No new books for three months

For the next three months, only read books and articles that are at least a century old.

- It’s an opportunity to learn from the classic books that have shaped man’s thinking for centuries or even millennia. By unplugging from modern thinking for a bit and listening to what our ancestors had to say, we can gain valuable perspective to take with us into modern times.
- There’s a lot less trash to filter through if you stick to books that are at least a century old. You’ve got books written by people in a traditional Christian worldview, the writings of the friendly pagans like Marcus Aurelius or Aristotle, and the writings of godless men like Neitzche who were at least more interesting than the godless people on today on twitter.
- Not reading current news articles is a huge stress reliever. If any major events happen in the next three months that actually require your attention, your friends will probably tell you.
- Obviously, there have been valuable books written in the last century, which is why this is just a three month challenge.

- Stick to books and articles that are at least a century old. For books written in foreign languages, like the Bible, preference should be given to older translations when possible. If you have trouble with old timey language, reading out loud will help immensely.
- Every time you finish a book, share what you learned from it in this thread.
- Obviously, you’ll have to make exceptions for technical manuals at work, the service books at church, etc. The challenge only applies to personal reading.

Suggested books
If you have no idea where to start, here’s some suggestions:
- The wisdom literature of the Old Testament: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job, Wisdom, and Sirach. Translations to consider include the King James, the Douay Rheims, and Brenton’s.
- Novels. Some authors to consider are Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and a plethora of others.
- Philosophy. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, The Sayings of Diogenes, Seneca’s Letters, etc.
- Politics. Hobbes’ Leviathan, Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, Macchiaveli’s The Prince, etc.
- Theology. The Apostolic Fathers, On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, etc.

I’m starting tomorrow; who wants to join?
Anyone who wants to dip their toes in this water could start with short stories by Joseph Conrad. He left to go to sea at a young age and travelled the world to its most exotic locales, at a time when the transition from sail to steam was still underway. His prose is very rich and reflects his experiences, all the more fascinating since English was not his mother tongue.
First book down: Ecclesiastes from the King James Bible. The main theme seems to be that what we do is irrelevant in an earthly sense. No matter how great you are, eventually everyone forgets. I wonder if Shelley was thinking of Ecclesiastes when he wrote "Ozymandias". Solomon explains that we have little control over what happens to us, and the wise thing to do is to follow God and enjoy the little things along the way.
A few things that stuck out at me:
- Money is mentioned several times as a useful tool. The New Testament seems to throw shade on wealth, and a book like Ecclesiastes gives a bit of context for St. Paul's statement that the love of money is the root of all evil. It's the worship of mammon that's wrong, not the wise use of your finances.
- The value of comradery is mentioned. That one hits close to home: I've spent the last several years living far from my fellow-believers, and I'm definitely worse off for it.
- Solomon found one wise man in a thousand, and no wise women at all. That's no surprise to anyone who posts here, but a fact that probably would send most modern Christians into a steaming fit of rage if they were to ever read the Bible.
Chekhov’s short stories mostly involve Orthodoxy in some way, if you’re interested. It’s the background of most of the lives of his characters and they’re always doing Orthodox stuff as part of the stories.

Just picked up a Nabokov collection today that I look forward to starting. Except for Nathaniel Hawthorne, there are really no American writers that hold a candle to the Russians.


Gold Member
^ I would also highly recommend Gogol, who was very Orthodox and is probably the most influential Russian (technically Ukrainian) writer in Russia, other than Pushkin. "The Portrait" is one of my favorite short stories of his.

Michael, have you read Flannery O'Connor? Her works aren't over 100 years old but her writing is packed with Christian and moral themes and really packs a punch, in my opinion.

By the way, I think the thread is an interesting idea. Unfortunately, I have the bad habit of starting too many books at once, and I'm currently reading a couple that are not old enough, but maybe I'll give it a go once I'm finished with those.
Knocked out a Russian short story: Twenty-Six Men and a Girl by Maxim Gorky. A friend had to read it for literature class and told me I'd love it, which I did. Apparently her class thought it was misogynistic and depressing.

The story revolves around a group of underpaid Russian workers who take to idolatry, treating a woman as if she were their goddess. As you might expect, this was a poor decision.

The moral of the story, I'd venture to say, is to remember that humans will always eventually disappoint. We deserve no worship and should give each other no worship.

Haven’t read O’Connor but sounds like something I’d be into. Thus far Nabokov’s prose is a bit purple for my taste, but I’m going to keep reading this collection to see if I can find some gems in the mix.
MichaelWitcoff said:
Thus far Nabokov’s prose is a bit purple for my taste, but I’m going to keep reading this collection to see if I can find some gems in the mix.
I started Lolita at one point when I was a kid, largely because I'd been told not to read it. I was somewhat disturbed and never finished it or started anything else by Nabokov.
Another one down: Proverbs from the King James Bible

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," Solomon writes. As with Ecclesiastes, he reminds the reader that wisdom is found in following God's commandments. But in Proverbs, Solomon goes further in developing this theme. The central teaching, repeated throughout the book, is that wise men obey God and accept correction. Foolish men do whatever they feel like, convince themselves they're right, and refuse to be corrected. Proverbs seemed to be more practical and less philosophical than Ecclesiastes, giving specific advice on a wide range of subjects; finances, women, conversation, and more.

Things that stood out:
- It's sad that this is what went through my mind, but I was impressed by the amount of effort the adulteress puts into seducing the young man in chapter 7. Enticing him with kisses, expensive sheets, dirty talking... I'm lucky modern thots are so much lazier and less tempting.

- In chapter 17 and 18, Solomon stresses the importance of holding your tongue. I like the way Fr. Patrick Reardon has summarized this concept: "Never interrupt your silence unless it's for something better." It's advice I really ought to take to heart.

- Thanks to an article by the Anti-Gnostic a few months ago, I couldn't read Proverbs 30:21-23 without thinking of "A Servant When He Reigneth" by Rudyard Kipling.
Finished up The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy by Fr. Adrian Fortescue. The son of an Anglican-turned-Roman Catholic convert priest, Adrian followed his father into the cloth. He traveled extensively, writing several books about Church history, liturgy, and apologetics along the way.

The Mass, published in 1912, is a detailed history of the Roman Mass, with frequent comparison to the Orthodox ritual which Fr. Adrian was also very familiar with. The level of scholarship in the book is impressive, as is Fr. Adrian's willingness to admit when he lacks information about various details.

The Roman Mass is unique compared to the other ancient rites of Christendom, with many things in a somewhat different order than that of the other liturgies. The book follows the history of these developments, offering explanations whenever possible. Some things, such as the possible insertion and later removal of the epiclesis, remain a mystery. Others, like the switch from recieving communion in the hands to recieving on the tongue, are a bit better documented.

He explains in very reasonable, non-controversial ways the reasons for the continued use of Latin, the switch to unleavened bread, and other Roman practices without attempting to dis the Orthodox or the uniate Churches in the process. He doesn't even bother to rant against Anglican liturgy which I would've expected given his family history.

The modern material I have previously read about the Tridentine Mass is written by those with an axe to grind - Novus Ordo types complaining about the denial of the chalice to the laity, or poorly educated trads claiming that vernacular worship is a Protestant heresy, or any number of other polemical attacks between the various factions of the Roman Church. Fr. Adrian's book, written decades before these controversies, is almost wholly without polemic: just a faithful priest writing about the liturgy he loved.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and learned a great deal.
Purely by coincidence I have been reading a lot of books over 100 years old by default during the past two years; I only strayed from the path to read some classic sci-fi novels by Philip K Dick and Robert Matheson, some novels by Graham Greene, one of the best English 20th century writers (who is often described as a Roman Catholic novelist) and I recently finished Nassim Taleb's "Black Swan". The timing seemed quite apt. So I am in.

I finished "War and Peace" last week. I had previously read "Anna Karenina", which was an excellent insight into the titular characters descent into deliriousness and I had also read "The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories", which is a very prescient meditation upon life, or rather, how futile it all seems when faced with an inevitable demise.

"War and Peace" goes above and beyond everything else of Tolstoy's I have read. There is already a brilliant thread on War and Peace here that summarizes most of my thoughts very succinctly:

The thread is entirely correct; not once did I feel the length of the book. Tolstoy seemed to appreciate that, even without everyday distractions, a lot of people may have been put off by his works purely due to their length. So he splits each chapter down into circa. 4 pages at a time. Nothing feels rushed or forced; like the very best novels, the images are painted in your head and stay there. Tolstoy is regarded as one of the best character creators ever outside of Dickens; he is also one of the best novelists for conversation. Each and every character has a slightly different way of speaking, different tone, different inflection. Long passages of conversation are entirely necessary to the plot, no conversation ever covers the same ground.

The last 60 pages of my translation was Tolstoy's prescient dismantling of why the Patriotic War of 1812 came to be. He also sprinkles such tid-bits throughout the book, usually towards the end of the 5 books that make up the novel. It is as much a philosophical discussion as an account of the sentiments in Russia and France during the period. Whilst I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy overall, the fact that the novel holds up today as one of the very best novels ever written is vindicating. It is a truly brilliant novel, and one that deserves to be read by anyone who has an interest in history, literature, or just plain good storytelling.

For a translation, I would recommend the Maude Translation as it is very cheap and reads well. Unlike say Constance Garnett's Dostoevsky translations, the language has aged much better and the Maude's where very close personal friends of Tolstoy and where an authority when Tolstoy's works became publicized throughout the early 20th century.

I have moved onto Dostoevsky's "The Idiot", the Alma Classics version. So far, it is reading very well. I also have "Demons" and "The Brothers Karamazov" lined up for when I finish.
I just got rid of my copy of War and Peace because it had sat on my shelf unread for a few years! And now I'd like to read it.

jebwallabingbong said:
I have moved onto Dostoevsky's "The Idiot", the Alma Classics version. So far, it is reading very well. I also have "Demons" and "The Brothers Karamazov" lined up for when I finish.
The Brothers Karamazov is one of the best books I've ever read. The characters and the story are as wild as pre-enlightenment mythology, but written as a novel. The best of both worlds.
Read Strength, And How to Obtain It by Eugen Sandow, published in 1897. For those who don't know, Sandow is the father of modern bodybuilding, the guy depicted on the Mr. Olympia trophy. He was born in Germany, routinely lifted 300lbs overhead with one arm, did cocaine to help maintain his six-pack abs, was notoriously promiscuous, and died of syphillis.

I was expecting the book to contain an exercise routine, but it did not. Part one was basically a long add for his workout gear, and part two was an autobiography. Excited to learn the sordid details of his life firsthand, I dove right in. Ironically, the tales of of his drug use and polyamory were apparently not publishable at the time, but he was able to use the N-word with a hard r and claim in all seriousness that wrestling a lion didn't count as animal cruelty since he was unarmed when he did it.

The stories were entertaining, and the thing that stuck out at me the most was how much bodybuilding has changed. Modern competitors thrive on a level of asceticism rarely seen outside of a monastery. Life revolves absolute adherance to a strict diet and workout plan. Sandow, on the other hand, was barrelling through life dangling insolent hotel workers off the 16th story balcony, getting wasted on coctails, wrestling lions, hanging out with European nobility, and getting into bar fights. It seems modernity is determined to take the fun out of everything, even lifting weights.
Ben Hur
Just finished up Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace, published in 1880. Though General Wallace fought against America during the War of Northern Aggression, he redeemed himself with this novel. It was long, but worth it; captivating, red pilled, and Christian.

Two lessons I got out of it:
- Watch out for predatory women.
- Proper understanding of the scripture is a gift of God, which we can easily reject by inserting our own (or someone else’s) whims and prejudices into the text.

The Song of Solomon
Well, the Canticle of Canticles actually, since I used the Challoner version this time. It got me thinking about how our own lives shape how we view the Bible. A lot of lifelong celibates, reading this book, saw it as a metaphor for Christ’s love for the Church. I’ll admit that makes me a bit uncomfortable. In the middle ages, it was popularly understood as being about Christ’s incarnation, which makes a lot more sense.

Guided by my own whims and prejudices, what I saw was erotica. Which it is, but I know to the saints it’s theological erotica, and the theological side was lost on me. In any case, very cool of our forefathers to include it in the Bible.
I gave up on Nabokov and moved on to Dostoevsky. I just finished the second chapter of Crime And Punishment and I'm very hooked on where the story's going. The scene with the drunk guy in the bar, which at first I thought was pointless and plodding, came together at the end of the chapter in a way that really hit me in the soul. Man could this guy write.


Gold Member
I been going in and out of Pascal's Pensées. The book is really mostly just a series of notes and outlines for a full-fledged book he was planning to write with the project never taking place due to his death. This actually makes it easier for a reader to dip into the book for a few minutes n the same way you might read a devotional. If you've read some of Schopenhauer or Nietzsche's books that are in aphorism style, then you'll be used to the format.

I'm copy and pasting a small part from it below. Something very relevant to the Instagram era where people imagine they are better then their parents for desiring experiences instead of material things - only to treat these experiences in the same way boomer treated a new car or watch; as a way to raise one's status in their peer's eyes.

Pride.—Curiosity is only vanity. Most frequently we wish to know but to talk. Otherwise we would not take a sea voyage in order never to talk of it, and for the sole pleasure of seeing without hope of ever communicating it.
Finished up A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain. If I had to describe it in one word, I'd pick irreverent. The first two thirds of the book consist almost entirely of Twain dissing England, monarchy, and the Roman Catholic Church. He portrays the English people as a bunch of credulous rubes with absolutely nothing going for them. He laid it on so thick I nearly left the book unfinished.

It hit me that at the time he was writing, all of those sentiments were very American. This country was founded on a very rebellious streak. People wanted to get away from monarchy, from established Churches, from the European world.

But reading it in 2020, just looked like another attack on the Christianity and the West. And it was quite sobering to think about how quickly America's "screw the European governments and Churches" turned into "screw the West and Christianity."

The last third of the book was better. Twain got more philosophical and less insulting, showing how he thought democracy, education, and disuniting the church would fix the problems in the old West. I wonder what he'd think of the great American experiment if he lived today.

This is the first book by Mark Twain that I have not wholeheartedly loved. Later in life he wrote that Joan of Ark was the only book he'd written that was worth reading. Now I have an inkling why. I'll have to put Joan of Ark on my reading list.


George McDonald. The really original fantasy author, inspired CS Lewis and Lewis Carroll among others. Defender of Christianity. Scottish (obviously).

Jules Verne. The original scifi author before scifi was a term. Think Around The World in 80 days. Steampunk, industrial revolution imagineer of 20th century technology. French.
  • Like
Reactions: 911
If you like Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, check out Epictetus' Discourses. As far as Stoic works go, my favorite is Epictetus. Seneca is also very recommended. They all have different personalities and styles, but point in the same direction.

I've been enjoying G.K. Chesterton lately too. I just read What is Wrong with the World and Orthodoxy and would recommend both. If you aren't a Christian it may not be worth your time, although he is a fantastic writer stylistically.