RAR #163: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind, Alan Jacobs

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By Sarah Mackenzie. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

A tranquil mind. Any chance you want one of those? I know I do. Today on the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, we’re talking about how readers can give themselves the gift of a tranquil mind by reading old books.

Wait, did I just say “by reading old books?”

I did.

And I have a feeling this episode will challenge and expand your expectation for what reading old books can do for us in the here and now.

Alan Jacobs

I like to describe Alan Jacobs as one of my favorite thinkers

…and if you listen in to this episode, you’ll know why.

He’s an accomplished author and a Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Baylor University, and in this episode he’s talking about why we can benefit from reading old books right now more than ever.

His reasons might just surprise and delight you — especially if you’re feeling a little frayed by everything in the world demanding your attention.

I’m not gonna lie, folks, a conversation with Alan Jacobs is always, always worth the time. I think you’re going to love this one!

Also, be sure to check out his newest book, Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind. I loved it.

In this episode:

  • our own tranquility vs our own twitchiness
  • how to read books that contain troublesome and problematic ideas (because old books tend to do that… a lot!)
  • what it means to read with generosity

I also answer a listener question about whether we should let our kids do their own independent reading instead of listening to the group read-aloud.

Click the play button below to start listening:

We talk about…

2:12 ‘Breaking Bread with the Dead’ – Alan Jacobs is back
2:47 Q&A: Having kids listen to read-alouds instead of reading independently
7:05 Book lists and more
10:29 Writing about ‘old books from strange times’
14:36 Tranquility vs. twitchiness
19:12 Helping kids experience a different world
21:57 Sitting at a table
23:55 ‘Training ground’
30:21 ‘Troublesome books’
35:25 Reading with generosity
37:51 Jacob wrestling with the angel
40:90 Not too much reverence
42:28 Where to begin with old books
46:07 Let the Kids Speak

Quotes to remember:

“When you read an old book, you want to look for something that has thoughts that are not your thoughts, that has assumptions that are not your assumptions, that sees the world very differently than you see the world, because those are the words that are going to teach us.

Alan Jacobs

“Anybody who’s been to a museum knows that it’s possible to just stand too close to the painting you’re trying to look at. You’re so close to it, you can see certain things, but you can’t see the overall composition. You can’t see how the different elements of the painting relate to one another. So, what do you do? You step back.”

Alan Jacobs

“Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.”

W.H. Auden

“If you’ve read the past carefully and patiently and you’ve developed a little bit of tranquility, then you have a chance of kind of carrying over that tranquility to your encounters with people who disagree with you … and that I think people really notice.”

Alan Jacobs

“The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

L.P. Hartley


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