Rudyard Kipling on reading old books

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“If we pay no attention to words whatever, we may become like the isolated gentleman who invents a new perpetual-motion maching on old lines in ignorance of all previous plans, and then is surprised that it doesn’t work. If we confine our attention entirely to the slang of the day -that is to say , if we devote ourselves exclusively to modern literature- we get to think the world is progressing when it is only repeating itself…. [I]t is only when one reads what men wrote long ago that one realises how absolutely modern the best of the old things are.”

~ quoted in Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

Alan Jacobs on ‘Reading Upstream’

In my increasingly small pockets of spare time, I’ve been guiltily sneaking portions of Alan Jacobs’ book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Yes, I’m aware of the irony. The stolen snatches have been sweet, though. So much of his writing resonates with my own reading experience. Jacobs also gives me a thrilling vision for the possibilities of happiness that can come of a well-read life. Here’s a delightful snippet on ‘reading upstream’:

Let us start by returning to the case of the reader as fan: the person who has read all the Narnia books or all of Dickens’s novels, and who wonders where to turn, especially if fanfiction and professional sequels don’t seem to help. One possible, and rather simple, expedient is this: we can turn our temporal attention upstream rather than downstream- toward what preceded Tolkien or Austen or whomever rather than what succeeded them. After all, Austen became the Austen we know largely through her reading- something that is true of almost all writers. (I don’t want to suggest here that earlier is always better: if after reading Homer you read Virgil, and after Virgil Dante, you’re not exactly slumming it. But, because our own lives move forward in time, or maybe just because we have prejudice in favor of the new, our natural tendency is to move downstream. It’s tendency worth resisting, sometimes.)

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Let Us Remember This, In Time

We need to be careful how we deal with those about us, when every death carries to some small circle of survivors thoughts of so much omitted and so little done –of so many things forgotten and so many more which might have been repaired!  There is no remorse so deep as that which is unavailing; if we would be spared its tortures, let us remember this, in time.

~ Charles Dickens, in Oliver Twist

 

 

 

Our Very Miseries Will be Blessed- Calvin on Suffering

John_Calvin01When he wasn’t blasting the ‘effrontery’ of his opponents (dubbed miscreants and asses), John Calvin could write with gracious clarity and depth. The excerpt below shows the characteristic skill of his pen. I have long sensed a need to take more time to read passages like these with care. “Books,” says Thoreau, “must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”

Since I don’t have to work too hard to find material like this today, I have to fight the reality that the abundance of good reading can turn me in to a page skimmer rather than a reader.

We frequently read about great theologians- which is helpful, no doubt- but we need to devote time to hearing from them directly:

Faith does not promise us length of days, riches, and honors, (the Lord not having been pleased that any of these should be appointed us;) but is contented with the assurance, that however poor we may be in regard to present comforts, God will never fail us. The chief security lies in the expectation of future life, which is placed beyond doubt by the word of God. Whatever be the miseries and calamities which await the children of God in this world, they cannot make his favor cease to be complete happiness…

In short, if we have every earthly comfort to a wish, but are uncertain whether we have the love or hatred of God, our felicity will be cursed, and therefore miserable. But if God lift on us the light of his fatherly countenance, our very miseries will be blessed, inasmuch as they will become helps to our salvation.

Thus Paul, after bringing together all kinds of adversity, boasts that they cannot separate us from the love of God: and in his prayers he uniformly begins with the grace of God as the source of all prosperity.

In like manner, to all the terrors which assail us, David opposes merely the favor of God,- “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” (Ps. 23:4). And we feel that our minds always waver until, contented with the grace of God, we in it seek peace, and feel thoroughly persuaded of what is said in the psalm, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance,” (Ps. 33:12).

~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion