I’ve been cleaning off my bookshelves these past couple of weeks, trying to cull out duplicates. Now, usually duplicate copies of a title are not a problem in a household of readers, but when the shelves are full and you need more space . . . sacrifices must be made.
Most of the duplicates in my collection are literature books that have been added to our home library over the years. And as I pull each book off the shelf, my mind reflects on the characters inside. They are like old friends to me now. I have to keep reminding myself that I do still have a copy; it’s not like I’m getting rid of all those close companions completely!
That’s what good literature will do for you and for your children: it will come alive to your emotions, fire your imagination, and plant seeds of ideas in your mind. It will form a vibrant connection to your heart and affect who you are becoming.
Remove the Middle Man
If there is one way to destroy the joy of a good living book, it’s to shred it to bits with analyzing. Well do I recall some very good books that were assigned for reading in my high school years, my enjoyment of them as I read, and the subsequent letdown from all the tedious dissecting of hidden meanings, possible symbolism, and overly-detailed structure. Not to mention vocabulary lists, plot summaries, and character evaluations. It felt like the book and its characters were no longer alive in my mind; they had become specimens under a microscope. It’s hard to form a relation with a specimen.
Charlotte Mason was an advocate of removing the middle man. She encouraged her teachers to introduce great minds—authors, artists, and composer—to her students and then get out of the way. So it makes sense that the methods she used for literature were simply reading and narrating.
Read Living Books
Choose a well-written living book—one that makes the story come alive; one that feeds the mind with good, loving, and noble ideas; one that touches the emotions and fires the imagination; one that has withstood the test of time—and read it. Enjoy it. Live in it. Don’t inhale it as fast as you can; take your time and savor it.
We have always had a family read-aloud book going since my children were small. I chose classic children’s literature to begin with and moved on from there to harder classic literature books. One chapter a day most days; some days less. The time of day that we read has changed as children have grown and schedules have changed. But the shared experience has remained, and I wouldn’t replace it for the world.
With so many good books available and limited time for family read-alouds, I also assign some literature books to the older students to read on their own.
If you would like some suggestions of titles for all the ages, check out the Literature section of our free SCM Curriculum Guide.
When my older children are assigned to read a literature book independently, I ask them for a narration. And lest you fear that they will never know how to do any kind of analysis on a literary classic, let me explain that you can encourage deeper thinking and evaluation by how you word narration questions. Make sure you keep the questions open-ended, but feel free to ask them to explain any comparisons between this book’s main character and another one they have read, or ask them to contrast the plot in this book with another one. In other words, don’t shy away from discussion, but give them the benefit of the doubt that they are gleaning much on their own and don’t need or want you to dissect things for them.
For the books that we read aloud as a family, I do not require a narration. I want us to simply enjoy those classics together, to share the experience, to build memories, and to store up common ideas that knit our hearts together. These books become lifelong friends, and we are all the richer for having read them.