Are We a Well Read Culture?

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old-books-stackedTwo years ago when the first Hunger Games movie was released, I wanted to be in the know because all my friends were talking about the books and movie. Consequently, I wanted to read the first book before seeing the film. I read the first of Suzanne Collins trilogy which I found to be a very fast paced read.  In fact, it was difficult to put it down.

On completion of the first book, I found myself intrigued by the story, so much so that I decided immediately to read the second book of the trilogy. When I finished the second book, the first movie was released, which I went to see.

After seeing the movie, my motivation to read the third book dwindled until a few months ago when the second movie was released. After seeing the second movie, I now wanted to know how the series finished.

Just recently I finished the trilogy. While many of my friends were disappointed with how the series ended, I was not as disappointed as I thought I would be.

While I was reading the first two books I couldn’t help but think to myself, why is there such an interest by our society with these books? Why are people, even myself, consuming them?  Why are these books on the New York Times Best Seller’s list? What troubled me the most, though, was the fact these books are written for a teenage audience, yet people of all ages were reading the book.

These thoughts led me to think about the state of our society, and made me question whether or not we are a well read culture anymore?

With the advancements in technology, newspapers are becoming obsolete, and we turn to the internet for the news. People use their Facebook news feeds and twitter accounts for their newspaper now. I find myself at times commenting to others about a headline and snippet I read of a news story even though I did not read the whole article. Does reading a few sentences really make us some sort of expert on recent events?

There are so many distractions in the world that take up our time that our culture no longer has time to take leisure in reading a good novel. Instead of reading a book or enjoying recreation, we have turned to cyber realities on Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest, and many of the other outlets of procrastination. In one sense we have become lazy.

Back in my high school days, many of my peers, including myself, searched for the easy way out of reading assignments. We wanted the cliff notes to our assigned text or to know if there was a movie we could watch to avoid the laborious task of reading 200 or 300 pages. Contrast this to the years of classical education when at the time of graduation (either from high school or at the very least university) students had read Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey and were able to quote Shakespeare without having read the No Fear translations.

I raise these observations, questions, and comments because the state of our culture of reading troubles me.

After finishing the third book of the Hunger Games trilogy, my fiction taste buds were reactivated and I was left wanting to read another novel. In November 2013 I saw The Book Thief in theaters which is based off of the New York Times Best Seller by Markus Zusak. As I contemplated reading that book, one of things that troubled me again was its classification on Amazon as teen fiction.

This resurfaced the thoughts I had when I was reading The Hunger Games: Why are books for youth captivating audiences of all ages? I think it is perhaps the ease in reading these books because they are not as demanding as The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky or other texts.

This lack of cultured reading also has crept into the Church. Do Catholics today foster a great love for the timeless spiritual treasures of our faith? The Imitation of Christ used to be the best selling Catholic book after the Bible. Have we immersed ourselves in the texts of our ancestors like like The Story of a Soul, The Interior Castle, The Confessions of St. Augustine, among countless others? Why is it that we no longer place high priority on these spiritual classics?

With these questions and observations made, I am not entirely certain what the solution is. Perhaps, instead of playing the latest game on our iPhone, posting our good night message on Facebook to our 2,000 closest friends before bed, or falling asleep with the television on, we should crawl under the covers and engage our imagination with a good novel before closing our eyes.

Fr. Edward Lee Looney

Fr. Edward Lee Looney

Fr. Edward L. Looney was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Green Bay on June 6, 2015. Fr. Looney has a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, is a member of the Mariological Society of America, and has researched and written extensively on the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, recognized as the first and only approved Marian apparition in the United States. His most recent work is A Rosary Litany. To learn more visit: Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are his alone, and do not reflect those of his diocese. He seeks to always remain faithful to the Magisterium.

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3 thoughts on “Are We a Well Read Culture?”

  1. Avatar

    I imagine that many Catholics shun the Catholic classics, not just because they are demanding, but because they contradict what some call “the spirit of Vatican II”. Augustine, Dante, Thomas a Kempis – how steeped they are in the language of temptation, sin and atonement!

    Not only that, these great works rest in turn on other great works, and so on. A number of years ago I quipped to a friend that if you followed this chain to its end you’d end up reading the Pre-Socratics in the original Greek, and meant it as an excuse for not diving in more than I had. But what ended up happening? I found myself reading the Pre-Socratics in the original Greek…granted, as best I could, after much study, and with many helps.

    What lies between them and us is the great feast that is our inheritance. Why deny ourselves such nourishment?

    D.S. Thorne (check out my own reading journal at

  2. Avatar

    Well, when you have women falling all over 50 shades of “tie a rock to my neck and drown me in a river so I can stop hearing about this swill, men barely able to think beyond the “good articles” in maxim or playboy, I’d say the answer is generally no.

  3. Avatar

    You make a great point about how people are not well-versed enough in the classics. I was a literature student in college and so I’ve been reasonably exposed to the classics. I think its because most aren’t exposed to it and tend to be put off as something to difficult for them to attempt to read. My interest in classics was first sparked by the kid’s show “Wishbone.” Does anybody remember that? Its great way to introduce kid’s to the classics and how it can be relevant to our lives. Classic literature teaches about the essence of the human person.

    But I’ve also grown up on Young Adult or Teenage fiction. My Mom raised us on Newberry books. I think both genres have their strong suits. There are many “Young Adult” books with very deep and profound themes. What makes them more appealing is that they are written by more contemporary authors and about contemporary issues, themes and experiences.

    As for Catholic classics… I wonder why Catholic schools don’t incorporate that into the curriculum? Just a thought… Maybe not for grade school students, but if high school students study Shakespeare, surely they can appreciate “Story of a Soul” etc, albeit maybe only intellectually. I don’t think I could have truly appreciated these until God gifted me with a deeper conversion…

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