Monday, June 20, 2011

The Summer of Literacy

The way the word "literacy" is commonly used today means, "able to read and write." In fact, that is one of the definitions in the Merriam-Webster dictionary today. But the Webster's 1828 dictionary defines literacy as, "Learned; lettered; instructed in learning and science."

Interesting difference.

When I speak of literate, I mean "well-read." As in, I can read a older book and catch the references to other works of literature or art.

I can't, by the way. I have decided that on the whole, Americans are VERY poorly read. On the whole. You might be the exception. I have tried to find a list of "recommended reading" for high school students but it seems that it varies greatly. If a student is in AP classes, then they might graduate having read a minimal number of great books, but if they are in regular or below regular classes? Forget it.

I think we just so often aim for the bare minimum. I mean, functionally literate means that a person can read and write enough to understand street signs, etc. Don't get me wrong...I am so thankful there are programs for adults who cannot read or write. It brings tears to my eyes to see how grateful folks can be when they finally learn to read. How horrible to go through life without being able to!

But I'm tired of the bare minimum. I want my children---and myself---(and S wants this too for himself) to be well-read. There are SO many books and works that we have never read. Books I have heard about my whole life but have never actually opened and read.

I've been thinking about all of this for a few months now. I think it really shook me up when I opened Gulliver's Travels earlier this year and couldn't understand it! Good grief.

So, here is what I'm doing about it:

1. The girls are working off of the 1,000 Good Books List. I am getting whatever I can from the library (and not all of them will be found there) and reading with them this summer. I have requested books from all over our county. I will highlight each book they have read and see how many we can get through this summer. Some we have already read or own, so I'm just marking those off. It's not that many though.

2. S and I went to Barnes and Noble the other night and bought 3 of their paperback classics. They had a deal for "buy 2, get 1 free". However, nothing rang up free at the register so we got back in line and because they had "screwed up" (in the very professional words of the cashier), we got the most expensive one for free. Awesome. So we are sitting on our garage sale double-recliner couch each evening, with our reading glasses on because we are in our 40s..and reading classic literature.

Soon, we'll be so smart you won't be able to understand my blog.

3. We hope, one day, to read some of the books on the 100 Great Books list. Honestly, I'm not sure I could read and comprehend some of those right now. Better get all these high school level books read first. We might settle for being able to read and understand the King James Version, a thing which I often cannot do now.

I think your blog reading is safe.


  1. I LOVE classics. I have just found out (since homeschooling) how much I like them! I missed out on enjoying good literature in school myself, so I spend a LOT of time reading and mostly sharing them with my children! Thanks for the reference to the 1000 books website. I didn't know about that. The 3 books about books that I most frequently use are "Honey for a Child's Heart", "Books that Build Character" and "Read for the Heart". Also, I absolutely love being able to download most of the classics for free on the Kindle! We are reading "Little Men" right now and loving it!

  2. That's one thing I appreciate about being raised on the KJV is that I don't have much of a problem understanding it. The problem is usually in obeying it, but I'm not sure that problem is unique to me, nor is it only with those of us who read the KJV. I'm raising my kids on the KJV, not because I'm KJV only because I'm really not anymore, but because I believe it helped my reading skills so much. And it's beautiful to read and memorize.

    On the classics, however, they aren't a big deal to me. As long as my children can read well, and comprehend what they are reading, I don't care if they never read the classics. Some of what is called "literature" is just downright boring. Some I really don't think is acceptable for children (like Shakespeare). And (this is a contention that some of the college courses I'm taking this term agree with me on), out of all the great stuff to read out there, why is some of it considered "classical" or "literature" while some other stuff is not considered literature or worth it even though it's very good. I don't think there are ANY classics in my list of favorite books, even though some of the classics I've read were ok. My mum seemed to think the classics were important, but I think it was more of a "well I like these books so you should too" thing.

  3. Well you should at least tell us which books you and S are reading. I would like to know! :)

  4. Katy-Anne, when I was younger this would not have appealed to me either. In any way.

    Kathy---S is reading Moby Dick and I am reading Sense and Sensibility. Which is totally cheating b/c I've seen the movie. But it's very enjoyable!

  5. Reading a book after seeing the movie is not cheating. It simply helps get us going sometimes. :) I've also recently printed the same book list and plan on all of us working on it. Had to laugh, just put together my almost 15 year old's schedule for this quarter and she's reading Great Expectations. Don't think I can handle that yet myself.

    You're not alone. Just keep growing! :)

  6. Brenda, I don't think it's a "younger" or "older" thing. I read most of the classics when I was a child, I enjoyed some, but didn't like most. My sisters loved most of them. My sisters are younger than me. I just think there are a lot of much better books out there that could have made it to the "classics" list but for whatever reason never did.

    Ones I remember liking were the "What Katy Did" books, "Anne of Green Gables", "Little Women", "Pride and Prejudice" etc. I absolutely loved "The Pilgrim's Progress", which my mom made e read in unabridged form, the original edition.

    Some modern stuff that could be classics but aren't (and who gets to decide that, anyway?) are Nicholas Sparks' "A Walk to Remember", Melina Marchetta's "Looking for Alibrandi" (Australian book and movie), things of that nature. The books are good literature and we can learn a lot of things from them. In fact there are a few YA Australian works that would make for good "classic" material.

    Some of the courses I'm doing now make a distinction between "Literature Studies" which focuses more on what someone decided the "classics" were, and "Cultural Studies" which examines pop culture without worrying about who wrote it, how famous they are, of even if it is considered "good literature". The point is that you can learn a lot of things from reading almost anything. This is personally the approach I prefer. It doesn't have to be deemed a "classic" in order to be something we can learn a lot from.

    I want my children to enjoy reading, and want them to read a lot. But I could care less if they ever read the "classics" or not, because they will still be well read and well educated (and will end up studying some of them in school anyway).

  7. I was an AP student and read a lot of the Classics (I always get a good score on the BBC reading list that circles facebook every once in awhile). Many of the books on that list are garbage, just because a book is 100 years old does not make it good literature. By that definition the Kama Sutra should be on everyone's reading list, according to Wikipedia is was written 200 years before Christ! I always get a chuckle reading Charlotte Mason because I think that what she was referring to as "twaddle" we probably now classify as classic literature and make our kids read it :)

    I use Books Children Love as my goto source for literature (directed reading, separate from reading for pleasure or learning to read fundamentals). We get a lot of books on CD in unabridged versions so even my reluctant/ unable readers can enjoy them. I've made sure that my kids have had an introduction to Shakespeare and Greek mythology since they are referenced in so many subjects and applications (think Cliff Note type introduction- they know the main character and the plot highlights).


I don't get to talk to a lot of actual grown-ups during the day, so your comments make me really happy! :)