Thanks to a lovely and long vacation, I was able to finish many books, begin others, and end the summer feeling refreshed. The books carry me through the busy times and are a relaxation in the leisure times. Though the common expression is, “I’m too busy to read,” and reading surely takes a commitment of time, I do not know how to survive the intense schedule without the moments of calling a halt to life’s demands, putting the brakes on so to speak, and retreating if only for ten or fifteen minutes at a time to enter another world. As Birchner points out:
“…The harder it is to do the work [of reading], the less inclined we are to do it. We cannot be put off by the prospect of fatigue or any other withering sense of obligation. What is true of art is true of serious reading as well. Fewer and fewer people it seems have the leisure or inclination to take it. And true reading is hard. Unless we are practiced, we do not just crack the covers and slip into an alternate world. We do not get swept up as readily as by the big screen excitements of film. But if we do read, perseveringly, we make available to ourselves in a most portable form, an ulterior existence. We hold in our hands a way to cut against the momentum of the times. We can resist the skimming tendencies and delve. We can store, if only for a time, the vanishing assumption of coherence. The beauty of the vertical existence is that it does not have to argue for itself. It is self-contained, a fulfillment.” (The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkertner)
So here are the books I took time out to toil and trip through and reached the end of in the month of August. Each has helped me keep my balance in a busy season of life:
Tom Whipple by Walter D. Edmonds. This is a true story, a short illustrated children’s biography by the author of the unforgettable Matchlock Gun, about an enterprising “Yankee” (is there any other kind?). Tom reminds us of “…how little it takes to do a thing if you’ve a mind to do it.” This nineteenth century American is “A livelier man than most with a knack for getting into the thick of everything that happened to be going on in this country…” This is a boys dream hero, independent and persevering, adventurous and ready for whatever life brings—and it brings him a whole lot.
Amadaeus Mozart by Ibi Slepscky. I added this to my collection of children’s composer biographies. This short illustrated biography is great for young elementary school students who are listening to Mozart and learning to love him.
Albert Einstein by Ibi Slepscky. A perfect introduction to increase your child’s interest in science. I have not read this author before these two children’s biographies, but knowing the man behind the developments in science is a sure hook for them.
Sashes Red and Blue by Natalie Savage Carlson. This beloved author has collected some of the folk lore of the early French settlers in North America and retold the tales in as entertaining a manner for today’s children as they must have been for those French children of centuries ago.
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E. L. Konigsburg. This is an excellent young student’s overview of the life of one of history’s most famous women: wife of Henry II and mother of Richard the Lionheart and “bad” King John. Told from the perspective of heaven, where she has arrived before her husband, Eleanor of Aquataine spends this time reflecting on her eventful and instrumental life through conversations and reminiscences with old friends in her earthly life. It is not an in depth account, but gives vivid pictures of the will behind the woman behind the men who altered history.
Martin Luther by May McNeer. I was glad to finally have the chance to read a book I have recommended for years! McNeer describes the life of that church-shaking giant, Martin Luther, by dwelling on the highlights and providing just enough personal detail to keep the young reader interested in the man, as well as the most important things he did. Perfect for grades 3-9 studying the Reformation.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling. As previously mentioned, I am rereading the whole series after a ten year interim since my first reading. Charlotte Mason said a good book was worth reading and rereading and rereading. The tale, of course, is riveting, and the development of Harry’s character as he now reaches his mid teens is tremendous. The evil powers are growing in strength, and Harry is literally fighting for his life. No wonder our children cannot put these down.
The Sonnets by William Shakespeare. It took months for me to read through this collection. I tried to read one per day, ponder and rereading it. I have often heard how mocking, mean, or malicious some of his sonnets were, but, though I caught the double meaning and insinuations in many, what I take most with me is a sense of beauty, power with words, and a hunger to come back again and again and plumb the depths of wisdom and understanding they contain.
Bible and Sword: a History of England and Palestine by Barbara Tuchman. Characteristic of my favorite history author, Tuchman gives an orderly and fascinating account of the relationship of the nations of England and Israel. She highlights the deep connection of the British with the Bible and the characters who through the ages have steered the Jews back to a homeland of their own. Though of course I have some knowledge of Bible history and the Hebrew people, as well as a general knowledge of the Crusades, the growth of Zionism and the Holocaust, this book linked my pieces of knowledge in such a way as to fill in many gaps in my understanding of the ideas that rose and became actions that changed history.
Seven Brief Lessons in Physics by Carlo Rovelli. Since nearly failing physics in high school, I have persisted to read books by physicists who attempt to make the vast realms of this science comprehensible to a novice. I particularly enjoyed listening to the author read it himself. More importantly, his simple explanations made a lot of previously mystifying ideas begin to click for me. Making physics relevant for everyday life is not naturally intuitive to most of us, but I do think it’s possible and this short introduction of the main ideas of physics gives me a true desire to read on in this field.
Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge. I’m rereading this beautiful trilogy this year, savoring every jewel-like sentence in Goudge’s exquisite prose. For those who have survived broken family connections and recall your childhood delight in The Wind in the Willows this is a most satisfying tale of a family and the other families they draw to themselves at the Herb of Grace Inn.
The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age by Sven Birkertner. This is a collection of essays by a masterful writer. It’s probably unnecessary to add that that is doubtless due to his deep enrapture with books through life that produced a passion to write himself. Each essay addresses some aspect of books, reading, and modern culture, most with enlightening illustrations from his own life story. For a taste, note my comments in the introduction.
For the joy of reading,