Notes from the Underground


schall_asol_lgA year or so ago, I published a post and added a page to the blog called “Catholic Classics Reading List” and at the time I intended to make some sort of use of that as a theme for much of what goes on here.  However, ADD set in and the idea was soon forgotten.  I’d like to make an effort to overcome the old ADD and carry on with that idea.  To do that requires I provide some background on the impetus behind the idea, which lies specifically with Fr. James Schall’s book, Another Sort of Learning, a book that was published nearly 30 years ago and is about confronting “the truth of things.”  Given the state of our educational system today, the best way, possibly the only way to do that is by independent reading.  You might think Fr. Schall would be talking about the “great books” but that doesn’t quite get to his point.   He writes, “But the reading of great books does not do the trick, if I might call it that. What does the trick are books that tell the truth. And usually these books are very difficult for a student to come by. They are “notes from the underground,” to steal a phrase from Dostoyevsky.”

You’re probably wondering where to find these “notes from the underground”.  Not to worry, Another Sort of Learning is filled with lists of these books, one or more at the end of each chapter.  For me, that’s one of the things I’ve treasured the most from what Fr. Schall has done.  Not all of the books Fr. Schall lists are easy to find, some are quite expensive.  You’ve probably never heard of a good number of the books Fr. Schall mentions.  For example, here are the three lists that appear at the end of Chapter 5:

Three Books on Education:

  1. John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University.
  2. Christopher Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education.
  3. Jacques Maritain, The Education of Man: The Educational Philosophy of Jacques Maritain.

Four Books on Philosophy and Literature by Marion Montgomery:

  1. Reflective Journey toward Order: Essays on Dante, Wordsworth, Eliot, and Others.
  2. Why Flannery O’Connor Stayed Home.
  3. Why Poe Drank Liquor.
  4. Why Hawthorne Was Melancholy.

Eight Books on Christianity and Political Thought:

  1. Jacques Maritain, Man and the State.
  2. Charles N. R. McCoy, The Structure of Political Thought.
  3. Heinrich Rommen, The State in Catholic Thought.
  4. Rodger Charles, The Social Teaching of Vatican II.
  5. John Courtney Murray, We Hold These Truths.
  6. Thomas Molnar, Politics and the State.
  7. Yves Simon, The Philosophy of Democratic Government.
  8. Glenn Tinder, Political Thinking: The Perennial Questions

Reading has been critical to my continuing conversion, and I love finding new books to read, good books, and I thought I had heard of most of the best books available. Yet I can say that, of the authors on these lists, I’d only heard of Newman, Dawson, Maritan and John Courtney Murray.  And, while not all of these books are, strictly or theologically speaking Catholic, or even by Catholics, in that they show us the way to “the truth of things”, they are definitely worth being part of any faithful Catholic’s reading plan.  And that’s why I started the idea of a Catholic Classics Reading List – to share this wonderful discovery.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of Another Sort of Learning and see for yourself.  In the meantime, my plan for this year is to read and share a little bit about five or six of the books I’ve discovered from this delightful work in the hope you’ll find something you enjoy too.

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