Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer Reading Update- A Surprise Upset

So, there's been an amendment to my summer reading list.  I am now anticipating getting through only one or two of the Harvard Classics titles this summer and it's not because I've found anything more interesting that I would rather be reading.  It is very rare that I will put aside a book and very rare that I will take a hiatus on a reading project.  St. Augustine has done it.

It doesn't help that everyone I talk to confirms my feelings.  "Like trying to eat a sweater", "dour", "self-flaggelation masking self-induglence", "great only in short quotes" are some of the phrases people around me who have also read St. Augustine have said in the past week as I aired my frustration.  I suppose it also doesn't help that I'm just coming out of the past year where I feel that I am to religion what Timothy Treadwell was to grizzly bears.  And it furthermore does not help that I am assured by reliable sources that reading the next title in the series, one by Thomas à Kempis, is a similar reading experience.

I always think this time is going to be different with me reading great works of Christian literature, but then I always end up fleeing back to dark, bleak Germanic philosophers.  I worry about what that says about me.  It fills me with ennui and makes me feel so disconnected from the world... wait, I'm doing it again, aren't I?

First of all, I have experienced no discernible edification from having read Augustine.  I am halfway through and while I can empathize with a few experiences that he relates and it did give me a reason to go study up on Manicheanism, I am otherwise at a loss for any take-away.  Maybe the pay-off is coming, but I am assured that it is not.  Second, it is one of the rare times in my life when a book has completely taken the steam out of my reading habits.  I sit refreshing Facebook while Augustine is on the shelf next to me.  It's terrible and something must be done.

I will continue with and finish the Harvard Classics series.  I am determined that I will make it through this series or die trying.  But I have decided to take Augustine in very small bites (perhaps a few pages a day.)  I have also decided to get my groove back with one of my favorite books, which is Death in Venice by Thomas Mann.  It's a book that Mann described as being about the "voluptuousness of doom."  It is a wonderful book about human nature, aging, love, beauty, truth, mortality, fear, and propriety.  It is a joy to read and I would recommend it to anyone.  In fact, after I closed my used book business, I kept all of the copies of it to give away like some twisted version of the Gideons.

So, there's my turgid little announcement.  Thank you for letting me vent.



  1. I like the Timothy Treadwell reference. Anything even remotely conjuring Herzog gets my interest.

    There are Christian writers who don't effect me this way, some of them classics. St. Ephrem of Syria's Hymns on Paradise, for example, is a thing of joy. Many of his other hymns are fine, too. The service books for Orthodox liturgies are filled with beauty. Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Moses. St. Patrick's letter attacking the taking of slaves. Read St. Seraphim of Sarov's discourse with his disciple Motovilov on the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. All the while reading this, keep in mind that it is said that Motovilov was troubled by demons for much of his life -- make of it what you will. The Russians know about redemption through suffering, which, frankly, I think is a different thing than suffering for the sake of redemption.

  2. Paul, were you reading "Confessions." Assuming so, I should perhaps remember this from a previous post or discerned from above "self-flagellation" for example. Just wondering for sure, I have it on my shelf thinking I wanted to read it but have yet to do so. I remember appreciating very much your thoughts on Moby Dick since I had tried to read it and failed. SO I enjoyed finishing the book vicariously through your posts.