Tag Archives: Sir Robert Chambers

gratuitous cruelty

 

 

‘after false drug test he was in solitary confinement for 120 days’

 

 

‘Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings’

 

 

El Chapo – Washington Post 2-14-2019

 

 

‘Where El Chapo Could End Up’ – NY Times 2-15-2019

 

 

 

“In a memorandum on April 16, 2003, [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld approved 24 of the recommended [interrogation] techniques [for at the American-run detention site at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba]. … An action memorandum presented to [Rumsfeld] on Nov. 27, 2002, recommends that he approve a number of interrogation techniques for use at Guantánamo, including one described as ‘the use of stress positions (like standing), for a maximum of four hours.’

“Mr. Rumsfeld, who labors in his Pentagon office at a stand-up desk, added this handwritten postscript: ‘I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?’ ”

— “Files Show Rumsfeld Rejected Some Efforts to Toughen Prison Rules,” by Douglas Jehl, The New York Times, June 23, 2004
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As I was walking downtown in the City on Thursday morning last week. enjoying the quiet, early morning streets — it seems that there is always something interesting or beautiful to see — I had a feeling of elation. The sun emerged from behind clouds at approximately 9 a.m.

I was thinking what a wonderful thing (which I assume as a given) freedom (personal, one’s own) is. And how awful is must be to be deprived of it.

My mind was wandering. I thought of an article I had read in the Times that morning: “After False Drug Test, He Was in Solitary Confinement for 120 Days.”

One hundred twenty days, four months, in solitary confinement. For testing positive for drugs while incarcerated. (The test results proved to be wrong. The inmate was not using drugs. The drug-testing equipment used was defective and failed to produce accurate results.)

The stupidity and cruelty of how the prisoners in the article (others suffered similar injustices and pain as the result of the same flawed drug tests) were treated seemed so unjustified, and just plain that.

Then I thought of the so-called supermax (a term meaning highest security prison): the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado (also known as the ADX), where recently convicted drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera (El Chapo) is imprisoned.

 

 

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“This place [the ADX] is not designed for humanity,” Robert Hood, a former warden, told The New York Times. (“Where El Chapo Could End Up: A Prison ‘Not Designed for Humanity’ ”).

Inmates spend 23 hours a day inside cells the size of a bathroom with little human contact and only one window three feet high and four inches wide. Every part of the prison’s 500 cells is made of poured concrete. Each cell has a bed, a concrete slab covered with a thin foam mattress, and a “combo toilet, sink and drinking water unit.” Some cells have a single slit in the door that shows a sliver of the hallway.

In an essay published on the internet, an inmate at the ADX wrote that even when prisoners are let outside their cells, the surroundings are severe. “No mountain, bush, tree or blade of grass is visible from the yard, just the sky,” he wrote. “The cages have just enough room to do aerobic exercises. Other than the opportunity to breathe fresh air and feel the sunshine on your skin, the outside cages are just cells that are open to the sky.”

Meals, mail and medicine are all delivered. “Everything the inmate needs comes and goes through the door slot,” the inmate wrote, adding that “the basic setup is for long-term solitary confinement.”

“The purpose,” the intimate wrote, “is to gradually tear a person down mentally and physically, through environmental and physical deprivation.”

“The segregation is intense; it’s a punitive environment as harsh as any place on Earth,” Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor, told the Washington Post (“El Chapo escaped two prisons in Mexico — but no one’s ever busted out of the American ‘ADX’ ,” February 14, 2019).

 

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I was also thinking about Albert Schweitzer.

In my adolescence, I read Albert Schweitzer’s Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (originally published as Aus Meinem Leben und Denken). The book made a profound impression on me. I was greatly impressed by the principle of Reverence for Life adumbrated by Schweitzer:

“[T]he man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give to every will to live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own. He experiences that other life in his own. He accepts as good preserving life, promoting life, developing all life that is capable of development to its highest possible value. He considers as evil destroying life, injuring life, repressing life that is capable of development. [italics added] This is the absolute, fundamental principle of ethics, and it is a fundamental postulate of thought. …

The ethic of Reverence for Life is the ethic of love widened into universality. It is the ethic of Jesus, now recognized as a logical consequence of thought.

 

 

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Applying this to the case of notorious criminals such as El Chapo,* it seems to me true in principle that:

El Chapo must be locked up. He was the violent and feared leader of a criminal enterprise who had escaped from prison in the past and who would seem to be beyond redemption, should that be a matter of consideration. Along with accomplices, he habitually carried out murders, often brutal, of rivals, witnesses, and underlings who ran afoul of him.

But he should be allowed to see and embrace his wife and daughters as visitors. To be confined in something less than a virtual torture chamber. Because all prisoners are persons: human beings.

I feel that the operating principle should be: Do the minimum human harm possible. Regardless of how evil an individual is considered to be.

Gratuitous cruelty gives pleasure to those who inflict it.

I like to think (it is consistent with Jesus’s teachings) that somewhere in the afterlife there will be an accounting, a reckoning, for each individual, of one’s benevolent actions and one’s evil actions with respect to harm done to others in whatever capacity, whether it was a crime or actions supposedly not evil, but nonetheless equally so, done in an official capacity. Human suffering should be minimized.

Donald Rumsfeld’s comments encapsulate all of this. All of the above reflections of mine.

 

 

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Addendum:

 

As I observed in a previous post

 

is it possible (or desirable) to hold two divergent opinions at the same time?

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/01/25/is-it-possible-or-desirable-to-hold-two-divergent-opinions-at-the-same-time-2/

 

sometimes, if not often, one can assert, or stake out, a position only to find oneself thinking otherwise almost, as it were, in the same moment.

I also read an article in last week’s New York Times about a young man convicted of murder in Pennsylvania:

The bodies of four victims were found on the farm [in Bucks Country, Pennsylvania] after an extensive search. They had been partially burned in a roaster made out of an oil drum, and had been buried in a 12-foot-deep hole. (“Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings,” The New York Times)

The man was convicted of first degree murder for the killings this week. He seems not to have shown remorse. His cousin pleaded guilty to the murders last year. “Your Honor, I want the four families to know I am so sorry,” the cousin said at his sentencing. “I hope that they find some peace in knowing that I’m just genuinely — I can’t even come to terms with what occurred. I’m sorry.”

As Leo Tolstoy observed, one’s horror at the depravity of heinous crimes seems to vary inversely with the length of time passed since the crime was committed:

A sinking man who clutches at another and drowns him; or a hungry mother exhausted by feeding her baby, who steals some food; or a man trained to discipline who on duty at the word of command kills a defenseless man–seem less guilty, that is, less free and more subject to the law of necessity, to one who knows the circumstances in which these people were placed, and more free to one who does not know that the man was himself drowning, that the mother was hungry, that the soldier was in the ranks, and so on. Similarly a man who committed a murder twenty years ago and has since lived peaceably and harmlessly in society seems less guilty and his action more due to the law of inevitability, to someone who considers his action after twenty years have elapsed than to one who examined it the day after it was committed. [italics added]

— Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace; First Epilogue

Well, in this case, the brutality of the murder and depravity of the killer seemed such to me that no punishment seemed too harsh. Prosecutors initially had sought the death penalty, but the district attorney changed his mind after meeting with the families of the victims.

Philosophers have been trying to come to terms with questions pertaining to what is just since Plato. The following is a passage from a book I am currently reading:

The natural law denotes the eternal and archetypal rule of right action flowing from the will and wisdom of God and guiding men possessed with free will through their ability to reason. Whereas revelation represents a direct communication of divine decrees to a privileged portion of the human race, the natural law proclaims itself with varying degrees of clarity to all rational beings, even to those deprived of biblical truths. Most of mankind came to acknowledge and obey this providential source of all earthly law and order, not through pure ratiocination, but through the historical attempt to discover empirically the conditions of life needed for optimum happiness: “…

Throughout the series the natural law comes close to being associated with a crucial principle of human necessity behind social progress. Such a principle ultimately reflects an elemental drive within human nature for self-preservation and social interaction, both of which generate mankind’s historical pursuit of happiness and preference for a civilized habitat to satisfy that drive. This principle of human necessity provides a norm for measuring the value of actions according to their strict “utility” in fulfilling the contradictory selfish and social impulses of humanity for the protection and fellowship of a civilized community. … But at the heart of all civil development lies an unremitting trial-and-error effort to meet man’s basic physical and psychological needs within the limitations of his earthly environment. If human nature craves social fellowship and protection, it also requires the restraints of a strong sovereign power to curb its egotistical appetites and enforce order and cooperation in a world left inherently unstable by original sin. …

 

— Thomas M. Curley, “Editor’s Introduction,” A Course of Lectures on the English Law: Delivered at the University of Oxford, 1767-1773, by Sir Robert Chambers, Second Vinerian Professor of English Law; And Composed in Association with Samuel Johnson, Volume I, Edited by Thomas M. Curley (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), pp. 40-41 (summarizing the contents of Chambers ‘s lectures at Oxford. which were influenced by,  and influenced, the views of Samuel Johnson)
The book has been worth reading for reasons other than those that primarily drew me to it, and I see that while I find the law disagreeable and punishments often cruel and odious, the former is necessary.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 26, 2019

 

 

* Did Schweitzer intend for his thoughts to be applied to criminals and depraved human beings? I am sure that was not what he was thinking of. After all, serial killers don’t have “reverence for life.” Nevertheless, what I feel is that if one (in Schweitzer’s words) gives “to every will to live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own,” one by implication — or extension of Schweitzer’s principle — must not deny the humanity of others, without exception.

 

 

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SOURCES:

 

 

“El Chapo escaped two prisons in Mexico — but no one’s ever busted out of the American ‘ADX’ ,” by Deanna Paul, The Washington Post, February 14, 2019

 

“Where El Chapo Could End Up: A Prison ‘Not Designed for Humanity’,” by Alan Feuer and Alan Blinder, The New York Times, February 15, 2019

 

“Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings.” By Sandra E. Garcia, The New York Times, November 18, 2019

 

“After False Drug Test, He Was in Solitary Confinement for 120 Days: Hundreds of New York State prisoners were locked in cells, denied release or removed from programs when tests erroneously showed they had used narcotics, according to a lawsuit.” by Jan Ransom, The New York Times, November 20, 2019

Roger W. Smith, “thoughts about reading”

 

 

‘thoughts about reading’

 

 

“I seek in books only to give myself pleasure by honest amusement; or if I study, I seek only the learning that treats of the knowledge of myself and instructs me to die well and live well.”

 

— Michel de Montaigne, “of books” (The Complete Essays, translated by Donald M. Frame)

 

 

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“Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. … as good almost kill a man as kill a good book. Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye. … a good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”

 

Areopagitica: A speech of Mr John Milton for the liberty of unlicenced printing to the Parliament of England

 

 

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I am very desirous to receive letters from You, and hope You will write to me very freely, both about your brother [Charles Cornelius Chambers] and yourself. Pray tell me very particularly the title of every book that You have read at school and every thing that You have learnt since You went thither. Tell me also what books or parts of books You have read for your pleasure, and what plays or exercises You and Charles are fondest of. For my part, when I was of your age, I was fonder of reading Robinson Crusoe and the Seven Champions of Christendom, than I was of any kind of play whatsoever; and, as I suppose that You may probably have the same taste, I have ordered those books and some others to be sent to You.

— Sir Robert Chambers, letter to his son Robert Joseph Chambers, February 12, 1790; in Thomas M. Curley: Sir Robert Chambers: Law Literature and Empire in the Age of Johnson (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998). pg. 516. (Chambers, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Bengal, India, was then residing in Calcutta, and his sons Robert and Joseph in England. The Famous Historie of the Seaven Champions of Christendom was a late-sixteenth, early seventeenth-century romance by the English writer Richard Johnson.)

 

 

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Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? … They are for nothing but to inspire. … Books are for the scholar’s idle times. When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men’s transcripts of their readings. But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must,—when the soul seeth not, when the sun is hid and the stars withdraw their shining,—we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is. We hear, that we may speak. …

It is remarkable, the character of the pleasure we derive from the best books. They impress us ever with the conviction that one nature wrote and the same reads. We read the verses of one of the great English poets, of Chaucer, of Marvell, of Dryden, with the most modern joy,–with a pleasure, I mean, which is in great part caused by the abstraction of all time from their verses. There is some awe mixed with the joy of our surprise, when this poet, who lived in some past world, two or three hundred years ago, says that which lies close to my own soul, that which I also had well-nigh thought and said. …

I would not be hurried by any love of system, by any exaggeration of instincts, to underrate the Book. We all know that as the human body can be nourished on any food, though it were boiled grass and the broth of shoes, so the human mind can be fed by any knowledge. And great and heroic men have existed who had almost no other information than by the printed page. I only would say that it needs a strong head to bear that diet. One must be an inventor to read well. As the proverb says, “He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry out the wealth of the Indies.” There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world.

 

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar” (an address delivered in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1837 before the Harvard Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society)

 

 

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“I have been passing my time very pleasurably here [at his father-in-law’s home in Boston] … chiefly in lounging on a sofa … & reading Shakespeare. It is an edition in glorious great type, every letter whereof is a soldier, & the top of every “t” like a musket barrel.”

 

— Herman Melville, letter to Evert A. Duyckinck, February 24, 1849

 

 

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My residence was more favorable, not only to thought, but to serious reading, than a university; … Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. Books, the oldest and the best, stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage. They have no cause of their own to plead, but while they enlighten and sustain the reader his common sense will not refuse them. Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind. …

It is not all books that are as dull as their readers. There are probably words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we could really hear and understand, would be more salutary than the morning or the spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect on the face of things for us. How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.

 

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden; or, Life in the Woods

 

 

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Is Literature forever to propose no higher object than to amuse? to just pass away the time & stave off ennui? — Is it never to be the courageous wrestle with live subjects — the strong gymnasia of the mind — must it offer only things easy to understand as nature never does. [italics added]

 

— note, probably late 1850’s, by Walt Whitman; in Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, Volume IV: Notes, edited by Edward F. Grier (New York University Press 1984), pg. 1561

 

 

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“I was not an omnivorous reader–just a slow, idle, rambling one.”

 

— Theodore Dreiser, A Hoosier Holiday, Chapter XXXIX

 

 

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“Read, read, read. Read everything–trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.”

 

— William Faulkner, Statement at the University of Mississippi, 1947

 

 

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And then there was his book collection which numbered well into the thousands. Those books, mostly on the history of the fascinating period of his youth including the Spanish Civil War, Stalinism and World War II, were his sacred texts. He brought several tomes with him on his honeymoon in Mexico, much to my mother’s chagrin. He never let anyone read or even touch them. Their presence in every room meant that the apartment could never be painted or properly cleaned. I alternatively worshipped and loathed them, but they influenced me greatly.

 

— “A Jew without a burial site,” by Judith Colp Rubin [an essay about her father, Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr.], The Times of Israel, August 30, 2018

 

 

 

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Books are one of the most important and fulfilling things in my life.

I recall the pleasure long since past, when I was a boy, of curling up with a book, often at bedtime, just before going to sleep. I recall vividly a particular rainy day when I seem to recall we were in some remote location, perhaps a rented summer place. I spent a good part of the afternoon with a book, and felt so warm and cozy, sheltered from the elements.

I used to love that I was allowed to go to the Cambridge Public Library by myself after school when I was in the early grades. It was a rather long walk. I loved being in the children’s room, finding books, and being able to check them out by myself. There was a feeling of ownership and pride, of excitement in discovery, of being able to decide what you yourself wanted to read.

I loved receiving books as gifts. My parents and relatives were thoughtful gift-givers when it came to books. (I myself seem have inherited this. I have often had someone tell me, how did you know I would like this book, and this has occurred with people I don’t know well. Once I wanted to show appreciation to an editor with the gift of a book. She was thrilled to get the particular book I chose. It was not one, though I knew it was regarded as excellent, that I myself would have desired to read.)

I still love to curl up with a book. They are always there for me. They comfort me and are a solvent for boredom, idleness, and lonely hours.

 

 

 

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My home is filled with books, much as was the case with my former therapist, Ralph Colp, Jr. I have run out of bookshelf space. I have tried to impose some order so that I can find a book. Those on shelves are fairly well organized by broad subject areas and authors.

Dr. Colp told me there was nothing like having a book-lined study. Of having a book on the shelf there when you want it. Of being able to survey, take stock, of the riches there. He quoted to me what Edward Gibbon wrote: “My early and invincible love of reading I would not exchange for all the riches of India.”

Dr. Colp’s consulting office was lined with books, but he told me that this was only a small fraction — most were in his living quarters. He had run out of shelf space and some of the books in his consulting office were on the floor in tall piles. “What do you do when you want a book on the bottom of the pile?” I said to him once. “It seems to me that that would present a problem.”

“You’re right,” he said.

This was at a point in my therapy sessions when Dr. Colp had moved to a co-op in which he had an office and an apartment (his living quarters) on the same floor. Prior to that, I had been seeing him in a suite of offices he shared with another therapist, where there were few books. The first time I visited him in his new office, he spent the whole session showing me his books: a first edition of Darwin, for example. We never got to the session (therapy, that is) — he seemed unaware of time and was carried away by showing me the contents of his bookshelves.

 

 

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What makes a good reader? And why is reading important?

The answers seem to a large extent to be self-evident and, yet, they are questions I enjoy thinking about. Below are some thoughts of my own about reading. A description of my own reading habits. And, my advice to readers. In no particular order.

 

 

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The foundation of reading, like any pastime, should be pleasure, that you enjoy it. If you have a good experience with a good book, a great work of literature, you will want to repeat the experience. I experienced this, for example, with the following books which I read in my youth and my teens: Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia (a young adult book; sixth grade); Anna Sewall’s Black Beauty (sometime in my elementary school years); Jim Brosnan’s The Long Season (a book about baseball; read by me in high school); Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (high school); and Pitirim A. Sorokin’s Leaves from a Russian Diary (in late adolescence), to name just a few. All were books that totally engrossed me; or, as the cliché goes, I couldn’t put them down.

A former friend of mine, the poet Charles Pierre, said to me that one should make it a point to read books expeditiously — don’t take forever to read them. You would not (although the analogy is not quite exact), for example, want to watch an opera over several evenings. This seems right, but I often violate the rule.

I want to read substantial, deep books that challenge me, fully engage me in deep thought. I get great pleasure from reading, but I do not read for pleasure in the sense of escapism (“literary” junk food).

I have found from the experience of a lifetime that I would rather travel mentally through reading books than travel in the literal sense. Reading a good book — say, a long novel — is akin to me to taking a trip, being on a journey. War and Peace, Moby-Dick, Les Misérables, Great Expectations.

You must be willing to submit yourself to a book, give yourself over to it, get lost in it. This happened to me with Moby-Dick. A critic once called it “a whale of a book.” Well, I devoured every part of it, including the cetology. I was totally wrapped up in it and Melville: the story, the whaling lore, Melville’s tone and style, the Elizabethan or Shakespearean ethos, the beauty of the narrative and descriptive passages.

Effort and stamina are required to get though a long book, including the great ones. But if the experience is worth it, curiosity and motivation (as well as pleasure) keep you going. This happened to me with Moby-Dick. It took me about three weeks to read it, in a copy borrowed from the public library that had wide margins and nice big type. During free time once, I was reading it on the steps of an open space in Midtown Manhattan. A man about my age with his girlfriend approached and, noting what I was reading, asked me if it was for a course. No, I said, I was reading it for myself. This, he plainly showed, pleased him.

I read deliberately and slowly because I want to get everything I can out of a book. (Speed reading to me is almost an oxymoron.) A good reader is an active reader. I am very engaged when I read and am anything but a passive reader. I am continually asking myself, what do I think about the thoughts expressed and the writer, and am constantly trying to “extrapolate,” in a sense, ideas and information to ruminate upon.

The books of most famous writers, invariably serious readers, usually contain marginalia. I no longer make marginal notes, but I do take notes quoting passages that I want to remember and/or be able to refer to. My “marginalia” nowadays consist of typed notes which I email to myself.

Authors whom I enjoy and references within a book to other works often lead me to other books. I always have a mental inventory of books waiting to be read.

Introductions should be read after — not before — the work itself. I want to form my own impressions — make my own judgments — without being influenced or prejudiced by an introduction. This seems to be most true of fiction. I often find introductions to be well written and very informative. But, first, I want to “meet” the author, with no one telling me what I will find or what to expect. It’s like meeting a new person.

To be ready for a book, say a classic novel, you have to be in the right frame of mind. This has happened to me with many classics. At some point — often this is the case — I feel the urge to read them. There are classics that did not engage me or that I did not understand or appreciate at some point in my life which I pick up later and am thoroughly engaged by. A good example is Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. It’s not the kind of novel I would ordinarily read. I tried reading it once not that long ago when perhaps I was just not in the mood. It seemed like a not particularly well written and overrated work. For some reason, I picked it up again recently and was able not only to finish it, but to fully appreciate Shelley’s genius.

Something very similar happened to me with Milton’s Paradise Lost, which I could not get through in college but read years later with great enjoyment.

One should read for as short or long a time as one likes. As for the best “reading position,” I sprawl, read in a reclining position. Dr. Colp read sitting upright behind his office desk, where he did all his intellectual work. I have never been much inclined to read (as opposed to doing research) in libraries.

I have found that the ability to read and focus on non-trivial reading material such as literature and expository or scholarly writing is a reliable measure or barometer of mental health. For me, at least. Meaning, that when I can’t focus enough to read, I am usually mentally troubled, in an agitated frame of mind.

As regards scholarly books — reading for the sake of learning — a deep, scholarly, and (hopefully) engrossing book, by someone who knows more than I do about a subject, I am very willing to submit to instruction, tutelage, by a scholar. In line with what I have just said, such reading seems to put me in a calm, deliberative, objective state — “in neutral,” so to speak. It enables me to get outside of myself mentally, to put aside self-absorption and the concerns of the moment. It is truly a matter of expanding one’s horizons.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 2019
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See also my post:

 

“my treasured books”

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/02/11/roger-w-smith-my-treasured-books/