Saturday, August 8, 2015

In Which I Find Myself Surprised

It's probably no surprise that over the years, the way I read has been profoundly changed by Charlotte Mason's principles. Reading slowly, enjoying several books at a time, paying close attention, and even narration have all worked their way into my own reading habits. I'm trying new genres, and discovering that I like them (for the most part). However—color me prejudiced—I have always preferred long, satisfying reads. I'm more than happy to hang on for several hundred pages while an author introduces me to a brand new world, it's rules, and it's inhabitants. It's the mental equivalent of a giant pot of deliciously satisfying lamb stew.

Illustrations by Joanna Hunt
While I have expanded the kinds of reading I enjoy, I stubbornly clung to my deliciously long books. Over and over again, I turned my nose up at short stories. How can you learn to love a character in twelve pages? It's ridiculous. I positively sneered at essays. Humph, they are over before they even get properly going. (Shades of Kipling's camel, and we all know what happened to him.) No. No thanks. Not interested. Humph.

Then I met this book:

If Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is the equivalent of a pot of bubbling, thick stew (a massive pot of ridiculously thick stew with a whole lot of random ingredients... but I digress), Anne Fadiman's book of essays is a platter of those tiny little entrées at a gourmet restaurant. They may not be large, but they are beautiful to look at, the flavors are a blend of familiar and surprising, and the textures combine perfectly. Reading them is an experience to be savored, not a Country Buffet to stuff myself at. Ex Libris is filled with essays about books and the thrills of being a bibliophile, so I'll admit that I was inclined to enjoy it before I even began. Still, I was surprised by how much I like the format. Essays are short and to the point, but they aren't necessarily simple. Fadiman's stories make me laugh. I recognize myself in them. Favorite bits have me nodding along as I read. However, when I get to the end of the essay, it turns out not to be the end of the story. I find myself turning bits and phrases over in my mind. After reading the second essay, "The Joy of Sesquipedalians," I found myself mumbling sesquipedalian, grimoire, and mephitic under my breath as I made the bed and vacuumed the floor. (Especially mephitic. It WAS housecleaning day, after all.) I was thinking about Tennyson and the beauty of his lines while I brushed my teeth. I felt an Ah Ha! moment while listening to a lecture about the value of beauty, for it's own sake rather than for any utilitarian purpose. Yup, that's exactly what she meant when she talked about the glory of those big, rollable words. Fadiman's insights have lingered far beyond the few pages her stories themselves take up.

Maybe it's a function of maturity. More likely, it's a matter of getting used to something new. Like Tiger and her vegetables, it has taken many tentative stabs at this new genre—a taste here (quickly spat out), then a little nibble here (not quite so bad, but hardly marvelous), a few bits of Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac over here (ooooh, I might actually like this), and then something clicks. My palette expands. A new love is born.

Once again, I find that Miss Mason is a wise woman. While she speaks specifically of curriculum, I find that my own self-education needs do not vary in any essential way from my students' needs.
“In the nature of things then the unspoken demand of children is for a wide and very varied curriculum; it is necessary that they should have some knowledge of the wide range of interests proper to them as human beings, and for no reasons of convenience or time limitations may we curtail their proper curriculum
(Vol. 6, p. 14).
There is so much out there beyond my regular genres, my familiar styles. Don't quit on your kids—or yourself—if you don't click with everything the first time you encounter it. Don't limit yourself to the things you are used to. Life is a big feast, and part of its wonder is the wide variety of goodness, truth, and beauty.

How about you? Have you been surprised lately by a new author, book, or genre?


  1. 1) I think you know I am a great fan of the camel and his HUMPH;
    2) My wish list on Amazon just got one book longer. Sigh.

    1. 1) You know I was thinking of you when I wrote that, right?! Aren't those drawings a perfect match for Kipling's story?
      2) You're welcome. ;)

  2. 1) Aww. How nice! I am associated with the camel and his hump. I'll try to take that in the spirit intended and not too literally:). Yes, the drawings are a perfect match!
    1b) My youngest not yet in Y1 child discovered my Boris Karloff audio of Just So Stories. Since it was he who began chanting HUMPH before the tender age of two when we first listened to them I couldn't resist when he begged to listen earlier this week.
    2) Enabler. :)