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.

In our family, we frequently pose the question, “What would Laura say about…?” Presently, we are wondering what Laura Ingalls Wilder’s reaction would be to various aspects of the Modern World. Recently, I have been contemplating what Laura would think if she heard phrases like this: Come on, sweetie. Just read a few more books [...]

Reading in the dog days should never be dogged reading. Just as summer is for recreation, so also is it for recreational reading. Light reading material, however, should not be lousy reading material. The aim of reading is for enrichment even when it is for enjoyment. It is always preferable to engage in reading that [...]

James Boswell’s biography The Life of Johnson portrays a distinguished man of letters after whom a whole literary period was named: The Age of Johnson. To read of Johnson’s life (1709-1784) is to learn of an eminent man of learning whose love of literature, passion for truth, and genius for writing achieved extraordinary works of [...]

Summertime is a favorite time for some favorite reading—but in these times, and in these summers, the issue is not simply, “What is to be read?” but “How is it to be read?” Readers are not only what they read, but also how they read; and civilized readers should not read like boors. Thus, they [...]

Were one to conduct a survey of modern-day Americans, taken at random, it is likely that not one in a hundred would have heard of the poet, Richard Crashaw. Were one to cross the Atlantic and conduct a similar experiment with modern-day Englishmen, it is likely that the result would be the same. This neglect [...]

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. A new film based on St. Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic The Little Prince recently made its premier. I haven’t seen it yet but it looks wonderful. [...]

As the saying goes, children can be “naughty or nice,” but naughty does not always mean bad and nice does not always mean good. One can also be “nice” but not good, and one can be good while sometimes naughty. A world of difference separates the merely nice from the truly good. No one explains [...]

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 [...]

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