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Common sense isn't.


The Five-Foot Shelf of Books


Fifteen Minutes a Day

The Reading Guide

[Introduction] [January] [February] [March] [April] [May] [June] [July] [August] [September] [October] [November] [December]

Also check out:
An older perspective on words in books.
An MIT Museum article on Charles Eliot.



When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail...
SHAKESPEARE (Vol. 40, p. 262)

1 Are Skeptics Faulty Thinkers?
Offhand we say a skeptic is one who doubts everything. But does he? And are his doubts caused by too much learning, or too little? Berkeley presents both sides of skepticism.
Read from Berkeley's THREE DIALOGUES Vol. 37, pp. 189-199

2 Practical Jokes in King Arthur's Day
Attacked in fun by two masked knights, Sir Galahad smote one so that both horse and rider went down. Turning on the other jester, he slashed open his helmet.
Read from THE HOLY GRAIL Vol. 35, pp. 128-134 [by Sir Thomas Malory]

3 Met the Gods of Ten Thousand Worlds
After three awesome messengers have issued three warnings, the gods of ten thousand worlds decide who is to be the new Buddha. Then the parents, the conception, the birth of the god-child de­mand constant vigilance.
Read: THE BIRTH OF THE BUDDHA Vol. 45, pp. 603-612

4 The Queen Weds a Poor Stranger
Æneas and Dido, world-famous lovers, while hunting in the forest, were trapped in a cave by a furious storm. There the marriage between the proud African queen and the homeless wanderer was completed.
Read from Virgil's ÆNEID Vol. 13, pp. 152-162

5 Poems by an Artist's Model
So beautiful that many painters sought her for a model - Christina Rossetti, sister of the famous poet, Dante Rossetti, com­bined with her unusual beauty a rare poetic sense.
(Christina Georgina Rossetti born Dec. 5, 1830.)
Read: CHRISTINA ROSSETTI'S POEMS Vol. 42, pp. 1181-1183


DECEMBER Reading Guide

6 Moralizing as a Seductive Art
"The Vision of Mirza" and "Westminster Abbey," first printed in "The Spectator," are examples of Addison's wondrous gift of expression. He leads us to higher realms.
(Last issue of "The Spectator" published Dec. 6, 1712.)
Read: Addison's ESSAYS Vol. 27, pp. 73-80

7 What Cicero Least Expected
After being governor of Sicily, Cicero returned to Rome expect­ing a hero's welcome. When he asked what the Romans thought of his recent achievements, he received an astounding answer. (Cicero slain by Mark Antony's soldiers, Dec. 7, 43 B. C.)
Read from Plutarch's CICERO Vol. 12, pp. 222-231

8 Dream Women Shaped His Destiny
De Quincy imagined that three women were sent to him so that he might know the depths of his soul. Real women could not have wielded greater influence. It is fortunate that everyone does not meet these weird women.
(Thomas De Quincy died Dec. 8, 1859.)
Read: LEVANA AND OUR LADIES OF SORROW Vol. 27, pp. 319-325

9 Slavery's Last Stand
By the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 stringent laws were made to prevent assistance being given to any slaves attempting to escape. The antislavery answer to these laws was a perfection of the "Underground Railroad."
Read: THE FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT Vol. 43, pp. 306-312

10 Benvenuto Boasts of Gallantry
Taking offense at a soldier who made advances toward his favorite lady, Cellini jumped from the window, knife in hand, to avenge himself. This incident was recorded with characteristic conceit by Cellini in his amazing diary.
Read from CELLINI'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY Vol. 31, pp. 62-72

11 The Most Dashing Figure in Athens
The handsome Alcibiades, cunning in politics, bold in war, was the lion of Athenian society until he violated the secrets of a mysterious religious cult. Then all outraged Athens united to dash their idol to the ground.
Read from Plutarch's ALCIBIADES Vol. 12, pp. 106-117


DECEMBER Reading Guide

12 How the Glorious News was Carried to Aix
Three brave men began the heroic ride from Ghent to Aix. Only one man arrived to tell the thrilling story of the tempestuous ride. In one of his most bewitching poems, in lines that haunt the memory, Browning retells the story.
(Robert Browning died Dec. 12, 1889.)
Read: BROWNING'S POEMS Vol. 42, pp. 1066-1068

13 To the South Seas with the Gallant Drake
A famous voyage was Sir Francis Drake's around the world. Drake's crew, the first white men to visit many parts of the world, received amazing receptions from the natives.
(Sir Francis Drake embarked for South Seas, Dec. 13, 1577.)
Read from DRAKE'S VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD Vol. 33, pp. 199-208

14 Pastoral Poems and Politics
The many-sided Marvell, who wielded a pen that was both feared and courted, is seen at his best in stirring verse. "A Garden," "Prospect of Flowers," with the "Horatian Ode upon Cromwell," show the power of his genius.
(Marvell entered Cambridge, Dec. 14, 1633.)
Read: MARVELL'S POEMS Vol. 40, pp. 370-379

15 Odysseus Talks with Ghosts
This is another of those marvelous and unforgetable tales of the wandering Odysseus. The fantasy takes him into regions where he discourses with deceased heroes.
Read from Homer's ODYSSEY Vol. 22, pp. 145-153

16 How Man's Courtship Differs from Animal's
Beauty is an important factor in the attraction between man and woman. It is knowing beauty that differentiates man from the animals, which only require that their mates be of the same species.
Read from Burke's THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL Vol. 24, pp. 37-48

17 Dies on the Eve of Her Son's Conversion
The mother of St. Augustine prayed unceasingly for her son's conversion. The most touching, most soul-revealing writing St. Augustine did is in the description of his mother's death.
Read from CONFESSIONS OF ST. AUGUSTINE Vol. 7, pp. 150-160


DECEMBER Reading Guide

18 For a Gentleman
Every schoolboy asks: "What's the use of learning Latin?" John Locke, one of the greatest educators of all time, maintains that Latin is absolutely essential to a well-bred gentleman, and explains why.

19 Samson Finds a Champion
The mighty Samson was blinded while a captive of the Philistines. He sought revenge - a revenge devastating and costly. Milton, himself a giant of intellect, blind and imprisoned, wrote of this sightless giant of other days.
(Milton released from prison, Dec. 19, 1660.)
Read: Milton's SAMSON AGONISTES Vol. 4, pp. 444-459

20 Egypt Visited by the First Reporter
All phases of life were pictured by Herodotus in his history. Like a modern newspaper reporter, he combines weird stories, scandals, and battle accounts with descriptions of places, persons, and sights about town.
Read from Herodotus' AN ACCOUNT OF EGYPT Vol. 33 pp. 7-17

21 "Madam Bubble" Not to Be Discouraged
"Madam Bubble," or this vain world, presented both herself and her purse to the wayfarer. Repulsed and scorned, yet she serenely flaunts her bribes enticingly before his bewildered eyes.
(John Bunyan made leader of Non-Conformist congregation, Dec. 21, 1671.)
Read from Bunyan's PILGRIM'S PROGRESS Vol. 15, pp. 306-318

22 Rubbing Noses in New Zealand
Darwin, in exploring New Zealand, finds cannibalism, tattooing, and many weird customs among the natives. Instead of shaking hands, the salutation is by rubbing noses.
(Darwin visits New Zealand natives, Dec. 22, 1835.)
Read from Darwin's VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE Vol. 29, pp. 425-434

23 Saved from a Bonfire of Books
If all the books in the world were on fire, some men would risk their lives to save certain priceless writings: the world's classics. Sainte-Beuve here tells why.
(Sainte-Beuve born Dec. 23, 1804.)
Read: Sainte-Beuve's WHAT IS A CLASSIC? Vol. 32, pp. 121-133


DECEMBER Reading Guide

24 Christmas Made a Dull Day
Before the Reformation in England almost every third day was a holy day. But the Puritans abolished all the holy days, even Christmas.
Read from HOLINSHED'S CHRONICLES Vol. 35, pp. 266-270

25 The Christmas Story
(Christmas Day.)
Luke was a Greek physician, a man of culture, trained in the best universities of the ancient world. He became imbued with the spirit of Christ, and wrote the most beautiful story of the birth and life of Jesus.
Read from the GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE Vol. 44, pp. 357-360

26 Silence Cost Her a Kingdom
Cordelia, daughter of old King Lear, could not convince her father of her love for him. Afterward, when misfortunes made him accept her aid, he learned too late of her real devotion.
("King Lear" presented at Queen Elizabeth's court, Dec. 26, 1606.)
Read from Shakespeare's KING LEAR Vol. 46, pp. 288-300 [Act IV, Scenes IV-VI]

27 Million-Year-Old Islands
It was the new-old lands that Darwin visited on his voyage of the "Beagle." The strange specimens of prehistoric life he saw there made the world gape and shudder.
(Charles Darwin begins voyage in the "Beagle," Dec. 27, 1831.)
Read from Darwin's VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE Vol. 29, pp. 376-389

28 Ho! for the Spanish Main!
Drake with a fleet of twenty-five ships and twenty-three hundred men sets sail to plunder and lay waste Spain's treasure hoards in the New World. Gold and silver bar, nuggets and jewels awaited the bold adventurers.
Read from DRAKE'S GREAT ARMADA Vol. 33, pp. 229-240

29 These Guests Outstayed Their Welcome
After twenty years' absence, Odysseus returned home to find his house filled with strangers rioting and wasting his treasure. Crafty Odysseus, with the aid of his son and the gods, devised a bold plan to rid his home of the unwelcome guests.
Read from Homer's ODYSSEY Vol. 22, pp. 296-309


DECEMBER Reading Guide

30 Dana Meets a Tattooed Sailor
Dana's description of the picturesque, pre-gold-rush California is unique. While he was on the Pacific coast he met a British sailor who was elaborately tattooed and of an unforgetable ap­pearance and personality.
Read from Dana's TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST Vol. 23, pp. 77-86

31 Curiosity and Interest as Guides to Reading
The most unhappy man, Carlyle says, is the man who has no real work - no interest in life. To avoid this miserable state, he advises faithful and diligent reading along the lines dictated by curiosity and interest.
Read from Carlyle's INAUGURAL ADDRESS Vol. 25, pp. 364-374

Moses and Buddha
Basic unity of religions is strikingly revealed in the similarity between the Ten Commandments of Moses and the Precepts of Buddha. (See Reading Assignment for December 3rd.)


[Introduction] [January] [February] [March] [April] [May] [June] [July] [August] [September] [October] [November] [December]

Also check out:
An older perspective on words in books.
An MIT Museum article on Charles Eliot.

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Quote of the moment
Some natural tears they dropp'd, but wip'd them soon; The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide. They hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow, Through Eden took their solitary way.
~ John Milton, Paradise Lost. Book xii. Line 645. ~

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