Friday, January 29, 2010
The short version for those of you who don't care about the nitty-gritty of my recent reads:
I'm reading both books and very much enjoying both books.
The book on top is convincing me I'm not too dumb to read the classics.
The book on the bottom is telling me I need to learn to be more hospitable, but doing it in a gentle way.
And the long, blathering version because, with this being somewhat of a journal for me, I really need to put into words how these books are affecting me. Oh, and this is the part where you'll read about spit balls and me raising my hand at inappropriate times.
A recurring theme in my blog entries seems to be, "One of my goals this year . . . " I'm really trying to be diligent about things that are realistic and will improve the quality of life for my family. Spending less time on the computer is definitely one area I can improve. But rather than just vowing to fill all of that extra time with housecleaning and building up 6-pack abs and buns-of-steel, I'm trying to be realistic and add some relaxing activities in the mix.
I've been reading more. Actually doing it, not saying I'm going to do it. I started a book club/bible study with my friend Melissa and this month, we're reading the book A Life That Says Welcome. Honestly, I wasn't thrilled with the idea of it when I started. The book is about showing hospitality but by the time I made it to the end of the first chapter, I thought the author was going in the divisive direction, pitting the Martha Stewart crowd against the store-bought cookie crowd.
I'm now 1/2 way through and have a better understanding of the author's true intention. She wrote it for me! I love when authors pen words just for me. Even if it is to let me know the fact that I don't have the "right" wall decor, I don't have one of those little cheese knives, and my basement is too cold are not valid reasons for not being more hospitable. She says if I can't work around my issues about my home (as I should) I need to find ways to do it outside my home. Ouch. And very true. And very much what I needed to read.
The second book was (is, as I'm still reading) also a pleasant surprise! As many of you know, we are a home schooling family. I checked The Well Educated Mind out from the library based on the author's, Susan Wise Bauer, reputation. We use her general resource, The Well Trained Mind,and her absolutely fantastic history program, Story of the World. I'd been meaning to look into this one as well but the topic, a recommended reading list in book form, was one that I (conveniently) decided to put off until Will was older.
Shawn and I were recently discussing, again, the suggested reading list of classics we all receive our Freshman year of high school. Mine probably became a pile of spit balls for band class. The forced reading of Romeo and Juliet in English class was torturous enough. I wasn't going to strain my brain voluntarily.
Shawn was a nerd and actually did what he was told. He read most of them.
This wasn't the first time we'd had the book list discussion and I knew he was right, I should take the time to read something other than scrapbook magazines and crafting books. So I went ahead and reserved The Well Educated Mind at the library.
When I reached page 4, I read this:
What if your mind is hungry, but not particularly literate?
I think I raised my hand, which although might make me admirable in my admission, reinforces the topic, not being particularly literate. I wasn't asked to raise my hand.
Then I read: A well-trained mind is the result of application, not inborn genius.
And: Today . . . intelligent and ambitions adults feel that they're unprepared to tackle any course of serious reading and writing.
The real clencher, however, was this:
Yet because we can read the newspaper or Time or Stephen King without difficulty, we tend to think that we should be able to go directly into Homer or Henry James without any further preparation. And when we stumble, grow confused or weary, we take this as proof of our mental inadequacy: We'll never be able to read the Great Books.
This was expanded upon in Chapter 2.
Gathering data, which is what you do when you skim the newspaper, read People at the doctor's office, or use a book on plumbing techniques to fix your sink . . .
But gathering data and reading--understanding ideas and how people act when they try to live by those ideas--are not the same occupation. When you gather data from a newspaper or book, you use the same mechanical skill as when you engage in serious reading. Your eyes move; the words convey meaning to your mind. Yet your mind itself functions in a different way. When you gather data, you become informed. When you read, you develop wisdom--or, in Mortimer Adler's words, "become enlightened."
I have to interject here and share that the word "enlightened" bugs me. To me, in conveys an attitude of superiority, a personality trait which I consider to be one of the ugliest of vices. It turns me off immediately and tells me the person displaying this annoying trait is boorish and we will never gel personally. Having more knowledge than the average person in no way makes you a better person. On the contrary, my husband, much to the surprise of most people when they discover it by accident, is highly intelligent. His realization that he's just like everyone else (but happens to have a brain that thirsts for knowledge) and having absolutely no desire in any bone of his body to make anyone else feel less intelligent than he, is a complete turn on. : ) End of interjection!
When you read the morning news, you may find out that a suicide bomber has just devastated a restaurant on the West Bank. This is information--a collection of facts. Whether you gather those facts from a newspaper story, Time magazine, CNN's Headline News morning show, or a Web site does not significantly change the information, although the medium may slightly alter your experience of it; a skillful television montage of shots or a streaming Web site with pictures of bloody surviviors may arouse your emotions or associate this particular bombing with others that have happened recently.
But in order to be enlightened about the suicide bomber on the West Bank, you must read seriously: history, theology, politics, propaganda, editorials.
Further on in the chapter:
Technology can do a great deal to make information gathering easier, but it can do little to simplify the gathering of wisdom. Information washes over us like a sea, and recedes without leaving its traces behind. Wrestling with truth, as the story of Jacob warns us, is a time-consuming process that marks us forever.
I was left smacking my head and saying, "Duh!" I'm not too dumb to read challenging books. Just like becoming knowledgeable about a topic, takes actual work. I need to stop being lazy.
Will reading challenging books make me a better person? Better than others, no. Better in that I'll feel confident because I've conquered something that was a challenge for me, yes. Because I believe when we feel confident, harnessed with a sense of humilty that the desire for that goal and, more importantly, the capacity to fulfill it comes from God, it translates into a desire to serve others.