The Last Homely House, painted by J. R. R. Tolkien

Whenever I have not read The Lord of the Rings for some time, I feel as though I am a long way from home. I try (but sometimes fail) to read it annually. And yet I have all these books around that I bought but just haven’t gotten around to reading yet.

They’re good books, mind you. Being a geek who married a geek, our books bought on whims tend to be dense, hearty stuff. To my right is a Steven Runciman book on the 13th century Mediterranean (gazed upon lovingly), while G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man (begun, but left off) is buried underneath some paperwork. Above me is The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (leafed through furiously), and I also appear to have a 19th century edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (never even glanced past the title page) somewhere floating about nearby. (Its chief virtue, besides being in dire need of a bookbinder, is that its prime page claims it was “done into English.” There’s a translator with gusto, I tell you.)

My educational background (B.A. in English Literature; most of a B.A. in Communication; minors in Religion, Classical Studies and Ancient Greek; M.Div. with Honors in Church History) marks me boldly as one who drowns in text. (I would say “swims,” but let’s be honest.) And yet I somehow never seem to find time to read. I’ve got too many projects going on, and reading lately is more like a sprinter chowing down on the carbs than like a cow browsing in clover. (One has to wonder which of those is really the more appealing image.)

Mind you, I look around at my books, and there really are many of them I’ve read, quite probably the majority. But these little golden volumes that I pull off the shelf but somehow haven’t read keep gnawing at me, and when the only steadily observable progress I make on anything new is the novel I read before bed, well, it’s still a little depressing.

I do console and excuse myself by thinking that I am still in recovery from seminary, which is where I learned the sprinter’s approach to reading, since everything must be eaten, digested, and then powered out in short order. Of course, continuing to exercise my “mutant power” of actually producing mounds of text in short order does nothing to adjust this problem. So perhaps this is actually some form of addiction and not really recovery at all.

There is a rehabilitation plan in the works, however, and it mainly consists of working out the balanced schedule for my writing and other educational work in the parish. Besides weekly sermons, I’ve been writing two lecture series per year, and I’ll continue to do that. I am planning on adding an ongoing adult educational class, as well, something less formal and rhetorically developed. (All this is not to mention the actual print publication project that’s in the works and slated for release in the Spring.) Once I’ve got my basic patterns in place, it should be easier to plan the workload for everything, and then that “Long term projects / Study” slot I usually have reserved for Wednesdays will finally get better used.

In the meantime, once I’ve finished the novel series I’m reading, I think I’ll go back home again for a while and hear some songs sung in the Last Homely House.


  1. I have reached a point in my life where I realize I cannot possibly read all I want to read before I die. I have suddenly become much more selective in the books I pick up – and if they don’t grab my attention in the first few chapters, I give up, perhaps to try again another time – perhaps to donate to the library so others can enjoy them. Unless the book is Orthodox or I can’t get it from the library, I don’t even consider buying it. The house is filled with too many that I have read and can’t part with or those waiting for my attention – those I am certain I WILL get to.

  2. “I am still in recovery from seminary, which is where I learned the sprinter’s approach to reading, since everything must be eaten, digested, and then powered out in short order.”

    As a recent grad with a BA in History, I understand this statement all too well. It has been 18 months since I graduated and I’m still struggling with slowing down while reading, but it is much better. I also have found that my brain is still exhausted from the absorption of so much info, so to read a dense book on the collapse of Rome just is beyond me at this moment. For now I am content with reading cheap mystery thrillers by some favorite authors.

    Enjoy LOTR. I never could get into the books though loved the movies.

  3. I adore the painting you posted. Reading LOTR annually sounds like a wonderful endeavor, however, for the time-being with schedules such as they are, we (son & I) settle for watching the trilogy every fall.

    I’ve started the Silmarillion three times in the last few months, with the unfortunate realization that waiting until bedtime, when my brain is already half asleep is not the best time for reading something as wondrous as this.

    Sometimes I think a weekend retreat, somewhere in the woods, in a cozy cabin with only basic necessities and my stack o books “on deck” would be close to heaven.

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about your “print publication project”!

  4. I just finished reading a book that I read before as a child, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, just for the fun of it. I, too, have acquired the habit of digesting books quickly, especially nonfiction. But I decided to read this one slowly, to savor it, and it was enjoyable (mind you it took 2 months to finish). You have inspired me to pick up Lord of the Rings next. I have only read the Hobbit by Tolkien before but love the LOTR movie series.

  5. I always find that Autumn is the perfect time to go back to Middle Earth.

    that said, I actually wish I could pick up my reading speed. I feel I have slowed down quite a bit since my younger days and it doesn’t help that I fall asleep much too quickly. I wish I could spend an afternoon devouring a book like I used to do. But, I think those days are gone.

    As always, enjoy your blog.

  6. Brother, I hear you! Alas, I’ve been out of STS longer than you so I guess my recovery is complete, yet I still gaze longingly at the texts I bought there, used to write some paper, and now want to actually digest. But my sked is apparently much like yours (like all priests?) and I do not read them. Perhaps this wistful yearning is another manifestation of our longing for our true home.

    But I do hope to read some of them before I die…

  7. Greetings, Fr. Andrew et al. !

    I too have a good many books I haven’t read on my shelves…. and I too often return to LOTR in autumn. The other day I opened it up to a bookmark I must have left in it last time I was reading it, and it was the luminous scene at the cave behind the waterfall in Ithilien, where Faramir shows his quality (so sadly changed beyond recognition in the film).

    p.s. How I miss the Pennsylvania fall colour out here on the wet coast.

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