Diamonds & literary gems from an old priest and you


"You don't have time to read every book, only great books. "

— Father Diamond, 1961

We pushed the dear British priest into a rest home after just one year of attempting to educate us hormonal high school Philistines. He had been used to college classes where discipline was never a problem.

By the end of our sophomore sojourn, Father Diamond would let us get away with just about anything if we'd just keep quiet. The back of his classroom became a hotbed of chess games and research about stuff from politics to Pontius Pilate to (gasp) girls.

Occasionally, we'd see a face peeking through the window, usually one of the Christian Brothers who ran the boys' side of our sex-segregated high school. The men in black were aghast at the loose discipline.

I can still hear Father Diamond's mellifluous voice uttering a laconic "dammit, shut up" directed at whomever was acting the most irresponsibly at the moment.

At the end of the year, in his usual laid-back manner, he matter-of-factly said "after the final exam, as far as I'm concerned, you can all go to the devil."

He was always so polite and proper through all of our teenaged boy abuses of his patience. I've always wished I could be that cool under fire.

Those who took a little time to listen learned a lot from him.

"The ideal length for a speech is the time it takes for a vertically held match to burn your fingertips," he once advised.

Pretty soon, every stud in the class was showing off digits singed while trying to deliver complete, concise (ouch!) lectures before the flame burned down. Education as macho trial by fire.

Father Diamond was great at thinking up such gimmicks which utilized our teen egos to move us where he wanted us to go.

Even misfits and eventual dropouts came away with useful skills. Speaking to a class, business meeting, political convention or a potential suicide were all the same, he said.

"People are first and foremost concerned with themselves. In order to get through to them, you've got to break their preoccupation with whatever's on their minds."

To illustrate his point, he told a story of a cop trying to talk a suicidal woman out of jumping off a bridge. Hours of patience did no good. The officer could see she was right on the verge.

"Okay, lady, there's nothing I can do to stop you. But remember, you're going to die in some really filthy water down there."

Filthy water? Revolted, she stepped back. The cop had broken her preoccupation, Father Diamond concluded.

All people are works in progress. Adolescents are just extreme cases -  part child, part adult, part jungle animal. I was amused by some recently published research noting that the teen brain actually is wired differently from that of an adult. This comes as absolutely no surprise to any parent. Just because you've got a computer and I've got a computer doesn't mean they can communicate with each other if the software is incompatible.

Which is why I immediately asked for help when asked to compile a recommended reading list for a young man of my acquaintance who this month begins his high school years being schooled at home.

Here are some additions from readers to the partial list I printed last week.

A retired military intelligence officer stated "I believe there is a book that should be mandatory reading for every high school senior, "The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius" by Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli gets a bum rap for 'The Prince,' but in this book he examines the roles of both the populace and its leaders. Because of the language of the times, this book should be presented through a teacher in order to translate such terms as 'city state' and 'prince.'

"There is one statement I find interesting at the end of the chapter 'Transition from Servitude to Freedom': 'It is difficult, or rather impossible, either to maintain a republican form of government in states which have become corrupt or to create such a form afresh.'"

Sounds just like Nevada to me.

The military man added that "some review should be conducted on Lycurgus, the legendary reformer of the Spartan constitution circa 8th century B.C."

I agree about Macchiavelli getting a bum rap for "The Prince." It's the soundest, most practical management advice ever written.

A female CEO from Sparks wrote "don't forget "Death Comes to the Archbishop" by Willa Cather." We won't.

Someone named Chris e-mailed the following: "I was intrigued by your column last Sunday, and I can't resist a suggestion: "The People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn. This is a real eye-opener of an American history book. Zinn doesn't pretend that history can be written from an 'objective' perspective. He states his biases, unlike the 'standard' history books we read in school. This book reveals the long, strong and often unrecognized tradition of progressive movements in American history.

"Also, this isn't a book, but nevertheless necessary to a complete education in America: "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, Jr. This work provides a distinct picture of American life during the civil rights movement, and a glimpse into the mind of a brilliant man deep in the struggle for justice."

Keep the suggestions flowing. This is important.

Father Diamond would be quite pleased.

More soon, and keep your matches dry.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 29-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and was campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 9/27/98.