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Books I’m Supposedly Reading

Posted by Eric (April 13, 2007 at 12:13 pm)

Pile of booksMy pal James at the facetiously named blog “The Daily Brouhaha” (“Bi-Monthly Brouhaha” would be more like it) has tagged me with this “Book(s) I’m Reading” thing, so here goes. Right now I am currently more-or-less reading the following books:

The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus
One of the most important books on monasticism and the ascetical life ever written. St. John “of the Ladder” was the abbot of a monastery on Mt. Sinai in the seventh century. I’m on Step 26, “On Humility,” out of a total of 30 “steps” on the “ladder,” and had hoped to finish the whole before Pascha, but didn’t.
Each of the steps deals with a different aspect of the ascent towards holiness, a different spiritual challenge. Very hard core book, to be read with caution by a non-monastic, but full of wisdom as well as a delightful realism about spiritual battle.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dosteyevski
My second reading through the great Russian classic, perhaps the greatest spiritual novel ever written. The brothers—Mitya, Alyosha and Ivan—while remaining fully realized characters, at the same time represent different modes of hunger for truth and authentic experience: Mitya, the passionate sensualist (or perhaps better, the romantic); Ivan, the passionate thinker; Alyosha, the passionate disciple.
Everyone who wants to understand Christianity—both what it is and how it can fail to engage the world effectively—should read this book. The wisdom of Elder Zosima, Alyosha’s spiritual father in the first part of the book, is priceless—and, I find, echoes many of John Climacus’ ideas too.
Ecclesiasticus or The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach
Lately I can’t get enough of Biblical wisdom literature. I’ve always loved Proverbs, and since being introduced to the liturgies of the Christian East, the Psalms have become the heart and soul of my prayer life.
Now in Ecclesiasticus (a book, by the way, which is tragically missing from Protestant bibles) I’m finding much-needed guidance for some of my present struggles. God provides.
The Panda’s Thumb by Stephen Jay Gould
This collection, subtitled “More Reflections on Natural History” serves as my office “bathroom book,” each of Gould’s essays on Darwinism being just the right length for the purpose. The agnostic Gould is a fascinating writer on evolution and a horrible theologian.
For example, in writing about the panda’s thumb—not a thumb at all but a knob of wrist bone which grows out away from the paw and helps the panda eat bamboo—Gould declares, “Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution—paths that a sensible God would never tread.”
I’m ready to agree with the first part, and Gould’s careful investigation of these “odd arrangements and funny solutions” certainly presents a tremendous challenge to the Creationists; but in my experience, “odd arrangements and funny solutions” are precisely what I’ve come to expect from God—though I would never blaspheme the Lord by calling him “sensible.”

There are a few other books I’ve got going “on hold” right now, including St. Isaac of Ninevah’s On Ascetical Life, which it was a mistake to try to read concurrently with the Ladder, and Henri Daniel-Rops’ The Protestant Reformation, one of a series of about ten books on Church history to which I will certainly return one of these days.

And with that, I hereby tag Renee, Karl, John and Karen. I’m also going to “re-tag” John C (whom James already tagged), since he hasn’t blogged since before Lent!

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6 Responses to “Books I’m Supposedly Reading”

  1. james says:

    Yes yes yes, Eric. We know you are very deep and very clever (groan).

    Now tell us about the books you’re really reading…you know, the Ben Elton, Maeve Binchy, Enid Blyton…

    ps. congratulations on number 8. nearly a full quiver!

    Comment posted April 13th, 2007 at 2:00 pm
  2. Karen says:

    I tried to read The Ladder, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into it. I’ll try it again one of these days…

    Have you ever heard of Library Thing? You can use it to catalogue your books online, and then post a code onto your blog or website that randomly shows the books in it. It’s also compatible with the Amazon Associates program.

    Anyway, I noted that you tagged me, so I posted about a couple of the books I was reading.

    Comment posted April 15th, 2007 at 7:41 am
  3. Renee says:

    I’ll get my list up this week, but it is going to look mighty silly next to yours. A good lesson in humility for me, I suppose.

    Comment posted April 16th, 2007 at 9:45 am
  4. Eric says:

    Renee—Please. After The Brothers K, I’m seriously considering reading some Ian Flemming James Bond novels, after having seen the remake of Casino Royale. So, talk about silly.

    I should also have included on my list The House at Pooh Corner, which I’ve been reading from time to time with my daughters Lucy and Ada. It’s especially fun to try to come up with your own voice of Pooh & Co. in the face the execrable Disney renditions (as well as the wonderful Alen Bennett reading).

    Comment posted April 16th, 2007 at 3:49 pm
  5. James says:

    The House at Pooh Corner is also on our book shelf though we mainly read the poetry, which our girls love. Especially ‘A little bit of butter for my bread….’ and ‘James James Morrison Morrison’. I sing them ‘vespers’ (AA Milne rite).

    We are also gettin through all of Dr Seuss. My mother bought the girls the complete set, and I’m very much enjoying the cleverness of the writing…especially Fox in Socks, which is a must when you’re feeling grumpy. Completely brings you out of your mood. Do you know Dr Seuss?

    Comment posted April 17th, 2007 at 4:58 am
  6. Eric says:

    James asks: “Do you know Dr. Seuss?”

    Do I know Dr. Seuss. Not only did I grow up on Dr. Seuss, but I went through a Seuss phase at University, checking out ever Suess book in the campus library, and have read Dr. Seuss to all my kids. I used Dr. Seuss in the classroom, too, when I was an English instructor.

    My favorites are “Horton Hatches the Egg,” “The Zax” and “Too Many Daves”:

    • Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
    • Had twenty-three sons and she named them all Dave?
    • Well, she did. And that wasn’t a smart thing to do.
    • You see, when she wants one and calls out, ‘”Yoo-Hoo!
    • Come into the house, Dave!” she doesn’t get one.
    • All twenty-three Daves of hers come on the run!
    • Etc. . . .
    Comment posted April 17th, 2007 at 9:53 am
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