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.

Quæ medicamenta non sanant, ferrum sanat, quæ ferrum non sanat, ignis sanat.  ∼ Hippocrates It doesn’t take a sociologist to know man is morally ill. It doesn’t even take one to know he suffers from moral diseases of two varieties, hidden and manifest. To the latter group belong tragedies great and small. To treat the [...]

The murder mystery is as old as murder. When the blood of Abel cried out for justice, the all-seeing Judge took up the case and Cain was caught in his crime. So it was, and so it is. All are Cain to one extent or another, murdering what is precious in their own lives. The [...]

There are not many things more enjoyable than opening up a book and finding a character named Simon Tappertit. One will only encounter this joy, however, if the book he picks up is Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens. He will find there, indeed, not only joy, but sorrow. He will find gallantry, loyalty, simple goodness, [...]

With the unfolding of spring comes a renewed awareness and appreciation for life. It is peculiar, though, how the observation of life, birth, and the rounds of nature’s dance can lead to the contemplation of death. Resurrection requires that life conclude before it may rise again. Spring can, as a result, be solemn even as [...]

The extant portion of the six-mile long Civil War front at Cold Harbor, Virginia is small enough to explore in an hour or less. Although the National Park commemorating the battle is tragically shrunken, its rifle pits and trenches, creeks, meadows, and woods supply the visitor’s imagination with ample atmosphere for a phantasmal reenactment of [...]

Old Mother Goose, When she used to wander, Would ride through the air On a very fine gander. This poem, along with all the other “Mother Goose” poems, was extremely important to John Senior, the Catholic educator who inspired the creation of The Civilized Reader column you are reading now. He was especially enamored with [...]

As the heroes of The Iliad are slain in blood, Homer gives each of them an epitaph in poetry, that they may die not as expendable masses, but as men with names. Even as they fall, death swirling round them, the blind poet looks for the monument of man, decrying its absence while railing at [...]

Rome is a city of treachery and treason, infection and sin. It is appropriate that the Vicar of Christ should have been first murdered here, and—with the exception of long periods of scandalous absence—that he should have this urbs sacra et caput mundi providentially fixed as his seat and home. Rome is the city of [...]

I have a confession to make: when it comes to good literature, especially good children’s literature, I’m a bit of a snob. I’m working on it, but despite my best efforts, my snobbish tendencies tend to come out from time to time. To be fair, I have read a great deal of good literature, I [...]

When Robert Frost forswore both academic degrees and farm life to write poetry, he wrote a poem about himself and his wife as a response to the disappointment of his family. The poem is called “In Neglect,” and it describes well anyone who spent their Lent in a worthy manner. “In Neglect,” both brief and [...]

Full disclosure: I have been scarred by vampiric literature. It happened when I was a boy. My mother learned of an isolated Catholic family living in the woods outside town who had a lonely son of my age. As happens in childhood, I was enlisted upon a mission of charity. Having received my marching orders, [...]

Pride and Prejudice: the book that tends to make ladies giggle with glee and gentlemen roll their eyes in annoyance. But beyond the tea-time social drama and the range of reaction from the sexes, there lies in this novel a vision of humanity and society. The more I see of the world, the more am [...]

Winter is the season for readers. Bitter cold and polar darkness drive people beneath quilts and by hearthsides where the book is a quintessential commodity and companion, its pages aglow in the blended light of fire and frost. Whether engaged silently or aloud, a wintry volume should occupy every end-table in rooms where chilling temperatures [...]

January 25 marks the birthday of Robert Burns (1759-1796), the national poet of Scotland, and is observed worldwide with the Robbie Burns Supper, a night of poetry, song, toasts, haggis, and “Tam o’ Shanter.” The tale of Tam and his devilish interloping is customarily enacted in vaudevillian style during the Supper, bringing the flare and flavor [...]

There are few Christmas stories that begin with a scene so ragged and rich as a threadbare, moth-gnawed Santa Claus who, returning to his flat after hearing the desires of adoring urchins, pulls bottles of chianti from his boots for himself and an old friend on Christmas afternoon. Christmas stories are all about the shabby [...]

Every child knows there is something simple and true about the Wise Men. I mean, of course, those chipped and silent figures that begin to appear around Gaudete Sunday and move silently toward Epiphany. When I was a boy, I was fascinated by a set in which the exotic origins of the kings were obvious, [...]

The Wise Work of the Bees

A story is told of some strangers who went to the home of Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher well known even in his own day for his teachings on the nature of change and reality. The strangers arrived only to find Heraclitus in the kitchen warming himself by the furnace. Realizing that his visitors were [...]

In December 1815, freshly admitted to the bar, the American poet William Cullen Bryant was walking to Plainfield, Massachusetts, when he observed a bird—probably a duck—flying across the horizon at sunset. That vision gave birth to what has been called the best short poem in any language and even by one “the most beautiful poem [...]

"Thanksgiving Day. Let all give humble, hearty, and sincere thanks, now, but the turkeys."   ~ Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar Thankfully, much good fiction is not only read but also heard, as all families who have talkative, excitative elders know well. It is a phenomenon summed up in the proverbial marvel of strictly-spoken tales [...]

To know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.  ∼ Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited Wisdom is indeed a wonderful thing, but the knowledge and love that produce it are, like roots, usually better left underground. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is a story of the cultivation of wisdom and even salvation. Where it [...]

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