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Reading is an adventure no matter the season or genre

      High summer, now, and with it the leisure to read more widely and deeply. Not that I despair of the classroom, only that a respite from students surreptitiously accessing their phones and nodding off when reading – of all things – the adventures of Samson, is welcome.

      Nor, may I add, do I tire of the battle against ignorance, indifference and ennui, only that I salute the temporary armistice. Come late August, I’ll once more be game for combat.

      So what to read? Blake Bailey’s recently published biography of Philip Roth kicked off the summer festival of reading. That nudged me to take another look at Roth’s “The Human Stain.” Satisfied with that, I moved from fiction to essays. Joseph Epstein’s “A Literary Education and Other Essays” is a treasure chest of English prose, and I reveled in Epstein sticking his thumb in the eye of blowhards who believe Derrida and Paul de Man really had anything worthwhile to say.

      Poetry rounded out my foray into the profane letters. Wordsworth, Keats, Byron and Shelley for the Brits, while Longfellow, Whitman, Poe and Riley for the Yanks. Longfellow and Riley may raise eyebrows, as they are not commonly accepted into the canon. Still, give me “The Wreck of the Hesperus” or “When the Frost is on the Punkin’” any day over any poem by anybody in the current issue of “Poetry.” Oh, and one more Brit: I slipped in a little Samuel Johnson, too. “Vanity of Human Wishes,” Rambler No. 5, and Idler No. 31 are proof positive that Johnson is a legitimate rival to Shakespeare’s crown as language king.

      Moving from the profane to the sacred, I re-read the Book of Ruth, a lovely story. It’s only four chapters and can be knocked off in minutes. If you decide to give it a go, though, don’t bust through it. Savor the lines: “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God.” That’s good stuff.

      If you are more in the mood for mayhem, look no further than the Book of Judges. The Ban (Kill, Take, Burn), the Walls Came Tumbling Down, the Tent Peg through the Temple (skull, not building) trick, and of course, Samson tearing lions in half, scooping out honey from said lion, tying torches to the tails of foxes, slaughtering a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, sleeping with prostitutes, and his swan song: immolating himself while doing in about three thousand more Philistines in the process. How can anyone sleep through that?

      I also enjoyed reading, for like the millionth time, Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Vintage Paul. Any letter in which its author calls the letter’s recipients stupid, and in which the act of circumcising oneself is blatantly recommended, is a must read.

      Of course, there’s also the daily journey through Scripture via the Liturgy of the Hours.

      Though not Scripture, but in the monastic vein, I’m once again moving cover-to-cover, but very slowly, through Jean Leclercq’s “The Love of Learning and the Desire for God.” There’s always something new for me there.

      Reading is both a gift and an art. I’m grateful to my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Carlyle (the title of “Ms” had yet to be proscribed in academic year 1963-64) for developing the gift God gave me, and Mr. Richardson (high school English teacher) for cultivating the art within me.

      But kudos to the monks, too, for instilling in me this piece of wisdom: reading the text aloud, especially Scripture. One gnaws and chews the Bible, and can only masticate it if it is read aloud. Reading the Bible silently is a little like kissing your sister: What’s the point?

      That’s why in my Old and New Testament classes, the Bible is always read aloud. The words must be heard, the sentences savored and the paragraphs torn apart. Do this little experiment: Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 silently, and then read it aloud. Next, read Luke 15:1-32 silently, and then aloud. I’m willing to wager aloud wins.

      I hope the incoming freshmen at my school, and those returning, will be ready when they report this fall. We have a lot of reading to do.

      Put that phone away! (I’m seriously considering putting that directive on my gravestone.)


      Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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