Newsletter Archive

Not Just for Experts

I've mentioned over the years that I've been reading the classics--Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, and most recently, Aristotle.  I don't have any background or expertise in Greek and Roman history, language, or literature.  But a lack of expertise has never stopped me from learning.  :-)  In fact, it's what allows me to learn.  It's sometimes easiest to learn when you can't possibly pretend you already know about something.

Of course, there are very few societal rewards for a lack of expertise.  None of us needs much effort to recall the times we've been made to feel stupid, in school and elsewhere.    

But I'm not reading the classics to become an expert, or to impress anyone.  I'm reading them to be touched by the best ideas of humanity, which can only make me a better, more capable, and creative person--even if my knowledge remains entirely superficial.   All the brilliant creations of the human race--the classics, art, music, theatre, and more--belong to all of us, and can touch and transform all of us.

A few years ago, my best friend, Phil Terry, invited me to read the classics with him.  Neither of us had a classical education.  All we had was curiosity, a reading list (borrowed from Mortimer Adler's "How to Read a Book"), and the hunger to discuss big ideas we were reading about.  The five years since we started reading together have been the richest of my life.  I've written my best songs, and I've been able to take a longer view of the momentous and unsettling events of our times.

Our reading odyssey has snowballed, and taught us something about learning.   With minimal support--some others to read with, monthly conference calls to discuss the books, and a manageable pace for the reading-- and a welcoming environment for discussing and asking questions, almost anyone can read and get something out of classic literature.  

Phil's organizational skill has turned our informal reading odyssey into a non-profit organization called the Reading Odyssey, dedicated to reigniting adults' curiosity and creativity through many activities, including reading the classics.  There are currently four reading groups exploring Homer, Aristotle, and Darwin's "Origin of Species."  We've even attracted the attention of academic experts and classicists who want to be part of an ongoing conversation with non-specialists.  And Reading Odyssey is sponsoring Slow Art, where all over the world people meet at art museums to check out beautiful and brilliant works of art for themselves, without worrying about whether they know much about art.

I'd like to invite you to see what the Reading Odyssey is up to, attend a Slow Art event (there's several this weekend, on Saturday October 17), or sign up for one of our reading groups (I'll be leading a reading of Homer's "Odyssey" in January).   It's a great antidote to the difficult news of the day, better than television, and helps maintain our confidence in humanity's brilliance and creativity.

The Reading Odyssey website:
Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, "How to Read a Book"
Slow Art events:
Signup to read Homer's "Odyssey" with Pat:

Ears and Eyes:  What I'm Listening to, Reading, and Watching:
    Jimmie Rodgers, "The Essential Jimmie Rodgers."
    Holly Cole, "Holly Cole."
    Czeslaw Milosz, ed.  "A Book of Luminous Things:  An International Anthology of Poetry."
    Donald Westlake, "Get Real."
  "Sunshine Cleaning"
  "Saint Ralph"