Confessions of a non-classical reader

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The following is a guest post by Laura Thomas of This Eternal Moment.

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. –Haruki Murakami

I have a confession to make — I did not grow up reading classical literature.

While I have always loved to read, I have another confession to make: part of this love came, at least initially, through an incentive.

You see, when I was in elementary school, my parents sought to encourage my brother and me to read by offering us a penny a page for any book we read that they felt was at our current reading level or beyond.

For several months I read … and read … and read until something happened — my parents saw that I was now officially “hooked” on reading and they were no longer going to offer pennies as an incentive.

And – Eureka! They were right! I kept reading!

While I was exposed to a few classics in middle and high school, they were always viewed by my fellow classmates as “long,” “boring,” and “too hard to read.”

I don’t remember anyone cracking open a classic with me and saying, “Now look — here is a good story!”

During college, I worked in a Christian bookstore for a time and admit to spending more than half of my salary on the books there. While some of these could be considered classics, the only “classic” literature I read often was the Bible.

The truth is, I didn’t think I was missing out on anything. I was learning and growing through the books I read and didn’t see the need to expand my reading circle.

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Fast-forward to today. When I started homeschooling my daughter Grace, we joined a program called Classical Conversations. Through this group, I began to learn more about the beauty, timelessness and enduring legacy of classical literature.

A friend of mine noticed my interest and encouraged me to read a book called, How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler. The title intrigued me and I dove in.

One quote from his book really sums up how it impacted me:

“ … a good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life. You become wiser. Not just more knowledgeable — books that provide nothing but information can produce that result. But wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life.”

I found myself wanting to read more books that had endured the ages — that spoke to, what Adler called, “the great and enduring truths of human life.”

And I wanted my daughters to begin to be exposed to these books as well.

Our first adventure into classics as a family was Little House on the Prairie, and we plunged into the lives of Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura and Baby Carrie as they traveled and made a home on the rural Kansas prairie.

We felt the wind on their faces, the fear in their hearts when they faced prairie fire, grave sickness or dangers in encountering the neighboring native tribes. We rejoiced with them when they overcame difficulty, danced in the firelight to Pa’s fiddle, or were given a cup, a penny, a candy and a cookie for Christmas.

We were changed by Little House. Through their simple living, we were challenged to simplify. By their contentment with small blessings, we began to be more grateful for our own. Through their endurance of great trials, we saw our own as small in contrast.

In fact, for the girls’ birthday party last year, we became them for a day.

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As a writer, I came to realize through Adler’s book that I would only be able to write as well as the books I read. At that point, most of the books I read were at my current reading level — they were interesting and informative to me, but they did not challenge me much to think critically or grow as a reader or writer.

So I made a New Year’s Resolution to read five classics in 2014.

As a family, we will continue to work through the “Little House” book series.

And for my first personal selection, I chose something I didn’t think would be too daunting (insert sarcasm here): The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It’s a 900-pager written by a Russian theologian.

Since I’m being really honest here, I might as well confess that the first 50 pages of this book were a struggle for me – a lot of introductions and long Russian names to remember made it tempting to just choose another book.

But after the first 100 pages I was hooked and when, while washing dishes or folding laundry, I found myself pondering Father Zosima’s final words or sympathizing with young Alyosha’s struggles, I knew that I had chosen a winner.

My final confession: while I am now committed to reading and exploring classical literature and putting lots of it in front of my kids, I refuse to be a book snob.

I will still enjoy many newer books and believe that many of them speak to our generation in important and relevant ways as well.

But, as C.S. Lewis said, “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”

Along with Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter and A.A. Milne, my daughter is also reading books about Fancy Nancy, Amelia Bedelia and the Berenstein Bears.

She (and I) are learning that reading can be both fun and thought-provoking, entertaining and challenging, silly and inspiring. And all of it is important.

And the best thing is – I don’t think I’ll have to pay her in pennies for it.

Do you find yourself drawn to the classics as part of your homeschool?

About Laura Thomas

Laura M. Thomas is a homeschooling mother of three beautiful girls, a childbirth educator and blogger. You can read more of her writing at This Eternal Moment and Free Market Mommy.

Comments

  1. misspegotty says:

    Starting by Russian writers! That’s brave! I can’t stand their loooooooong descriptions. I like reading (or at least giving a try) classics because I’m a bit of a snob. :p and for the same reason I tend to avoid those modern books that everyone talks about. I’m definitley a literature snob! ocuh! I do read modern books though. I like the approach new old, new old. With the wee ones, we haven’t started introducing literature yet. Tle older one, doesn’t read and doesn’t really like to listen to stories. He preferes more factual books (with pictures of animals, tractors or other vehicles :P) and the younger one is just a baby… but I’d really like them to read Enid Blyton’s books, Jules Verne, Emilio Salgari and other national classics. We’ll see what happens!

  2. Yes. When we first began homeschooling in the mid-90’s, I picked up Books Children Love. I found out I hadn’t read a great deal of classic literature, so I dove in. One summer I was determined to read every Charles Dickens book there was. After about the 5th one I realized I didn’t want to read any more. Each book had basically the same type plot, villain, hero, and I was tired of them. I released myself from the commitment and picked other authors. One of my favorite books of all time is Les Miserables. (Skip the chapter describing the French sewers.) I found on my own that the C.S. Lewis quote is a good one. ;)
    Southern Gal’s latest post: Wordless Wednesday (HUGE Picture Post of the Birthday Party)

    • Hi Southern Gal! Thanks for your comment! I haven’t read much of Dickens work, so this is helpful to hear ;) I would also like to read Les Miserables! Keep Reading!!!

  3. Hello,

    We are a not-for-profit educational organization founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery—three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos—lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading, on one DVD. A must for all readers, libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are—we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    http://www.thegreatideas.org/HowToReadABook.htm

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann, Co-founder with Dr. Adler

  4. I love the classics! I am so glad you have discovered them too! Happy reading :)
    My favorites (for adults): Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (Tom Sawyer is for kids too so it’s an easier read!), Jane Eyre.
    My favorites (for kids): Winnie-the-Pooh and House at Pooh Corner, Just So Stories, The Secret Garden, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mouse and the Motorcycle, Ramona stories
    Rebecca Reid’s latest post: Book Talk Tuesday: Onomatopoeia in Storm Song

  5. I have boys who have all read Laura Ingalls! We mix it up, too. I did not read a lot of what I ‘should’ have in school which was one reason I wanted to keep my boys out of a traditional school setting – I wanted them to come to Love – really love – books. Maybe someday soon I will challenge myself to read some of the classics I missed :) I laugh a little sometimes when one of my boys comes downstairs carrying a ‘classic’ from the bookshelf stating, ‘hey, this looks interesting!’ Yes, it is :)

  6. Christina says:

    We haven’t started “school” yet bc my oldest just turned three, but we read lots of classic and contemporary picture books. I’ve always loved to read, especially the classics. Probably bc I assume that they’ve been around long enough to stand the test of time. Brand new authors seem like a gamble to me! I’m so excited to start reading chapter books with my girls, and am planning to start with A. A. Milne and E. B. White. Right now, we’re reading Peter Rabbit and friends!

  7. “My final confession: while I am now committed to reading and exploring classical literature and putting lots of it in front of my kids, I refuse to be a book snob.
    I will still enjoy many newer books and believe that many of them speak to our generation in important and relevant ways as well.”

    As a former book snob, I appreciate this! There is so much to learn and so much that is rich in all types of literature. I will always, always love the classics, but I won’t stop there.
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: 2013 Writing Goals: Hit, Miss, or Somewhere In Between?

  8. Jennifer B says:

    I love the idea of sandwiching a classic between new books! My daughter and I have been reading Don Quixote — a thousand-pager — and I’ve been surprised to discover that it’s really funny. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are both delightful characters.

    One thing I have found with classics is that it helps to have a knowledge of actual “classical” literature — Greek and Roman stuff — to get the references in the slightly newer “classics.” So I’m working on that, too.

  9. I just started reading the Brothers K this summer! And I was a lit major! My 15 year old and I put together his reading list for homeschooling last year. I chose some and he chose some and so he had a good mix of contemporary and classic. It worked well. For 10th grade he is starting with The Odyssey:)

  10. I have not read a single classic ever! I really want to improve my reading skills…. where should I start?!

  11. I felt like I was reading a bit of my story. I was turned on to the classics after being exposed to classical homeschooling resources and reading the classics to my kids. Then I read The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer, and I decided to do it literally for myself. And, yes, my kids are hooked on reading the classics, too!

  12. I have always wanted to read more classics. Somehow we only studied a small handful in school. I can’t wait to read them with my kids! I love your idea of becoming the Little House characters :)
    Mel’s latest post: introducing: the inspiration now app

  13. It could be the feel, the smell, the places it takes you to in your mind. Reading a fantastic best seller is like spending time with fascinating new friend. The time flashes by, but the memories last forever!

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