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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 biting Boreas, fell and dour,
Sharp shivers thro' the leafless bow'r;
When Phoebus gies a short-liv'd glow'r,
Far south the lift,
Dim-dark'ning thro' the flaky show'r,
Or whirling drift.
BURNS (Vol. 6, p. 248) (Burns' Introduction)

1 Last Strokes of Shakespeare's Pen
Monsters of the earth, weird creatures of the air, magic romance, and shipwreck are mingled by a master hand in his thrilling drama. The fanciful, enchanting "Tempest" is the last work of the great bard of Stratford.
("The Tempest" performed at Queen Elizabeth's court, Nov. 1, 1611.)
Read from Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST Vol. 46, pp. 397-410

2 Journey Through a Hot Country
Dante recorded the awful scenes of a journey through the pits of the underworld, and wrote in such a vivid, realistic way that men tremble at the terrors depicted.
Read from Dante's DIVINE COMEDY Vol. 20, pp. 13-20

3 Letters to an Emperor
Pliny sought the advice of the Emperor Trajan for dealing with the Christians who were alarmingly on the increase. He casually relates how he had tortured two Christians.
Read from Pliny's LETTERS Vol. 9, pp. 404-406

4 Gold or Glory?
Polyeucte, an Armenian noble, wanted to become a Christian. If he were baptized, he would have to give up his high position, his wealth and his pagan wife. Was the heavenly crown worth this sacrifice?
Read from Corneille's POLYEUCTE Vol. 26, pp. 87-97

5 Costly Opinion on Divorce
A divorce always means trouble for some one. So with Sir Thomas More when he refused to agree with King Henry over the king's separation. More was made to pay one of the highest prices ever paid for a difference of opinion.
Read from Roper's LIFE OF SIR THOMAS MORE Vol. 36, pp. 89-99


NOVEMBER Reading Guide

6 A Genius Needs Few Tools
Two sticks, a table, and a pail were the commonplace implements used by Michael Faraday to demonstrate great scientific truths.
(Faraday sends "Experimental Researches" to Royal Society, Nov. 6, 1845.)
Read: Faraday's FORCE OF GRAVITATION Vol. 30, pp. 13-21

7 The Voice from a Stone-Dead City
Suddenly all the sinful city's inhabitants were turned to stone. When a beautiful woman from Bagdad came to the dead city, night overtook her there. Sleeping in the palace, she was awakened by a man's voice calling.
Read from THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS Vol. 16, pp. 100-107

8 Blind But Unconquered
Milton's indomitable courage kept him at his work even after he lost his sight. Blind, he dictated a sequel to his "Paradise Lost," which he called "Paradise Regained."
(John Milton died Nov. 8, 1674.)
Read from Milton's PARADISE REGAINED Vol. 4, pp. 359-369

9 Once War Songs, Now Pious Prayers
The Psalms have been an inspiration to men in many ages. They have become so associated with the peaceful spirit of Christianity that we forget some of them were once war songs and songs of triumph.
Read from THE PSALMS Vol. 44, pp. 318-327

10 A Poet Who Piped for His Supper
Goldsmith traveled through Belgium, France, and Italy, winning his daily bread by playing at farmhouses. He wrote the most brilliant comedy, the best novel, and the finest poem of his age.
(Oliver Goldsmith born Nov. 10, 1728.)
Read: Goldsmith's THE DESERTED VILLAGE Vol. 41, pp. 509-520

11 America's Doughboy Glorified
(Armistice Day)
The youth of America-typified in the doughboy of the past war-was gloriously portrayed by Walt Whitman. He also sang of the vast plains and the beauty of America.
Read: WHITMAN'S POEMS Vol. 42, pp. 1402-1412


NOVEMBER Reading Guide

12 Story of the First Dresses
Milton's version tells how the Serpent induced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve offered it to Adam. Then they became conscious for the first time that they were not clothed.
(John Milton married second wife, Nov. 12, 1656.)
Read from Milton's PARADISE LOST Vol. 4, pp. 278-290

13 When Carthage Was Monte Carlo
Carthage was the playground of the ancient world. In that city of many sins, Augustine was a leader of the revels. His conversion to Christianity amazed those who knew him.
(St. Augustine born Nov. 13, 354.)
Read from the CONFESSIONS OF ST. AUGUSTINE Vol. 7, pp. 31-38

14 He Worried About It
We wonder if the man who worried about the "scientifical" prediction that "The sun's heat will give out in ten million years more," had read Lyell on the gradual changes in the earth's surface.
(Sir Charles Lyell born Nov. 14, 1797.)
Read: Lyell's UNIFORMITY OF CHANGE Vol. 38, pp. 398-405

15 Food Profiteers 300 Years Ago
Food profiteering was as active in plague-stricken Milan 300 years ago as in modern times. Shops were stormed for food. Read how the Council strove heroically to fix fair rates.
(Sale of corn and flour regulated in Milan, Nov. 15, 1629.)
Read from Manzoni's I PROMESSI SPOSI Vol. 21, pp. 450-460

16 Just Before the Gold Rush
When the glorious Western coast was only partly settled, Dana visited the Presidios. He saw frontier life at a time when Spanish splendor still gilded California.
Read from TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST Vol. 23, pp. 164-168

17 At Thirty Scott Began to Write
Are you curious about famous people, their lives, habits, personalities? Carlyle discusses the intimate life of his illustrious countryman, and reveals Scott, the man, and Scott, the genius who entertained Christendom with his stories.
(Scott writes dedication of "Ivanhoe," Nov. 17, 1817.)
Read: Carlyle's SIR WALTER SCOTT Vol. 25, pp. 410-420


NOVEMBER Reading Guide

18 Apple or Son the Arrow's Mark
The arrow shot from his bow with a twang and whizzed through the air. Tell covered his eyes, fearing to see where the arrow hit. Then the shout of triumph, a shout of the people and not of the tyrant-but the end was not yet.
(William Tell incident, legendary date, Nov. 18, 1307.)
Read from Schiller's WILHELM TELL Vol. 26, pp. 441-449

19 No Man Knows His Resting Place
A barge with black sails bearing three black robed queens with crowns of gold carried away the dying King Arthur. Will they bring him back and fulfill Merlin's prophecy?
(Queen Victoria appointed Tennyson poet laureate, Nov. 19, 1850.)
Read: Tennyson's MORTE D'ARTHUR Vol. 42, pp. 986-992

20 Old Stories Ever New
When the cold winds howled about the thatched huts of the German peasant, the mother drew her children to her side and told them stories. Collected and retold by the Grimm brothers, these stories have perennial charm.
Read from GRIMM'S FAIRY TALES Vol. 17, pp. 90-98

21 Bargains in Wives
The beautiful daughters of the Circassians were in demand for the seraglios of the Turkish Sultan. Voltaire tells how these beauties were protected from smallpox centuries before modern vaccination.
(Voltaire ill with smallpox, Nov., 1723.)
Read from Voltaire's LETTERS Vol. 34, pp. 93-97

22 How a Queen Died for Love
Deserted by her lover, Queen Dido applied to her heart the only balm that could ease her pain.
Read from Virgil's ÆNEID Vol. 13, pp. 167-177

23 Less Than Star Dust
According to Pascal, a man is not even as significant as a speck of star dust in the universe. Pascal's thoughts on the subject are startling to the modern reader, and they furnish rich food for the imagination.
(Pascal begins writing his "Thoughts," Nov. 23, 1654.)
Read from PASCAL'S THOUGHTS Vol. 48, pp. 26-36


NOVEMBER Reading Guide

24 The Book that Upset Tennessee
The signal for the beginning of a great controversy, still raging,
was the publication of Darwin's "Origin of Species." This was the first complete statement of the evolution theory, which had been privately advanced but never publicly taught. A new epoch in science dates from this great work.
("Origin of Species" published Nov. 24, 1859.)
Read from Darwin's ORIGIN OF SPECIES Vol. 11, pp. 23-30

25 Cupid as a Shoemaker
We are indebted to Thomas Dekker for one of the most humorous characters in all Elizabethan literature; namely, Simon Eyre, an old shoemaker whose affairs became hilariously involved with those of the gentry.
Read from Dekker's THE SHOEMAKER'S HOLIDAY Vol. 47, pp. 469-483

26 Shakespeare Should Be Heard
Charles Lamb, favorite essayist, thought that no stage could do justice to Shakespeare's tragedies. He advocated reading the plays, and with the imagination costuming the players and build­ing the gorgeous scenery in a way equaled by no scene painter or costumer.
Read: Lamb ON THE TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPEARE Vol. 27, pp. 299-310

27 What Land is This?
In wondrous Utopia pearls and precious stones were used as playthings for little children. Gold rings and bracelets were only worn by outcasts, while great golden chains shackled criminals and felons. When ambassadors from foreign lands came in fine raiment, the Utopians treated the plainest dressed as the greatest; the others seemed to them like children.
Read from Sir Thomas More's UTOPIA Vol. 36, pp. 191-204

28 Poems Made from Visions
"To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower-"
Such was the exaltation of the mysticism of William Blake, who reflected in his poetry the ecstasy of his visions. Simplicity is the keynote of his genius.
(William Blake born Nov. 28, 1757.)
Read: BLAKE'S POEMS Vol. 41, pp. 583-592


NOVEMBER Reading Guide

29 How Ideas Originate
Did you ever stop to think just how you thought? What inner emotions, what outer influences make up the fathomless depths of mind and intellect? Hume explains how we draw our thoughts, then clumsily put them into tangible shape called ideas.
Read: Hume's OF THE ORIGIN OF IDEAS Vol. 37, pp. 299-303

30 "Dont's" for Conversation
To harp on one's illnesses, giving all the symptoms and circumstances, has been a blemish on conversation for ages. Two hundred years ago Swift complained of persons who continually talked about themselves.
(Jonathan Swift born Nov. 30, 1667.)
Read: Swift's ESSAY ON CONVERSATION Vol. 27, pp. 91-98

Faraday taught scientific truths
Michael Faraday taught scientific truths by everyday methods. By the use of two sticks, a table and a pail he demonstrated that the "center of gravity must remain within the base." (See Reading Assignment for November 6th.)


[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
Always be on time. Never try to make any personal engagements. Do as little talking as humanly possible. Never be disturbed by anything. Always do what you’re told to do as quickly as possible. Remember to lean back in a parade, so that people can see your husband. Don’t get too fat to ride three on a seat. Get out of the way as quickly as you’re not needed.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), U.S. First Lady, author, and speaker. As quoted in Eleanor and Franklin, ch. 50, by Joseph P. Lash (1971).

Written c. 1940, on what the wife of a “public man” must do. Roosevelt was the wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945; President, 1933-1945). ~

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