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?
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).
- Toward a Definition of a Living Book by Colleen Manning
- Episode 41: Living Books Are for Life from The Scholé Sisters Podcast
- 5 Ways to Find Living Books from Simply Charlotte Mason
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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