Category Archives: What I’m Reading

What I’m reading, have read, am busy reading, or plan to read. Or will never read.

If I Had A Hammer – The Sayings of Thomas à Kempis

Original post by Gerhard Venter, May 7, 2013

In this post I tell how I came to start reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, whose Dutch surname was Haemerken (Afrikaans “hamertjie”) — little hammer. And his book is a little hammer, if there ever was one. I’m putting my reading life back together bit by bit. I don’t have a reading plan. I’m suspicious of plans. I just think broadly of the kind of things I want to read.

Fifteenth century mystics are not what I want to read right now. In fact, right now I’m reading The German Way of War by Citino as part of my self-imposed course of study in military history (but that’ a blog post in itself). In the process of trying to establish some semblance of order, I think of a very old technique to get your stuff together: positive affirmations.

I was in my early twenties back in Pretoria when I started dabbling in positive thinking. I got Paul J. Meyers Success Motivation Institute system and pasted positive affirmations (surely a tautology) up on my mirror; inane sayings such as “I get up every morning excited about the person I might help that day.” Don’t you just want to slap the man? Anyway. So I begin to look for some sensible affirmations — ones I can believe in.

In the process a website named http://biblia.com snags the seam of my toga and I have to pause. Mmm. They have wonderful books in there: Several Bibles, some in Hebrew and Greek (with the real orthographies); they have Luther, Calvin — everybody who is anybody. My eye catches The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Yeah, I’ve known about The Imitation for many years. These guys used to beat themselves over the back with little cats-o-nine tails they carried with them in silver boxes. Wore hair shirts and stuff. Really into their suffering.

Suffering . . . aha! One of my favorite topics. So I begin to read The Imitation of Christ. After the first page I’m wide-eyed like Ali Baba after he lights the first candle to see what treasure there might be in the cave. Dear Lord, thank You for a resource like this! For insight, for wisdom, for wit, for rules for living like this! This pre-modern man writes rules of thumb such as:

“He does much who loves much. He does much who does a thing well. He does well who serves the common good rather than his own interests.”

Note that this is not quite a corporate “How to get your own way, no matter what” philosophy. But that’ okay by me at this time in my life. So, instead of compiling a reading list, I spend the next several work hours copying out aphorisms and and epigrammata (I’m not sure exactly what they are, either, except short witty sayings) into flashcards at Quizlet so I can hang onto them as tightly as possible.

I called à Kempis a “pre-modern man.” That certainly shows. To mine 21st century affirmations from him, you must do a certain amount of violence to his work by cherry-picking passages, because he was a religious and a mystic.

We squirm a little bit at concepts such as having Christ as your Divine Lover and doing violence to your own body. 99.99999999999% of us aren’t quite at that point. And if you want to be fair to the author, you need to remember that that’ the core of his work — indeed, of his soul. But his deep wisdom surely lifted my spirits and continues to do so.

The Monk’ To Do List

Originally posted on June 14, 2013

I started reading Thomas à Kempis to find some affirmations for my daily life, which, like everyone else’s, I suppose, can be challenging. Being a monk doesn’t exempt a person from work. I’ve met monks who told me one could become exhausted, because in some orders they don’t get a lot of sleep. Anyway, The Imitation of Christ is a treasure trove! Listen to these hints for the monk’ (and mine!) daily to-do list. First, general priorities:

“On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived” (Book 1, Ch.3)

Next, how do I prioritize my daily activities? Carefully, and in accordance with what pleases God:

“A good and devout man arranges in his mind the things he has to do, not according to the whims of evil inclination but according to the dictates of right reason” (Ch. 4)

What should my attitude be towards work? Do everything well and with love:

“He does much who loves much. He does much who does a thing well. He does well who serves the common good rather than his own interests.” Book 1, Ch. 15.

Is it OK for a monk (or for me) to just read a lot or should our work be a bit more practical than that?

“On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived” (Book 1, Ch. 3)

Some days at the office are doozies. Work can be true suffering at times. How do we handle that?

“You have come to serve, not to rule. You must understand, too, that you have been called to suffer and to work, not to idle and gossip away your time. Here men are tried as gold in a furnace” (Book 1, Ch.17)

Finally, check your to-do list as a daily routine:

“Each day we ought to renew our resolutions and arouse ourselves to fervor as though it were the first day of our religious life. We ought to say: “Help me, O Lord God, in my good resolution and in Your holy service. Grant me now, this very day, to begin perfectly, for thus far I have done nothing'” (Book 1, Ch.19)
“. . . In the morning make a resolution and in the evening examine yourself on what you have said this day, what you have done and thought . . .” (Book 1, Ch. 3)

If you’re diligent, and you achieve something, albeit small, every day, you will feel fulfilled:

“If you have spent the day profitably, you will always be happy at eventide” (Book 1, Ch. 25)

I don’t think I’ve ever mined this quantity of gems from a single book, apart from the Bible. Mother lode! The Imitation of Christ is available free all over the Web. Check it out.

Bibliophiles, Unite!

I’ve discovered WorldCat (http://worldcat.org). Same as Librarything (http://librarything.com) except you don’t seem to have to pay to store more than 200 books. Different business model – links to Amazon.com – who knows?  Telegram style blogging – I think it defeats the purpose, but anyway …  Let’s just say this is where blog meets twitter. Blitter. I’m blittering.

I’ve also discovered The New Interpreter’s Bible series of commentaries. (Check it out at Amazon.com) Wow! Great! I can’t get enough of them. I sit for many minutes and just smell them.  I’m in a moral crisis as to whether I shall expose their beautiful naked backs or leave their dusties on to protect them. If you understand, you understand. If not, okay, don’t pity me, for I’m happy this way.

Okay, since I’m supposed to be writing a paper right now, I’m first going to try and find out if there’s a limit on the number of books I can store on WorldCat.org.  Will let you know.

Quote of the day:
In Mexico we have a word for sushi: Bait. – Jose Simon

While writing this, I was listening to “Bizet: Symphony #1 In C, Op. 88 – 1. Allegro Vivo” by Alfred Scholz; London Philharmonic Orchestra

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While writing this, I was listening to “Hole Heart” by Arno Carstens

I Love LibraryThing

I’ve discovered one of the seven wonders of the web, as one member calls it. No it’s not In-Your-Face Book. It’s The Library Thing (http://LibraryThing.com)  You enter your books in minutes (because the details are automatically looked up from Amazon.com and Library of Congress) and you have a world class – no, and unprecedented class library cataloguing system.

Mmmmm … now all I have to do is find the API to export MyLibraryThing into Zotero. As soon as the term paper pressure is off and I’ve finished editing the Four Lions, I’ll rescue my other books from my proprietary online database.

In the meantime, back to “Movement in the Acts”…

While writing this, I was listening to “Rachmaninoff: Vespers 08: Khvalite Imya Gospodne – Praise the N” by Robert Shaw

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The Monk’s To Do List

I started reading Thomas à Kempis to find some affirmations for my daily life, which, like everyone else’s, I suppose, can be challenging. Being a monk doesn’t exempt a person from work. I’ve met monks who told me one could become exhausted, because in some orders they don’t get a lot of sleep.
Anyway, The Imitation of Christ is a treasure trove! Listen to these hints for the monk’s (and mine!) daily to-do list. First, general priorities:

“On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived” (Book 1, Ch.3)

Next, how do I prioritize my daily activities? Carefully, and in accordance with what pleases God:

“A good and devout man arranges in his mind the things he has to do, not according to the whims of evil inclination but according to the dictates of right reason” (Ch. 4)

What should my attitude be towards work? Do everything well and with love:

“He does much who loves much. He does much who does a thing well. He does well who serves the common good rather than his own interests.” Book 1, Ch. 15.

Is it OK for a monk (or for me) to just read a lot or should our work be a bit more practical than that?

“On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived” (Book 1, Ch. 3)

Some days at the office are doozies. Work kan be true suffering at times. How do we handle that?

“You have come to serve, not to rule. You must understand, too, that you have been called to suffer and to work, not to idle and gossip away your time. Here men are tried as gold in a furnace” (Book 1, Ch.17)

Finally, check your to-do list as a daily routine:

“Each day we ought to renew our resolutions and arouse ourselves to fervor as though it were the first day of our religious life. We ought to say: ‘Help me, O Lord God, in my good resolution and in Your holy service. Grant me now, this very day, to begin perfectly, for thus far I have done nothing’” (Book 1, Ch.19)
“. . . In the morning make a resolution and in the evening examine yourself on what you have said this day, what you have done and thought . . .” (Book 1, Ch. 3)

If you’re diligent, and you achieve something, albeit small, every day, you will feel fulfilled:

“If you have spent the day profitably, you will always be happy at eventide” (Book 1, Ch. 25)

I don’t think I’ve ever mined this quantity of gems from a single book, apart from the Bible. Mother lode! The Imitation of Christ is available free all over the Web. Check it out.

If I Had A Hammer – The Sayings of Thomas à Kempis, Monk

In this post I tell how I came to start reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, whose Dutch surname was Haemerken (Afrikaans “hamertjie”) – little hammer. And his book is a little hammer, if there ever was one.

I’m putting my reading life back together bit by bit. I don’t have a reading plan. I’m suspicious of plans. I just think broadly of the kind of things I want to read. Fifteenth century mystics are not what I want to read right now. In fact, right now I’m reading The German Way of War by Citino as part of my self-imposed course of study in military history (but that’s a blog post in itself).

In the process of trying to establish some semblance of order, I think of a very old technique to get your stuff together: positive affirmations. I was in my early twenties back in Pretoria when I started dabbling in positive thinking. I got Paul J. Meyers Success Motivation Institute system and pasted positive affirmations (surely a tautology) up on my mirror; inane sayings such as “I get up every morning excited about the person I might help that day.” Don’t you just want to slap the man? Anyway.

So I begin to look for some sensible affirmations – ones I can believe in. In the process a website named http://biblia.com snags the seam of my toga and I have to pause. Mmm. They have wonderful books in there: Several Bibles, some in Hebrew and Greek (with the real orthographies); they have Luther, Calvin – everybody who is anybody. My eye catches The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Yeah, I’ve known about The Imitation for many years. These guys used to beat themselves over the back with little cats-o-nine tails they carried with them in silver boxes. Wore hair shirts and stuff. Really into their suffering. Suffering . . . aha! One of my favorite topics. So I begin to read The Imitation of Christ.

After the first page I’m wide-eyed like Ali Baba after he lights the first candle to see what treasure there might be in the cave. Dear Lord, thank You for a resource like this! For insight, for wisdom, for wit, for rules for living like this! This pre-modern man writes rules of thumb such as:

[su_pullquote]“He does much who loves much. He does much who does a thing well. He does well who serves the common good rather than his own interests.” [/su_pullquote]

Note that this is not quite a corporate “How to get your own way, no matter what” philosophy. But that’s okay by me at this time in my life. So, instead of compiling a reading list, I spend the next several work hours copying out aphorisms and and epigrammata (I’m not sure exactly what they are, either, except short witty sayings) into flashcards at Quizlet so I can hang onto them as tightly as possible.

I called à Kempis a “pre-modern man.”  That certainly shows. To mine 21st century affirmations from him, you must do a certain amount of violence to his work by cherry-picking passages, because he was a religious and a mystic. We squirm a little bit at concepts such as having Christ as your Divine Lover and doing violence to your own body. 99.99999999999% of us aren’t quite at that point. And if you want to be fair to the author, you need to remember that that’s the core of his work – indeed, of his soul. But his deep wisdom surely lifted my spirits and continues to do so.

Building the Top 100

Totally Uncientific Subjective Ranking of Books I Have Read Recently

Which book deserves victory? At the moment it is Godric, by Buechner. If you do not agree, please post a comment and I’ll consider updating my rankings to reflect your opinion. If I get a lot of comments, I’ll base these rankings completely on the vox populi.

  <p><em><span style="font-size:100%;">Please note that this ranking is currently out of date, since the basic content of this entire site is still being assembled. These rankings will change over time, but I plan to post a new entry every time it changes. In that way, it will be fun to watch how our taste and opinions change over time.</span></em><br /></p>  <ol>   <li>     <div><span style="font-family:Book Antiqua;font-size:100%;">Godric - Buechner </span></div>   </li>    <li>Holy the Firm - Annie Dillard </li>    <li>Their Eyes were Watching God - Hurston </li>    <li>Under the Glacier - Halldor Laxness </li>    <li>Native Guard - Trethewey </li>    <li>Deep River - Endo </li>    <li>The God of Small Things - Roy </li>    <li>The Summer before the Dark - Lessing </li>    <li>A Prayer for Owen Meany - Irving </li>    <li>Madame Bovary - Flaubert </li>    <li>Evidence of Things Unseen - Wiggins </li> </ol>