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    Books & Reading, Mother's Education

    The Summer 2024 Mother Culture Reading List (Plus Summer Reading Habit Trackers!!)

    June 21, 2024 by Brandy Vencel

    This is one of those “better late than never” situations. I have written two annual posts to kick off summer for many years, and they’re usually published by the end of May. May found us traveling to Tennessee twice! Once for our son’s college graduation, and once for his WEDDING. (Yes, I have become that dreaded thing: a mother-in-law. 😉 )

    So I knew this would be delayed, but it was extra, extra delayed when we were in a car accident (NOT my fault, ahem) and my car was totaled. Needless to say, I’ve had a lot going on.

    But BOOKS. We still need these lists, even when they are late. It’s just too much fun.

    If you aren’t familiar with the term “mother culture,” I’m actually referring to an article that appeared in Charlotte Mason’s Parents’ Review Magazine way back in 1892. The Mother Culture article does a couple important things. First, it reminds us that books are a way to wisdom — that a solid reading life is imperative if Mom is going to gain the maturity she needs to be a good mom to her older children. Second, it gives us a way — a simple habit-based approach — to help us build reading into the busyness.

    The habit involves three simple steps:

    1. Always have three books available to yourself: a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel.
    2. Read for 30 minutes per day.
    3. When you go to read, pick up the book you feel fit for.

    I love this for its depth and its simple practicality.

    The purpose of my lists is to offer an example to get your ideas flowing. Some people like to use books off of my lists; others find that these books make them remember other books, and those are the ones they end up reading. No matter. My point is to simply encourage you to feed your soul with good books.

    This list is divided into the same categories found in the Mother Culture article, but remember that one man’s stiff book might be another’s moderately easy book (and vice versa) — make sure you categorize your reading stack in a way that makes sense for you.

    These lists include books I have read as well as books I own and plan to read (but haven’t yet). I avoid recommending books I’m not actually familiar with, even when they’re famous.

    On to the list!

    The Stiff Stack

    What makes a book “stiff”? The most obvious quality would be reading level — a stiff book is the most difficult to read. Beyond this, the subject might be heavy or require a high level of attention. Sometimes, the book itself might be easy for you to read and understand, but hard for you to work through because it touches an emotional spot in your soul or it confronts a place in your life where you need to repent and grow.

    Just remember: the stiff stack is for the most taxing books. If a book is taxing for you, put it in the stiff stack.

    Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up by Abigail Shrier

    I keep hearing this book recommended everywhere. Some of the ladies at my book club loved it. My old pastor told everyone on the school board that we needed to read it because of the Social Emotional Learning chapter. Other people told me it was good. Needless to say, I bought it. I’m only on chapter 2, but so far so good!

    The Improvement of the Mind by Isaac Watts

    This is one that Mystie recommended to me. I am still in the early pages in this one, also, but again: so good! It’s teeming with really good advice on learning and growing and not be satisfied with skimming the surface of things.

    The Fourth Turning Is Here: What the Seasons of History Tell Us about How and When This Crisis Will End by Neil Howe

    This one is interesting — it’s based upon a cyclical view of history, where four generations in a row makes one cycle. Each of these cycles tends to mimic itself if you viewed it as a historical story arc. It gets into the weeds about each generation and what they are like and how they will act when we reach our next “crisis” point. It’s not fear mongering (in my opinion) and it’s also not fortune-telling. It is thought-provoking. Also, my generation (X) seems to be generally under appreciated and under utilized, which I found interesting.

    How to be Free From Bitterness by Jim Wilson

    This book is super helpful. If you or someone you love has ever struggled with bitterness, I cannot recommend it enough. I disagree with some serious details of the author’s theology of man (which isn’t really evident in this book, but is clear in another one I’m reading called How to be Free), but that doesn’t mean his practical advice on how to repent is bad. It’s quite good and it’s refreshing to have someone tell it to you straight. I came away thinking that I give up way too soon when I find repentance to be difficult.

    The Moderately Easy Stack

    Moderately easy books should still be good books. They are teeming with ideas that grow your mind and expand your soul, but they aren’t nearly as difficult to read as your stiff books. They might be more light-hearted (they might even make you giggle). Sometimes, these books are more modern — one reason they’re easier to read is because they are written in our own time.

    Friedman’s Fables by Edwin Friedman

    Edwin Friedman’s book A Failure of Nerve was the 2024 Afterthoughts Book of the Year. It’s just so good. It really helps you learn to deal with life like a grown up. (True maturity is such a rarity these days.) This book of fables is just delightful! It was written by Friedman to illustrate his principles — it does a fantastic job and gives much food for thought! Because the tales are short pieces of fiction, it’s a much easier read than one of his other books.

    The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

    I had to read this for a class in college and I never forgot it. I have rarely practiced all the habits, but goodness these are helpful to know and try to implement! Bonus: Abby is leading a summer book club on this book in the Sistership if you want to join in! If you have never read a business book with Abby before, you are really missing out. She will apply it to your motherhood and whip you into shape!

    In Vital Harmony: Charlotte Mason and the Natural Laws of Education by Karen Glass

    This book is an excellent primer on Charlotte Mason. I’m reading through it with a group of teachers this year and our conversations have been wonderful — this would be a perfect choice for an in-person read with a group of homeschool moms! If you were trying to get into my Charlotte Mason Boot Camp this summer and didn’t make it, this would be a good second choice option!

    The Empowered Wife: Six Surprising Secrets for Attracting Your Husband’s Time, Attention, and Affection by Laura Doyle

    This isn’t a Christian marriage book (which shows on occasion) and yet it’s better than any other marriage book I’ve ever read. I think Christian marriage books tend to overthink marriage. I love Laura Doyle. I love that her mission is to end world divorce — because God says He hates divorce, which means it our job to hate it, too. I love that she recognizes that men and women are very different, so she never expects them to act the same. And I love that she has a plan for saving a marriage without your husband’s help. Turns out, change can start with me. 😉

    The Novel Stack

    Do these really need introduction? If anything says summer to my soul, it is a good novel. Click here for advice on choosing and reading a novel. Please remember that stories are powerful things. It’s important to fill your mind with good thoughts. This doesn’t mean your books can’t contain evil — they should, in my opinion. But tempting you to approve of evil is altogether different, so guard your heart as you choose wisely. In our 2021 Spring Training with Rosaria Butterfield, she gave an excellent definition of a “dangerous” book: a book in which the protagonist prospers through sin and succeeds through idolatry. Dangerous books can (and often should) be read, but they need to be read with both eyes open.

    Taliesin by Stephen Lawhead

    I have continued on my mission to read as much Stephen Lawhead as I can, and his books do not disappoint. This one is the first in a series (I’m actually on the third book now), and it is so fascinating. I can’t recommend his writing enough. Take note: these books are quite thick. They are definitely a commitment.

    Shane by Jack Schaefer

    This one is sitting on my stack. Like a lot of books I own, this one was recommended to me by many people with good taste in books. I was told this is a classic, must-read Western novel. That was good enough for me!

    The Red House Mystery by AA Milne

    Maybe it’s not news to you, but it was definitely news to me that the Milne wrote a single detective novel! I’m intrigued! I haven’t read it yet, so take me placing it on this year’s list with a grain of salt. I heard it was worth reading and because it was Milne it seemed worth the risk to me.

    Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

    This is my favorite Waverly novel. It’s got everything I love in a novel: knights in shining armor, relationship drama, ladies in distress … archery. 😉 I love it so much.

    The Summer Mother Culture Habit Trackers are Here!

    Complete with coordinating student trackers. ♥♥

    When you sign up for this freebie, you’re getting a boatload of summer reading goodness!

    • The Mother Culture Habit Tracker! This is the habit tracker that started it all. ♥
    • A mother’s habit tracker for general habit tracking.
    • A matching pair of reading and habit trackers for girls
    • A matching pair of reading and habit trackers for boys
    • A special reading tracker for beginning readers

    Also, share what you’re doing on Instagram — post photos of your habit tracker and books! — using the hashtag #motherculturehabit. I love to see your progress. ♥

    Want more book ideas? Check out my past Mother Culture summer book lists:

    Happy summer reading, friends!

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  • Reply Rosie June 26, 2024 at 3:28 pm

    I love this philosophy of reading! I fell into reading multiple books at once when we started exploring Ambleside, but I’m not sure I’ve read this theory before – read what you feel like and have variety available. Lately I’ve had at least 10 going and focus on the fiction when I’m not sleeping well. Thanks for the novel ideas – Ivanhoe is coming up for my oldest in another year so I’ll read that next.

    I love hearing what others are reading!

  • Reply Betsy June 22, 2024 at 5:42 pm

    I recently read The Red House Mystery! So very Victorian. Can’t wait to hear what you think.

  • Reply Rahime June 21, 2024 at 7:56 pm

    I love that Shrier’s book is in the stiff section because even though it isn’t particularly complex, it IS quite a downer to read and leaves a lot to think about. I’m about 80% through according to my audiobook and definitely having to listen in smaller-ish chunks than I typically do. I think it paired with Haidt’s The Anxious Generation fairly well explains a lot of what’s going on in the generation of current teens and twenty-somethings.

    I read Ivanhoe earlier this year, and it was my first Waverly. Loved it and can’t wait to read more. I’m also planning to keep plowing through Lawhead’s works–I wish I knew about his books earlier! And THANK you for bringing to my attention that Milne wrote a detective novel–how fun!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 21, 2024 at 9:32 pm

      I hadn’t heard of Haidt until recently but I see him paired with Shrier’s book often now so I think you are right! I plan to read him eventually.

  • Reply Friederike Lehrbass June 21, 2024 at 5:42 pm

    I haven’t read a novel for myself in a long time. I started reading a german historical novel about Anna MAgdalena Bach. beautiful love story. need to finsih it. I love Ivenhoe.

  • Reply Rebecca June 21, 2024 at 4:20 pm

    Your “stiff” selections made me laugh since I read (2/3 anyhow) of Shrier and Nick is reading The Fourth Turning. You probably could have guessed which ones each of us would choose.

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