She Put Your Books Out On The Sidewalk

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or knows what I write that I read and review a lot of books.  These books come from a variety of sources.  About once a week I travel to the library nearest to where I work and live and usually have a few books to pick up there.  During the week I tend to have plenty of books arrive dropped off by the good folks at UPS or the United States Postal Service [1].  Other books I borrow from those around me.  As some readers may be able to figure out, I try to link multiple reviews together so that they share some kind of context.  For example, as I write this I have three book reviews that are finished but that are missing their other half, and so I will not post them until they have their bookmate, so to speak.  In one of these cases, a book review on singles ministries, this choice is particularly and grimly ironic, and it is my hope to have the other half of that pair reviewed in the next couple of days so it can have a firm place on my queue.

Why is it that I would post my reviews with a deliberate aim to setting a context for the review?  After all, few people read my book reviews to begin with, and among those only a few would likely care about the relationship between the two book reviews posted, much less the larger body of reading in which those books are a part.  Occasionally I like to muse about one of the more ambitious projects of a fellow named Mortimer Adler to provide an exhaustive list of what people said and wrote about certain subjects [2].  As it happens, I read a book by an author that I really happened to like and then found out that this person had been part of another ambitious project with this same Mortimer Adler that I had never heard of called the Paideia Project, which of course had a couple of short books written about it that I added to my reading list and that now wait at the library for me to pick them up later this week after work as part of my Thanksgiving weekend reading.  It is beyond coincidence when three different links connect me to this particularly ambitious writer about books and education that I find independently by chance.

What is the link between these three things?  First, I became familiar with Mortimer Adler for his writing on how to speak and how to listen and how to read a book, two matters of great personal interest.  Second, my reading about books about books connected me to the project again given our ambitions in reading a lot of books and coming to a more systematic knowledge of what is said about subjects like Abraham Lincoln or logistics.  Third, our interest in great books that form the foundation of classical education apparently intersects as well.  In all of these cases context makes a great difference, in that we have lives that sit on the same concerns related to how we come to learn, the content and subject matter we are to develop a mastery on, and how we convey that knowledge and listen to others who might have something interesting to say to us.  If someone takes reading, writing, speaking, and learning seriously they will likely run across the writing and thinking and influence of Mortimer Adler eventually, and whether or not they celebrate or lament that fact is something they will have to decide for themselves.

One of Mortimer Adler’s works is less well known, though, and it gives some measure of the man.  It would be easy for many people to think ill of someone who spent their life wrapped up in affairs related to books and reading.  People often think of intellectuals as being people of all head and no heart, no matter how often they are disproven by the example of passionate and compassionate intellectuals around them.  And so it is with Mortimer Adler, who made a point of providing in later editions of his book on how to read a book an opportunity for a man named Charles Van Doren to have an honored place as a co-writer.  To be sure, many people would have greatly wanted a co-writing credit with the great Mortimer Adler, but the recipient of that credit was a man who had been disgraced some time before because of a great quiz show scandal, which caused him to resign from a university professorship because of a lapse of ethics in having received answers from the show’s producer.  Ironically enough, this classically educated man from a privileged family would spend a great deal of time seeking to revive his reputation and his public honor through thoughtful work away from the public eye, and now he is an elderly man coming to grips with his past.  Was Adler right to give him a chance to restore his reputation through working with him?  Would a person from a less celebrated family have gotten a second chance in the same way that he did?  Do we think less of Adler for having given a scion of a well-regarded family of academic elites a second chance after having thrown away his reputation?   To what sort of people in our lives would we give no chances to, first chances, or second chances?  As is often the case, there are many questions and few answers.  Every book, or even every love of books, has a context that is far deeper than often meets the eye, and that strikes into the questions that haunt our souls and that rob sleep from us as completely as any book that compels us to read it until we have finished every last word.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to She Put Your Books Out On The Sidewalk

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