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?





Reading through a biased lens.

It occurs to me, although I certainly intuitively knew it before today, that when we approach any piece of literature, our experience and interpretation of that literary work is highly influenced by our pasts, politics, and personal psychology.

However, when someone else’s experience of a piece of literature is so far removed from mine that I am incredulous that we even read the same piece, it gets my attention. This happened to me quite recently and although my initial conclusions about the story in question didn’t change, I appreciated the opportunity to hear another point of view.

Fortunately, the story I am referring to can be read in as little as 20 minutes, so if any one reading here is interested in the context for what follows, you can click over and read Guy de Maupassant’s The Necklace.

As I read this story, what happens in my mind is what often happens. In response to the obvious vain ingratitude by the female protagonist, various proverbs sprang to mind: “Pride goeth before a fall”. “A wise woman builds her house but a foolish one tears it down with her hands”. From the story’s opening line, I saw a protagonist who set herself and her husband up for misery of some sort or other down the road.

In contrast, I listened to a discussion where other well-read, educated readers found the protagonist extremely sympathetic, and her husband overly indulgent. To be fair, the discussion certainly included discussion of the importance of contentment, but overall my interpretation of this story was distinctly in the minority.

Rather than rage on with my particular views which were irrelevant to the story, I took a moment to examine which of my inherent biases made it hard for me to see this character in a sympathetic light. One such bias is based on the fact that I spent my formative years being raised by one parent, my father. Because of that, I am instinctively more sympathetic to the sacrifices and hard work of men who provide for their families. It has helped me tremendously in my “career” as a wife, but all biases have a potential to wall us off from other perspectives that are worthy of consideration.

I am happy to stand back enough to acknowledge this about myself, although I wonder how many of us are aware that our understanding of the world, history, and literature is largely hindered by the fact that our educational institutions treat all topics as if the world sprang into existence in 1920.


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:



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


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?