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.
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.
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?