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The time I've wasted not reading
July 13, 2011 - Stephen Browne
You know what makes me feel old sometimes?
No, it's not aches and pains. I've spent enough of my life doing manual labor outdoors to know that's just life.
It's not being unfamiliar with the latest pop cultural icons (and just who the heck is Justin Bieber and why do people hate him?) music, fashion, etc.
It's the feeling that time is running out to get all my reading done.
It hit me again today when I saw a passing reference to French philosopher Jacques Ellul. I've heard of him, but I've never read anything by him. Turns out he had some interesting things to say about... well actually about a lot of things. But I'll probably never get around to it.
I should have read a lot more of the canon of western civilization: Aristotle's "Politics," more of Plato's dialogs, Boethius' "The Consolations of Philosophy," Thomas Aquinas, etc.
Then there's the stuff I have read, and ought to re-read because it's deep and once is not enough: Aristotle's "Rhetoric," Machiavelli's "The Prince" (oh, and get around to "The Discourses" while you're at it,) "The Federalist," the list goes on.
How about fiction? I've never read Uncle Tom's Cabin, the novel Lincoln credited with starting the Civil War, perhaps only half-jokingly. There's still a lot of Mark Twain I've never read. And maybe I ought to give Charles Dickens and Jane Austin another try. I could never get into either of them but people whose taste I respect speak well of them.
And there's the stuff I think is probably faddish nonsense, such as the Deconstructionists, that I ought to read anyway 1) just to be sure it's really that bad, and 2) to be able to explain why it is.
And that's only English. I wish I were comfortable enough in the couple of languages I can get around in to read their literature more fluently. I've just got tantalizing bits beautiful Polish poetry from their national poet Adam Mickiewicz ("Litwo, oczyzna moja, ty jestest jak zdrovia...) and fragments of Spanish ("Al rey, la hacienda y la vida se ha de dar. Pero el honor es el patrimonio del alma - y el alma solo es de Dios.")
Once it was expected for high school graduates to have at least a reading knowledge of Latin or Greek. Did you know that Harry Truman, the last president who didn't have a college degree, used to read Homer in the original - just for fun?
Have all of us who love to read had that fantasy - the one where you are unjustly sentenced to lengthy imprisonment in solitary confinement, but with all the books you want? Away from kids, work, and just being too tired at the end of the day?
Nowadays I'd want to update that fantasy to include a DVD player, cable TV absolutely not allowed, and a collection of classic movies.
I'm not old, at least I don't feel old, but I'm past the half-way mark. There's less time ahead than there was behind. And what's really starting to bother me is not fear of death, but the fear I won't get my reading done.
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