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    Books & Reading, Mother's Education

    The Summer 2016 Mother Culture Reading List

    June 1, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    I know, I know: I published a Mother’s Education Course booklist last week. So what’s the deal with another list? Stick with me a bit, and this will make sense.

    In the Charlotte Mason world, there are two basic approaches to a mother’s self-education. One is the Mother’s Education Course, which is what my suggested reading list last week was based upon. This program was an intense three-year (later reduced to two years) program for the really motivated mother or governess. But let’s face it: even when we are really motivated, we can’t all commit to such an endeavor.

    Some of us are low-energy moms.

    Others of us are brain dead from the sleeplessness associated with MYC (Many Young Children).

    The essence of practicing Mother Culture: always have a book going in each category and pick up whichever book you wish when reading time arrives.

    Are these things excuses for not reading?


    Enter Mother Culture. You can read details on Mother Culture here, but the bottom line is to have three books going at all times, and read a minimum of one half-hour per day. (This is to prevent your young children from using up all your brain cells before they even reach school age, or your teen children from railroading your brain. This stuff really happens.)

    The three books fall into these three categories: stiff, moderately easy, and novels. The essence of practicing Mother Culture is that you always have a book going in each of these categories and you pick up whichever book you can handle when your reading time arrives.

    My own personal summer reading functions as a sort of fusion between Mother Culture and the Mother’s Education Course. I tend to have around seven books going at a time, and I try to make them fall into the various categories listed here and in the MEC. But I often only read for half an hour, and I usually just pick up whichever book catches my fancy.

    So … here are some suggestions for summer Mother Culture. I’m choosing a number of books for each category, both books I’ve read, as well as books on my own list. Some of these might double as pre-reading for AmblesideOnline school years, which is always helpful. Just keep in mind I’m not saying anyone should read all of these books in a single summer; they are a list of options, not a curriculum to try and get yourself through in a set amount of time.

    Stiff Books

    What’s a stiff book? It’s a book that is harder to read. It’s going to challenge you. It’s going to work out all those brain muscles. You might not — gasp — understand everything you read. No worries. Who says we have to understand all of a book when we read it? Comprehension is overrated, in my opinion, but we’ll talk about that another time. For now, suffice it to say, this is the read red meat of our menu.

    Love Your God with All Your MindEusebius: The Church HistoryAwakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness & BeautyThe Road to SerfdomThe Birth of BritainThe Problem of PainA Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of NatureThe Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God

    Moderately Easy Books

    These books aren’t necessarily fiction, and they aren’t necessarily easy, but they require less brain power than the Stiff Books category. Don’t let them fool you: these are still totally worth the time we spend on them.

    Amusing Ourselves to DeathWhatever Happened to Penny CandyHow the Heather LooksScaramoucheThe Vegetarian MythThe Disappearing SpoonThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture


    I don’t know that these are supposed to be easy — as if this list were actually hard, medium, and easy. But novels tend to be written in such a way that they help you read them — they pull you in. Some of these are older, some newer. Some harder than others. All of them, I think, are books one ought to read eventually. Two of these book I have not yet read myself — they are on my list. Can you guess which ones?

    The Great GatsbyThe Man Who was ThursdayDavid CopperfieldAnne of Green GablesPride and PrejudiceThe Daisy ChainLord of the FliesAll the Light We Cannot See

    So here’s your challenge: recommend at least one book to me in one of these categories. I want to keep building my list, too. 🙂

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  • Reply Danielle October 11, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    Beowulf, Tolkien’so translation, or anything by Tolkien, really:).

  • Reply Aleyna June 27, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Thank you!! I would file this under moderately easy: “Ten ways to destroy the imagination of your child” by Anthony Esolen

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 28, 2016 at 2:16 pm

      I love that book, Aleyna! Unfortunately, someone borrowed my copy and I never got it back. 🙁

  • Reply Claire June 24, 2016 at 5:06 am

    Coming late to the party, but I’ll offer my suggestions anyway:

    Moderately easy: How Not to be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg – this is a ‘popular math’ book, but I reckon I’ll be giving it to my kids as a combination logic/gov/econ book sometime in HEO. Some really valuable ideas.

    Stiff: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson – the writing isn’t too hard but the ideas are deep and many of the stories very confronting. It deserves to be read slowly a la CM, but I had to read it quite quickly because my heart couldn’t sit with some of those stories for too long. A man of inspiring compassion.

    And for a novel, how about Georgette Heyer’s piece de resistance, An Infamous Army?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 24, 2016 at 2:41 pm

      I love this Claire! I feel like every time we “talk” books you suggest at least one wonderful title I’ve never heard of before. ♥

  • Reply Mama Rachael June 21, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    I took the plunge. We will see how it goes. I want to spend July and August resting with my feet up drinking cold beverages. Just the thing for the end of pregnancy (due Sept 2!). And its hot here so movement is not generally welcome….

    Got Kayek’s book for the stiff reading. We have a ‘complete works of Edgar Allen Poe’ that will work for Mod, I think. And I’ve got to keep taking Little Man to library, so it will be easy to keep myself in easy reading (I just love Juv fiction!). I also know I can request books from our library and they will collect them at the front desk, which I just have to think ahead and put in the request.

  • Reply Sarah June 11, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    The Brothers K
    The Nightingale

  • Reply Silvia June 3, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Stiff: (but also thin), Meditations on Don Quixote, Ortega y Gasset (it’s not an analysis of the book per se, but more an exploration of philosophy, thought, and culture).

    Moderate: History in English Words, by Owen Barfield.

    Novel: The Makioka Sisters, hands down the best novel of 2016, and possibly in my top favorite books ever.

  • Reply Patti June 2, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful book lists. I have often used categories for my children making book sheets for them to fill in with five or six categories, I guess I do tend to have several books of different types going at a time, but I hadn’t consciously thought about it that way…. I don’t have a recommendation off the top of my head for the “stiff books” category (perhaps that says something about my own reading – I did recently pick up The Iliad at a used bookstore and ordered in an audio version from our library, perhaps that counts…. 🙂 but I have one for each of the others. For moderately easy I recently read C. S. Lewis’ Til we have Faces, which is a new take on an old Greek myth, there was a lot to digest in this book though it wasn’t hard to read. The Novel is The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell. After reading her wonderful book, City of Tranquil Light (which I also highly recommend if you haven’t read it yet) I was so delighted by Bo Caldwell’s writing that I checked to see what else she had written. The Distant Land of My Father is very different than City of Tranquil Light, but also about Shanghai during the war. I enjoyed both books very much! Thank you for sharing your reading list! Blessings, Patti

  • Reply Carol June 1, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    I’ll start with Novels – anything by Helen McInnes – a great way to painlessly imbibe some European history – WW2 & Cold War era (Decision at Delphi, Saltzburg Connection). Anything by Nevil Shute esp. A Town Like Alice, Pied Piper, Trutee From the Toolroom. Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham – dystopian, very interesting & readable.
    Moderate – Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas (just started this); Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain; Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks – not a hard read per se. but it does delve into chemistry so a bit tougher if you don’t have a chemistry background.
    Stiff – The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis – hardest book I’ve tackled in a while. Norms & Nobility by David Hicks – haven’t read this one yet but I think it would be in this category.

  • Reply Melissa June 1, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    Well, I’m about 250 pages into Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. So far, so good. I would recommend it for a novel read. We are reading it for Schole as a group. We had our first meeting last Friday, with 9 women showing up, and will meet again in a couple of weeks. I’ve experienced a very wide range of emotions while reading so far, as did many of the women in the group. It will be interesting so see how it comes together in the end. At over 800 pages, it will be the largest novel I’ve ever read. The second largest is Quo Vadis? by Henryk Seinkiewicz, which was fabulous!…and historic. I would also encourage a Steinbeck novel. He really gets me thinking 🙂

  • Reply Gina Reynolds June 1, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    Rethinking Social Justice by Darrow Miller Excellent, not tough to read but deep thoughts. Would probably put it in hard to middle. Not as easy as Penny Candy but not as tough as Road to Serfdom.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 4:00 pm

      Ooh! Interesting! I’ve never heard of that book before. 🙂

  • Reply Rachel June 1, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    If you haven’t tried any of Gene Stratton-Porter’s books yet, I highly recommend them for your novel list. The Keeper of the Bees was my first introduction to her works and I’ve been hooked since. A Girl of the Limberlost, At the Foot of the Rainbow, and Freckles are all excellent as well. You can get many for free on the Kindle app and sometimes libraries will have them. She also has non-fiction books about nature, which are also excellent.

    I’ve also recently fallen in love with Elizabeth Gaskell as an author, too. Her novels explore many social issues of her time, but she is a little more refreshing than Jane Austen (who I have come to see as a little jaded through her works).

    For your moderately easy list, I can recommend a great book that I’m currently reading titled Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More – Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:33 pm

      You know, I often choose an author for my Christmas break reading — I wonder if Gene Stratton-Porter should be my next pick!

      So tell me about her nature books. Would they be appropriate for children as well as adults? I’m intrigued!

  • Reply Lauren June 1, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    My recommendations for you:
    Stiff – The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer
    MEB – How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Gregor
    Novel – The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

    My personal readings right now – Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason, Christian Meditation by Finley, Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaefer McAuley and How Not to Die as mentioned above. My daughter has latched on to twaddle so I’m planning to read quite a bit of the leftover free reads and lead by example rather than nagging.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      So of course I had to google How Not to Die and now it’s on my list. Since my husband is a nutritionist, I can’t hardly resist buying new books in that vein, especially since sometimes I can convince him that it’s HIS book and I’m only borrowing it from him. 😉

  • Reply Jen Snow June 1, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Ooh. Booklists. Happy Sigh. My categories kind of shift around a bit…but I would say my current Stiff Read is Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, Moderately Stiff is I Promessi Sposi and TS Eliot’s poetry, and Lighter Read is Mrs Miniver – delightful little book of essays.

    Next up (likely) in those categories – Stiff – either something CS Lewis (Mere Christianity? Surprised by Joy? Both of those are in my pile) or would CM Volumes be considered stiff? I want to read Volume 2, which I haven’t yet.

    Moderately Stiff – Well…I’m going to take all summer to get through I Promessi and maybe all year to get through the Eliot. Maybe the Smith book that I couldn’t resist dumping in my Amazon cart? Or is that going to be stiff? Like I said…my categories are sort of wobbly.

    Lighter or Novels – I want to read Middlemarch, but I don’t think I dare to tackle it until I Promessi is finished. Two epic novels at once – no I don’t think so. Maybe something by Wendell Berry – I’ve wanted to try him again, I enjoyed Jayber Crow but it made me too melancholy at the time that I read, but I’m in a different place now, so maybe? Or another Elizabeth Goudge? I adore her. But then again, I’m on a book-buying hiatus now so I can save pennies to attend Conferences 😛 so maybe it’ll be pre-reading Oliver Twist and Kim for my rising Y5 student.

    Or maybe I just need to break down and get a library card. 😛

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:29 pm

      I think I’d consider CM stiff, yes. Smith is probably going to be stiff because he insists on pretending academics speak a different language. I might be wrong, but if it’s anything like his twitter feed, he’ll be deliberately incomprehensible. 😉

      Epic novels are becoming something of a problem for me — I’ve got so many of them on my shelf, but they take FOREVER to finish. My goal is to get myself a stack of short novels just so I can feel productive for a change.

      • Reply Jen Snow June 1, 2016 at 4:06 pm

        I’ll be curious to see about the Smith. Desiring the Kingdom was definitely stiff, but it sounded like from the reviews that he wrote this for more of a ‘lay’ audience. I guess we’ll see if he is able to be successful at that or not. 😛

      • Reply Silvia June 3, 2016 at 9:39 pm

        But some books can only be enjoyed if they are very long, so that you can inhabit their universe. That’s why audio books were created. That’s how I enjoyed 31 hours of Middlemarch, actually, 1/3 less (my audio has speed, so I listen at 1.6x, and after a few minutes, I get used to the speed.
        However, I can only listen while doing mechanical tasks.
        I read The Makioka Sisters, and it was quite long, but it didn’t feel long.
        I was such aan enemy of long books, and now I am a fan. Great long books are woth a dozen good ones.
        But I got you with the feeling productive, though. It’s like groundhog day. What are you reading? January, The Makioka Sisters. What are you reading?, June, The Makioka Sisters, lol.

  • Reply Amanda June 1, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I have Awakening Wonder on the top of the growing stack by my bed, but my eyes are still bloodshot and brain still fried from current newborn nursing/sleeping arrangements… but I’m hopeful!

    Last novel I finished while pregnant was a fun one… “The Dress Shop of Dreams” by Menna Van Praag. I tried to read “The Awakening of Miss Prim,” — so much potential, but I hated the dialogue! Did you ever get to that one? Maybe it just needed a better translation.

    Also working on “A Passage to India,” but it fell to the bottom of the stack because I kept adding things. Oops! I’d tell you what else is in there, but baby’s actually asleep so I’m not going to bother her!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      I am ashamed to say that I never got to Miss Prim! When I first committed to it, I also committed to Island of the World, and I didn’t realize how incompatible the two of them would be — nor how IotW would take over my mind! So…I need to return to Miss Prim. I didn’t realize there were different translations! Do you know which I ought to buy?

      • Reply Silvia June 3, 2016 at 9:43 pm

        You read IotW?, I adore that book, specially the first part.
        You see?, long books need to be long.
        I think I broke my record, I devoured Island of the World. I’m glad I read it at Christmas, or my family would have killed me for my neglect. I barely slept for 4 days, reading at night.

  • Reply Julia June 1, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    I love your list! I usually do not have a reading list but I have been reading too much fluff this year so I put together 4 books that I read from daily

    I am currently reading The Consequences of Ideas by Sproul and Awakening Wonder ( I am loving this book! I had a huge [for me] aha moment while reading it and I am only on ch. 4.). These two books dovetail very nicely with each other. I am also reading The Listening Life by Adam McHugh and Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter.

    I heard on a podcast last month that reading is a spiritual practise. That struck deep with me. In reading these 4 books together it has indeed been a spiritual experience.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      “Reading is a spiritual practice” — that’s interesting. Did the podcast talk about that in depth? If so, I’d love to listen, if you told me the title. It makes sense — especially with literature because through it we vicariously live another’s life…

      • Reply Julia June 1, 2016 at 8:52 pm

        It was the Simple Show, episode 26. The show was on spiritual practises. They went into depth in some of the practises but not the reading one.

  • Reply alexandra June 1, 2016 at 10:12 am

    I would choose the Temple and the CHurch’s Mission, Amusing ourselves to Death, and Anne of Green Gables…By the way, I haven’t read these, but just what I would want to read : ) I am currently readin Wuthering Heights (bedtime reading), The Path or True Godliness & Ourselves ( morning reading), and the Brendan Voyage (whenever I have a chance).

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:23 pm

      I like how you’re separating your reading into time of day. I will have to think about that some more. I have morning reading (something theological to go with my morning Bible time), but haven’t thought about the remainder of the day before…

      And isn’t The Brendan Voyage wonderful? I read that last year and it was so intriguing!

      • Reply Meghan June 3, 2016 at 1:40 pm

        Brandy, I’ve noticed that this a strategy that really helps with that over-saturation question I was asking on the Schole Sisters forum. I’ve noticed that my brain is freshest in the morning (somebody out there says this is true…who was that? 😉 and can best handle the stiff stuff and then I can mull it over during the day, without even trying really. But if I read something intense before bed, I dream about it or I wake up anxious, especially if it requires some kind of action or moral response on my part. It’s like my brain didn’t get the processing time it needed. I also really like vocational reading in the afternoon for some reason!

        • Reply Herbwifemama June 4, 2016 at 7:17 pm

          This is true for me too. I didn’t set out for it to be this way, but my spiritual, heavy stuff I read in the morning, when I have fewer distractions and more mental energy, and then my medium book is during the day, and my novel is at bedtime- I don’t have brainpower to read heavy stuff then, and usually my medium book is something that I’m trying to improve in my life, so if I read something like that at bedtime, my mind starts buzzing and I have to write things down, so novels are best at that time, a story I can follow until my eyes can’t stay open anymore.

  • Reply SarahD June 1, 2016 at 9:48 am

    My summer reading will probably be a mesh too, and basically a rolling over of some ongoing reads into the summer plus a couple of new ones.

    I had an Anne Shirley quote running through my head yesterday morning and it made me really want to read Anne of Green Gables. I saw the movies as a child but never read the books . ?

    • Reply Jessica June 1, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      Me too! 😉

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:22 pm

      Anne of Green Gables is a MUST, ladies! It’s a rite of passage. 🙂

      • Reply Dawn June 1, 2016 at 3:31 pm

        I just finished the first one last night. It was PHENOMENAL. I simply cannot believe I made it through a childhood of books without reading it before now. So glad I rectified that, though.

  • Reply Herbwifemama June 1, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Ok, I don’t know if it’s a recommendation, but I really want to read The Consequences of Ideas by RC Sproul. I just started Come Be My Light by Mother Theresa, and it’s not a hard read, but due to where I am in my spiritual life, this is a heavy read emotionally. I find if I read it first thing in the morning, before the kids are up, I can nibble it a bit and meditate on it. But it’s going to take me a long time to get through.

    I am currently reading Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher, because I am having a bit of a political awakening- really coming to clarify what I believe and why I believe it, and giving myself a label- and I’ve found that I am conservative but I don’t want to give up caring for the environment, and not only that, but I think it’s absolutely part of my world view to do so. And I wanted to hear from other “outside the box” types, trying to find my place. I think I’m going to read a Sally Clarkson book next. Probably The Lifegiving Home.

    I am interested in the Miss Read novels, but I haven’t gotten far. I am going to preview ND Wilson’s 100 Cupboards for my 10yo, and I’m about to finish the 4th Harry Potter book for the 3rd time. I’m reading them along with my 10yo, and then we are watching the movies. I just started our summer read aloud, Swallows and Amazons- hoping to inspire the play of my girls this summer.

    BTW, I love these lists. 🙂 I’d welcome more of them! The Mother’s Education course lists are too strict for me- my own reading leads me down another path- but these Mother Culture lists are just right! 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:19 pm

      You will have to let me know what you think of the 100 Cupboards series. I started previewing them for my oldest when he was about 10, too, and I couldn’t put them down! I haven’t read Harry Potter yet, but I keep thinking I ought to…

      • Reply Herbwifemama June 4, 2016 at 7:21 pm

        Yep, I read 100 Cupboards in two days! I haven’t felt like that about a book since Harry Potter! I passed it along to my 10yo this morning, and now her nose is in it too! 🙂 I am interested in what else ND Wilson has for kids.

        Brandy, you simply must read Harry Potter. Read it through once for enjoyment. Then read John Granger’s book on the spirituality of Harry Potter, and then read the series again looking for all the gems. *happy sigh*

        • Reply Herbwifemama June 4, 2016 at 7:25 pm

          I thought of another novel worth reading: Night Circus. My bff recommended it to me, and I really loved the story, but I really really loved the writing. The author is so descriptive. I described the writing as “opulent”. And I really love how the story ends. I think I might be due to reread that one soon. (And I don’t really reread books, unless it’s LOTR, HP, or Narnia)

  • Reply Heather June 1, 2016 at 7:49 am

    Novel: “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton

    I’ve been out of the habit of reading for me (waking baby all night long made getting up early to read hard) so I’ve just started with one book. It had been forever since I read a novel so I’m reading this one that my daughter finished for co-op. It’s been fun to talk to her & reread her papers from the literature class. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      I have never even heard of this book, so that is very exciting. I’m adding it to my list. ♥

  • Reply Ellen G June 1, 2016 at 7:45 am

    Great list! I’m excited to look up some of them and get started. I’ve only been doing one book at a time, but I like the idea of doing 3 simultaneously. Anyway, my addition is “Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child” by Anthony Esolen. It was fabulous. I think it would probably fit into the Medium category. I haven’t read “Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child” also by Anthony Esolen, but after reading “Imagination” I am really looking forward to reading “Humanity”!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      Ooh! Good ones. I’ve read Imagination…but not Humanity! I meant to buy it, and then I forgot about it. I should add that to my shopping list.

  • Reply Angie June 1, 2016 at 7:04 am

    Great list! I’ve added several to my own TBR pile. ?

    For you-
    Stiff: Confessions by Augustine
    Moderate: Last Child in the Wouuds by Richard Louv
    Novel: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      Oh, I love this. Do you know I’ve Confessions sitting in my pile for YEARS? It’s embarrassing, really. I’ll move it up. Good advice. 🙂

      • Reply SarahD June 2, 2016 at 3:52 am

        Me too. Confessions has been on my pile for years.

  • Reply Karen @ The Simply Blog June 1, 2016 at 4:50 am

    I’m guessing that All the Light We Cannot See is one you haven’t read yet? If you have read it, I’d love to know your thoughts on it. I’ve heard it’s supposed to be really good. I have it on my potential-books-to-read-list. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 1, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      Good guess, Karen! You’re right — that’s one that is on my list right now. 🙂 I keep hearing it recommended over and over. I don’t read much in the way of super current fiction, but I make exceptions for titles that are this highly recommended. 🙂

      • Reply Michele June 2, 2016 at 9:11 pm

        All the Light We Cannot See was beautiful. It’s intricately woven story that depicted the horrors of war and the power of the human spirit in a way that really stayed with me. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

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