Counter-Intuitive

The whole idea behind reading The life changing magic of tidying up, then purging our book collection by roughly 80 books, was to cut down on the number of things in the house, including books. In fact, that was the thought behind my trip to our local Goodwill store today: to donate items.

Against my better judgement, after dropping off our delivery, I parked the car and along with our two youngest children ventured inside, and straight back to our local store’s rather large book section. Alas, I returned home with more stuff:

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Because the apples don’t fall far from the tree, the kids found something that caught their eyes as well:

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Grand total for the 6 books?  $3.77.

Old habits truly do die hard…

Where Do You Buy Your Books?

Today’s off the cuff stream of consciousness post is inspired by The Quintessential Editor’s rant against Barnes and Noble.

My last post notwithstanding, this blog is first and foremost dedicated to the joys of reading. The aforementioned link, coupled with the fact that my next book review will feature a book on the detrimental effects of technology on the quality of modern life, set my wheels to turning on the subject of not only what we read, but how we acquire the material we read.

Unlike the QE, I am not particularly offended by Barnes and Noble, but it is certainly not my first choice when I am looking for a book. I am extremely partial to the public library as a place to find books I seek and books to stumble upon and take home, without the commitment of wasting the money my Benevolent Dictator works so hard to provide. Books can be a heavy investment when you read as much as we do around here.

I have come to realize, since starting this blog has facilitated discussions with other bibliophiles in other parts of the country, that we are quite fortunate with regard to the number of branches and services our public library provides. It is at least worth the taxes we pay, my thoughts on the principle of property taxes not withstanding.  Not everyone is so blessed however, and a lot of people spend a small fortune on books because it is the most efficient way to get their hands on what they want when they want it.

I buy the occasional book as well, and when I do, I almost always buy it from a small independent book store. My first choice is a local used bookstore in my area which will graciously taken in titles from my home library which I no longer want, and generously offer me credit for those toward books in the store that I wish to buy. It’s a win win!

The atmosphere in a used bookstore is kind of exhilarating. I like not quite knowing exactly where something is, as it affords me the opportunity to discover hidden gems or even titles I forgot I wanted to read until I saw them there. There is always some attempt at categorization, even in the used bookstore, but it’s ragtag just enough to feel authentic. I can easily find myself spending an hour longer than the amount of time I budgeted to browse the shelves.

These days however, we are not limited to Barnes and Nobles, quaint independent bookstores, or even the local public library. I mentioned earlier the effect of technology on modern life and one of the most universal ways this is seen is in the way we read. Kindles, Nooks,  computers, and tablets have become the preferred way of reading for most today. You can load hundreds of books on one device, and take your reading with you wherever you go.

I own a Kindle, but I only use it to  read about 1/4 of all the books I read. I can even download titles from the library onto it, but I can’t seem to shake my desire to feel the paper in my hands, bookmark an actual page to return to later, and experience the sensation of turning the pages of a book. All of this randomness is actually leading up to a question for you all:

Where do you buy most of your books, and are you more likely to read electronically, or old school like me?

Literary Links and Things

The past week has given me opportunity to delve a bit deeper into the writing side of reading. Put another way, as much as I enjoy the unfolding of plots, characters and ideas that reading provide, I am equally interested in the process of putting together ideas and characters in a way that holds the interest of the reader.

My benevolent dictator is, rather uncharacteristically I might add, actively encouraging me to dig beneath the surface and cultivate my natural talent for putting thoughts to paper. It is equal parts humbling, touching, and laughable to me, his belief that I might actually have what it takes to receive remuneration for my efforts. And so…I have spent less time reading politics and issues of late and more reading about what it takes to be more than a hobby writer.

In addition, and this is why homeschooling in community is a great thing, I was blessed with a writing curriculum for our upcoming school year which can only serve as a reminder to me along the way of details about the mechanics of writing I most certainly have forgotten. So, to the links and things:

I didn’t discover The Quintessential Editor. He in fact, stumbled into my path as a new follower of this blog. After reading a few pieces of his, I am fascinated by his writing journey; so much that I am happy to send the few bibliophiles who follow me over to his little spot on the web.

A friend recently shared this link to a 2014 article written by Anthony Esolen. Are there any homeschoolers who haven’t read his book?

Booky McBookerson left this one here when I first started this little blog, but for those who missed it the first time, it is worth repeating: The Long Winter and Reading’s Reward.

John Hope Writing is a great site. He not only features his work, but includes educational resources for instilling a love of reading into children. You’ll hear more from me about this author’s work. Not only is a he a  good writer, but it was he who encouraged my benevolent dictator to encourage me to get serious and write.

Please, feel free to include any additional links worth a look in the comments.

Used Bookstores Rock (Oh, and Merry Christmas)!

A couple of weeks ago we cleared off the nightmare that was our bookshelf. Because I am constantly reading and always running into books that I feel are worth a look, it is not possible to keep thousands of books. We just don’t have the space in any room for a massive bookshelf. I suppose we do, but I’m a Spartan decorator. I need a certain amount of free space or the clutter feels unclean. I digress.

I said all that as a run up to my love of used bookstores, in particular those where you can take all the books you no longer want and get credit towards books that you do want. I do such a run at least twice a year to keep down book clutter. I savored the atmosphere this afternoon after my stocking stuffer run. In addition, I popped into Goodwill where I picked up a few more books. I thought I’d share my haul:

  1. The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis
  2.  13 Women You Should Never Marry (and how every man can recognize them), by Mary Colbert
  3. The Well Trained Mind, by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer
  4. Homeschool Your Child For Free by Laura Maery Gold and Joan Zielinski
  5. The Complete Book of Sewing (I got this because I am still mastering pattern markings and this book has a wonderful comprehensive layout in one chapter)
  6. Instructional Fair Grammar 3-4 (workbook of reproducibles)
  7. Write a Super Sentence grades 1-3 (another workbook of reproducibles)
  8. The Bell Curve, by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein- For .75, I figure I might as well see what all the fuss was about. It’s a big book, and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet (I suspect neither have the thousands of people who’ve offered commentary on it), but I did steal a glance at the afterword. There, I stumbled across this quote from Charles Murray:

“I do not know how else to explain the extraordinary discrepancy between what The Bell Curve actually says about race and what many commentators have said that the book says…”

This made me instantly even more curious. I’ll discuss it here after I take the time read it, which may not be until mid 2016, but I will read it.

It was not my intention to post anymore this year but I have no shopping left to do, no Christmas hosting duties this week, and the usual pre-New Year’s deep cleaning was done last month. This resulted in time to trade in the old books and hang out in the bookstore, which my kids (younger and not so younger) all love to do.

This, I am certain is the last post of the year 2015. Let’s end it with what Christmas is all about:

 

Merry Christmas!

The Difference Between Reading and Devouring a Book

I am currently reading a book that I first read 27 years ago as a high school assignment. This is without question, the most rewarding experience I’ve had since I committed several months ago to read a book a week. That’s saying a great deal.

It was in fact this new commitment and the near constant stream of thoughts it birthed which led to the authority in my life to direct me to resume writing, but about books instead of relationships or culture. People love to argue about relationships or culture he reasoned, but there will be very few in this era that even bother to read a book, let alone the books I read, and even less who care enough to read a housewife’s ramblings about said books. And so here I am, but I digress.

I am halfway through a book I was assigned to read my senior year of high school. It’s an acclaimed book, by a renowned author. It also happens that I have an intensely personal connection to the one of the central places where the book is set. The “rediscovery” of this particular author was emerging right around the time I graduated high school (1989), and this was what caused my AP English teacher to assign it.

I recall she thought that I, of all her students, should devour the book. She wondered what I thought of this and that and the other. I was not, at the time, mature enough to appreciate the historical significance of where I lived. I wasn’t particularly proud of it, and I didn’t much appreciate being forced to read about it. I’d been force fed history about my hometown from kindergarten, and I also knew a fair deal about this author who she was so excited was finally being acknowledged. I was bored.

Fast forward 27 years, and here I am, devouring this book. Seeing the broken and battered black Southern dialect at the end of reconstruction as beautiful as it was hard to read until I got 20 or so pages into it. I’m able to see the 125 year old churches that I actually sat in, walked passed, and sang in through entirely new eyes.

This is the difference between simple reading, and the ability to devour a book with equal parts contemplation and  wonder. It is what I want to pass on to my children, the legacy of being a devourer of books. To quote Booky McBookerson:

If you have books, kids will pick them up. If not, books will not likely be seen as of any import a lot of the time. I can’t imagine a house without books, and pretty well never consider a book purchase a waste of money.

If you’re reading here, I already know that books are a great part of your life. How are you passing that on to your kids?

Choosing Worthwhile Children’s Books

kids-readingIf you’ve been to the library or a bookstore recently, then you know that there are so many children’s books released each year that it is nigh impossible to sift through the twaddle to find something worthwhile. Of course, there is also the issue of your children perusing the shelves and pulling off any and everything that has colorful pictures they find interesting. So how do we decide and choose books for our kids that expand their minds rather than contract them?

As much as I’d like to pretend I haven’t checked out or bought books that can only be characterized as twaddle, I have. Sometimes to appease my kids, and other times because I failed to exercise due diligence when faced with an overwhelming number of choices. Over the past 2 or 3 years however, I have actually devised a mental checklist that guides me when I am choosing which books they will read and how much twaddle they will be allowed to read for their own amusement. What I have found is that a good plan does wonders when it comes to ensuring that my kids read lots of good books. So here’s my usual plan for choosing books, starting with picture books for younger children all the way up through middle school:

  • Start with classics: The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Curious George (earliest editions), Good Night Moon, Caps for Sale, Madeleine, Babar, Make Way for Ducklings or Blueberries for Sal, and other award winning books are almost always the best way to go when seeking out picture books for younger readers. Even though Peter Rabbit’s tale was fist introduced in 1902, it is as captivating to younger readers as it ever was. This is but one sign of a good book, but an important one. Good writing is timeless.
  • Explore specific authors: Every author represented in the list of classic picture books I listed above has at least one other equally excellent title, and most have several. When in doubt, I would search for books by Beatrix Potter, Margaret Wise Brown, H.A. Rey, Esphyr Slobodkina, Robert McCloskey, etc. This always led to other excellent books.
  • Check the Newberry and Caldecott award lists: This is a pretty good reference for lists of worthy books written before about 15 years ago. You can almost never go wrong. As post-modern literary standards and cultural mores have declined, I approach recent winners with a much more wary eye, but rarely have I chosen a book that was a winner even in recent years that wasn’t at least a half way decent book, and certainly not harmful.
  • Read the books yourself: As you start getting into longer, less illustrated books, there really is no way around reading through the books for yourself. You’ll note that on my Pinterest book board, there are almost as many children’s books as there are adult books. This is because our 4th grader is moving into a new stage of her reading journey and I have to read unfamiliar titles before she does. There are those books which are time tested and approved, such as Sarah, Plain and Tall, the earliest Nancy Drew mysteries, and several titles by Kate DiCamillo. Other books, such as The Whipping Boy which I reviewed in the preceding post, I needed to read because I had never heard of it until quite recently.

As our older children moved from middle school into high school, we gave them complete literary freedom of choice. Thankfully they had been exposed to enough good literature that in addition to The Hunger Games, The Divergent Trilogy, and Percy Jackson, they were equally as likely to read Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Well, that’s my strategy for choosing good books. Also, I’m always on the lookout for suggestions of lesser known but excellent books we might not have read.

picture credit