The Civilized Reader

Edited by William and Amy Fahey, The Civilized Reader joyfully reviews classic, good books — books that will enrich the life of your family and the minds of your children.

There is an old adage that the summer vacation was a time for buildings to be empty, not the mind.   So, let salt air, sin, and the fate of civilization fire up the imagination over the coming weeks. Most readers expect that the tone and pace of a summer book should mark a shift from [...]

The return of summertime every year often recalls the years that will never return: the golden days of youth. The energy, the activity, the vitality, the shout of play in neighborhood and park stir up memories—the ghosts of juvenile instincts. Sun and sand. Tree and leaf. Bicycles and balls. The taste of watermelon. The smell [...]

There are only a very few authors whose works bear the power of changing the way the whole world is perceived by people. Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of those authors; and one of the ways that Dostoevsky has made his mark on human souls is his presentation of guilt. Not the feverish guilt of Raskolnikov [...]

Of all genres of writing, one of the most elusive is the Western. It is a genre that always makes its readers aware of a violence ever brooding in the background. Yet when the form rises towards its own excellence, the hot burst of color expected by the reader, may be said to be lurid, [...]

Many Christians believe that pagan myths and fairy tales are detrimental to Christian children. They fear that children will be lead astray from their upbringing, but really myths and fairy tales provide a foundation from which to build a Christian education. I was questioned myself by a well-meaning, Catholic relative, who had been asked by [...]

Till We Have Faces takes up with shocking clarity a grim problem as old as Job: man’s complaint against a seemingly inscrutable God. Oft forgotten amid the fanfare for The Chronicles of Narnia and his sci-fi trilogy, C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces was the last novel he wrote; and it is an unforgettable fiction that feels, in some ways, a [...]

Thinking back upon a winter’s day in New England, a man in the middle of life beholds the bent limbs of a birch tree that recalls the fondest of childhood memories, the delight of climbing up the tree and sliding down the bent branches again and again. He knows the real reason for the bending [...]

Eastertide, 1894 marked the resurrection of a famous figure besides Jesus Christ. Sherlock Holmes, supposed dead for three years following his agony with the Napoleon of Crime, reappeared suddenly to his friends in London—heralded not by an empty tomb, but by an empty house. There are very few literary giants with so perfect a resurrectional [...]

Insincerity in people is recognized as a problem, which is why Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is recognized as the “problem play.” The Merchant of Venice is a play about insincere people and, therefore, it is problematic. It is a drama that has duped audiences for centuries, posing as full of pure lovers, wise women, [...]

The aim of literary study is not to amuse the hours of leisure; it is to awake oneself, it is to be alive, to intensify one’s capacity for pleasure, for sympathy, and for comprehension. It is not to affect one hour, but twenty-four hours. It is to change utterly one’s relations with the world. At [...]

Every child should read Arnold Lobel’s stories of Frog and Toad. These stories are pure, unashamed delight. Once upon a time, all children’s stories were a pleasant romp, an indulgence in something lovely. Think of Mother Goose, The Wind in the Willows, The Tale of the Pie and the Patty Pan. As our times have [...]

There is something of the madman in every man. There is something of the sadist in every sinner. Is there something of ecstasy in every elegy? So it was with Edgar Allan Poe—and he called it Beauty. It often takes a poet—a poet like Poe—to exhume the mysterious depravity of people. As churchgoers lean into [...]

In The Tanglewood Tales Hawthorne retells famous classical myths with imaginative charm that captures the universality and moral wisdom of the stories. Hawthorne’s lively, fresh retelling of six famous myths—“The Minotaur,” “The Pygmies,” “The Dragon’s Teeth,” “Circe’s Palace,” “The Pomegranate Seeds,” and “The Golden Fleece”—captures the essence of great stories that always possess, in Chesterton’s [...]

There is a peculiar characteristic about the ice-bound regions of the world that renders them absolutely fantastic, absolutely fascinating, and absolutely forbidding. Hoary mountains, glacial vistas, snowy deserts, solid waters, fluid fires of aurora-borealis, and air that is too cold to breathe all give the distinct impression that men ought not to keep company with [...]

Editor's note: Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) anticipated G.K. Chesterton in wit, girth, and wisdom. In a short essay penned for The Idler (Number 85 of December 1759) Johnson foresaw the weariness of our age with its explosion of cheap blogs and online articles. It was the weariness of Chesterton’s age with its explosion of cheap journals [...]

Editor’s note: While the following review departs somewhat from the typical essay found at the Civilized Reader, the editors at Crisis believe that time should be given over to consider those books which act as companions and simple friends to the more enduring tales of the imagination.  Hopefully, Mrs. McKeegan’s remarks here will help further the [...]

The most influential books, and the truest in their influence, are works of fiction.  They do not pin the reader to a dogma, which he must afterwards discover to be inexact; they do not teach him a lesson, which he must afterwards unlearn.  They repeat, they rearrange, they clarify the lessons of life; they disengage [...]

While some people’s favorite college professors were taking their classes through Dostoyevsky or Dante, my favorite professor was reading us Mem Fox and Patricia Polacco. And more writers of their kind: authors of some of the finest children’s picture books around. The course was “Teaching Reading” for elementary education majors, and the professor, a retired [...]

Christmas has become a humbug. Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge was a sour soothsayer for our times. By and large, Christmas is a humbug these days. It preaches peace, but breeds pressure. The ritual of the mall stands in for the ritual of the Mass. Santa Claus is not really Saint Nicholas. The holidays are not really [...]

It is uncommon to read a story that is uncommon. In the literary world, where there seems to be nothing new under the sun, it is eventful to uncover something that is literally unique: something profoundly mysterious, poignantly existential, and perfectly amusing. The imagination of man longs for wide horizons and wide canvases—as did the [...]

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