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.

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 [...]

There is a level of literary horror that is so monstrous it is magnificent, presenting a purity of perversity that no civilized reader can resist. This paradox is rooted in the snake-charming fascination of evil and the appeal of the appalling shadows into which every mortal must plunge. Stories provide a safe system to study [...]

Nothing is stranger than the holy Catholic Faith. Its scriptures speak of its God variously as a mother hen, a cuckolded husband, and a worm—in addition to the mighty images and titles that comfort us. Its God turns water into wine and terrifies men of corrupt finance with a whip, only end His life seemingly [...]

There is nothing like a good ghost story. The forms of fiction are few that can compete with the proverbial dark and stormy night; with skeletal trees, rattling chains, groaning houses, flitting phantoms, and moldy crypts. The only thing that can, perhaps, outstrip a ghost story is a ghost’s story. Leave it to the contrary [...]

One can be a ghost or a spirit. One can dwell in a Grey City and restlessly move constantly to new neighborhoods or abide in the Bright World and enjoy everlasting peace. One can confine pleasure to cinemas and fish and chips or delight in abounding spiritual joy. One can live in the shadowy grayness [...]

The sequel to Tom Brown’s School Days that culminates in Tom’s graduation from Rugby and his formation as an honorable Christian gentleman who embodies Dr. Arnold’s ideal of “muscular Christianity”—moral courage in the battleground of good versus evil that corresponds to the “pluck” that Tom displays on the rugby field and in the cricket match—this [...]

Edgar Allan Poe. Enigmatic. Eccentric. Erratic. Melancholic. Alcoholic. Neurotic. But above all else, Fantastic. Throughout his 40 tormented years of life, Edgar Allan Poe was widely hailed as a genius for the black brilliance of his art. He is the undisputed master of the macabre and the father of the supernatural and psychological thriller. Conjured [...]

Have you ever embarked upon a journey that brought you to some distant or unfamiliar place? Have you ever set out with a bold and cheerful heart, knowing that you were glad of the adventure, but doubting whether any far-off sights could equal the grand images of your dreams? Have you ever endeavored to achieve [...]

Fyodor Dostoevsky was condemned to death—public execution by firing squad. The year was 1849 and the young Dostoevsky, fresh from the success of his first novel, Poor Folk, had joined a liberal humanitarian group devoted to studying utopian models of socialism. During one of their meetings, the police appeared and arrested the whole company. They [...]