So, having determined that it's important to choose good books, the next task is to figure out how to identify them. There's a lot of names for the good books. Sometimes they're simply called literature. Sometimes these books called living books. Colleen Manning describes living books as "whole books, firsthand sources, classics, books that display imagination, originality, and the 'human touch.'" Charlotte Mason describes this kind of books this way:
For the children? They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told. Let Blake's 'Songs of Innocence' represent their standard in poetry; De Foe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature––that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life.
-Charlotte Mason, 2:263
Whatever we call this sort of reading material (though these standards really apply to all the media we consume), we're looking for material that is ennobling, that develops style and taste, that encourages the reader to aspire to become something more than he is. Character is the true aim of education, and we need to choose books that lead us to be more than we are at present.
As with companions so with books. We may choose those which will make us better, more intelligent, more appreciative of the good and the beautiful in the world, or we may choose the trashy, the vulgar, the obscene, which will make us feel as though we’ve been ‘wallowing in the mire.
-David O. McKay, quoted in Our Refined Heavenly Home
This is not to say that every book needs to be a big, heavy, difficult book. It's important to balance work and wholesome recreation in life, and this is true in our reading as well. It's ok to read simple, easy books, too.
A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader. … The master must have it in him to distinguish between twaddle and simplicity, and between vivacity and life.
-Charlotte Mason, quoted in Myth: Twaddle and light reading are the same thing
But what is "twaddle"? Before I started talking to homeschooling moms who study Charlotte Mason's methods, I'd never heard the word. It quickly became clear that twaddle is a pejorative, and these books are of inferior quality, and ought to be avoided. The word twaddle means "foolish speech or nonsense; talk or write in a trivial or foolish way." But it's used in a somewhat broader sense in Charlotte Mason circles: it also means works that are poorly written, or that talk down to the reader. It's fluff, like cotton candy: it looks inviting, but there's nothing to it. Books that are dumbed down, full of diluted knowledge -- and that includes altogether too many text books, which are frequently poorly written and engaging. Brandy Vincel has a great discussion of what twaddle is on her blog, and she says this:
Light reading might call for a minimum of mental effort, but it still requires something of the reader. Twaddle leaves the mind stupefied and in need of recovery. To use a dietary analogy, light reading is a bowl of fruit. It has a necessary place within a balanced diet, nourishing the body when used in moderation. Twaddle is more like a box of Junior mints. The effects last beyond immediate gratification, and require time to efficiently work out of your system. They might taste grand, but when the pleasure is past you ache a bit, your moods are not quite under your control and your teeth hurt. Your mind might be capable of withstanding the effects of twaddle, but twaddle is never good for it.
-Brandy Vencel, Myth: Twaddle and light reading are the same thing
I really like the comparison I've seen to moving towards whole foods. As we've done that, we've done much better with adding more whole foods, more vegetables, and less chemicals when I've done it gradually. The times I've tried to make the switch, cold turkey, it falls apart quickly - and we often have a period of lost ground when stress hits and I fall back to the easiest of the familiar. The best, most lasting of our dietary changes begin with browsing Pinterest, looking for ingredient-specific, delicious recipes. And I add those in, one or two at a time, and they start to replace the old recipes.
But where do you find this kind of books? I have a couple of resources that I love to look at first when I'm looking at what to read. One of them is the Ambelside Online curriculum. In addition to the great materials they recommend for the actual school books for each year, each year also has a lengthy list of suggestions for "free reads". The more that I look at these lists (Hero is using the Year 4 list this year), the more that I appreciate the quality of the books they have selected.
The 1000 Good Books list is another fantastic resource for high quality literature. Created by a group of homeschool moms, it's broken down by age level, starting with picture books and going through many of the great classic titles, including The Scarlet Letter, Pride and Prejudice, Up From Slavery, and a host of others.We have been using this list for years, and I have yet to read one of their books that wasn't excellent.
All this week, I'm going to be posting about books. Stop by again to read about:
- Good Books Matter
- Literature and Twaddle (this post)
- Supporting New Readers
- Second Language Literacy
- A Feast of Ideas
- Feeding the Teacher, Too
The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic to see what other Crew members are writing about.