Reading (in) Walden

607px-walden_thoreauWhat are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave.… To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise…. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object.

Yes, it’s Thoreau. I’m re-reading Walden. Why? Because it’s on my bookshelf, and I’m in the process of interrogating each book there. The choice: either read it or get rid of it. I hadn’t read Walden in decades, so I pulled it from the shelf.

Though I admire Thoreau’s radical simplicity—if something isn’t a necessity, get rid of it! and my shelf-purging seems to be in Thoreau’s spirit—the book’s opening hundred pages lay it on too thickly for my taste; too much finger-wagging at people who are attached to even minimal property.

But this short chapter called “Reading”: this one is a treasure. [Read more…]

Beauty Will Save the Seventh Grade

By Callie R. Feyen

The_wednesday_warsThe school administrator wants to know when my students will experience beauty in my classroom. He asks this question while going over our teaching contracts. A copy of what I signed back in April is magnified on a screen in Covenant Hall, a giant room that serves as a cafeteria and also a chapel.

Last year, I took my eighth graders here to practice reading Romeo and Juliet. We took turns standing on a stage, reading about two houses divided while inhaling the scent of bologna sandwiches and orange peels.

His question pulls me out of the back-to-school funk I’ve been in. I don’t like teacher meetings and in-services. They make me sad. I’m shaking my right foot and twiddling my pen frantically when he asks about beauty.

I don’t hear anything else he says.

Less than a week later, I’m standing in front of my seventh graders with a copy of Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars in my hand. Holling Hoodhood, the main character, has to stay with his English teacher, Mrs. Baker, on Wednesday afternoons because he is not Catholic or Jewish. He is Presbyterian and has no religious classes to attend on Wednesdays. [Read more…]

Save the Economy: Read the Classics

booksI was reading Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si when I began an article called “What is Wrong with the West’s Economies?” Published in the August 13, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books, the article is by Edmund Phelps, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Economics, Director of Columbia’s Center on Capitalism and Society, and author of Mass Flourishing.

What surprised me was that sometimes I couldn’t tell which work I was reading.

“Many people have long felt the desire to do something with their lives besides consuming goods and having leisure. They desire to participate in a community in which they can interact and develop.”

“We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.” [Read more…]

The Bearable Weightiness of Being

By Amy Peterson
61pASF-GwkL._SL500_I was restless this spring, edging manic. I think my kids noticed. One Thursday I checked them out of school for an impromptu road trip.

“Isn’t this fun?” I asked. If this were a novel I’d say my eyes were glittering, but this is not fiction: I have no idea how wild-eyed I was.

“I just think it’s a little weird to leave school for no reason,” my six-year-old said.

It wasn’t for no reason. The responsibilities of adult life were weighing heavily on me, and I felt stuck with mortgage payments and email responses and writing deadlines and the feeling that every person in our small town was watching me. At the same time, my body was remembering another spring, the spring when I felt most free.

Karis and I took a gently rocking train from Budapest to Prague, clutching paper cups of coffee, steam fogging the green view outside the window. It was May 2002, and I was twenty-years-old, wearing my hair in greasy braids, mostly unaware of my privilege, and taking myself and my freedom very seriously. [Read more…]

These Frigates, These Chariots

Guest post by Kathleen Housley

It is a sunny morning in early June. A sabbath calm suffuses the empty Mt. Holyoke campus, the students having left for the summer. Other than a jogger, I seem to be the only one around, sitting on the stone steps of Pratt Music Hall listening to the sound of a small waterfall flowing into a nearby brook.

I am waiting for an old blue van, edged with rust, to arrive from Wichita, Kansas, over 1,500 miles away. Belonging to Warren Farha, owner of Eighth Day Books, any minute now it will chug up to the curb loaded down with the contents of an entire bookstore for Image’s Glen East Workshop.

Unfortunately, Warren will not be at the wheel this year due to another obligation; instead Joshua Sturgill, his able associate, is making the grueling twenty-four hour odyssey to South Hadley, Massachusetts. Because I live only an hour south in Connecticut, I have volunteered to help him set up the store in one day—a job so large it is on par with Hercules cleaning out the Augean stables. [Read more…]