When I spoke at Wheaton College I paid a visit to the Wade collection. It houses collections from the libraries of C.S. Lewis and many others. I asked to see a few of the books that were in the library of C.S. Lewis. The curator made the decision, but to my delight she brought up a copy of one of my favorites: Paradise Lost by Milton. I could not believe how many notes Lewis made in the margins, all in his meticulous penmanship. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take a picture.
The picture you see is a Latin text where you can see the written notes of Lewis at the bottom in both Latin and Greek.
Lesson learned: If a scholar like Lewis finds it helpful to write in books, what does that mean for the rest of us?!
Picture: HT Timothy Willard’s Instagram account
Marilyn McEntyre is a gifted wordsmith. She is also a keen observer of the grand and the obscure. This book showcases both those things.
McEntyre shows how slowing down and doing something as simple as making a list can lead to profound discoveries about one’s self, others, and the world one lives in.
A delightful book!
Mary Beard’s book on Roman History is terrific. SPQR is the famous Roman catchphrase Senatus Populus Que Romanus or The Senate and People of Rome. If you know anything about Mary Beard (perhaps via BBC specials) you know this Cambridge professor is as feisty as she is brilliant. Her writing is magnificent. She knows how to tell the stories of ancient Rome in a way that are accessible and entertaining.
Some who are able to spin a good yarn are not careful with the details. Beard goes no further than the evidence will allow for telling this story. In other words, she does not traffic in speculation or try to fill in details we would love to have, but simply do not.
She does include details that make the story interesting throughout, but these are details we can be pretty confident of. For example, did you know that ancient Rome had one million inhabitants and that no city would have that many people until the nineteenth century?
Ancient Roman history is extremely relevant to the hurly-burly of twenty-first century America.
As one who writes on just about any scrap of paper that can be found, and I have used have many types, I appreciate this very much.
HT: Alan Jacobs
Artists need pockets
I just received a collection of essays from one of my favorites: Jospeh Epstein. He, and many others I love, are on this list. Having just read Why I Write by Orwell I concur with his high ranking. Perhaps not number 1, but he should be high.
Among others, I would love to hear from Dr. Dave McCoy on this one!
Perhaps you have noticed that the book icon for Pooping Elephants, Mowing Weeds: What Business Gurus Failed to Tell You does not take you to Amazon. Well, that shall soon be remedied. Pooping Elephants, Mowing Weeds…will be released this March in ebook format for less than two bucks.
This was a fun and gratifying ebook to write. Like many ebooks, it is short at about 7,500 words. I believe it offers some needed perspective, especially for those who are in the business community.
I write down many things as I read. One of my commonplace books is pictured above. They are wonderful friends who have been with me for many years.
If you are not familiar with a commonplace book, listen to this description by Tracy McKenzie of Wheaton and consider using one yourself!:
Last week I began a new feature on this blog that I am calling “From My Commonplace Book.” A commonplace book is a journal in which you record favorite quotes from what you are reading, and sometimes the thoughts that they evoke. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, it was not uncommon for students to be required to keep a commonplace book, and many of the leading lights of the American revolutionary generation did so. I’ve been doing so now for more than a year, selecting quotes that help me to think through my calling as a Christian, historian, and teacher.
I could type them on my laptop, but I like the idea of writing the quotes out by hand. For one thing, it heightens the sense that I am following in the footsteps of those who have gone before me. We live in a present-tense society that dismisses 94 percent of all the human beings who have ever drawn breath on this planet simply because they are no longer living. When I sit down to my commonplace book with pen in hand, I am self-consciously engaging in a countercultural act. It’s a symbolic gesture but no less important for that. It helps me, imaginatively, to think of myself as entering into a grand conversation about enduring questions, something far bigger than the transient fads and obsessions that so easily steal the best days of our lives.
Writing the quotes out by hand also forces me to slow down, and that in itself is a countercultural act as well. By lingering over a passage and recording it with painstaking care, I am symbolically setting it apart from the ocean of information that inundates me daily. Much of that information may be valuable, but the passages that go into my commonplace book are life-changing.
I have loved these Penguin Great Ideas books since the time when I first laid eyes on them. Why I Write by Orwell was one of the Christmas gifts my wife gave me. I finished it on the plane this past Thursday. What a book! Only 120 pages, but packed with arresting insights and keen observations. Orwell is a master of both.
Here are a few samples:
On Neville Chamberlain
“His opponents professed to see in him a dark and wily schemer, plotting to sell England to Hitler, but it is far likelier that he was merely a stupid old man doing his best according to his very dim lights.”
The way we talk and think:
“It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”
And there is so much more in this funny, wise, and brilliant book!