Marking Our Books: Learning to Read all over Again


In 1612, the English schoolmaster John Brinsley wrote in his Ludus Literarius:

[mark] with little lines under them, or above them, or against such parts of the word wherein the difficulty lies, or by some pricks, or whatsoever letter or mark may best help to call the knowledge of the thing to remembrance … To do this, to the end that they may oftentimes read over these, or examine and meditate of them more seriously, until that they be as perfect in them, as in any of the rest of their books. [quoted from William Sherman, Used Books, pp. 3-4]

For many people today, I’m sure that Brinsley’s advice almost sounds heretical. Marking in books–let alone doodling in the margins, dog-earring pages, or jotting down notes around the printed text–is a travesty. We want our books clean, crisp, uniformly black and white, and without any evidence of other readers. I know I struggled with this for a long time, and even today, I feel a twitch of frustration when I see someone else’s markings in a used book I purchased. Continue reading

The Eikon of the King


Blessed Lord, in whose sight the death of thy saints is precious; we magnify the Name for that abundant grace bestowed on our late Martyred Sovereign; by which he was enabled so cheerfully to follow the steps of his blessed Master and Saviour, in a constant meek bearing of all barbarous indignities, and at last resisting unto blood; and even then, according to the same pattern, praying for his murderers. Let his memory, O Lord, be ever blessed among us, that we may follow the example of his patience, and charity; And grant, that this our Land may be freed from the vengence of his blood, and Thy mercy glorified in the forgiveness of our sings; and all for JESUS CHRIST His sake. Amen.

This is the prayer for King Charles I in the Book of Common Prayer (until 1859) on the day of his execution, January 30.

Today, January 20th marks the beginning of Charles’s trial for treason against the English Parliament in 1649. His subsequent execution was commemorated with the printing of Eikon Basilike, illustrated with the above engraving. Continue reading

Every Dog has Its Day: Thoughts on Gluttony


The 66lb hot dog sundae from Epic Meal Time includes chimichurri, donuts, caviar, bacon, chili, and pad Thai among other things. It is the most extreme example of the super-size-me, everything-included food culture we have become accustomed to over the past 10 to 20 years.

While I enjoy bizarre food combinations and strange cuisines (e.g. peanut butter on a cheeseburger, chicken and waffles, french fries and milkshakes, pickles with cake frosting, kimchi on chicken-fried steak etc.), I found myself disturbed (as well as disgusted) by Epic Meal’s compulsion to pour the contents of an entire grocery store on top of a frankfurter.

This got me thinking about the nature of gluttony, not only as an excess of food (both in quantity and quality), but also as the epitome of excess as an impulse across human experience.  Continue reading

Herodotus and Marmite


The Greek historian Herodotus is very similar to the British condiment Marmite. You either love him or you hate him. As part of the former group, I believe that at least some of the animosity toward Herodotus comes from several misunderstandings about his history.

Herodotus is the anti-Wikipedia historian. He does not give us a collection of facts as much as series of stories. History for Herodotus can be found in what people say about themselves, others, and what we can deduce by comparing the stories, tales, legends, and reports from people around the Western world.

Perhaps more importantly, there is oftentimes a general misunderstanding of what he is trying to do in The Histories.

Among Herodotus’s earliest detractors, the 1st century BC Greco-Roman writer Plutarch rebuked him, saying:

The style … of Herodotus, as being simple, free, and easily suiting itself to its subject, has deceived many; but more, a persuasion of his dispositions being equally sincere. For it is not only (as Plato says) an extreme injustice to make a show of being just when one is not so; but it is also the highest malignity to pretend  to simplicity and mildness and be in the mean time really most malicious.

Continue reading