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Fulton Sheen's Rules for Reading
One of humanity's major pass-times is reading, whether it be books, ebooks, articles, or blogs. With the abundance of literature nowadays, it may seem hard to choose what to read. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, in his book, Thoughts for Daily Living, offers us three rules for reading. While Sheen applies these rules primarily for books, they can be used for all types of reading as well.
Sheen begins, “Out of the crowd of books which push and shove themselves under our eyes, we have to select and extract those few which are fit to be our companions...A negative way of stating the rule is to eliminate that which is non-essential and which is incapable of nourishing the mind.”
Those books which really have no meaning, those books which have no moral, no truth to reveal or express should be left behind. This is not to say however that fictional literature is to be left behind. Indeed, fiction can contain many truths which are easier to express in a story format than a theological treatise. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia are both great examples of such fictional literature. In fact, the purpose of literature regardless of genre is to nourish the mind. If a book or article does not do this then it is not worth reading.
Continuing, Sheen says, “Do not make it a rule only to read what is 'just out' or the 'book of the week.' This does not mean that these are to be excluded, but rather that it is not good for the mind to be guided by the principle that the latest is necessarily the best.”
Here Sheen hits upon something which plagues our society. Many people do not read “classical literature” anymore. Contained within much of classical literature is wisdom. Fiction and non-fiction alike often tell the horrors of some evil regime, like George Orwell's Animal Farm does with Communism. Often, the modern secular mindset is not guided by Catholic principles or principles of righteousness and goodness. Just because a book is popular among society does not mean it is a good book or that it nourishes the mind. There must be a discernment of which books to read and which not to read.
Sheen concludes his rules for reading by saying: “A third rule is to avoid those books which excite emotions but never lead to action. Some books excite emotions and inspire action. These are to be cultivated for they produce and intimate communion with what we read...Such emotions are good because they increase our understanding of life, deepen our desire to do good, enlighten our pathways and above all spur us on to action. Any book which inspires us to lead a better life is a good book.”
There are many books that do not lead one to change their way of living. If the purpose of books is as Sheen says to “nourish the mind,” then that implies that whatever is read will change the way you live your life. By following these principles one can choose to read good books that nourish the mind and inspire people to live better lives.
Sheen himself had some favorite authors and favorite books. One of them is St. Augustine the great Father and Doctor of the Church. In writing on juvenile delinquents Sheen says this about St. Augustine in his book Way to Happiness: “That vain and wanton boy grew up to be the great and learned St. Augustine, whose Confessions everyone ought to read before he dies.” Sheen's very own reading recommendation then, is Augustine's Confessions which have become a major spiritual classic offering much wisdom and insight for anyone wishing to grow in holiness and closer to God.