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.

“Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.” With this dogmatic and militaristic monologue [...]

“Sherlock Holmes was a drug addict without a single amiable trait,” wrote George Bernard Shaw—and he was absolutely right; but such vehement condemnation betrays the irresistability of Sherlock Holmes. In 1886, a struggling physician named Arthur Conan Doyle made a fateful decision which was intended simply to pay the bills, but which would end up enriching [...]

In the cosmic struggle between good and evil, Shakespeare presents the relentless conflict between two philosophies that shape the human condition. The philosophy of Claudius, the usurping tyrant who secretly poisoned his brother King Hamlet and married his wife Queen Gertrude, assumes that might is right, man is a god, and the end justifies the [...]

“One more step, Mr. Hands,” said I, “and I’ll blow your brains out! Dead men don’t bite, you know,” I added, with a chuckle. You weren’t expecting Treasure Island, were you?   Well, we never are and that is part of its beauty. Here am I reader, on the coast of Maine. In trying to frame [...]

For a particular poem to retain its power across years and generations, it must give expression to something that transcends the passing of time, and do so in such an exquisitely memorable manner that it simply cannot be imitated or remade. Competitors and critics may sally forth and give it battle; lesser authors may adopt [...]

If all literature were based upon plausibility and credibility, there would be no such thing as fiction. Imagination is a deterrent to objectivity. To expect a storyteller to tell facts alone is just as unreasonable as expecting a painter to paint precisely what he sees. Painting is not photography; neither is fiction a documentary. In [...]

“All the evidence suggests a responsible male, ready and able to make significant and social commitment, is a rarity in any society.”  —Fr. Lawrence Porter, A Guide to the Church The Roman hero of Virgil’s epic, known originally in the Latin as pius Aeneas (“pious Aeneas”), earns many similar epithets throughout the story. He is [...]

The world reeled in disbelief and grief. Sherlock Holmes was dead. But not for long. His resurrection—or resuscitation, to use a more practical term instead of such a mystical one out of reverence for the Master—his resuscitation brought with it a matchless struggle between logic and magic. Out of the tomb, a hero and a [...]

Homer’s great epic about the family as the center of civilization portrays two different types of woman: women who are pro-marriage and pro-family and women who are anti-marriage and anti-family. Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus who waited twenty years for her husband’s return from war and exile, defends her home from the suitors who [...]

While there is never an unfavorable time to read a good book, there are some works and authors which seem to command our interest at very particular occasions of the year. It is an almost indefinable property which makes it so, an affinity woven into the very fabric of a story; but I imagine that [...]

 If there is anything pleasant in life, it is doing what we aren’t meant to do. If there is anything pleasant about criticism, it is finding out what we aren’t meant to find out. It is the method by which we treat as significant what the author did not mean to be significant, by which [...]

Lent is a detective story. It is the detective story in which the soul is investigator, victim, and culprit all at once. Out of the entire year, it is during Lent that the Church demands that we confess our sins, and confession requires a full inquiry. This is just one aspect of the call to [...]

All are guilty. Unbridled assertion of self. Satanic pride. Pure and simple devilment. All are Judas. All are Caiaphas. All are Pilate. All have spit in the face of Christ wantonly, offhandedly, and spitefully. All have smilingly skewered God to a gibbet. All wretchedly wear their Albatross. And some, through it all, have found salvation [...]

“Wherever there was a French priest, there should be a garden of fruit trees and vegetables and flowers”—the telltale signs of civilized life. In Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop two French Jesuit missionaries arrive in the American Southwest to revive the Catholic faith and evangelize the Mexicans and Indians, Catholics who were once [...]

Literature is sometimes thought of as a treat, as a dessert, as a delicacy. The Diary of a Country Priest, by Georges Bernanos, is instead like a carrot, eaten whole, raw, and unwashed. But as a wise priest says in the book, “Man can’t live on jam.”  This book is a book that can be [...]

Although the delight of civilized readers everywhere, detective fiction is built upon an uncivilized pessimism that expects to find evil lurking behind the most civilized bulwarks—such as a butler. In the labyrinths of the mystery story, it is quite normal for the most mild-mannered of men to be the most murderous of monsters. For Sherlock [...]

Zeal for a national curriculum is not new, nor is the appearance of an entire well-financed educational bureaucracy obsessed with finding (and controlling) methods to justify its educational schemes.  The educational sorcerers may feel that they have conjured up some novel idea in the Common Core Initiative.  They have not, anymore than Alfred Bosworth discovered [...]

For many, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur forms the quintessential retelling of the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It is thought that earlier medieval writers, both nameless and named—men like Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chrétien de Troyes, Layamon and Wolfram von Eschenbach—offered worthy contributions in their own way; [...]

If ever there was an author whose writings overflow with praise of the Lord, it is James Herriot.  This humble country vet of the Yorkshire dales was so full of wonder and animated love of life that it could not be contained.  It spilled out of him in profusion onto the pages of four wonderful [...]

Austen’s novel illuminates this proverbial saying: “If something is truly meant and intended for you, it will come your way another time.” Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth were in love and engaged, but her aristocratic father, Sir Walter Elliot, and a respected family friend, Lady Russell, disapproved the match and persuaded Anne to terminate the [...]

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