“Bisogna saper leggere”: “You must know how to read.”

JLukacsA few week’s ago, “The Federalist” in its weekend edition (what they call their “longreads” feature) linked to this powerful essay by ninety-four year old professor, historian, and author John Lukacs.

In “Surrounded by Books” Lukacs writes about the influence books and reading had on him from his childhood in Budapest, Hungary and subsequently throughout his life in the United States. He refers to the modern age as the “Age of Books,” and I tend to agree with him.

But he also writes with pain about the decline of books and reading – and words and writing. But he writes with hope, ending his essay with these closing thoughts – good food for the mind on this Thursday night:

What Cicero was supposed to have said 2,000 years ago (“All I want is a book and a garden”) and a literate Englishman 200 years ago (“A study full of books is worth more than a purse full of money”) were statements from a long-faded past. But it was not until the end of the 20th century that the disappearance of large numbers of readers finally led to drastic changes in the publishing of all kinds of reading matter, very much including books. The massive influence of pictures and images had already preceded that (the movies). But the death of the Age of Books, and of newspapers and magazines, was, indeed, television, followed by the Internet. Already by the early 1990’s, many weeklies, magazines, journals, and quarterlies ceased to exist. Entire large and traditional publishing houses went out of business. Others cut their staffs to minimums. Bookstores began to disappear. In most schools there still was a minority of good students. Even they read very little.

All of these transformations may suggest one momentous change: the declining effect of words. “In the beginning was the Word”—and at the end of an age? The incredible spread and availability of communications holds little promise, because communications are only instruments of transmissions. Meanwhile, a great and deep consequence of the declining human respect for, and therefore the function of, words is the increasing evidence of the weakening of attention, seen in more and more spheres of life.

Still, history is unpredictable. God writes straight with crooked lines. And things are never quite as bad (or as good) as they seem. Books will always exist. Jefferson’s category of the educated minority, on whose existence the prospects of civilized mankind depend, is no longer enough. To educated we need to add interested. The very impulse of human attention depends on human interest, a quality often involved with humility, with our capacity of seeing beyond ourselves. This awareness sometimes issues from reading.

In 1955, Harold Nicolson wrote, “I am confident that in coming generations the proportion of uninteresting people will be much diminished, whereas the proportion of interesting people will increase.” In 1950, the great English bibliophile Holbrook Jackson (borrowing from Aldous Huxley) declared, “the proper study of mankind is books.” I am uncertain about the first of these statements, but not about the second. Now consider that Jacob Burckhardt and Johan Huizinga, two of the greatest historians of the Age of Books, wrote their most famous histories less for professional academic historians than for what in their lifetime could still be regarded as an educated and interested public. And when on occasion someone asked Burckhardt how best to study history, the great man answered in three words: “Bisogna saper leggere.”

“You must know how to read.”

Published in: on December 14, 2017 at 10:52 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Reformation Printer: Robert Estienne (1503–1559) | Desiring God

Today’s Desiring God Reformation 500 post (Day 24 of the “Here We Stand” series on Reformation heroes) is about a unique contributor to the Reformation cause – the Protestant printer Robert Estienne.

We know how significant printing was for the spread of the Reformation gospel – the printing of the Bible as well as the minor and major works of the Reformers.

But we should also remember that it took those who were sympathetic to and supporters of the Protestant cause to be willing to risk their lives to publish Reformation literature, especially the Word of God. Estienne was one of those whom God raised up. And what a work he did as God’s servant!

Below are a few snippets of this focus on Estienne the Protestant printer, penned by Matt Crutchmer (I added the image of Calvin’s Institutes). Read or listen to the rest of this important story at the link below.

Estienne was not only a significant printer on the Continent during the early- to mid-sixteenth century, but he was a scholar of the Bible and classical literature as well. While working in Paris during the rule of King Francis I, such was his skill that Estienne was named “Royal Typographer”: the king’s printer in Hebrew and Latin in 1539, and then the king’s printer in Greek in 1542.

…In Geneva, now openly supporting the Protestant movement, Estienne set up his press and became the printer par excellence of the Reformation cause. His 1553 French Bible continued the Reformation emphasis on lay reading of Scripture in vernacular languages, and his editions of Calvin’s Institutes and Commentaries, with other Protestant writings, all served the growing movement in its desire to hear clearly and be governed by the Scriptures.

The 1559 edition of the Institutes was “the most comprehensive summary of Protestant doctrine during the Reformation” (John Calvin’s “Institutes”, 219), and arguably the most important volume to arise in the Reformation, as evidenced by its translation into six (perhaps seven) other languages by 1624. Estienne’s edition, effortless to read and beautiful even by today’s standards, played a large role in the growth of Reformation churches during the sixteenth century.

Source: The Ink: Robert Estienne (1503–1559)The Ink | Desiring God

The Libraries of Famous Men: Louis L’Amour | The Art of Manliness

It has been some time since we posted an item from this ongoing series from “The Art of Manliness,” (cf. this post) but with their recent posting of a new one on “The Libraries of Famous Men” we are prompted to do so too.

This “AOM” post highlights the library of the noted Western author Louis L’Amour, of whom I am sure many of our male readers (and their sons – I had one who loved to read his books!) are familiar.

Below is a portion of the extended article on L’Amour, his personal library, and his books. A familiar story-line emerges from these library articles: famous men who wrote good stories were first of all good readers – which explains their own extensive libraries. Read on, and be inspired to build your own manly library – and, then, perhaps you too may become a writer. 🙂

Though he’ll rarely be praised for writing beautiful or lyrical prose, L’Amour is one of the top 25 bestselling authors of all time, and when you ask grandpas — yes, as a whole category — about their favorite authors, he seems to almost universally top their lists. L’Amour writes with a realistic quality that isn’t easily matched in the genre, balancing both the romance and realities of Western life. His action scenes are superb, but more striking are his lifelike depictions of the landscape, the horses and horsemanship, the movements and habits of American Indians. Few have ever researched and truly lived the West like L’Amour.

As a reader, L’Amour’s only match may have been Theodore Roosevelt himself. The Western writer had a library of over 10,000 books, and averaged reading 100-120 books per year — “reading approximately thirty books a year on the West in its many aspects” both for pleasure and in order to stay on top of his writing game.

And it wasn’t just books either — he regularly read magazines, newspapers, and even small town pamphlets and brochures. He noted that it was in those smaller collections of the printed word where one got into the nitty gritty of understanding things and that “They are often valuable additions to the larger pages of history.”

I found this section of the article interesting too. Be inspired to read!

Louis L’Amour’s Philosophy of Reading

1. Reading is your education. Even though Louis didn’t graduate high school, and his only college degrees came much later in life in the honorary form, he received quite an education, entirely of his own doing. He realized that to be successful, he would need to be educated, and that college was not in his cards. So he pursued an autodidactic curriculum of his own volition:

“The idea of education has been so tied to schools, universities, and professors that many assume there is no other way, but education is available to anyone within reach of a library.”

Source: The Libraries of Famous Men: Louis L’Amour | The Art of Manliness

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Published in: on October 6, 2017 at 9:21 AM  Leave a Comment  

How Are You—Good, Well, or Fine?

As we start a new month, it’s time for our latest grammar check item, compliments of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. This time it revolves around the words “good, well, and fine.”

How are you doing anyway? Well, read on and find out how you should answer.

Periodically we still receive inquiries about when we should use the adjectives good, well, and fine. We, perhaps as you do, also still hear and read these words used incorrectly.

We addressed the subject of Good vs. Well in 2007. We thought now would be a good time to review the state of these words, especially now that fine has joined the group.

We’ll first address what each word is made to convey.

Good is an adjective meaning “pious or virtuous” (a good person); “satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree” (a good baseball player); “excellent, proper, or fit” (a good professional background for the job); “well-behaved” (a good child in regard to manners); “kind or beneficent” (a good thing to do); and “worthy or honorable” (of good standing in the community).

Well is most often regarded as an adverb modifying an action. Meanings can include “in a good or satisfactory manner” (He does his job well); “thoroughly or carefully” (We listened to her well); “in a moral or proper manner” (She conducts herself well); “commendably or excellently” (I’d refer to your job as one well done); “with justice or reason” (I couldn’t well turn away the child in need); “adequately and sufficiently” (Prepare well before your exam); and “to a considerable extent or degree” (They spent well over the budget).

However, well can also serve as an adjective: “in good health; sound in body and mind” (He is a well man because of his exercise); “pleasing or good” (All is well with her); “fitting or gratifying” (I think it’s all the more well he didn’t join the debate); “in a satisfactory position; well-off” (He is well as he is). 

Fine likewise can function as either an adverb or an adjective.

As an adjective, it can mean “of high or superior quality” (a fine wine); “excellent or admirable” (a fine song); “consisting of minute particles” (fine grains of sand); “very thin or slender” (fine hair); “keen or sharp, as a tool” (a fine knife for carving); and “delicate in texture” (fine bed and bath linens).

As an adverb, fine can mean “in an excellent manner” (She performed fine on the test) and “very small” (He writes so fine I need glasses to read his letters).

Note that current usage and dictionaries allow fine to serve as finely; as adverbs, they are synonymous and interchangeable (He writes so fine/finely I need glasses to read his letters).

That’s a lot of ways we can go with three short, simple words. So which is (or are) correct in answering a basic question such as “How are you?”

This inquiry typically aims at our sense of physical or emotional well-being (i.e., our general condition). We’ll address it according to our definitions in context.

If we say “I am good,” we are conveying we are virtuous, satisfactory, proper, kind, worthy, or well behaved.

If we respond “I am well,” we are often saying we are in good health, of sound body and mind, or well-off in general. If we slightly adjust our response to “I am doing well,” we can also mean we are conducting ourselves in a good or proper manner; thoroughly, carefully, adequately, or commendably; or with justice or reason.

How about if we say “I am fine”? The dictionary dictates we’re communicating we are excellent, admirable, or of high quality if answering in adjective form. If responding adverbially, we’re saying we are existing in an excellent manner.

Interpreting the original question as applying to our general condition, we can deduce that “I am well” and “I am fine” would be suitable, accurate answers by their definitions.

The same would apply if the question were cast as “How are you doing?” If we respond “I am doing good,” in spoken language, many people will understand what we mean. However, technically, we also could be implying we’re doing something beneficial. This is where writing allows us to be even more precise by using “I am fine” or “I am well.”

The debate will carry on in common usage and stylebooks. The AP Stylebook, for example, advises that good should not be used as an adverb except in a sentence such as “I am [or feel] good,” in which case we can be saying we are in good health. It also explains that using the adverb well in “I feel well” could mean either “I feel in good health” or “My sense of touch is good,” in essence suggesting feel can muddy meaning. 

Goodwell, and fine will remain interchanging parts in language—especially spoken—including as answers to “How are you?” For the careful writer and astute grammarian, however, we champion using the words as the dictionary designs them to be.

Source: How Are You—Good, Well, or Fine? – Grammar & Punctuation | The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Published in: on October 3, 2017 at 10:59 PM  Leave a Comment  

Lost Latin Commentary on the Gospels Rediscovered after 1,500 years

This special story was posted at The Conversation last week (August 23, 2017, by Hugh Houghton) and caught my attention. Though it may not be exciting to many, it is to me, since anything from the realm of books is of interest – especially rare, lost treasures such as this Latin commentary from the fourth century.

And yes, you may find scanned images of this rare book online as well as an English translation of it now available (see links in the story below).

Below you will find the beginning of the story; read the rest and visit the links at the link at the end.

The earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels, lost for more than 1,500 years, has been rediscovered and made available in English for the first time. The extraordinary find, a work written by a bishop in northern Italy, Fortunatianus of Aquileia, dates back to the middle of the fourth century.

The biblical text of the manuscript is of particular significance, as it predates the standard Latin version known as the Vulgate and provides new evidence about the earliest form of the Gospels in Latin.

Despite references to this commentary in other ancient works, no copy was known to survive until Dr Lukas Dorfbauer, a researcher from the University of Salzburg, identified Fortunatianus’ text in an anonymous manuscript copied around the year 800 and held in Cologne Cathedral Library. The manuscripts of Cologne Cathedral Library were made available online in 2002.

Source: Lost Latin commentary on the Gospels rediscovered after 1,500 years thanks to digital technology

Becoming part of the “bigger story” – A. McGrath

Lunch-with-Lewis-McGrathLewis deftly shows how the stories of the individual children – particularly Lucy, who is in many ways the central human character of the series [Chronicles of Narnia] – become shaped by the story of Aslan. Lucy’s love for Aslan is expressed in her commitment to him. She wants to do what he wants; she wants her story to reflect who he is. As a result, Lewis speaks of Lucy feeling ‘lion-strength’ flowing within her. She has become part of the story of Aslan. But – and this is a hugely important ‘but’ – she has not lost her own identity. Her story remains her own. However, her story now makes more sense because Lucy has gained a sense of value and meaning. By embracing the story of Aslan as central to her story, she has gained a new sense of identity and purpose.

This McGrath further explains biblically in the next paragraph:

Lewis here develops a New Testament theme which has a long history of exploration within the Christian faith. It is stated with particular clarity in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: ‘I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:19-20). Faith involves putting to death the old self and rising to a new life. We do not lose our individuality; rather, we gain a new identity while still remaining individuals who are loved by God. In other words, we become new individuals without ceasing to be individuals.

And then he shows again how this works out in the Narnia series:

Lewis reworks this theme in his Chronicles of Narnia. …Lucy and the other children realise there is a ‘bigger story,’ and long to become part of it. And they die to themselves, in that they relocate and recontextualise their own stories within this ‘grand narrative.’ They die to themselves, and live for Aslan. They surrender a self-centred story, and replace it with an Aslan-centred story. This not only makes more sense of things, it also gives them purpose, value, and meaning.

Taken from If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis by Alistair McGrath (Tyndale, 2014), a Kindle book I am continuing to read this summer. This is part of chapter 3, “A Story-Shaped World,” where McGrath treats “C.S. Lewis and the Importance of Stories.”

At the beginning of this chapter the author quotes Lewis in The Horse and His Boy: “Child,” said the Voice [of Aslan], ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

Published in: on August 9, 2017 at 7:23 AM  Leave a Comment  

Summer Grammar Check! Verb-Car Passengers (Those Important Particles)

hero-blue-bookIn a recent GrammarBook.com post verbs were featured once again, only this time what are called verbal particles. Or, continuing the car/driving figure, they are referred to as “verb-car passengers.”

So today, as a follow-up to that previous post on verbs, we feature this one. Because, yes, though it is the middle of summer, we must still keep our grammar straight. No grammatical slouching allowed! Buckle-up, here we go!

Understanding Verb Particles

As noted in a recent GrammarBook e-newsletter article, verbs form both the engine and the steering wheel driving our language. They determine the direction and speed of a sentence.

Sometimes, we’ll spot other words riding with them in the passenger seat. They’re not verbs, but they still attach themselves with seat belts secured. We accept and use those words because we know the main verb needs them for where we want to go in expressing ourselves.

These verb-car passengers are referred to as verb particles. Verb particles are the add-ons in verb phrases with idiomatic meanings—i.e., their definition is not obvious from the words creating the phrase.

Consider a sentence such as “She looked up the number in her cell phone’s contact list.” The verb is “looked.” The verb particle is “up.” A literal, non-idiomatic reading of the words alone would lead us to think she was physically looking up, perhaps toward the sky or a ceiling. Idiomatically, however, we understand she is retrieving the number from her phone.

Some other common verb particles are “in,” “off,” “down,” “over,” and “out,” as used in the following examples:

Facing constituent pressure, the governor gave in to the Senate’s proposed legislation.
Would you please break off a piece of that chocolate bar for me?
Analysts agree the company’s bold marketing campaign will beat down the competition.
That’s a tough question. Let me mull over my answer for a while.
Will you be checking out of your room soon?

Here are several more verbs that include particles to achieve their meaning:

bog down shape up
break away single out
burn down sleep in
flip out sum up
head out wind up
hold up wrap up


As shown here, the verb particle is often needed to convey the right idea. At the same time, we need to watch for particles that seem like they belong but make the phrase a tautology—e.g., continue on, close down. These examples would not lose meaning or clarity without the particle and thus are not idiomatic.

In certain other cases, a particle might create a tautology, but we still need it for proper writing and speech. One such instance involves the verb “sit,” which by definition does not need the particle “down” for clarity. However, imagine using “sit” instead of “sit down” when addressing a person instead of a dog.

It’s always easier to use and ride with a particle in your verb car when you know what it is, why it’s there, and, equally important, if it belongs. Just determine if together the verb and particle are idiomatic and not tautological. If so, leave them connected and keep your content cruising along.

If not, pull over, let the passenger out, and wish it the best in finding another good sentence.

John Calvin and his Institutes – “Refo Thursday”

On this Thursday night, it is time for another “Refo Thursday” feature.

As we have mentioned several times here already this year, the Christian History Institute (which also publishes the magazine Christian History – issue #120 is about Calvin and the Reformation – cf. image here) has a special post each week featuring various aspects of the Reformation.

It is called “Refo Thursday” (“your weekly throwback to the Reformation” [in their words] – connected to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017), and usually features a quote from one of the major Reformers and a brief video on an aspect of Reformation history.

Today’s short video, featuring Karin Maag from the Calvin Meeter Center and Michael Horton from Westminster Seminary (West-CA), focuses on John Calvin’s attempts to bring reformation to Catholic France, his home country, by writing his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion – from Basel, Switzerland.

Listen in and learn about how Calvin viewed himself and the other Reformers as more “catholic” than the Roman Catholic Church.

The 19th-Century Lithuanians Who Smuggled Books to Save Their Language

This fascinating “book-smuggler” story was included in the posts sent by email from “Atlas Obscura” this week. Discover a clever means these Lithuanians devised to preserve their language against Russian attempts to dominate them and control their lives and religion.

Two editions of the same prayer book. The book to the left is Cyrillic and was printed by Russia. The book to the right is Latin Lithuanian and was illegal under the ban

Here is part of the story as it relates to the language issue and how these “book smugglers” saved the true Lithuanian language:

Language had long been a point of contention in Tsarist Lithuania. In the middle of the 19th century, in order to assimilate the peasant class, the Russian scholar Alexander Hilferding proposed that the Lithuanian language, which uses a Latin alphabet, be converted to a Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

The Lithuanian press ban was therefore an attempt to eradicate the Lithuanian language and promote loyalty to the Russian cause. Lithuanian children were also required to attend Russian state schools, where they would learn the Cyrillic alphabet through books printed by the Russian government.

According to historians, Russia thought little of the ban when they first initiated it. They didn’t see Lithuanians as belonging to a unique nationality, and they assumed that resistance, if anything, would be minimal.

They were wrong.

Almost immediately, individuals sprung up to spread Lithuanian writing. Since they couldn’t publish books in their homeland, many Lithuanians began printing them abroad and smuggling them back into their own country.

Thus appeared the first of the knygnešiai—or book-carriers—who, in a desperate bid to save their language, transported books across the border and illegally disseminated them throughout Lithuania.

Initially, the knygnešiai worked alone. They carried books in sacks or covered wagons, delivering them to stations set up throughout Lithuania. They performed most of their operations at night, when the fewest guards were stationed along the border. Winter months—especially during blizzards—were popular crossing times.

Lithuanians went to great lengths to conceal their illegal books. TheForty Years of Darkness by Juozas Vaišnora reports of female smugglers who dressed as beggars and hid books in sacks of cheese, eggs, or bread. Some even strapped tool belts to their waists and pretended to be craftsmen, disguising newspapers under their thick clothes.

Find the full story at the link below, along with several related images and maps.

Source: The 19th-Century Lithuanians Who Smuggled Books to Save Their Language – Atlas Obscura

Published in: on July 22, 2017 at 7:14 AM  Leave a Comment  

“The Cubs Way” – My 2017 Summer Baseball Read

Now that summer is officially here, it is time to introduce my annual summer baseball book. And – surprise! – it is a book about the World Champion Chicago Cubs.

Cubs-way-Verducci-2017

After browsing several of the new titles available this year on the Cubs, I decided on Tom Verducci’s The Cubs Way; The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse (New York: Crown Archetype, 2017). Tom is the senior baseball writer for Sports Illustrated and two-time National Sportswriter of the Year (I heard tonight while watching the Detroit Tigers game for a bit that he was just awarded it a third time – for 2016). He is a gifted author and I like his style. Besides, you will also see and listen to him at the games doing analysis for Fox Sports and MLB Network. He knows the game well, and it shows in his writing.

I am enjoying The Cubs Way much, and provide you a few excerpts from it today to show you why. Describing what the 2016 World Series championship meant to the fans of Chicago, Verducci says this in the opening chapter:

Nowhere, though, would the scope of the catharsis be better understood than at the championship parade, held the day after the morning after. An estimated five million people, almost all of them in Cubs blue, would turn out for the team’s victory parade. It would look as if a seven-mile river of fountain pen ink spilled across America’s third-largest city. The crowd would be estimated to be the largest gathering of humanity ever in the Western hemisphere, and the largest in humankind’s history for any nonreligious event, though to see the rewarded faith on the faces of the supplicants was to believe something very much ecclesiastical was going on here [p.13].

In Chapter 2, “Ready for Change,” the author focuses on how new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts sought out the “perfect” man to rebuild the Cubs and restore a championship to Chicago after 100-plus years of drought. He chose Theo Epstein, the upstart stats guru who had led the Boston Red Sox to two world championships.

As Verducci writes in detail about Epstein’s rise to baseball glory, he also goes back to his childhood in New York and Boston (By the way, his first name was given in honor of Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch art dealer and younger brother of Vincent.). Interestingly, Epstein grew up in a literary family, and so books would play a major role in his life (especially, later on, Bill James’ Baseball Abstract). This is how Verducci describes that important place:

Books would play an important role in shaping the future general manager. Leslie Epstein [his father] made sure that Russian novelists, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and the other great authors were as much a part of Theo’s childhood as the Red Sox. An Epstein house rule stipulated that every minute spent watching baseball on television had to be equaled by reading books.

‘A doubleheader’, Theo said, ‘was a lot of reading.’ [p.24]

And listen to what impact this reading would have on him as a person:

The reading material, nuanced and evocative, nurtured what would become one of his greatest traits as a general manager: empathy [p.24].

So, you see, even a great book on baseball leads to the world of books and its influence on readers. What’s on your book table this summer? 🙂

Published in: on July 1, 2017 at 7:37 AM  Leave a Comment