This blog is going to self-destruct

Kris | Miscellany | Sunday, August 16th, 2015

I’m starting over here.

Wit and wisdom from Cowper’s letters, 008

Kris | Who can find wisdom? | Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

The same work will wear a different appearance in the eyes of the same man, according to the different views with which he reads it: if merely for his amusement, his candour being in less danger of a twist from interest or prejudice, he is pleased with what is really pleasing, and is not over-curious to discover a blemish, because the exercise of a minute exactness is not consistent with his purpose. But if he once becomes a critic by trade, the case is altered. He must then at any rate establish, if he can, an opinion in every mind of his uncommon discernment, and his exquisite taste. This great end he can never accomplish by thinking in the track that has been beaten under the hoof of public judgment. He must endeavour to convince the world that their favourite authors have more faults than they are aware of, and such as they have never suspected. Having marked out a writer universally esteemed, whom he finds it for that very reason convenient to depreciate and traduce, he will overlook some of his beauties, he will faintly praise others, and in such a manner as to make thousands, more modest though quite as judicious as himself, question whether they are beauties at all.

–William Cowper: letter to the Rev. William Unwin, Jan. 17, 1782

Wit and wisdom from Cowper’s letters, 007

Kris | Who can find wisdom? | Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

My sole drift is to be useful; a point which however I knew I should in vain aim at, unless I could be likewise entertaining. I have therefore fixed these two strings upon my bow and by the help of both have done my best to send the arrow to the mark.

–William Cowper, letter to Mrs. Cowper, October 19, 1781

Wit and wisdom from Cowper’s letters, 006

Kris | Who can find wisdom? | Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

The moment a man takes it into his foolish head that he has what the world calls genius he gives himself a discharge from the servile drudgery of all friendly offices and becomes good for nothing except in the pursuit of his favourite employment.

–William Cowper, letter to the Rev. John Newton, October 14, 1781

Secular wisdom literature

Kris | Books,Who can find wisdom? | Thursday, June 25th, 2015

From one (or more) of the biographies of C. S. Lewis that I’ve read, I seem to recall that he didn’t read newspapers. He believed that if anything really important happened his friends would tell him. The wisdom of that immediately struck me, but I’ve not been quite so acetic in my consumption of news. I can say, however, that my limited experience with the news confirms to me that Lewis was on to something.

If you can’t follow Lewis and give up the news altogether, I recommend Alain de Botton’s The News: A User’s Manual. He’s a thinker who raises what I think are the most important questions about why we read the news, devoting himself to the categories of politics, world news, economics, celebrity, disaster, and consumption (which includes dining, travel, technology, films, art, and music). He asks what human beings need of the news and prescribes a radical reworking of the way the news is reported in each area, in order to meet our needs more effectively. He, with great insight, exposes the weaknesses and even dangers of the way the news is reported and written now.

I suspect you won’t agree with all his prescriptions–I certainly didn’t. He and I see humanity from a different perspective, so our understandings of our real needs diverge. For example, I wouldn’t follow him in accepting the therapeutic view of art. So I would not, like him, redefine the cultural critics’ role to be “pharmaceutical,” prescribing the best film or book or music for whatever ails us at the time. (I’m simplifying him a little–but just a little).

But there is plenty of gold here to justify reading his book. I’ll leave you with a shining example from his conclusion–a paragraph that would bring a smile to the face of Lewis:

We can’t find everything we need to round out our humanity in the present. There are attitudes, ideologies, modalities of feeling and philosophies of mind for which we must journey backwards across the centuries, through the corridors of reference libraries, past forgotten museum cabinets filled with rusting suits of medieval armour, along the pages of second-hand books marked with the annotations of their now-deceased owners or up to the altars of half-ruined and moss-covered temples. We need to balance contact with the ever-changing pixels on our screens with the pages of heavy hardback books that proclaim, through their bindings and their typefaces, that they have something to say that will still deserve a place in our thoughts tomorrow.

Summer reading list

Kris | Books | Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Paula and I are in the middle of The Lord of the Rings and will not finish till mid-summer. I’m not sure what we’ll read together next, but it will probably have at least one female character. My private reading ambitions lie below. (Since I’m a slow reader, I suspect I’ll not get to more than a few of these–but I thought I’d aim high.)

1. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. Two of my favorite authors and two of their interesting friends. Looks delicious–and it has two subtitles!

2. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, by James K. A. Smith. This may not make me any smarter, but it will probably make me feel smarter.

3. Augustine: A New Biography, by James J. O’Donnell. I thoroughly enjoyed my rereading of The Confessions a few months ago, and hope to dig around further into his fascinating and influential life.

4. On Christian Teaching, by Augustine. It’s been a few decades since I read this, and I’m looking forward to this newer translation.

5. Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, by John Drury. Yum.

6. Words Alone: the Poet T. S. Eliot, by Denis Donoghue. Since I named a son after him, I’m curious about his life.

7. Something by P. G. Wodehouse.

There are more I’d like to add to the list, but I’ll never even get this far.

The remains of the day

Kris | Quotable,Who can find wisdom? | Monday, June 15th, 2015

“Stock indices leave one juggling a set of varied Feelings: an admiration for the fertility of modern business, a wonder at the extraordinary degree of intelligence and effort demanded to succeed in any industry, and yet a guilty sense of the absurdity and waste of so much of our toil and, in the middle of the night, when the mind tends to avenge itself on the compromises of the day, a pained wonder at what we might be doing with the ever-more precious bit that still remains of our lives.”

–Alain de Botton, The News: A User’s Manual

The best passages of Gilead

Kris | Books | Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Of course it’s wonderful to hear the author read her own work. Yet, somehow, I prefer the voice in my own head as I read Gilead.

Your heart can sing, too

Kris | Books | Friday, June 12th, 2015

My heart is singing

Kris | Books | Thursday, June 11th, 2015

When I ask friends whether they have read The Little Prince, they usually look puzzled and say something like, “Isn’t that a children’s book?”–as if a book for children were something you grew out of the way you grow out of Batman pajamas. I fear such people might be just those sort of grown-ups that the narrator of The Little Prince was talking about when he said that they always needed explanations. So if I tell you now that you should read Sally Lloyd-Jones’s masterpiece Thoughts to Make your Heart Sing and you squint and tilt your head a little to one side–well, I’ll sigh and prepare for you to tell me that you haven’t got time for kid’s stuff.

But some of you know better. You know that a book written (ostensibly, at least) to stir the hearts of children toward God might possibly, in the capable hands of a wise author, hold more than enough magic to feed the hungry soul of anyone.

I love this book.

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