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.

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 [...]

To live as an American and as a Catholic is no small challenge, for America is fundamentally a modern project and Catholicism is decidedly not. The driving force of modernity (which began with the Protestant Reformation) can be summarized as “self-discovery”; to be a modern is, essentially, to exist in a constant state of self-awareness—specifically, [...]

Despite years of reading, rereading, and teaching great works, I continue to marvel at the inevitable timeliness of timeless literature. And so, as I prepare to teach "The Death of Ivan Ilych" once again, on the cusp of the month the Church has dedicated to All Holy Souls, I am struck by how Leo Tolstoy’s novella [...]

In the totalitarian regime of Big Brother’s imaginary socialistic utopia in Oceania in 1984, Winston Smith lives a sordid dehumanized life devoid of all the traditional sources of happiness that have fulfilled human beings throughout the ages. Orwell portrays a politically correct social order that robs human beings of dignity, political rights under the law, [...]

On Sunday, October 7th, in the year of Our Lord 1571, an outnumbered, fragile coalition of small Christian states and one small part of a big Christian state defeated an empire at sea just off the coast of Greece. All of Europe rejoiced at the time, even the Christian states that refused help. Now, among the [...]

We made a good run in Genesis… all of two and a half chapters before finding ourselves on the business end of a curse leveled at us by omnipotent God. Don’t you hate it when that happens? As a matter of fact, we have been hating it ever since. As a defining feature of our [...]

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