For Moms: Reading the Classics

Have you set any goals for the New Year? I want to encourage you to set a goal for 2010 which will have positive ramifications for you and your children – reading the classics.

Several years ago, I embarked on this mission. For years, I had sensed a gaping hole in my formal education. I would watch a movie to then learn it was based off a classic novel I had never heard of. I would be in conversations where others were referencing something out of a classic work and feel completely out of the loop. It would’ve be easy to blame the system in which I was educated, yet I knew that wouldn’t solve anything. The buck stops with me. I decided to take action. My mission was to educate myself by reading through the classics. My greatest motivation was my children. My desire was and is to be able to credibly teach them about the great works and their writers.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the process:

~ Gather book lists.

When I started out, I had absolutely no idea where to start. I stumbled upon Barnes & Noble’s Classics and simply started picking books at random. They have a great section on their website devoted entirely to the classics. I realize there are books out there you can purchase with book lists included, however I don’t think it’s necessary to buy anything. Use Google, Barnes & Noble or another on-line bookstore to compile a list.

~ Ask for recommendations.

Friends are fabulous resources! Ask a few of yours what some of their favorite classics are. People love to share about books that have shaped and inspired them. Here are a few of my favorites {okay – more than a few}:

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter
Michael Strogoff by Jules Verne
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
1984 by George Orwell
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

~ Set realistic goals.

Sometimes when I set a goal, my initial excitement clouds my judgment. I set myself up for failure by setting my goals far too high only to get discouraged and give up. As homeschool moms, we already have a plateful. We have tests to grade, papers to read, laundry to conquer and meals to cook. Start out small and build up. If you’ve never read any of the classics and decide to read just one this year, that’s one more than you’ve ever read. Don’t let a stack of hopefuls pile up, with no one to read them but the cat…

~ Read up on the author.

Gathering some background information on the author will give you a glimpse into his life and worldview, which will in turn provide context for the book. This doesn’t need to be a big production, simply look up your author on Wikipedia and spend a few minutes perusing.

~ Persevere.

One of the many things I love about the classics is the romance and antiquity of the language. These authors had a thousand different phrases to describe the sunset. People simply do not speak like that today. Our language is typically abbreviated and non-romantic. However, the same thing that makes the classics so endearing can also be a catalyst to frustration. A classic novel is going to read differently than a modern day novel {which I dearly love to read as well}. I think of it in terms of steak versus cotton candy. You’re going to have to chew on the classics for a while and then ponder them during the period of digestion. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you awhile to get into a classic. It could take getting to the seventh or eighth chapter before the plot grabs you.

~ Find a fellow bibliophile.

Discussing a good book with a friend is a great way to cement what you’ve learned—as well as being fun and encouraging. Find someone who is passionate about good literature and see if she would be willing to be a sounding board. Maybe it would be possible for you both to read the book and meet over coffee. I love any excuse to get together for coffee!

Go ahead and dive into a new goal for the year. I believe you’ll find reading the classics a worthy endeavor. And if you’ve already started on this journey, I would love to hear what your favorites are!

Ruthanne has been homeschooling for just over a decade. She’s passionate about many things ~ the Lord, her principal and students (mother to four boys and a girl), photography, baking and really good coffee. You can find her blogging at where she shares a few random thoughts and loads of pictures.

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