Educational Philosophy

31 Days of Charlotte Mason: What is a Living Book? (Day 12)

October 12, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

The past two days we have talked about the idea that a life-giving education is one that presents ideas to the mind. Amy shared a bit of her personal journey with us, and explained how spreading the feast of ideas is key to filling the curriculum with the Good, True, and Beautiful. Today, we’re going to talk about the medium of ideas: the living book.

When I first started studying Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, and educational philosophy in general, it was very hard to wrap my mind around the idea of living books. I am going to be honest and say that I was never able to grasp what they were until I started to self-educate and focus the vast majority of my reading time on books that were living.

I wasn’t able to identify these books on my own, mind you, but lists of living books abound and I began to read my way through these books, starting with whichever books from the list were easiest for me to get my hands on.

So if you really want to know what a living book is, you’ll start reading. As you read them, your taste will develop, and you will begin to be able to distinguish between good and bad books.

As an aside, did you know that one of the secondary goals of education used to be the development of style and good taste?

Ahem.

Living Books are Not Twaddle

Beyond reading, early on the easiest thing for me was to think about the opposite of a living book, which Miss Mason called “twaddle.” A book that is twaddle has no real value. These books abound in current day. They are written for the sole purpose of entertaining its reader, they are written poorly, and they contain very few ideas, if any.

As a child, I loved twaddle. I couldn’t get my hands on enough volumes of The Babysitter’s Club series. My dad finally challenged me to read a classic and I remember thinking, “What in the world is a classic?” I talked to our school librarian and told her that my dad said I had to get a classic, and she handed me Treasure Island. It was a feast, I tell you! I really had no idea there were books that good in existence.

Sadly, your local Christian bookstore is filled to the brim with twaddle.

I’m just saying.

Living Books are Not Textbooks

Textbooks are written in cold sterility. As a child, you probably thought they were boring, and — gasp! — you were right. Living books are naturally interesting. Yes, some of them are hard to get into at first — it might take a few chapters to adjust to the author’s style, for example — but they are not dry and dull in the way of textbooks.

Living books also abashedly reach for your heart as you read. Textbooks often feign objectivity, which is dangerous because, if truth be told, every author has a bias and every writer has his angle. In my opinion, it’s better to have bias out in the light of day so it can be discussed.

Lots More on Living Books

There are a number of posts and articles out there that discuss and define living books, to the point where me writing more would just be reinventing the wheel. So below I’m going to list a few resources on living books that might be valuable (updated 2019 due to dead links).

In my opinion, there are very few living books being written today. If you want to read one written by a living author, I suggest reading one of my favorites, Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry.


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8 Comments

  • Reply 31 Days of Charlotte Mason: What Lessons Look Like by Jen Snow | Afterthoughts August 28, 2019 at 11:03 am

    […] Read a 2-3 page ‘episode’ from an interesting, well-written book. Young students can listen to the passage read aloud, students who are able should read for […]

  • Reply 31 Days of Charlotte Mason: Introduction (Day 1) | Afterthoughts August 26, 2019 at 6:18 am

    […] 9: Habit Formation 101Day 10: Education is a LifeDay 11: A Rich Feast of Ideas by Amy HinesDay 12: What is a Living Book?Day 13: Christians, Charlotte Mason, and Fairy Tales by Wendi CapehartDay 14: The Principle of […]

  • Reply Susan Gildersleeve June 18, 2017 at 9:04 am

    How do you use Charlotte Mason approach in high school to have sufficient credit to graduate high school? I have implemented that kind of plan thus far, but what advice would you give?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 19, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      Hi Susan! I’ll be writing more about this as time goes on, but at the bottom of this post I talked a little bit about transcripts.

      We have only completed one year of high school, but so far I feel like AO has my oldest on track to graduate with more credits than he needs to complete the UC (California) requirements (which are more than normal CA grad requirements).

  • Reply Charlotte Mason # 6: Teach English Grammar With a Good Book July 19, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    […] Brandy @ Afterthoughts […]

  • Reply Learning With Living Books - March 2, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    […] That can be hard to define sometimes. Brandy Vencel, author of the Afterthoughts blog, said in her post about living books that it can be easier to think of a living book in terms of what is is not. It is not what […]

  • Reply The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool January 25, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    […] Brandy Vencel calls living books the “medium of ideas” as opposed to fact. Since we want to fill our children’s heads with big ideas instead of small facts, living books are a valuable way to learn. […]

  • Reply Nelleke Plouffe October 13, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I think the concept of living books is a little clearer in my mind now.
    I agree about the twaddle in the Christian bookstores. It’s such a shame that it is that way.

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