Friday, September 21, 2012

From Books to Books

Have you ever been so captivated by a book you couldn't stop thinking about it? Have you ever wanted to meet that author, have a conversation with him, ask all the questions the book has provoked in your mind? Has the reading of that book ever led you to read other books you would otherwise not have done?

The first time I read through Pilgrim's Progress, it was not because anyone had recommended it to me, or I had found it on a shelf, or that I had to read it for a school course. I was ten years old and thought it was an invented title because it was mentioned in a fiction book I was reading at the time. I encountered it first in the opening chapter of Little Women when Marmee gave each of her four daughters their personal copy of this book for Christmas. Throughout Little Women, the book is referred to and each girl is instructed by Marmee to read Pilgrim's Progress for their instruction and help in their own pilgrimage through life. The rest of the story of Little Women unfolds the varying journeys of each of those girls and only one of them actually arrived at the Celestial City before the book was finished. Of course, I did not realize the significance of that place or any of the other landmarks of Pilgrim's Progress that Alcott employed as chapter titles and events in the girls' journey from girlhood to womanhood until I had read the true tale of John Bunyan.

That is the earliest experience I recall of reading one book because of another. Probably 25 years later, I observed this phenomenon occur in my son's life when reading The Sign of the Beaver aloud to him and we came to the place where the Indian boy is being taught to read by the pioneer boy through the use of Robinson Crusoe. "Oh!" exclaimed my son, "That's the book Grandma gave me for my birthday." Naturally, this prompted him to open up Robinson Crusoe and discover what it was about for himself.

So it is that one book leads to another. I have made a habit of jotting down book titles mentioned within books to find and read later. When an author's ideas particularly intrigue me, I pay attention to books mentioned, look for footnotes, and flip to the back where further recommended reading is sometimes included. In this way, trails upon trails open up and the reading adventure becomes a continuous treasure hunt. Whenever an author mentions a book he has read and appreciated, I add it to my list.

In our library, naturally, we work mostly with children of every kind of reading temperament. Emily says the most important thing she does is to help expand a child's reading taste by moving them from one genre to another. This isn't always easy as children tend to want to stick to what they have learned to enjoy and have no desire to branch out. It is a delicate task to encourage them to expand their reading pleasure and quest for knowledge.

Our first year a young boy came to our library declaring, "I only read historical fiction." We marvel sometimes at how set a nine or ten year old can be. Many boys will "only" read science, or sports, or fantasy
stories, while many girls will "only" read about horses, or mysteries, or fairytales. Emily and I try to get them talking about what they liked about their latest favorite and find some idea that can hook them to another book. The boy locked into historical fiction was tempted with a biography of one of his favorite characters, likewise, the biography of a famous scientist moved the science only boy from things to people. Horses of Destiny moved a horse lover from fiction to history; the girl stuck in fairytales read a travel book about the country of those tales, which moved her toward geography in the real world. Reading widely is critical to  thinking widely. The more various the reading the more interests are sparked.

Try keeping a reading list of books you find out about inside other books. Following the links is not just something your computer can do. Attachment to a certain author or type of book is important. Strengthen that bond by learning to love the books the author read. The more the mind feeds, the hungrier it gets. The more room your children make for things to think about, the more room there will be for more things to think about. Charlotte Mason called this ability in a child "magical expansion."

Following the book connections also helps a child (or adult for that matter) not to feel the sadness of reaching "the end so acutely." When I read Pilgrim's Progress, I was traveling with Christian, and thinking about how Meg and Jo and Amy and Beth felt as they read it. We became fellow pilgrims.

For the joy of reading,


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