260 Comments
Apr 29, 2023Liked by Ted Gioia

"I needed to assimilate the tradition and take some measure of the greatest works of the past before I really had any sense of what a novel or epic poem or some other masterwork was really all about."

Call me crazy (or homeschooled) but isn’t that how humanities classes are supposed to or used to work?

My older sister and I took a humanities class together in high school (again, homeschooled). We discovered that we absorbed the material much better if we read it aloud, so we read it ALL aloud together. The Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid. Gilgamesh. Shakespeare. Dante. Milton. It was an amazing experience, and it actually took less time than reading it silently alone, because we never found ourselves glazing over and reading the same sentence again and again or any of the other things that happen when you try to read something too difficult. I recommend it to everyone.

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Addendum: We also had an amazing teacher. A friend of my mom’s who delighted in the material she taught. I have no idea what her level of education was, but she ranks among my top 5 best teachers of all time.

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Enthusiasm is infectious and lights an inner flame.

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Also homeschooled, also love reading aloud. One of the joys of my life was when a friend of mine in high school told me she hadn't read Harry Potter yet, so I read the entire series aloud to her during our commute to work in the evenings (it was a 40 minute drive) over the course of several months.

I still read aloud, especially when something is difficult or strikes me profoundly. But there's something magic about reading aloud to OTHERS that I wish I could replicate.

And, specifically, reading aloud the work of someone else. I have read my own work aloud to groups of people and I don't get nearly the same high. I'd really much rather read "Joyas Voladores" by Brian Doyle to every person I meet. You can read it (hopefully aloud) here: https://theamericanscholar.org/joyas-volardores/

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Thank you for sharing the link to this delightful essay.

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homeschooling mom to two dyslexic teenagers, and currently reading aloud the classics. Brilliant! I get a re-do and my kids get the best from the beginning.

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Ted, you may be unique in the thoroughgoing organization of your reading time throughout decades, but in terms of yearning for genuine wisdom from a young age, you were never alone.

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Apr 29, 2023·edited Apr 29, 2023

I read this article with great interest, especially “My daily reading is my proven path to Nirvana...”

When I was 18 I applied to St John’s College in Annapolis, specifically for their great books reading program. I ended up graduating from a more sensible school, the University of Minnesota. I did not forget about that list of books, however. I am now 62, undergoing cancer treatment, and, as a result, not working. I recently pulled out that list and am reading book #1 for freshmen: Homer’s Iliad. I read slowly also and am recovering from the frenetic pace of modern business reading, which is more like ultra scanning. I hope I never have to return to that anxiety provoking activity. My intent now is to savor passages and lose myself in the content.

Here’s the list: https://www.sjc.edu/academic-programs/undergraduate/great-books-reading-list

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A few days ago I had a visitor at my home here—the former President of St. John's in Annapolis, Pano Kanelos. I was able to tell him how much I admire that program and the values it stands for. Others can—and should—learn from its example.

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Ted, as a fellow lifetime reader this is an exceptional post that I enjoyed. But I have to ask you one question—where do you get your barrister's glass-fronted shelves from? I must know!

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I get my bookcases from a company called Hale in Frankfort, NY. They have been selling these lovely glass-enclosed shelves since 1907. If we're lucky, they will never go out of business. I will be ordering more from them soon.

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Your question brought back a memory of something I hadn't thought of in ages - we had a couple of those Shelves you asked about. I loved them and the way they looked. But as of now, can't remember in the slightest where I got them or what happened to them.

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As an SJC alum I'll just say that a great books college education was invaluable and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

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Apr 30, 2023Liked by Ted Gioia

I read Ted's article about reading and saw myself there, and moreover, I happen to be reading Zena Hitz's Lost In Thought right now. She went to St. John's, got a PhD, realized the academic world was too insular, tribal, cruel and competitive, so she quit and now tutors at St. John's. Her book "speaks' to Ted's article here.

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Apr 29, 2023Liked by Ted Gioia

Two of my children went to St Johns one in Annapolis one at their other campus at Santa Fe. I was so jealous of their education and considered going myself at 50. I went to a “sensible” school and didn’t get a fraction of the education they did. I have learned it on my own but would have loved the St Johns experience.

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Apr 29, 2023Liked by Ted Gioia

Thank you for attaching the reading list...so thoughtful. I wish you great success in your treatments.

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I had a brilliant history teacher in eighth and ninth grade, same man. I remember he had dozens of posters all over his classroom walls but the one that stood out to me the most was a picture of the old spines of books. They were the titled on the great books reading list from St. John's I have never forgotten about it and always thought one day I would go back and read them all too. I hope you savor each one and that your treatment goes well.

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Wow, what a cool read. As a high school senior (2 more weeks till I’m done!!) I feel something like what you articulated you felt as a teenager. I want to know… how to be a better human being. I want to know our past as a species, to know the human heart, to know the best and worst and everything in between. It’s been a struggle to continue reading as voraciously as my soul yearns to (reading during class is looked down upon, as it turns out) but I don’t think I’ll ever lose the little flame of inspiration to be a wiser human. I was that 12 year old reading Atlas Shrugged, the 13 year old reading Hayek, the 14 year old reading Aristotle (with little understanding admittedly). Completely agreed that reading at least one impossibly long/hard/intellectual book a year makes one a better person. It has taught me how to sit in confusion and accept the limited meaning I can get from something, and hope the next time I return to it I will understand more. Thanks for putting in words what I feel!

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Hi Kaitlin. Congratulations on not being a conformist teen! You are exactly the type of person I hope to attract in my upcoming course taking place in Quito.

https://cuevasdelilalo.wixsite.com/metaphysics-of-music/details

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author

This sounds fascinating

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Wow, this looks incredible!! I love the interdisciplinary focus, looking at music through like biology and neuroscience. I will spend some more time checking it out...

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You are already an enlightened being, Kaitlin! “how to sit in confusion and accept the limited meaning I can get from something, and hope the next time I return to it I will understand” is the essence of wisdom, at least as far as this 74 year old understand wisdom. Confusion is the master key to learning, creativity, and real understanding. Congratulations.

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I appreciate that! It so offends my perfectionist sensibilities to accept that I don't understand some passage, but the more I read texts like that the more it slowly starts to make sense. And acceptance of confusion has sure helped me in other areas of my life; I took a calculus based physics class this year (without having taken either before) and I feel I've gotten so much out of it, not because my grades reflect that, but because I got a few key things out of lots and lots of confusion.

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Confusion is both emotionally and physically uncomfortable, but when you just sit calmly and let yourself be fully aware of those uncomfortable sensations, it actually stimulates the subconscious to work on understanding in a way the conscious mind can’t. But you have to let yourself fully experience the discomfort. I just came back from Japan. We had a meditation lesson from a Zen Buddhist monk who emphasized that the “not-knowing” mind is the key to enlightenment. So sitting with one’s confusion will result in one of two outcomes: 1) you will get an “ah ha” realization (understanding), or 2) you will get a “known unknowns” realization, that is, an understanding of what specifically it is that you don’t understand (for example, the meaning of a specific concept or word or something that seems self- contradictory). As a student, I used to call this “beating my head with the textbook until it bleeds.” But it always worked.

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Kaitlin...you give me hope for the future...thank you for posting...

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You cannot imagine how much I needed to read this.

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In 1963 I worked in a bookshop in London that specialized in rare, out of print, and reprints of books and pamphlets. During that period I purchased scores, (nearly my whole paycheck) of books every week. In 1963, I moved to Australia for 5 yrs. and continued buying reading, and collecting books. Fast forward to Nov. 1968, returning from Australia, when the ship reached Acapulco, and I prepared to depart, my trunks of books, and everything else I owned couldn't be found. I lost $10,000 worth of books. I didn't stop buying and reading books but I stopped collecting them and anything else. From that time onward I've used libraries and have never owned more than 10 books, which is just as well, because I've moved a lot. These days I live in Thailand and there's a used book store in town where I purchase books and trade them back for more books. At the age of 84, I don't need to own anything other than the basic necessities, among which are several copies of the Tai Te Ching, and a few others that I re-read from time to time; mostly poetry. If I had my life to live over again, I'd pursue your type of education. Thank you for your writing.

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"How does a jazz musician know so much about Aristotle"?

They're not supposed to be well-read on subjects other than music? News to me.

And I know that Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus, who were both well read and outspoken, would likely disagree with that as well.

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“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Mark Twain

You have discovered and practiced the above.

Education, and particularly higher education, should prepare students on how to learn about a myriad of subjects.

I call it learning how to learn. A skill that will last a lifetime.

Thanks Ted!

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Please don't forget about audiobooks and podcasts. As my eyesight worsens and my physical dexterity decreases, audio material has become part of my new lifestyle! Nice article, Mr. Gioia. I'm showing all family and friends this piece-I am not the only one!

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Recently, I’ve read some articles discussing the reasons for reading, and of course, there are many motives. Ted’s statement that he reads to expand his mind resonates with me. But I must also enjoy what I’m reading, and audiobooks sometimes provide the enjoyment that reading the book doesn’t. I first “read” Ulysses on an audiotape back in the 80s, after stalling on the book itself.

I’ve found that other people often do a better job of reading things aloud than I’d do for myself. There’s probably a level of engagement I’m missing by not doing the out loud myself, but if you get the right person to read something to you, it can open up dimensions you might otherwise miss.

Recently finished Paradise Lost, read by Charlton Giffin, from Audible. The very voice of gravitas.

Byron wrote an epic narrative poem called Don Juan. I can imagine reading it aloud to myself, except that I have stumbled across one of the best readings of anything ever in Jonathan Keeble’s reading of the poem, also on Audible or, if you are lucky, in your public library’s audiobook app, which is where I got mine.

You can also find some classics being rendered on podcasts. Currently, I’m listening to Dracula on the Re: Dracula podcast, which renders the book in a “real time” fashion - that is, you get each episode on the month & day of the document in the book.

And then, there’s the Moby Dick “Big Read”: https://www.mobydickbigread.com

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I'm listening to that famously long book War and Peace on Audible. There is no way I could sit and read it all from a book but I can hear it and brought to life by the actor readers excellent voice characterizations and do my work,tasks,and chores at the same time

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One thing I'm curious about is your approach to note-taking and retention of what you've read. You mentioned maintaining lists of book you read. Did you also make notes or create marginalia?

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I should write about that too. Over the years, I've tried different approaches to note-taking and writing in the margins of books. My belief now is: the more, the better. One of the worst mistakes I've made is having so much respect for the physical book that I'm reluctant to write in the margins. Especially if I've just purchase an expensive book, I've often tried to keep it looking new and pristine. So I don't make any marks in it. But I now realize that I should mark up the books, because they're more valuable to me with notes and highlighting.

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Apr 30, 2023·edited Apr 30, 2023Liked by Ted Gioia

I’ve held in my hands (at Washington & Lee University) a copy of a book owned by Thomas Jefferson with his hand written marginalia. Guess what made the book worth millions? Same with books owned by President Truman with his marginalia. Scribble away!

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I always write in my books. Or if it's a Kindle edition, I make lots of bookmarks and highlights (I live in South America and can't easily get physical copies).

It's kind of like my mother's china set she insisted on giving me. I started using the expensive china every day. Because ...what the hell was I waiting for?

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Please do so, I would so love to read a post from you about note-taking :)

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I guess I have an instrumentalist approach toward making notes in books. I know it makes me engage more with what I'm reading. But I normally don't think it's worth the effort. "So many books. So little time... "

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I would also be very much interested in understanding how you managed to retain so much of all the books you read! In my own reading, I'm trying to follow the approaches prescribed by Mortimer Adler in "How to read a book" or Susan Wise Bauer in "The well-educated mind" - while these techniques are very helpful, they of course also are very time-consuming and I wonder what's your perspective on this.

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See my comment above and consider these apps that work for paper and digital reading:

Readwise

Readwise Reader

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Hi Mark,

After posting my question to Ted, I see that you have a similar one. May your tribe increase!

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Apr 29, 2023Liked by Ted Gioia

Reading Finnegans Wake out loud is far from foolish. After all,, Joyce himself said, “It’s all so simple. If anyone doesn’t understand a passage, all he need do is read it aloud”.

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Apr 29, 2023·edited Apr 29, 2023Liked by Ted Gioia

It has been opined that intelligence may be a function of the number of pages turned . . .

That's what I think as well. Nobody in my nuclear family actually could say how I "learned to read," because nobody taught me to read. And, my mother took delight when she told her friends I could read the newspaper at age 2-3. When challenged on this, she handed me the newspaper, which of course I read easily . . .

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Can I add to yours that I found out I could read aged 6 when I picked up a book at home attracted by the colourful pictures (it was Little Dog + The Rainmakers by Mary Fairclough) and read it through fluently middle to end then start to middle. No,I couldn't read at 3! But from babyhood my Mum had read to my me and my sister. We were accustomed to handling books. Mum spelled out words to us and my big sister also read to us. So I think me,maybe my sister too,I must ask her just absorbed it. I've never forgotten (I'm 69) just picking up that book and I could just read it. I wish it worked that way for French!

So I could read and spell before I started school. Because I started school mid-term aged 6+ a half,which even I thought a bit odd then. I've lately put two + two together and I'll never know for sure (but there could be a record in archives somewhere) but I feel my Mum wanted to keep me home with her and it was probably the receipt of curt letters from the local authority threatening to fine my Mum + Dad that made my Mum unwillingly send me to that,lol,torture prison. I do not have fond memories of school and my school wasn't even a horrible one. It was a nice place. I wish my Mum had got her way. Now,it might be thought that if I could read and spell already and the rest of the kids in the class were still stumbling and struggling why wasn't I streets ahead and now a multi-millionaire?!! But this factor only served to stress how DIFFERENT I was. And sadly not being a psychopath I cared. So I kind of turned off,tuned out,and zoned out of it. WE DONT LIKE YOU,YOURE NOT LIKE US,YOURE DIFFERENT.

I'm ok. Not traumatized. Now. But it just proves the enforced gregarity of "school" is not for everyone.

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Apr 29, 2023Liked by Ted Gioia

Ted, I think you're the bee's knees. You read my mind! I was curious about these things.b I have accumulated books over the years that are waiting on their shelves for my attention. I kind of berate myself that I'm such a slow reader and it's often frustrating because I have some imaginary comparison to some imaginary other. Thank you for spelling out a different way to think about it. Now I'll give myself a pat on the back when I read a sentence three times over. Thanks for sharing your inner world with us!

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You have won me over as a fan because I also consider reading a major human function. I struggle to read on line and recall an article (in Scientific American I think) which cited scientific studies showing that the human brain registers electronic words differently from those in hard print. I already knew this since editing my book and other articles on line always resulted in overlooking errors, to the point where I always sent my writings to my husband for reading and then printing a hard copy for me to edit. I admire the breadth of your reading choices; however, I am really puzzled at the absence of nonfiction, especially in the hard and social sciences, i.e. biology, nature,

science in general, language, anthropology, etc. For me these are, for the most part, my only reading choices aside from classic older fiction, mainly because I find that the recommendations of other people turn out to be, for me, uninteresting or lacking in heft ( my exceptions are Marquez,

Nabokov, Roth, Katharine Anne Porter, Virginia Woolf...though I read a truly great piece by

Valeria Luiselli some years ago (The Story of My Teeth). I am happy to say my granddaughter, now

in her junior year at Princeton, is majoring in literature and writing, including playwriting. When she was little and we took her out for a walk or dinner, she walked along with us reading whatever book she had started before the walk. How many people do you know like that? (I was an English major at Cornell and audited a couple of lectures by Nabokov, who read from notes, and I have no recollection of his classes whatsoever).

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My Uncle John instilled a love of reading in me. He had fought in both world wars, I & II. He worked long hours translating for an import/export company in Manhattan ( he had a facility for the languages he encountered in France, Italy, Germany, Russia ). There was a newsstand where he caught the train home to Brooklyn, and it carried the Classics Illustrated “comic books”. He’d bring them home to me, pour himself a beer, and I would curl up with his arm around me and he would read me to sleep. When he realized I was picking up on reading simple words, he gave me a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales ( Modern Library edition ) for either my birthday or Christmas, don’t remember which… ( I was 4 when this began…) By the time he and my Grandmother sent me to boarding school for 1st grade I was omniverous; Sunday comics, Saturday Evening Post, Life Magazine. Reading became the element that plugged up the cracks in my social skills, if nothing else.

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Apr 30, 2023·edited Apr 30, 2023Liked by Ted Gioia

So great. You know, one could do the same thing with music. Start with Bach (could start earlier of course, but it's a worthwhile starting point), and go through all the "big" composers. One will learn a lot.

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Excellent point, Paul. And with the help of Spotify, Amazon music, etc., very doable.

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