Guest Post: What Are You Reading?

17 November 2012

It's summer 2007, I've just finished sixth grade. Mama announces that we're switching curriculum from our usual hodge-podge of textbooks to a more Charlotte Mason-like approach, with most of our books and schedules coming from AmblesideOnline.

That may not sound like much, but it meant a transition for all of us. A transition in the material we were reading. Before the Big Switch, the most intellectually challenging I'd read was probably The Chronicles of Narnia. My favorite book series was The Boxcar Children. I was familiar with classics, but mostly had them read aloud to me or listened to them on CD. I wasn't using much brain power. But I did love to read. I always have.

Ambleside has children reading classic, "living" books starting from their first day of school. Poetry, old British and American authors, history, all of it. And each year there's a different reading list - no book is repeated, and all are considered "living books". It was with great sadness I heard that The Boxcar Children isn't really considered a living book. In fact, Charlotte Mason has a word for those kind of books: "twoddle". So if you jump in at seventh grade, you have six years of catch up to do.

Mama printed up a list of about sixty books I should read before I started seventh grade, and off I went. My entire summer was spent curled up on the couch, opening up a whole new world, falling in love with authors such as Edith Nesbit, Wilson Rawls, Lousia May Alcott, Jules Verne, and Booth Tarkington. Books I'd never heard of such as Rifles for Watie, Five Children and It, Penrod, Mysterious Island, Number the Stars, and Goodbye Mr. Chips that were on lists for Year 5 and Year 6 became new favorites. I was on a roll, checking off books right and left.

And then Mama said, "You need to read a harder book. You've been transitioning, but now it's time to get really deep."

And she gave me Oliver Twist.

I'm not a big fan of Dickens. I mean, he's an incredible writer with an interesting perspective on the world, but he's not my favorite. And it might be a safe bet that this feeling originated with that summer reading of Oliver Twist. I was reading some of the other books on the list in a day or two, never more than a week for any one book...but the Dickens classic took me four weeks. There were tears involved, but not for Oliver's difficult circumstances, nor for the pain of London's poor. There was anger involved, but not towards Bill for murdering Nancy (my favorite character). No, I'm afraid I missed out on a lot of Oliver in my desperate, flailing attempts to just *read* it. Oliver, Dodger, Fagin, and Nancy is a far cry from Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny.

And that was just the beginning really. Because of my October birthday, I'm just weeks behind the grade cut-off in our state. So many of my friends were a grade ahead, but just a month or two older. I really wanted to "catch up" (whatever that means in homeschooling). Also, when we switched to Ambleside, it meant I was going to have to repeat the historical time period from the previous school year so I'd get on track with new curriculum. I really didn't want to do that.

So I begged. And pleaded. And moaned. And groveled. And finally Mama agreed to let me do seventh and eighth grade in the same year. I'm glad she believed in me. It was the roughest school year I've ever had.

I was twelve (almost thirteen) years old, reading books of a completely different caliber than anything I'd read previously, and still working on the mile-long book list, and doing history that was just a little above my head - and double of everything else. That was the year of History of English Literature, How to Read a Book, Story of Painting, Ourselves (by Charlotte Mason herself) and other titles that still to this day bring memories of long hours at my desk, struggling over sentence structures and vocabulary I'd never encountered in regular "twoddle" reading before. There were some exciting books that year - books I still return to, and smile when I see my younger sisters reading them for the first time, such as The Brendan Voyage, Captains Courageous, Watership Down, The Case for Christ, The Holy War, A Man for All Seasons, Galileo's Daughter and my absolute all-time favorite historical mystery The Daughter of Time. 

But the real trial came mid-way through the year, when history got tough. I was reading Oliver Cromwell and A Coffin for King Charles - two books that are hard to read enough to read without being violent and sad and emotional to boot. I cried and sorrowed my way through A Man For All Seasons and will forever be a loyal fan of Thomas More. And after wrestling with Coffin, Mama finally started reading it with me and I started getting the gist of the story - and found myself changing from a roundhead (Cromwell follower) to a sympathetic royalist. And that's when that very tough year began to look up. And then Charles I got beheaded and I was done with history. *wry grin*

You may be wondering where I'm going with all this. And here's your answer. 

Many of you read my blog, Scraps. If you do, you know I'm a voracious reader. I love words. I love stories and characters and plots, and I've always been that way. I love classics, and living books that make you think and wrack your brain and work hard to get your answers. But I wasn't always that way. If you've never read a hard book before, it's never too late. I was twelve when the golden gates of masters opened to me - but it doesn't matter how old you are. Start now! Any of the titles or authors I mentioned in first few paragraphs, or go for something classic like Little Women or Johnny Tremain. And don't stop when it gets hard. Start reading it aloud, ask someone to join you and discuss it. Don't quit. You'll never regret it.

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.  
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hi! I'm Jo March from Scraps, visiting my lovely friend Elizabeth. It's an honor to be here and share a bit of my heart and passion with you all. Aside from reading and blogging, other interests of mine include playing piano, singing and acting in musical theater, being active in my church, hanging out with my family, competitive swimming, hiking, and sewing - a little of everything. Romans 12:2 is my favorite verse, reminding me to live "in, but not of" the world. To God be the Glory!

"I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! ... When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library." — Jane Austen

4 epistles:

  1. Sounds like we have some tastes in common—you mention a bunch of my favorite titles and authors in there (and a few I've been planning to read)!

    I don't remember making too big a transition from easy to advanced fiction, probably because I always just read whatever I could get my hands on! I read my first Dickens when I was too young to fully comprehend what it was all about (on eventual re-reads I kept having "So that's what it meant!" moments). But I do vividly remember the year we switched from a more textbook-centered to a literature-based curriculum. I was studying the American Civil War just then, and I think I learned more history that year than I'd learned in all the previous years put together!

  2. Love the post Jo! :) I totally love reading as well and even though I do still love the more "twoddly" childrens' book I grew up on, classics have become treasured possessions of mine. ;) And you ought to try Oliver again.....;) It's actually quite good and I'm sure you'd enjoy it now that you've had time to "transition".

  3. Aha! So that's how you ended up graduating a year ahead of me! *still just a teensy bit jeaous*

    I'm with you on Oliver. There are a couple of Dickens books that I do return to fairly often (David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities), but I really don't have a very high opinion of Oliver.

    Anyway. Great post. Classics have so much to offer, and I think that a lot of people are intimidated by them and never actually appreciate the depth that they have, because they are difficult to adjust to if you're used to "twoddle." :)Cheers to you for sticking to it!

  4. My transition was voluntary, but I see now that you've read an even more extensive list than I! :)


"Gracious words are like a honeycomb; sweetness to the soul and health to the body." —Proverbs 16:24

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