Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Feeding the Life of the Mind

I was talking recently to a young woman who said that she used to read a lot of classic literature, but now that she was in law school, she did so much heavy reading for her classes that now she only felt up to reading fairly weightless stuff in her down time. Mystery series involving chefs, with recipes in the back, that kind of stuff.

It strikes me that my life demands the opposite task. I spend most of my time doing necessary, but exceptionally mundane tasks, things that don't demand great intellectual exertions. And, too, I'm inert by nature and sedentary by inclination. I need a daily kick in the pants to get me moving, and a daily kick in the brain to get me thinking, and a daily kick in the spirit to get me praying. If I spent my downtime consuming a lot of literary cotton candy, I'd get mental cavities, and eventually, holes in my head where my wisdom teeth rotted out.

That's not to say that everything I read is Grade-A, but I try to keep up a steady diet of substantial books for my own health. Darwin has been urging me for a while to keep a reading list on Goodreads, so now I can track what I've read since the beginning of the year.

Finished:
Two Under the Indian Sun, by Jon and Rumer Godden
Notes on Directing: 130 Lessons in Leadership from the Director's Chair, by Frank Hauser
At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess In Victorian England, by Walter Dean Myers (a Christmas present to my 13-year-old, that I picked up and read while standing in her room)
Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery
And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
How Fiction Works, by James Woods

In progress:
On Moral Fiction, by John Gardner
The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis (again, and again)

Readalouds with the kids:

Just finished:
The Life of Moses, by Gregory of Nyssa
The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux

Just started:
On the Incarnation, by St. Athanasius
The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope

Just before the turn of the year, I read Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow, and A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller.

On the list:
Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton (another of my daughter's Christmas presents)
Cromartie vs.the God Shiva, by Rumer Godden (my brother-in-law sends me Rumer Godden books on gift-giving occasions, and I enjoy her style)
Areopagitica, by John Milton
Common Sense , by Thomas Paine
The Federalist Papers, by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

And of course, sitting on my nightstand like a big albatross is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman , and his poor mother is still in labor with him, and may be yet for a few years, at the rate I'm making it through.

***

As Darwin ramps up to the end of his novel, I've been writing less, simply because we can't sustain that dual level of writing energy in the house. But I've been trying to read more, not just the above books, but (as part of a program of reading the entire Bible in a year) several Psalms a day through the Christmas season. I started in Advent with Isaiah; next I go on to the Wisdom books. Monday through Friday I read the daily Mass readings with the kids and discuss them.

For years, I've tried the rosary, the chaplet, the Liturgy of the Hours, and none of the forms of prayer has ever become second nature to me. But reading, reading I can do. So this year, I'm going to read the Bible. The Word of God is living and effective. It goes forth and does not return empty-handed. Reading scripture stirs up all kinds of fascinating insights and connections for me, and though I chew on them during the day as a kind of prayer, I don't write them down. Humility or laziness? Perhaps that's the next form of discipline to embrace.


11 comments:

Brandon said...

And of course, sitting on my nightstand like a big albatross is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman , and his poor mother is still in labor with him, and may be yet for a few years, at the rate I'm making it through.

I'm fairly sure you'll find this sentence as funny as I do when you've finished the book. I've been intending to re-read Tristram Shandy for a while, so I might have a Fortnightly Book for it later this year.

And Then There Was None was the first Christie novel I ever read; it's the Poirot novel I like best.

How did the kids like Phantom of the Opera?

ralspaugh said...

When I was in grad school I stopped reading outside my field altogether, and burned myself out on it so badly that for a few years afterward I read, essentially, nothing. Finally Lewis Carroll sparked an interest, and ever since I have alternated between a classic and a contemporary work (although those lines have been getting fuzzy lately).

It's amazing how much we need balance, and what good even a little balance can bring. As hilariously bad at it as I am, someone else should probably be the one to say it.

Jenny said...

I had something similar happen to me in college except not with reading but with music. I spent so much time in deep study and analysis with such substantial music, my ears just got tired. I stopped listening to music in my spare time almost totally. I'd leave the radio off or listen to talk or listen to the flimsiest pop music. It took several years for me to be able to again listen to substantial music for pleasure. I had to wait for my brain to stop instinctively tearing it apart in my mind.

MrsDarwin said...

Brandon, the kids ate up Phantom of the Opera. We went on to watch the 25th anniversary production at Royal Albert Hall (so much better than the the 2008 movie; you can rent it off Amazon), and now everyone's going around trying to hit the high E at the end of the title song. In the process, one of my daughters is revealing a very sweet classical voice, and one of the others is proving a bit tone deaf (but she's still young, so we won't pass judgment yet).

I was all set to say, "The hell you will!" about reading Tristram Shandy in a fortnight, when I remembered that we got through Les Mis handily in two weeks. If you do Sterne, I'll read along, and maybe the guy will be born, eventually. The longest I was in labor was 13 hours, and that was quite enough; maybe I'm reading from a gynocentric perspective, but it's killing me that he won't let his mother have this baby already.

You should re-read And Then There Were None. It takes no time at all. Since it's pretty rare to catch you out on anything, I hope you won't think me jerky for mentioning that it's not a Poirot, actually, but no sleuth at all: ten people on an island, going mad.

MrsDarwin said...

Rob, I find that I"m particularly inclined to fall into a slothful funk when I'm not reading something good. One of the dangers of concentrated education, it seems to me, is that the life of the mind becomes a chore and a burden. Carroll is a good corrective!

MrsDarwin said...

Jenny, I've stopped listening to the radio much myself. I find that as I get older, I actually prefer to do work in silence, maybe because I don't have a lot silence otherwise. Except for Hamilton. I listen to Hamilton a lot.

Agnes said...

I'm going to print this out and set on my nighttable:

"If I spent my downtime consuming a lot of literary cotton candy, I'd get mental cavities, and eventually, holes in my head where my wisdom teeth rotted out."
A great mental image to give a kick in the right direction! Thanks!

Brandon said...

Since it's pretty rare to catch you out on anything, I hope you won't think me jerky for mentioning that it's not a Poirot, actually, but no sleuth at all: ten people on an island, going mad.

Ah, that's right, now that you mention it. It has apparently been too long!

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

This past year or two I've been reading straight through the Bible. I'd never done that before, and I decided to use the Knox translation because I wasn't really familiar with it. I finished the Old Testament just after Christmas. I must say, I like Knox's New Testament better than his Old Testament. He used a more antique style for the latter. It's a valid stylistic choice, and he did it extremely well, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. Not sure why, since I actually like things that are actually antique.

Tristram Shandy is still on my nightstand since the last time you mentioned it. I read it back in college (I think), but that was so long ago that I don't remember much about it.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

How do I keep forgetting to leave a comment here???

The young woman you know reminds me a little of myself after uni. I had spent two intense years finishing up (and doing very well in) a three-year English Lit course, and the next logical step seemed to be to read all the classics that weren't part of the syllabus. So I walked into a bookstore intending to get myself Crime and Punishment . . . and walked out with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. LOL!

My own form of lectio divina takes its cues from the Mass readings/propers of the day. Indeed, I was so into this scheme that, a few years ago, inspired by an Russian Orthodox friend who said that the priest who guided him through his conversion told him not to read anything for a year (!!!), I stopped picking up the Bible on my own and stuck to the "daily bread" of the Church's calendar. Perhaps this goes too far in a good direction--and in any case, I admit that spiritual direction tailored for one may not also be the best fit for another--but I kind of like this guided reading. =)

MrsDarwin said...

"How do I keep forgetting to leave a comment here??? "

E., welcome to my internet life! I always think I've left a comment, because I'm always thinking out what I'm going to write, and then later I click back to see the response and find that I never posted anything. That's one of the reasons I'm so bad at responding to blog comments here.

I've found the daily Mass readings a rich source of contemplation, and as one inclined to binge, I like having Scripture given to me in small enough chunks that I have to focus on what's in front of me.

Right now I'm reading through Proverbs, too, and remembering how soothing it is to read a lot of good, pithy, common sense. (Lots going on spiritually, though, too. I was struck yesterday by the passage, "The mercy of the wicked is cruel.")