The Reader/Writer

I’m Lisa Nicholas and I started this blog after life decided that it was time for me to quit teaching college and start doing something else — I just didn’t know what. I had taught humanities and literature of the Western cultural tradition for a number of years, after completing a Ph. D. in literature at the University of Dallas. There was a lot I didn’t miss about being in the classroom, but one of the things I really did miss was the opportunity to introduce others to great works of literature and help them see how great literature and good books — if we read them well — can help us become wiser and enjoy our lives more.

Since I started writing this blog, I’ve gradually come to develop a personal theory about literature, reading, and the Christian faith, which I’ll probably outline here explicitly at some point. If you’re interested, you can get a little insight into my ideas by reading “Why Civil Society Needs Great Stories.”

I also write about things other than literature, and I’m an editor for hire. If you’d like to know more about me, find me on Facebook or follow some of the links in my Gravatar profile at the bottom of the page.

The Blog

This blog started out as me just writing about things that I was reading and thinking about. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted the blog to be, but I knew I didn’t want it to be too narrowly focused, so I called it “A Catholic Reader,” a double entendre meaning both small-c “catholic,” in the sense of being all-inclusive or wide-ranging, and big-C “Catholic,” in the sense of being informed by the Catholic (i.e., Christian) faith. Both of these terms seem to me to be descriptive of the Western cultural tradition, which is my focus here.

In some ways this blog is a kind of free continuing education class for adults who have a college education but never really learned to get as much out of great literature as they might have hoped or expected. From time to time, readers have commented that this blog has inspired them to go back and give literature another try, which warms the cockles of my heart.

Here are some of the topics I address on this blog:

Book Reviews

Some of these are simply me discussing books I like and recommend to others, and others are, more specifically, books written by contemporary Catholic authors whose work I wish to promote (many of them colleagues of mine in the Catholic Writers Guild). The Catholic Writers Guild is dedicated to the “rebirth in Catholic arts and letters,” and I’m all in favor of that.

The Great Flood in Literature

This is a series that grew straight out of my teaching experience, and it is dear to my heart because it allows me to demonstrate a method of reading that helps the reader understand better how to get the most out of any literary work. In this series I analyze and compare three ancient stories of the Great Flood, an extended version of an exercise I used to use in my humanities classes. I follow (more or less) a method of analysis that I taught my humanities students. (They often told me, with amazement, that it really did help them understand their reading, not only in my class but even in their classes outside the humanities).

The Moral Imagination

I never intended to write specifically on “the moral imagination.” (I’m not sure that term had ever even entered my mind when I got started.) But it is an idea that kept cropping up in my writing — and one that seemed to attract readers. What is it? Basically, it refers to the idea that reading good, worthwhile literature, particularly works that have survived the test of time — centuries or even millennia — can help to form our character (our imagination as well as intellect). Such stories give us valuable ways to think about our lives and life in general.

The idea that fictional literature can, and should, both instruct and delight is an ancient one — Aristotle and Cicero both wrote about the “philosophical” value of literature — but it is an idea that has largely been abandoned in the modern world, which prefers novelty and entertainment to timeless truth or deep meaning. Yet there are still a few books being written that fufill the edifying role of great literature and, from time to time, I’ll write about them, as well as more ancient stories.

I believe that stories, both “real” ones (i.e., based on fact) and “made up” ones, are something that we need to be fully human. This is an idea that I am slowly, gradually teasing out here on this blog.

CST & Rerum Novarum

When I moved the blog from Google’s Blogger platform to a self-hosted WordPress site, I decided to merge in some posts from another blog of mine on Catholic Social Teaching (CST). Those are now in a category of their own — you can find a list of all of them by clicking the Catholic Social Teaching menu entry at the top of the page and on the sidebar of the front page of the blog.

If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll take some time to read a few of the things you’ll find on A Catholic Reader. If you want to browse, try the front page or scroll down to the bottom of any page or post and stroll through the tag cloud or the list of popular posts. And please leave comments when the spirit moves you!