Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind
By: Alan Jacobs
Penguin Press (September 8, 2020)
Breaking Bread With The Dead is the final book of Jacobs’ three-part series. Part one is The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Amazon). And part two is How to Think (Amazon). They are together a collection of thoughts and ideas taken from Jacobs interacting with students as a professor. The point of this last book is that we should read old classic books by long-gone writers. I find it insane that the demerits of this are even an issue. I mean, good-grief people. You don’t have to agree with
everything someone said or wrote or did their entire lives to take a marvelous idea from one of their masterly pieces. Reading old books is about changing your perspective too.
Two of my favorite quotes:
To read old books is to get an education in possibility for next to nothing. Watching the latest social-media war break out, I often recall Grace Kelly’s character in High Noon, a Quaker pacifist, saying, “I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. There’s got to be some better way for people to live.” (That by the end of the movie she abandons her pacifism only, if ironically, emphasizes the importance of her point.) The suspicion that there’s got to be some better way for people to live has the salutary effect of suppressing reflex.
“For a lot of families there’s no reason to trot out the old cultural chestnuts because the newest freshest thing is right at their fingertips.” Tost continues, So it’s no wonder younger folks don’t have any cultural memory or taste for aesthetic adventure. In pre-school their parents played the most recent kids’ music in the car for them instead of the older music the parents actually wanted to listen to. And at home the kids only watched kid-centric YouTube channels or superhero or Pixar movies instead of suffering through dad’s weird favorite old movies. So when the kids hit elementary school, they only have ears and eyes for whatever was being marketed to their age group that year. The same thing carried forth to junior high, high school, and beyond. So at what point would they have discovered who Akira Kurosawa or Billie Holiday or even Robert Redford might be? Every step of their development they’ve been trapped in the pre-packaged bubble of the new.