One great thing my parents did was instill a love of reading in all four of us. When I think about it, that is quite a feat. Even with my passion, example, and encouragement, I did not do as well. Yes, our child could independently read children’s books at age four and read way above grade level. When growing up, chapter books and stories were a part of our nightly routine. Yet, our adult child does not sit down with a good book and get lost in another world.
I remember that I was pretty picky on what held my interest. I loved the Nancy Drew series, but I did not enjoy the Bobbsey Twins books. My favorites were the Newberry Award books Follow My Leader, Johnny Tremain, and Charlotte’s Web. As I grew up, I enjoyed many of the books read in English classes, as well as Tolkein’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The classics intrigued me, and I remember getting goosebumps with the beautifully written dialogue in Jane Eyre when she realized he was in love with her.
One of the things that I learned early on was that if I wanted to get out of doing my chores, or if I did not want to be bothered by a sibling, all I had to do was pick up a book, curl up in a corner of the couch, and start reading. If anyone tried to bother me, my mom would say, "Don't disturb her, she's reading," and they would leave. Wow! Reading was powerful! My brothers also mastered this skill, and one will be sitting in a corner with a book at a party. Yes, reading became my avoidant behavior, and because of this, I learned to love reading and looked forward to leaving this world to dive headfirst into another.
In college, I found that the best conversation topics were the ones about the books we were reading. Soon we'd exchange books, and friendships flourished. In my early years of teaching, I was in a carpool, and one of the women was an avid reader. We exchanged books and never were at a loss for what to discuss. All through my adulthood, I have been a part of various book clubs, exchanges, and study groups, all of which have enriched my life and mind. That is one of the ways I would make meaning out of this world and grow to establish a value system based on beliefs found in books. An added bonus was I made lasting friendships. As I reflect on this, I had so many wonderful relationships that were build on strong foundation of book conversations.
As I taught middle school language arts and then became a parent, in addition to the classics, I grew to love the books written for children and young adults. I felt that many had wonderful themes, life lessons, and truths to ponder. When I retired, I found myself going back to the books I loved. I read all of the Mary Poppins books (so different from the movie), re-read Jane Eyre, and bounced into biographies. I remember recommending The Giver to my book club for our monthly read, and it evoked tremendous discussions.
There are so many new books, too. However, when I went back into the classroom, I realized that many of my old tried and true favorites have been replaced. The stories that replaced them are all good, and it’s impossible to highlight all the good books from way back. Yet, I do not want to see these get lost, for they all have something wonderful to offer. After all, Sophocles wrote over 2500 years ago, and his plays still have much to offer. When we read from different times, we also see how our language has evolved (or in some cases devolved...); I remember struggling with the Canterbury Tales the first time I literally had to study them in college. That was when I learned to write the meanings above the words, then read it through. Before long, even Chaucer's English was decipherable, and I was thrilled that I could read it and understand it. Reading challenging works presented a challenge and sense of personal accomplishment when mastered.
In addition to reading contemporary works, I think it is important to read books from all decades to truly understand the way things were, which helps us make sense of the way things are. We learn that history repeats itself; people persist with the same character flaws, and some things that were acceptable in one period of time is frowned upon in another. We condemn or not, yet we must understand that we live in a world filled with complex beings. The ancient Greeks wrote plays and stories highlighting character flaws, weaknesses, and triumphs, many of which are the same today as 4000 years ago. The Bible with its old and new testaments show people were just as mixed up then as now. They had saints, sinners, brilliant leaders, and nasty leaders. Remember that the leaders in Jesus's time were not nice people.
It is important that we do not squash the knowledge of the prejudices or practices of old; nor does it mean that we accept them. I still believe that the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder have a lot to teach us about families and the trials and tribulations of our nations settlements; they also show the thoughts, beliefs, and practices of that time, positive and negative. Yes, there is off language in To Kill a Mockingbird (one of my favorites), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and other delicious well-told stories. People are so quick to judge others for their language and beliefs, and then poo-poo the books, yet conflicts are the same today. If you don't believe me, take a peek at the polarized politics, radical religions, and hate groups. We can't ignore them; they have always been there, and an author must be true to the time period. Sorry if the truth hurts, but turning all into euphemisms won't change the truth. Sugar coating does not help. The hard part is trying to create a world where these don't have to exist, or if they do, there's a corrective redemption (just read some of Flannery O'Connor).
I hate to say it, but one thing I have realized is that the human race has not grown or changed it’s character. No, my friends, we are the same, still striving to make sense out of our lives and ensure we have a purpose, whatever that may be. Hubris and greed still haunt and taunt, and truth remains elusive. We all try to make a better world, and in the process, sometimes it becomes a bitter world. Our books reflect all, and reading is one of the finest pastimes the human race has enjoyed since the first word was written.
History and special classics offer truths that can save our world and our people. We are one race on one planet. I think we need to collectively become a race that decides to work together to improve our world for ourselves and others. Make it one that our children want to join and remain because there is a spirit of joy, purity, and inner peace. We take care of our earth and each other. It's that easy. Those are the books I write, and those are the ones that I will be reviewing.
With that being said, I have decided to share mini-reviews of what I’m reading with the hope that you may find something that you want to read or find a suggestion for your children to read, either independently or with you. Won’t you join me on my journey into beautiful books? It’s easy, just click on the “Loving Literature” tab on the menu bar. You will find news on my books and my new mini-reviews. There is also a place for you to leave your reviews, as well.
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