About

The Compleat Catholic Reader, the brainchild of Lisa A. Nicholas, Ph. D., aims to reacquaint readers with the “lost art” of reading so that they may unlock the wisdom and pleasure of great works of Western literature.

. . . The Blog

THE PRESENT BLOG, The Compleat Catholic Reader, is a revitalized version of a previous blog called “A Catholic Reader.” Both are the product of the mind of Lisa A. Nicholas, Ph. D., and have grown out of her experience both as a lifelong reader and as a student and teacher of literature and the humanities of the Western cultural tradition. The original blog followed no predetermined plan, and rather provided an outlet for the writer’s ideas sparked by her reading; it did however develop a number of themes (the “moral imagination” being a prominent one), and one significant project (comparing accounts of the Great Flood in ancient literature), which have carried over into the “renewed” blog. (You’ll find the thrust of the original blog summed up here.)

One of the things The Compleat Catholic Reader will do, I hope, is to show that imagination is as important as reason in understanding the world and our place in it. These two faculties do not work at cross-purposes but actually are at their best when they work in tandem. This is why it is important to  have a healthy, well-exercised “moral imagination,” formed by reading great (and merely “good” books) with a certain depth of understanding and appreciation. It has long been understood that children’s moral imaginations can be formed by reading morally-informed stories, but the focus of the blog is on a reading segment that is often neglected—adult readers.

Sadly, the past generation (or three) of those who have already “graduated” into adulthood, has been poorly taught, leaving them ill-equipped to read, much less to prefer, the kinds of literature that can help us face the moral challenges of contemporary life. Even readers who have encountered “great books” in school or college, because of poor formation as readers and thinkers, have too often found them dry, or difficult. One of the aims of this blog is to equip and inspire such readers to read some of the great literature of our tradition with greater skill and appreciation.

A truly “Catholic” reader is one who reads in order to know the truth more fully. To become such a reader, we need to learn to discern a work’s intended meaning, for moral benefit as well as for pleasure, and to judge a work not according to personal preference but according to its capacity to confirm or enlarges, our knowledge of the truth. But to become such a reader, we must learn how to read with an eye toward the truth, and there are specific techniques that help us acquire this important skill. These techniques are not “secrets,” yet they are little known or taught today, so they will be “revealed” here on the blog.

In sum, the aim of this blog is to reacquaint readers with the “lost art” of reading so that they may unlock both the wisdom and the pleasure of great works of Western literature that pre-date the modern age.

. . . The Blogger

Hi, I’m Lisa Nicholas, a reader for nearly six decades, a Catholic for more than five, a student and teacher of literature (and language) for almost that long, with interludes in which I have worked as a graphic designer, editor, translator, and book designer. My love of languages is deeply entwined with my love for reading and writing, hence my interest in translation (from both a writer’s and a reader’s perspective). After completing a bachelor’s degree in both Spanish and English literature from a tiny liberal arts college, Rockford College (with a year’s study in Madrid, Spain), I made the foolish choice to go directly into a Ph. D. program in Comparative Literature at the University of Iowa, where I was forcibly made aware that the liberal arts were rapidly being replaced by the speculative sciences of ideological interpretation. After two years there, I was morally exhausted, so I left. (But not before being introduced to the joys of teaching and of literary translation.)

After nearly fifteen years of struggling to do something useful in the “real world,” I finally returned to graduate studies at the (Catholic) University of Dallas, where the liberal arts education and a deep love of the Western cultural tradition are alive and well to this day. After enrolling in the interdisciplinary doctoral program (literature, philosophy, theology of the Western tradition), I concentrated on literature and also resumed part-time teaching (writing, literature, Latin) and eventually wrote a dissertation on memory as a hermeneutic principle in Chrétien de Troyes’s twelfth century Arthurian romance, Perceval (The Story of the Grail).

While I was finishing that up, I took a full-time teaching position at the University of Southern Indiana, where I taught English, humanities, and Latin for five years, until I was ejected as an “elitist” doctora non grata for trying to educate my students rather than indoctrinate them. Bruised but not beaten, I returned to Texas, taught adult learners for a while and eventually subsided into private life and freelance editing. During that interlude, I also translated several books by Spanish author, Jorge Saez-Criado, and (God willing) will translate a few more before I’m done.

When the cracks in the modern world (and the Church) finally began to split apart, I began to reflect on the best way to use my time and talents and decided it was time once again to put my education and experience to work to help those so inclined learn to appreciate the great literary treasury of the Western & Christian cultural tradition. (You can read my personal manifesto here, and the essay that marked my shift toward this revitalized version of my blog here.) As of this writing, that effort is focused in this blog, The Compleat Catholic Reader.

 Much of what I have learned about how to make sense of literature has been gleaned from the wonderful education afforded me by the University of Dallas, and some has derived from my experience teaching others, but my theories about the influence of the Bible on profane or “secular” literature are mine alone. Unless otherwise noted, all ideas expressed on this blog are my own, and I would appreciate being given credit for them, should any reader choose to share them elsewhere. A hyperlink back to the source and a mention of my name will suffice, but I would also appreciate it if the person making the reference would notify me via the contact form on this website. Please share posts that you find interesting and sign up for the blog’s subscription and newsletter list, so that you will be among the first to learn of new offerings.

Readers who are interested in the spiritual life and the value of learning one’s own chapter in the Great Story that God tells should take a look at my other blog, Learning God. There, among other things, I discuss some great works from the Catholic contemplative tradition, particularly medieval English mysticism.