8 Habits of Every Great Reader

Circe Institute is a great place to look for educational ideas and inspiration. It is generally held in high regard by Classical homeschoolers but I think it’s a great resource for anyone interested in learning and education no matter what venue you choose for the education of your children. Here are some excerpts taken from this post at Circe Institute.

From David Hicks, author of Norms and Nobility:

“Habit” is the key word. There are some things a man should do every day: pray, repent, eat, sleep, hug his children and kiss his wife and tell them he loves them, work with his mind and back, and read. My typical day begins, as did my father’s, with a pot of coffee, the day’s Prologue and Lexionary readings. If there are no chores to perform on the farm or ranch (more likely in winter than in summer), I spend the afternoon in my library reading. At night, I take a book to bed. I cannot fall asleep without reading, and the test of the book is how late into the night it keeps me awake. I’m a slow reader, without apology, and one who looks up frequently from the page.

From Adam Andrews, Director of the Center for Lit:

Since I’m not a very good reader myself, this one is easy: good readers don’t read like me. I tend to see a book as a reading assignment that will be finished when I reach the last page. My reading life tends to look like a series of discrete accomplishments, or worse, a list of To-Do’s. As a result, I look at each book as a drop in the bucket compared to all the others I still need to read. There’s no finishing this task, so a task-oriented reader is always in the process of failing. This makes it almost impossible to start a new book when I have completed one. Who wants to be reminded that he will never finish, no matter how long he works?

The good readers that I know have a different view. Books are not assignments for them, and finishing is never their primary goal. They read for the pleasure, stimulation, and comfort of reading, and since you get these things throughout the reading process, not just at the end, they always succeed. They rarely count the books they have completed, or mark their progress in any systematic way. They take notes so they can remember the experience, but this activity is secondary to the experience itself. And most importantly, they tend to start new books right away, since each one is a new opportunity for pleasure, stimulation, and comfort.

I wish I were a reader like that. I would certainly read more, and be the better for it.

Using Mr. Andrews’ metric, I would qualify as a very good reader. I rarely know how many books I’ve read, or even how many I am reading at a given moment. And I always have a notebook with me to jot down page number, reference, or some thought that jumped out at me. Even in a children’s book, such as I am currently doing with Peter Pan.

I find reading goals alluring. However, I always lose count while never quite sure when I lost count.  These things make me feel as if I am a very bad reader.

From Matt Bianco, Head Mentor in the Circe Apprenticeship:

A great number of things are the marks of a good reader, but chief among those—and often the most overlooked—is the willingness to re-read books. A good reader is not the person who can read through books the fastest. A good reader is not the one who can read many books simultaneously. A good reader is not the one who can see the “deepest” stuff or tell you the plot line. A good reader is one who knows that in order to read well, he or she must read the book again. And again. And maybe again. Perhaps my point would be made clearer by allowing CS Lewis to say it in his words: “An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only… We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties. Till then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness.”

I like this. Sometimes I’m good at, other times not so much, but I am more than willing to re-read a book to get its gist if I think I missed it the first time.

Currently, I am reading three books. This is not my ideal strategy, but because our two youngest kids have books they are reading for their classes, I am reading each of those, and am also reading a book which showcases one man’s take on how we should approach Scripture. I am almost finished with two of the three books, so expect a review of both of those over the next week.

At this juncture, I consider great reading/writing in three ways: Am I being challenged, learning things, or stretched in positive ways? Is it enjoyable? Does the author express its ideas- regardless of whether I agree- in a coherent and thoughtful manner?

What do you consider the marks of effective reading?





Gender Inequality at the Local Bookstore.

I was recently in Barnes and Noble to pick up a paperback copy of the book our 11-year-old needs for her literature class this upcoming semester. As I was looking for the title another book, on the subject of black women in American history, caught my attention. I was less than impressed with the some on list of names presented as worthy of emulation and consideration, but as I put it back on the shelf, the sign above the books caught my attention:


As I turned around to leave, I ran across another table of books. Included on those shelves was this title:


And a second volume:


Above another shelf of books was this sign:


By this point I was thorougly ntrigued and totally distracted from the purpose of my original foray into the young people’s book section. I spent the next 15 minutes carefully combing the children’s and young adult book section looking for something, anything that would indicate that Barnes and Noble had considered that there may be a market for books that encourage boys or manhood in any way. Here’s what I found:

blank space

As a mother of five daughters, one might assume it pleases me to see such effort being poured into making our daughters feel good about themselves. One would be mistaken.

On the contrary, I see every reason to be concerned about a culture that does nothing to promote positive, authentic masculinity and male leadership in its boys while encouraging masculinity and male leadership in its girls.

The Highest Education

I’m currently preparing to teach a relatively low-key, six-week course of short stories and readings to middle schoolers. To that end, I was perusing my collection of classic short stories.

As I searched my Kindle library, I noticed that I had highlighted large portions of a particular chapter in Booker T. Washington’s Character Building. The chapter is titled The Highest Education, and as I re-read the highlighted sections, I thought they were worth sharing here.

He starts by indicating how education is most commonly viewed:

We are very apt to get the idea that education means the memorizing of a number of dates, of being able to state when a certain battle took place, of being able to recall with accuracy this event or that event. We are likely to get the impression that education consists in being able to commit to memory a certain number of rules in grammar, a certain number of rules in arithmetic, and in being able to locate correctly on the earth’s surface this mountain or that river, and to name this lake and that gulf.

Now I do not mean to disparage the value of this kind of training, because among the things that education should do for us is to give us strong, orderly and well developed minds. I do not wish to have you get the idea that I undervalue or overlook the strengthening of the mind. If there is one person more than another who is to be pitied, it is the individual who is all heart and no head. You will see numbers of persons going through the world whose hearts are full of good things – running over with the wish to do something to make somebody better, or the desire to make somebody happier – but they have made the sad mistake of being absolutely without development of mind to go with this willingness of heart. We want development of mind and we want strengthening of the mind.

He continues by making clear why the above is important but incomplete:

But, after all, this kind of thing is not the end of education. What, then, do we mean by education? I would say that education is meant to give us an idea of truth. Whatever we get out of text books, whatever we get out of industry, whatever we get here and there from any sources, if we do not get the idea of truth at the end, we do not get education. I do not care how much you get out of history, or geography, or algebra, or literature, I do not care how much you have got out of all your text books:-unless you have got truth, you have failed in your purpose to be educated. Unless you get the idea of truth so pure that you cannot be false in anything, your education is a failure.

These were originally lectures which were later compiled into book form. Washinton ended this session by impressing upon his students that their aim should be finding the true and the beautiful -ultimately from God- in their educational pursuits:

Education is meant to make us appreciate the things that are beau-tiful in nature. A person is never educated until he is able to go into the swamps and woods and see something that is beautiful in the trees and shrubs there, is able to see something beautiful in the grass and flowers that surround him, is, in short, able to see something beautiful, elevat-ing and inspiring in everything that God has created. Not only should education enable us to see the beauty in these objects which God has put about us, but it is meant to influence us to bring beautiful objects about us. I hope that each one of you, after you graduate, will surround himself at home with what is beautiful, inspiring and elevating. I do not believe that any person is educated so long as he lives in a dirty, miserable shanty. I do not believe that any person is educated until he has learned to want to live in a clean room made attractive with pictures and books, and with such surroundings as are elevating.

In a word, I wish to say again, that education is meant to give us that culture, that refinement, that taste which will make us deal truthfully with our fellow men, and will make us see what is beautiful, elevating and inspiring in what God has created. I want you to bear in mind that your text books, with all their contents, are not an end, but a means to an end, a means to help us get the highest, the best, the purest and the most beautiful things out of life.

The entire chapter can be read here.

The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare. Analysis and synopsis here.

I only read this play -reportedly Shakespeare’s shortest- because our middle school aged daughter was recently a part of its production as a part of the classical education program our children are enrolled in. I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare. However, I am a huge fan of comedy and this play is really quite funny.

The language, as anyone who read Shakespeare in high school can attest, is cumbersome and often frustrating. I know for certain that there were parts of the dialogue that our daughter didn’t quite grasp and for that I am thankful. Our drama instructors, a wonderful couple who love the Lord dearly, are former New York theater people who stayed true to the spirit of Shakespeare’s original play and Shakespeare had a ribald sense of humor.

My  kid is down there in one of these outstanding costumes that a very talented mother put together from blankets, duvet covers, and other miscellaneous scraps of fabric.

comedy of errors

Book life, homeschooling, and a request.

I still have a few book reviews in draft, which are being slowed down significantly as we adjust to our new homeschool workload. Sometime over the next two weeks, I expect to post reviews of the following books:

  • Captains Courageous
  • Hillbilly Elegy
  • A Bear Called Paddington
  • Your Man is Wonderful

In the meantime, we are experiencing quite the challenge juggling the demands of homeschooling, the homework and readings associated with the supplemental classes our kids are taking, and regular homemaking necessities.

The positives are that our kids are getting top notch instruction from some amazingly gifted women (and a few men) in subjects I could never have tackled with the same depth of knowledge and enthusiasm. Latin, literature, drama, speech, visual arts, and art appreciation taught by teachers with passion for the subjects, years of studying them, and a wholly Christian worldview are pretty priceless. We are thankful to have found such a great community to add to our homeschool repertoire and more parents to join us on the journey.

The challenge is that being out of the house two days a week means that we have to incorporate the reading and homework for those subjects, the instruction of the subjects I am solely responsible for (math and science primarily), meals laundry, and other daily duties into a workable schedule. This, five readers, is where you come in.

I am looking for a scheduling program -online or PDF- that I can use to organize our day, keep good records, and generally organize our new homeschool life. It doesn’t have to be free. I’m willing to pay for it so long as it is adaptable and works. Up until this point our days have been fluid and relaxed because we weren’t out as much with the exception of our much less demanding co-op. It’s a new day, and I need something new to tackle it with. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Today has actually been a pretty sane day. So much so that we made it to the library. Everyone in our house has different reading interests, and as I moved about the house this afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice the different stacks and what they revealed about the range of readers:


My stack.


lover of all things magical.
The eclectic reader.
foodie/aspiring culinary artist.
Too busy mapping northern Europe to check out books! Also busy reading Captains Courageous.

I’ve had to break out my long abandoned -but pretty effective- laundry schedule to keep that from being a huge pain. My slow cooker is also going to start getting quite the workout.

Basically, I’ve got to up my time management game since we decided to abandon the relaxed homeschooling approach.

What Your Doctor May NOT Tell You About Premenopause

doctor may not tell you

What Your Doctor May NOT Tell You About Premenopause: Balance your hormones and your life from thrity to fifty by John Lee, M.D. and Jesse Hanley, M.D. Originally published in 1999. 395 pages.

‘Kay, folks. I read this one almost two months ago, and told myself that I wasn’t going to review it until I had tested the suggestions a bit. Then I tested the suggestions, found a couple of them were not only healthy but genuinely helpful, and still waffled on reviewing it.

Sunday, I handed it to a friend of mine who I thought might be helped by it, and realized that I was avoiding reviewing it because…well, it’s another public declaration of my stage of life. But it’s a great book, and the health improvement suggestions are not only very efffective, they align with my ideals as well. So I’m getting over myself long enough to recommend this book. It’s that good, and I want to share this information with other women.

If my hormones had started wigging out at 40, or I’d had time to process the gradual changes many women report experiencing starting at 35, I might have been better prepared for stuff. However, I was humming along like clockwork with nary the faintest hint of anything out of the ordinary for 45 years. Very recently, little things popped up here and there, and my desire to keep living my normal life in all respects sent me on a hunt for answers, and that hunt led me to this book.

People (ahem, like me) heard Suzanne Somers going on about not having life hindered by hormonal changes and laughed. If I met her today, I would offer her my apologies nd join her on a tour to tell every woman over 40 that you really don’t have to have your life, moods, and sex life turned upside down by the calendar. You can find what to do, how and why by reading this book.

One of the things I appreciated about it was that these are OB/Gyns who openly and defiantly advise women to ignore most of the conventional medical wisdom and toxic prescriptions offered by most gynecological professionals. A second thing I appreciated about them was that they had an entire chapter dedicated to the deadly and damaging nature of artificial birth control. They actually advocate the calendar method for those couples interested in child spacing.

They strongly discourage elective surgeries to handle issues caused by wild hormonal swings or conditions such as menorrhagia. They strongly discourage estrogen-like replacement alternatives as well, although they don’t spend much time on that since the book is written for women who are not yet menopausal. Perhaps in five years I’ll pick up the next book.

They go into great detail about how our hormones really work. For instance, that it’s not a decrease in estrogen but progestrone that is the culprit when pre-menopausal women first start to experience problems. That alone was very enlightening for me, as well as the less expensive, non drug, all natural, bioidentical hormonal supplements and replacements that work with a woman’s body rather than against it. In other words, unlike progestins or  ERT, natural hormones won’t make you gain weight or increase your risk of developing cancer later in life.

After making several of the adjustments outlined in the book, and probably because I got started working the problem at the first sign of trouble, I have seen a lot of success with every bit of the advice I tried. From greater ease of weight management, to an immediate return to regular cycles, to better sleep. It was actually quite remarkable, until I stopped to consider that the natural way, using the stuff that God created, should yield the best results.

I suppose my grade for this book is obvious, but for the sake of consistency, I’ll offer one.

Grade: A

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals.

sitting kills book

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. By Dr. Joan Vernikos. Published in 2011. 150 pages.

This is another one of those books I stumbled onto while perusing the shelves of the local library. Just as its title implies, this is a little book which explores the science of how gravity, and our use of it benefits our body in terms of health and longevity. I found it fascinating because it the findings of the studies Dr. Vernikos unveiled were an education of gravity that I was pleased to get a refresher on.

It’s not a secret to anyone that sedentary living is damaging to our health and vitality. This is as common to us as our knowledge that the sky is blue. What this life scientist from NASA found however, is that the commonly proposed solutions -30 minutes or more of exercise, 3-5 times per week- is ultimately not the long term answer to the dilemma.

It’s not that time in the gym is without benefit. It certainly is and even improves health metrics on a few levels, including weight and obesity related disorders. It just isn’t the magic elixir we’ve all been lead to believe when it comes to long term health and vigor. To achiever that, in addition to good genetic fortune, requires a life that is active more often than not, and takes advantage of the inherent benefits of gravitational pull on those who stand and move more than they sit and stew.

The gist of the book is that if you spend most of your time standing and acting with the effects of gravity in mind, you increase your chances of being able to do things like stand up from a chair on your own at 90, if you live to see 90, of course.

The interesting thing about this book is that a lot of the tips and tricks the author recommends -as a result of the studies they’ve done at NASA on the effects of gravity on the human body- are things that are easy to do but that many of us don’t do. I was shocked to realize how often, for example, I unconsciously use a small amount of leverage such as my hands to get up and down from a seated position until I started making a point of doing as the book suggests, and getting up and down without using any leverage at all.

A lot of the research overview in this book (because I don’t expect many of my 10 readers to actually read this) can be found here:

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals (pdf)

We have been fortunate in our life to have been surrounded by plenty of lifelong friends and family members who have lifestyles and mobility that defy what our culture has been conditioned to expect when we reach a certain age. As I read this I was almost immediately reminded of the couple who run the ministry to the homeless and needy at our church. Our entire family works alongside them so we get to spend a lot of time with them.

The wife is 61, the husband 71. They are on the move -physically- almost constantly. They can’t sit still if there is something to be done, even in their own house. Their energy level is something the average 40 year old American would envy. They are textbook examples of what Dr. Vernikos describes in this book. I am standing as I type this review, which is actually not unusual for me, but I am certainly inspired to make better use of the inherent work our bodies experience from gravity simply because we’re standing up.

Lots of science in this book. I liked it, but it’s not something everyone will want to sift through. Luckily the second half is an action plan any person can skip right to and begin to make use of.

Not a literary masterpiece, but that isn’t the point. I learned a lot.

Grade: B