Monday, June 12, 2017

Books Read in May

Truthfully, I was reading in 12 books last month, and that’s pretty average for me, but these are the only ones that I finished in May. I try to read in two or three of them every day, but every day read different books. For a couple of years, I have been trying to read books the way I expect my children to read their schoolbooks, slowly, on a variety of subjects on different days. It takes many months sometimes to read through a long book, but I am finding my appreciation and retention of what an author has to say has increased with this method. Here are the books I closed the cover on this month:

1. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. I got to know the Bronte sisters as a young reader in elementary school. One of my favorite poems in my commonplace book was written by Anne. Its poignant grief after the loss of a lover twists my heart every time I read it. But, I at this late date in life have just had the pleasure of reading one of her novels. It is apparent that some of her sisters’ social concerns were hers as well. I don’t think she is as masterful a storyteller as Emily and Charlotte, but still has her own quiet story to tell. Agnes is a girl who, in hopes of helping her family with an ailing father, ventures into the world to try her hand at being a governess and earning her living. She has experiences that are doubtless representative of young working women in that era. Agnes is an upright young woman, though naïve of the world outside her small family circle. She is an interesting mix of bashfulness and boldness, simplicity and strength.

2. Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling. I’m still trekking slowly through this series a second time after a ten year hiatus. I find myself noticing details I missed the first time in my suspenseful rush through the first reading of this series, pondering with admiration the details of the plot unfolded through the entire series that show the talent of a masterful storyteller. Still, I end up rushing at the end and holding my breath at Harry’s predicaments and perils even though I know what’s going to happen. It’s no surprise children gravitate to these spell binders (no pun intended).

3. The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Gouge. I have read this one before, too, about 13 years ago. It is the first in a family saga during the World War II era. The first time, I read the second, then third novel in the trilogy, and this first novel last. My book club picked this one for May’s meeting and, since Goudge is one of the best authors I’ve read in my life, I settled in to enjoy it again. It was richer the second time. I again reveled in the beauty and power of her writing, but this time fully recognized the symbolism and beauty of the tale, the wrestlings of faith of the characters, and a beautiful picture of the story of redemption in the Book of books.

4. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Curtis. My sister urged me to read this book after meeting the author at a conference. He is from our hometown. He also is a fabulous writer for children. This is the tale of a boy in an abusive foster home who strikes out to find his own way in the world. The problem is, it is the Depression, and he is very naïve. He is also very intuitive and persistent. This book had me laughing and crying by turns.

For the joy of reading,


Monday, May 29, 2017

The Cost of a Book

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” - Desiderius Erasmus

If you’re a homeschooler, you know that this is the season of spending money on books to prepare for the coming school year. Or, if like me you buy them whether it is the season or not, it is the season when book sales and curriculum sales and conferences make books—new and out-of-print-- readily available. For book lovers, this is the equivalent of Christmas specials at Christmas time.

I used to joke with my children, usually upon arriving at home with a trunk full of books, that if we ran out of grocery money, we could always eat the books. The quote of Erasmus above reveals that this is no new idea under the sun.

The other day, I stumbled upon this comment of Jean Jacques Fabre:

“…and I wanted to know more than I had learned from the schoolboys, which was just how to rob the cells of their honey with a straw. As it happened, my bookseller had a gorgeous work on insects for sale…and boasted a multitude of attractive illustrations. , but the price of it!—the price of it! No matter, was not my splendid income supposed to cover everything?—food for the mind as well as food for the body? Anything extra that I gave to the one I could save upon the other, a method of balancing painfully familiar to those who look to science for their livelihood. The purchase was effected. That day, my professional amoluments were severely strained. I devoted a month’s salary to the acquisition of the book. I had to resort to miracles of economy for some time to come before making up the enormous deficit. The book was devoured. There is no other word for it. In it, I learned the name of my black bee. I read for the first time various details of the habits of insects…”

And I wince to think of the impoverishment this generation would suffer if he had not “devoured” that book. A book is not worth what it costs today, but what it will acquire in value to persons, persons of infinite value whose minds crave its priceless ideas in order to grow.

Charlotte Mason agreed on all points:

“One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough; and if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child's intellectual life.” (Parents and Children, p. 279)

How can you put a price tag on knowledge, on friendship, on life? Books contain all these and lead to more knowledge, friendships, and living. Truly, it is not the price tag that determines whether or not we should purchase a book, but the worth of the person who will be reading it. When set in the scales, people and money are very unevenly weighed.

For the joy of reading,


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

April’s Reading

The merry month of May is half over already. Still, for those who like to know what I’ve been up to in books, here are those I finished in April.

  1. The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonge. Though my children have read this book, it is one of Yonge’s books I have not read. I had no doubt the writing would be excellent, but, in her usual way, she drew me again into a story. Like all excellent historical fiction, I forgot I was reading about real people and real events, I got so caught up in the intrigue and danger besetting this beloved little Duke. His character flaws and strengths were realistically presented and it left me curious to research more about this Norman hero.

  1. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. These essays and reflections gave a vivid picture of Wisconsin near the middle of the twentieth century. The commentary was priceless, especially his pleading concern for protection of our precious environment long before the modern day groups have clamored for attention. This book made me homesick for Michigan. Leopold is a skillful writer whose simple observations of nature are an inspiration for my own.

  1. The Yeats Reader: A Portable Compendium of the Poetry, Drama, and Prose of William Butler Yeats ed. Richard J. Finneran. I have been reading through this collection of writings since last October. I find it illuminating to read the works of one author over time, and especially his personal letters and essays about the birth of his published literature. Yeats’s fascination with Irish lore and investigation into the homes of old-timers to relate the stories of their life of fairies and fancies made me feel that all the past is not lost to us. His poetry speaks to me.

  1. What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. Again, living with children from a former century is instructive. Katie reminded me of some of my children, but mostly myself. Her headstrong, impetuous, and often thoughtless approach to life was dramatically redirected in this simple story of motherless children whose unappreciated aunt and hardworking father were seeking to guide. It is a story for children who love Louisa Alcott, L. M. Montgomery,  and Kate Wiggins stories. No need to point the morals out to your children—they will show themselves to them loud and clear.

  1. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I read a portion of this in a literature anthology in “Western World Literature” in college. Wharton’s writing is as smooth as silk and as vivid as a movie for the imagination. I have thoroughly enjoyed her other novels and, though friends said this was a depressing one, I found it to be life giving. Charlotte Mason said nothing instructs us like novels, and this is a good teacher and great tale.

For the joy of reading,