Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ten-Year Retrospective

On December 21, 2017, I finished my Ten-Year Reading Plan. I can hardly believe I’m saying it, but I read thirty-nine self-selected passages of from 60 to 1600 pages each year for the last ten years right on schedule. I had no right ten years ago to believe that I’d have the time to get through it. But here I am. And as we approach January, it’s appropriate for me to imitate the god of doorways and look backwards over the last ten years even while I look forward to starting my next decade-long reading schedule.

The way the schedule worked out with travel over the decade, I’ll forever associate many books with the places I read them, especially the ones I read while walking. Wordsworth will always mean Norwich, CT, to me. Byron will always make me think of walking around a snow-covered parking lot in Arezzo, Italy. And the thought of Anna Karenina will always remind me of listening to a thirty-hour recording of the monument on flights and trains during a trip to Oxford.

Here are some other highlights of my ten-year journey:

• Watching Plato separate himself from Socrates as he lets the Eleatic Stranger start to lead the discussions, beginning in the Sophist.

• After reading confusing accounts several times, finally (1) learning from Charles Peirce what abduction actually is, (2) discovering that it isn’t a difficult concept at all (and that all those confused scholars citing Peirce must not have actually read Peirce: *sigh*), and then (3) finding that Aristotle talked about the very same thing, under a different name.

• Watching Mallory get more and more profound as the Morte d’Arthur nears the end. I don’t quite understand why this book is virtually never listed on any old-fashioned canon of Great Books.

• Figuring out that Euclid taught geometry in order to deal with irrational relationships. Since they made no sense to him as numbers, he used line lengths.

• Finally finding a way to draw out Aquinas’s Map of the Human Soul.

• Discovering the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Shahnameh.

• Reading The Dark Night of the Soul just as I was going through the very phenomenon John described.

• Finally getting to Orlando Furiosothe work that inspired the whole project – and finding out how wonderful it is.

• William James explaining my issues with attention and showing me why I had learned to read while I walk.

• Teaching a Cowper poem called “Commerce” in Sunday School one week and having one member of the class, a man who works in finance, thank me afterwards for being the first person in his experience ever to say in church that money can bring about good and that God approves of good business.

• Meeting Ronald C. White and getting him to sign my copy of Lincoln’s Greatest Speech.

• Charles Reid demolishing with one paragraph a giant Empiricist problem that had actually plagued my thinking.

• Reading in Wendy’s on the U. of Oklahoma campus, especially reading Boswell there.

I love the leather bookmarks you can find in gift shops in many European cities. Those slick American bookmarks with the cutesy weights fall right out of books, but leather bookmarks keep their place. I have some favorites: a red one, for instance, from the Dickens House Museum in London, and a black one from Canterbury Cathedral celebrating the Funeral Achievements of the Black Prince. I had a nice one from Florence, but I dropped it one morning in Cincinnati and never found it again. A greater mystery involved a green Sherlock Holmes bookmark that I lost in an airport one day – while reading Sherlock Holmes. It was on my lap, and then it just wasn’t. I looked everywhere under my seat and through my things. There was a fellow cleaning up the floor around me, and the only thing I could figure is that he picked it up and decided to keep it. Fortunately, the museum at 221B Baker Street will ship them for a low price, so I ordered a new one for myself. And then the next time I was in London, I bought two more.

Will I finish my third Ten-Year Reading Plan? If I live another ten years and if I can actually retire sometime soon, the chances are good. Barring a crisis of disastrous proportions, the chances are very good. Whether I fulfill my complete plan or not, though, the next ten years are sure to bring their own moments of wonder, surprise, challenge, enlightenment, courage, and fun.

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