The Summer 2015 Mother Culture Reading List

You do remember Mother Culture, don’t you? This term, first appearing {so far as I know} as the title of a Parents’ Review article in the early 1890s, refers to how we keep our brains alive and our intellects growing while we have a bunch of little ones underfoot: three books always going — “a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel” — and a minimum of 30 minutes per day invested in them.

The Summer 2015 Mother Culture Reading List

Now, yes, there is also the idea of a Mother’s Education Course, and we’ll get to that soon, but MEC’s are not for moms with tiny babes in the house. Or, at least, they weren’t for me when I had tiny babes in the house.

So that’s it: thirty minutes a day. You grab the book you can handle, and you spend some time giving it your undivided attention. Summer is a great time to start this habit — or restart it, if it fell by the wayside as the school year went on. Nourishing the mind is a must for all mamas, but perhaps most especially for the homeschooling variety since we have a bunch of young, vibrant intellects sucking us dry depending upon us.

So here are some book ideas.


For the “Stiff” Stack

These books are made of tough stuff, and if you’re really sleep deprived, you’ll find you can only handle a few pages at a time. No matter. Miss Mason read classics ten minutes per day, and that paid off pretty well for her, I think.

Norms and NobilityLeisure: the Basis of CultureThe Abolition of ManPoetic KnowledgeNicomachean EthicsDesiring the KingdomThe Death of Christian CultureOrthodoxy


Or, if you want your “stiff” book to be on the literature side of things, what about some epic poetry?

The Divine ComedyParadise LostThe Faerie QueeneThe Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid


The Moderately Easy Stack

With these books, we’re still going to learn something, but it won’t be so hard that it’s impossible for the sleep-deprived mind to grasp. I like to use interesting popular non-fiction or memoirs for this category. The list I’m sharing today contains both books I’ve read as well as books on deck in my own Moderately Easy stack.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle10 Books That Screwed Up the WorldDumbing Us DownMornings on HorsebackThe Mission of MotherhoodDeath by LivingTending the Heart of VirtueBrain Maker


The Novel Stack

Because this is Mother Culture we’re talking about, we don’t want to read twaddle, not even here. But sometimes we get confused about twaddle. Twaddle and light reading are not the same thing. These books are chosen for good stories, wisdom, beauty, and pleasure. You’ll have to forgive me for including some of my favorite short stories. They aren’t exactly novels, but they serve a similar purpose, I think.

EmmaThe Space TrilogyIsland of the WorldThe Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyThe Complete Lord Peter Wimsey StoriesThe Innocence of Father BrownElla Minnow PeaThe Book Thief


Where’s Your Favorite Place to Read?

One thing I look forward to each summer is the two weeks of swimming lessons my children take. We do this in June and in the morning, which means it is usually quite mild out. I sit in the sun, and I read novels. It’s become my traditional way to transition to a summer mindset, and I’m quite looking forward to it! What about you?


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  1. says

    I know you crossed it out, but “sucking us dry” is exactly where I am right now!! Like I think I could only handle reading Nancy Drew today! LOL We have one more full week, plus this week and I then I can begin to think “Summer”.

  2. Tanya Stone says

    Just when I thought I couldn’t adore you more . . .you recommend Douglas Adams. LOL I read that series years ago, and remember laughing out loud (and also feeling embarrassed for laughing) at his description of the Babel Fish. I love the Lord Peter films and finally got my hands on some books, so I’m definitely going to add Sayers to my list. I also started “Orthodoxy” a few months ago, what a great time to dive back in! That, with Charlotte’s “Parents and Children”, and some super light twaddle (Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel is out lol), I have my summer set. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement!

    • Brandy Vencel says

      Note to self: Tanya REALLY likes Douglas Adams. 😉

      You summer reading sounds great! I actually haven’t read Adams since high school, and I’m hoping to revisit this summer. :)

      • Tanya Stone says

        I also have Margaret Allingham’s Albert Campion book “Look to the Lady” to finish. Yes, I love my British mysteries. 😀 Enjoy your revisit to the Galaxy!

  3. says

    Goodness. I really need to get on this. My reading has dwindled to almost nothing in recent years, with maybe only 20-25 books on an annual basis and almost entirely non-fiction “about” or “how to” books. It’s discouraging. I miss fiction the most; I’ve noticed, when listening to audiobooks during harvest season in the kitchen, that I feel absolutely NOURISHED by it. The feel of people-place-and-thing stick in my head so strongly, even years later. I keep going back to particular moments or scenery and continue to mull it over. My Big Three: Cold Mountain, Coriolanus, A Tale of Two Cities. So good. So, so good.

    I often feel like it is “too late” to start rebuilding Mother Culture, and yet my boys are only 9, 7, 4, and 2. Too late, pshaw. It is just a matter of building habits, right?? I can do it, I just need to plan and then follow through. I’m also working toward the idea of keeping a Commonplace book in addition to my Organizing Notebook, Schoolwork binder, and Daybook. I used to have so much more time for thoughtful thoughts – and now it feels like all I have room in my head for is planning, organization, re-organization, and contingency plans. I miss the contemplation. I think I need to start getting up at 5:00 AM instead of 6:00 AM.

    Anyway . . . thanks for the nudge.

    • Brandy Vencel says

      Not too late at all. When my oldest was nine was when I really got organized and deliberate about it, and the last four years of that have been well worth it, for sure!

  4. says

    Where’s my favorite place to read is not so much the question as *when* is my favorite time to read. And the answer is….when all is quiet in the house. Probably the best time to grab uninterrupted quiet time is at night after everyone has gone to bed. 😉

    I just finished reading Consider This not too long ago. Which would you recommend as a follow-up to that: Poetic Knowledge, Norms and Nobility, or Leisure: The Basis of Culture? I’m thinking about buying one of these soon. Maybe to read over the summer…or at least start reading it over the summer anyway. I have a stack of books to pre-read for my daughter’s 12th grade year this Fall. And two of the books she’ll be reading happen to be two you listed above: Paradise Lost and The Aeneid.

    • Brandy Vencel says

      I am tempted to say Norms and Nobility, Karen, but it sort of depends on which line of thought you want to pursue. If you want to travel more along the path of virtue as the ultimate goal of education, then N&N is the book for you. If you want to think more about the necessity of synthetic knowledge (even though he doesn’t use that phrase to describe it), you’ll want Poetic Knowledge instead.

      • says

        Okay, throwing another one out there for you. Have you read Beauty for Truth’s Sake by Stratford Caldecott? If so, what did you think of it? I have been wanting to buy a book on the classical liberal arts and this one looks like it might fit the bill. Or I’m open to suggestions on other books about the traditional classical liberal arts. :)

        • Brandy Vencel says

          I haven’t read it yet, either, but it is on my list! I’m saving that one as a reward. I get to buy it when I finish the other education books I already bought. 😉

          • says

            Ha! I guess I need to finish books I already have too. BUT, the books I need to finish are not educational theory books. Mostly history and literature. So that’s my excuse. LOL I finished Consider This so I can buy another book now. 😉 Actually, I finally did decide yesterday evening what book to buy. I bought For the Children’s Sake. It’s one I haven’t read yet. So that gives me more time to think about the other books. I’m leaning towards Beauty for Truth’s Sake right now or something like The Liberal Arts Tradition. :)

  5. says

    Abolition of Man – relieved you thought it was ‘stiff.’ I thought it was just me. I keep rereading paragraphs and it’s taking me forever. Good stuff but doing my head in.

    • Virginia Lee says

      I felt the same way. I think it’s a book I will read over and over again. It was AMAZING the first time through, and I’m pretty sure Lewis will blow me away with subsequent readings.

      Now Desiring The Kingdom, uck, how could you include that one? =) It needs a warning with it, that book made me insane. Not to mention it made me want to pull out a red pen and EDIT. Ha! =) All joking aside, there was much to think on, but I’d pick many others from your list over that one.

      I’ve read Leepike Ridge from ND Wilson. You like his NF for adults, huh? I’ll have to check it out. He has a beautiful way with words. Plus that interview you linked to, LOVED it. Made my hubby watch it too. Wow!

      I’m going to need a bigger nightstand the way my TBR pile is growing.

      • Brandy Vencel says

        Do you feel betrayed, VL? :) You’re right. Desiring the Kingdom probably does need to come with a warning. I have a love/hate relationship with that one. But the ideas are floating around on there,so for people who want to be aware of where they’re coming from need to read the book, even if the author is annoying sometimes. :)

    • Brandy Vencel says

      I have to admit I went back and forth about one. I think it’s deceiving because it is a book of essays and my copy, at least, has large print and very wide margins — so it LOOKS like it shouldn’t be “stiff.” But it totally is! I kept reminding myself to make the call based upon content and language and not how I felt about the books layout. :)

  6. Karla (clay1416) says

    This has really challenged me! Lately I have been keeping my reading stack of books in the “moderate” and “novel” side. Several “hard” books have been calling my name but I have been blissfully ignoring them…”I will read The Odyssey/St. Augustine’s Confessions/etc later….maybe after I finish another Austen novel” yep….that’s me 😀 I will add balance and start a challenging book tomorrow!

  7. JoyH says

    May I add another important genre for MotherCulture? The Christian biography.

    A few of my favorites to recommend…

    -Nine Day Queen of England by Faith Cook (about Lady Jane Grey–full of history and her own letters!)
    -My Heart in His Hands by Sharon James (about Ann Judson, also full of her own letters)
    -Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose (autobiographical memoir of her years in New Guinea, esp in the WW2 camps)
    -Kohila by Amy Carmichael (any and all by her, actually)
    -A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot (or anything by her, but this is about Amy Carmichael)
    -Something Happened by Mildred Cable and Francesca French (also wonderful authors of many books)
    -A Heart Set Free by Arnold Dallimore (about Charles Wesley, also any other books by him)
    -God’s Outlaw by Brian Edwards (about William Tyndale)
    -The Unlisted Legion by Jock Purves (missionwork in Muslim N.India)

    • Brandy Vencel says

      You need to categorize these suggestions for us, Joy! Would you put them all in the moderately easy category? Or are some of them “stiff?” :)

      • JoyH says

        Ummmm…I woudn’t call them stiff or easy…regarding the wording or vocabulary, but each will affect a person differently regarding their heart. I’d call them moderate….and just plain wonderful.

        Nine Day Queen would be a little slower of a read at the beginning because of all the history and keeping the people straight, but is amazing with all the first sources.

        Kohila and A Chance to Die would be easier to read.

        Evidence Not Seen will work at your heart. Every time you read it. It is one to reread. My Heart in His Hands would probably be the same.

        Something Happened is not hard, but she certainly makes you think, the time and place is amazing. Makes you want to read more of what she wrote. Her two books for children, Topsy and Grace, Child of the Gobi are so worth getting used. This is available on Gutenberg.

        Dallimore is an excellent biographer and I really enjoyed the one about C.Wesley, although its been years since I read it. Not hard. God’s Outlaw would fit the same description, I believe.

        Jock Purves’ book is also not hard to read, but opening for the heart. He wrote a few books on the Scottish Covenanters as well, and one about a fellow missionary.

        I had lots more to recommend, but stopped because you can’t recommend a 100 books on someone else’s website! I just hoped to encourage some other ladies to learn and be encouraged in spiritual, eternal things as they seek to educate themselves. Thanks for including my comment, Brandy.

    • says

      Joy, thank you for the great list! I have long kept a list of Christian and missionary biographies so I’m happy to add some of yours that are new to me to the list. I’ve got a new Christian biography on my summer list: Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More – Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. Eric Metaxes wrote the forward and it’s rec’ great reviews!


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