Monday, April 3, 2017

My Reading in March

Here is my regular report of the books I finished reading last month. I usually have six to ten going at a time and divide them into specific days, much as we do our children’s dozen to two dozen books for school lessons. Every day I read the Bible, poetry, and Charlotte Mason, then two other kinds of reading. The first is usually philosophy, science, biography, a children’s novel, or history. The other daily book is my current novel, saved for evenings when I am unwinding from days, which of late, are far too full for my comfort.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I have read this novel before for a lit class in my senior year of high school. I have felt all my life that I did not give it the attention it deserved, probably rushing through assigned passages and confused by names and plot sequences. This time I gave my full attention and was thrilled to realize that I actually had remembered quite a bit of it, but this time through, after over 40 years perspective, it was much more meaningful. This novel is a powerful story on many levels—considering sin and redemption for one, the power of love, and also the influences of society, education, our conscience, and reason.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. I don’t read lots of current literature, but enjoyed this novel very much. The author is a strong storyteller, uses beautiful images in his writing, and the historic details are fascinating. It is a World War II love story of characters from all levels of society. War and its chaos blurs the separating dividing lines. This story wevaes the lives of socially privileged girls, working class and ordinary people, and the treatment of blacks in that era. The romance is believable, the danger and fear of war on the home front and the battle front bring suspense and a fresh look at the thoughts and hearts of those who fought in both settings. Worth reading for adults and mature high schoolers.

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. If your kids have run out of science fiction or fantasy reading, this first in a series is perfect for most first to eighth graders. I wasn’t prepared to enjoy it as much as I did since fantasy is not my first choice. Cameron wrote this book at the request of her own son (who stars as the main character) back in the 1950’s, when we were all obsessed with space travel. It is both fun and informative, the perfect ingredients to hold a child’s attention.

Parnassus on Wheels by Andrew Morley. Nancy Kelly had mentioned this fun book and it was just the ticket when I was stressed. Naturally I loved the idea of peddling books around the country to get books into the hands of people who wouldn’t otherwise read, and this was the mission of the man who sold his traveling book rig to a restless farm woman. That was when her adventures began and I laughed through them all. I also discovered some quote sources I first received from a George Grant lecture on reading.

Parents and Children by Charlotte Mason. This book, with Home education (volume I) should be the incessant source of nourishment for all Charlotte Mason educators at home. I just keep digging out more riches and suggest that any time you moms are discouraged about homeschooling, you turn to chapter 25 and read it again.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera. This book was full of surprises. There is nothing unusual about a single woman in a novel seeking a job as a private librarian for a wealthy family. It is full of village life, teas, and conversations. That is about where the similarity with hundreds of other novels ends. Miss Prim is a thoroughly modern woman who unwittingly steps into another world where secularism and modernity have been challenged and found wanting. As Miss Prim is drawn into their beautiful way of life, she has to come to grips with all her presuppositions about education, marriage, economy, and just about everything else she has taken for granted as normal. Teatime chats and growing friendships shake up her perspective and, though there is romance, there are other intriguing ideas to draw in the reader. This is a good book for high school girls and their mothers.

For the joy of reading,


Monday, March 20, 2017

February’s Reading

I know we are past halfway through March, but hope late is better than never. Though life is busy, even hectic, a life without reading is dreary, especially in February.

1. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

I thought I had read it before and do like to reread an Austen every year, but as I passed the first few chapters, the scenes and characters became new and I began to believe I must have begun, but never finished it some time in the distant past. It is now one of my favorite Austen books. I watched the movie afterward and think that perhaps the director had also never read past page 35 or so.

2. The Essays by Francis Bacon.

Of course I’ve heard this man quoted and referenced all my life, and my son enjoyed him in high school, but I just had the pleasure of spending a few months slowly reading the wisdom of this Elizabethan era sage. I was delighted to discover how easy the essays were to read, but though precisely and smoothly written, contain mountains of material to digest. I believe reading one a week would be a wiser approach and I do intend to go back through these gems more slowly. Here is excellent writing to have your high schoolers immerse themselves in, and ageless truths about us all.

3. Practicing History by Barbara Tuchman.

You will hear more from me of this book. I am a fan of Tuchman, but her personal revelations about the puzzles and perils of being a history writer were delightful insights into her amazing mind. This book has many of her classic articles and essays, as well as some by history writers she admired.

4. The Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling.

I set out a year ago to reread this series as it had been ten years since the first time through and I wondered how I would feel a decade later. Due to the shortage of Braille copies, the second novel didn’t arrive for eight months from the time of my request. This book was a perfect way to relax in the evenings of a demanding month, and probably more enjoyable than the first time I read it. Where have the Harry Potters gone?

For the joy of reading,


Monday, February 20, 2017

Our Books, Our Teachers

In Ourselves, Charlotte Mason discusses the role of conscience in our lives. Without question, the conscience needs instruction. But how is it to be instructed? “Life brings us many lessons––when we see others do well, conscience approves and learns; when others do ill, conscience condemns. But we want a wider range of knowledge than the life about us affords, and books are our best teachers. (Book II, p. 9)

In the reading of many and various worthy books, not only are our intellects informed, but our moral development grows. Living books--the Bible, Plutarch, history, biography, poetry, drama, essays, and novels all contribute. I have learned life by reading from these rich sources. Some of the ideas encountered in books are new, intriguing, others shape and strengthen opinions and knowledge. Most good books provide food of all kinds and feed me on many levels. Regardless, much intentional learning occurs, and sometimes accidental information is discovered.

“There is no nice shade of conduct which is not described or exemplified in the vast treasure-house of literature. History and biography are full of instruction in righteousness; but what is properly called literature, that is, poetry, essays, the drama, and novels, is perhaps the most useful for our moral instruction, because the authors bring their insight to bear in a way they would hesitate to employ when writing about actual persons. Autobiographies, again, often lift the veil, for the writer may make free with himself…” (Book II, p. 9)

I especially love the surprises of incidental tidbits encountered when reading for another purpose. It’s similar to the surprise of finding an unexpected wad of cash in a pocket, filling inside a cupcake, or a treasure under the clods of earth when turning the garden soil.

Last month I read the first autobiography of Rumer Godden, a favorite author. The personal acquaintance of an author made through their autobiography is particularly appealing to me. After coming to know some ideas and characters and plots of several books by the same author, one feels a kinship with that author, and reading their own account of their childhood and adult experiences is almost as good as being invited to their home for a chat. The knowledge revealed brings a new intimacy. In A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep I was captivated by her colorful years in India and the firsthand accounts of life through both world wars. It is no wonder that her writing is so vivid, as her real life was packed with more adventure than most of the people she invented. It was fascinating to read what was going on in her life while the fictional characters were coming to life under her pen.

But then, during her solitude and isolation in the Second World War, separated from her husband and family, a single mother struggling for survival in remote Cashmere, India, she realizes that her growing girls need formal schooling. Imagine my delight to read that Charlotte Mason came into her life and the life of her children. Godden’s mother signed her up to receive a programme from the P.N.E.U. I squealed with excitement to have a living connection with an author whom I know, but who will never know me.

“May, 1943…’Mam has made me a member of the P.N.E.U., the Parents National Education Union, which sends material out each month, not only a good help, but a lifeline for me. With every set of lessons they send literature, poems and extracts, well chosen, and also a brief study of an artist, say Michelangelo, with a pack of reproductions, which I value. Part of the P.N.E.U. method—a most valuable part—is “telling back,” which not only trains the memory, but makes for concentration. They claim that students trained this way never have to take notes at a lecture, they can remember it.

‘The method is to read the children a short passage in, say history, discuss it, read it again more slowly, then say to one of them, ‘Now, tell that back to me.’ It requires effort and, quite often, they were unwilling to do it…”

Then she recounts an incident after reading 22 lines of a poem three times through and receiving no narration from the students:

“'You weren’t listening.’ But somebody was. From under the table came a little piping voice which said the poem right through! Paula, at five years old.”

This account tickled me, but also reinforced an idea that was probably a continual frustration in Mason’s day, as it is in ours: the misunderstanding of the method. Godden received notes from the P.N.E.U., but clearly had not read Mason’s books herself, understood only sketchy ideas, or she would have known that “only a single reading is required.”

At any rate, I immediately knew I must share this with my readers. Do enjoy some of Godden’s stories. They are worth reading. They will bring pleasure, instruction, and wisdom, exactly as reading Mason herself does.

For the joy of reading,