and universities today.

“A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century” by John Burrow. Contemplating the history of histories is one of the most interesting ways to understand the past and how it was compiled.

Any of William Shakespeare’s plays on DVD (plays were meant to be seen, not read). Any of these plays directed and starred in by Kenneth Branagh are exceptional. Also, Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” staring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton is a must see relating to contemporary issues.

Suppose you’re not sure about the recipient’s reading tastes. What then? A gift of books about books would serve as a wise chaperone.

“Another Sort of Learning” by James V. Schall, S.J., carries the unwieldy but auspicious subtitle: “Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found.” A Jesuit at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Fr. Schall knows of what he speaks.

“The Life of the Mind,” another book by James V. Schall, presents a sequel to the afore mentioned book. This, too, contains many, many suggested books addressing “ultimate questions.” It was from “The Life of the Mind” that I first became aware of “The Education of a Wandering Man” by Louis L’Amour. This is a memoir written shortly before his death in 1988 as a personal reflection on his love affair with books and learning. In his memoir L’Amour lists year by year the books he both read and collected along with a guide on how to find time to read.

Os Guinness and Louis Cowan co-authored “Invitation to the Classics.” They contend that pursuing the classics is an awakening of the soul to its full stature. They invite the reader to discover works from Homer to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn by summoning scholars to suggest recommended classics.

“501 Must-Read Books” published in 2006 and edited by Emma Beare recommends an array of excellent books of classic fiction, modern fiction, science fiction, memoirs, travel, and history.

Along the same line is the easily obtained “Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World Classics” by W. John Campbell. Each recommendation in this guide to good reading is accompanied by snapshots of background, characters, main themes and ideas, symbols and a critical overview.

Finally, if still in a quandary yet wishing to give something along the line of books, a gift subscription to the “Claremont Review of Books” is always appropriate. As the moniker proclaims, this quarterly journal of book reviews and essays identifies some of the better current printings of fiction and non-fiction. “Claremont’s” four annual issues are available for less than $20 a year.

For the book lover, a lifetime of learning never ceases. Leave the formal “continuing education” classes to others. Pursuit of a self-directed reading program beyond the classroom amplifies a love of learning which the four walls of a classroom may only stifle. Such education is attended to by a multitude of superlative tutors.

Dylan Thomas credits his love of reading as follows. “My education was the liberty I had to read indiscriminately and all the time, with my eyes hanging out.”


Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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