The Affair Must Go On

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.   ∼ Groucho Marx

The affair is not over yet. Though some affairs must end, others must go on. Yes, though civilization is uncivilized, though truth is relative, though ugly is beautiful, though God is dead, though books are nooks, the affair must go on. The course of true love never did run smooth. With the death of the word, the world has not delayed in mad mourning like some damned Prince of Denmark. No. There has been a rushing 3D-HD crush on mindless Movies. There has been a shameless, commercialized rape of a pornographized, high-fashion Helen. There has been a cultural betrayal for blushing and embroiling Blogs. There has been a universal farewell and funeral over the Reader—for the beloved Civilized Reader herself, darling of many, now all but dead as a doornail to all. What are you waiting for? ’Tis not too late to seek a newer world—or a newer affair. Neither is it too late to bring the lover of mankind back to life. The Civilized Reader is ready for new life and new loves.

What do you read, my lord? Words, words, words. E’en so. But smelt they so? pah! They withered all when readers died. Sex, cyber-selves, and Star Wars may prevail, but the Civilized Reader? ah! She is not so easily buried or banished. Alcestis rises from the shades. The Civilized Reader is available for further affairs, marriages even, illicit though they may be. For, when villains and fools rule the world, it is the virtuous and wise who are outlaws, as Robin Hood proves, and it is to these that the outcast damsel in distress beckons with the lure of love, with the love of literature, with the literature of life.

The readers of the world need resurrecting if civilization is to be resuscitated. So much is lost, and too much hangs in the balance. Already, the pillars have all but toppled. Time there once was when everyone in field and street had at least a nodding acquaintance with Aeneas, with Hamlet, with Don Quixote, with Ishmael. It was only civilized. No more. The assumption now is quite the opposite. No one has read these works. Many have not even heard of them. The heroes of Homer, the pilgrims of Chaucer, the buccaneers of Stevenson, the caricatures of Dickens, the prodigies of Verne, the miracles of Hopkins—they have no more place in the modern consciousness or, what is worse, the modern imagination. Western man has become a race of Sir Tristans, forgetful of their lost Iseult, for that civilized and civilizing love of younger and yester years, found between the covers of good books—good books that lead on to great books and even greater loves.

But where did this literary lover of mankind go so suddenly? Have the love affairs of civilized readers lost some epic argument in some great high court of humanity? No. There has never been an argument. While technology and its ilk always seem to get a free pass, when it comes to the enchantment of the ancient romance, has anyone ever asked, “Is society prepared to effectively abolish the book and the bibliophile?” Never. In the circles that count, there are no such debates. There are no such questions. To read, or not to read: that is the central question. What to read is not asked enough. People no longer appreciate the mystery of mankind’s 2,000-year-old love affair with classic stories. We hear that reading is good. Books are good. Literature is good. It’s time to encounter these new loves and old friends. As Oscar Wilde put it, “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”

Books have a life of their own in their sounding furrows, and reading becomes a true journey and a true joy when readers find their way into that life and into that love. Reading interacts, inspires, and intrigues. Reading civilizes those who woo and win the Civilized Reader for their own, and as such. At the end of the affair, once her books choke shelves, fill rooms, and line walls, books that are known and treasured, a profound discovery awaits. Those same books that were bought, collected, read, referenced, marked, thumbed, stained, stacked, lent, and now beheld as a body, tell a secret only a lover can tell—the secret of who the person is that chose those books, what that person believes, values, and loves.

The Civilized Reader is waiting for fresh affairs. Are you ready? After five years of fondness, I myself am ready to share the love in a new way. In the interests of facilitating new affections and new aficionados, I have accepted the invitation to help edit The Civilized Reader column, kindly extended to me by senior editor, Dr. William E. Fahey. Together, it is our heartfelt hope to introduce a new host of readers (and writers) to the embrace of civilization. Please make the Civilized Reader your own, as she has been mine, and become a reader of the sweet, civilized works she offers in so much abundance. Be a reader with her. Read her reviewers and read her works. Read in the name of civilization, that it might find restoration through reading. Now is the time to repudiate the wisdom of Mark Twain when he defined the classics as books that people praise but never read. Read them and praise them.

For those with the inspiration and gumption not only to read, but also to write for The Civilized Reader, please send your reviews for good books (and great) together with two or three titles that pique your interest for future submissions. We will make every effort to respond within a day or two as to whether a work has been reserved or reviewed already, or whether it stands within the scope of the column. Submissions should be between 900 and 1,200 words in length and offer an appreciation of the work in question, offering something for those who have never read it and something for those who have. And, for all that is good and holy, do not spoil the story. For further perspective on the vision of The Civilized Reader, please peruse the many titles that have been reviewed to date. The backbone and vade mecum for The Civilized Reader is Catholic educator Dr. John Senior’s “1,000 Good Books” list, included in an essay by Dr. Fahey entitled “Will Rascals Defend Our Civilization?” also of foundational import for the column.

Please note well that it is also essential for the health of The Civilized Reader that authors and readers promote and distribute publications as far into the outlying reaches of cyberspace as possible. To the degree that you can post notices of our columns on social media and send copies of the reviews via a link to your friends, associations, and obvious literary parties of interest, The Civilized Reader will flourish and so will, it is hoped, civilization.

Over the last few years, a core group of loyal and stalwart contributors have formed, and it has been grand. But we need to double those numbers and amass a greater army of civilized writers for The Civilized Reader. If you have colleagues or comrades you believe would make good regular or sometimes contributors, please direct them my way. I end by saying that I am humbled and delighted to assume this new position for The Civilized Reader. I am also encouraged by the fact that there remain civilized readers ready to read and to write for the sake of civilization.


*Originally published in Crisis Magazine

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