80/20 Application

If you look at yesterday’s post, I described a method of getting to the core of work’s meaning. I applied that method today to two day’s worth of work: the opening sessions of Beowulf and Utopia. Here’s what I came up with.


Anglo-Saxon societies were built around strong kings who excelled in battle and shared their rewards with a troop of faithful men. Grendel, the descendant of the man who killed his brother, threatens that community. Beowulf, who has been incorporated into the community by virtue of Hrothgar’s relationship with his father and the banquet when he arrives, avenges Hrothgar’s kingdom by killing Grendel.


Part 1 of Utopia focuses on two questions: 1) do intellectuals have a responsibility to serve their government and 2) what is the source of a country’s problems. Raphael Hythloday won’t serve a king, ultimately, because the fact that there is a king is part of the problem. The only just society, according to Hythloday, is one with common property, where private possessions and money have been taken away.

I can tell that I’ve taught Beowulf more frequently. This core hooks I arrived at are thematically relevant not just for the work but for the course’s entire theme. I’ll have to work to get that same kind of continuity working with Utopia. Perhaps a starting point: it’s telling that Hythloday does not identify the church as the instrument of social change. His explanation demands a change in government, admittedly for moral reasons.

80/20 Application

Two Reading Rules: Reed’s and 80/20

REED’S RULE from The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature by Elizabeth Kantor:

“Why is this word, and no other word, in this place, and no other place?”

THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE from The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch:

“The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.”

Applications: Reed’s Rule is a great question to ask if you’re reading a sonnet (Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso List to Hunt” has over 120 words and over 80 unique ones), but once you start reading narrative poems, prose, or plays, the question becomes this: how do you choose which words to look at most closely?

This is where the 80/20 Principle comes in. Your goal in reading should be to:

  1. Discern the 20% of the text that’s most important
  2. Discern the 20% of that 20% that’s most important so you now have the most important 4% of the text
  3. NOW deploy Reed’s rule in order to find evidence for your claim about the work’s thematic coherence and rhetorical devices.
Two Reading Rules: Reed’s and 80/20

Experiment: Adventures in Simultaneous Reading and Listening

I like to read books. I like to listen to audiobooks. I like to read books WHILE listening to their audiobook counterparts.


But what if there’s not an officially-produced audiobook of the book I’m reading?

I can make it myself! If I can get an electronic copy of the book (a PDF or an EPUB or something like that), I can use a text-to-speech program called TextAloud to generate an audiobook.


But what if you have a text and an audiobook, and they’re technically of the same title, but they’re different translations or editions?

Continue reading “Experiment: Adventures in Simultaneous Reading and Listening”

Experiment: Adventures in Simultaneous Reading and Listening

10 Postulates About Language

1. Human language is part of God’s creation and thus was made good.

2. Before the fall, we communicated and interpreted without error.

3. Language fell when humanity fell.

4. We see the effects of this fall in both our writing and reading.

5. Both writing and reading are, at their base, ethical acts and informed by our fallen or redeemed impulses.

6. Writing and reading are thus parts of humanity’s chief end: to glorify God (proper communication) and enjoy him forever (proper interpretation).

7. We glorify God when we communicate God’s truth and interpret God’s truth correctly.

8. When we faithfully represent or interpret something in accordance with God’s own conception of that thing (even if that representation is not complete), God is glorified.

9. When we write and read generously, we are extending grace to our neighbors, and this grace is an extension of Christ’s generosity to “one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine.”

10. Daily reading and writing are ways of participating in the redemption of creation.

10 Postulates About Language