Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.
–Henry David Thoreau
Like many homeschooling moms, I have always been a lover of books. I’m embarrassed to admit how many Baby-Sitters Club books lined my shelves, but I also gobbled the good stuff: I re-read my Little House books until the covers fell off and rejoiced over the vintage hardcovers passed down to me from my mom’s childhood. In high school, I earnestly dipped into the classics and developed an intense appreciation for poetry. From there, I jumped into my college studies with enthusiasm: I double-majored in English and Humanities, minored in Art History, and earned a graduate degree in Literature. I spent those years gulping Milton, Eliot, Dante, Austen, and Shakespeare (especially Shakespeare!). I poured it all right back out into the students I was teaching and into writing—and all the while I was gulping more. I hit a healthy balance of the poetic and the analytic: I knew how to love a book and the ideas it contained, and I also knew how to pull it apart to marvel at its inner workings; sounds like a Living Books Life, right?
But actually, my true Living Books Life started after that. I was pregnant with my oldest daughter and spent my first trimester sick in bed, where I read all the books Lucy Maud Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott ever wrote. I also started reading another female writer, Charlotte Mason. In the months and years following, in the midst of the daily chaos with a brood of young children, I undertook a new kind of reading life, one that looked more like Miss Mason suggested.
If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
The difference? I delved into the beautiful habit of slow reading multiple books across genres and subjects. Living books are meant to be savored; slowing down allowed me time to process to commonplace alongside, to discuss with others, to ponder, to wonder, to connect with the author and his ideas, to notice how the readings connect with one another in that wondrous web governed by the Holy Ghost. Those connections are best understood by reading liberally—and that moving beyond literature and grabbing books about math, cultural commentary, theology, and the sciences.
And something else was different too: that slow, broad, relational reading changed my perception of success. No longer did I measure my reading life by how many books I finished or how many pages I wrote on them. In those gulping years in an academic environment, I perpetually felt a combination of buzzed and burned out. I still get that buzz sometimes—a lot of the time, actually. This is an exciting life of learning! But rather than bouncing between two extremes, I am continuously fed, soothed, invigorated, challenged, encouraged, and blessed. My new goals are to cultivate virtue, to notice details and delight in them, to meet great minds, and to build knowledge of man, nature, and God.
It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.
A Living Books Life promises that we might have life—and might have it more abundantly. One can only approach such a promise with a posture of humility and gratefulness. I cannot adequately express my deep thankfulness for the lessons learned on this road of self-education, with Miss Mason as my guide. And the best part of it all? I get to live this with my kids. Abundance indeed.
Living books are meant to be savored; slowing down allowed me time to process to commonplace alongside, to discuss with others, to ponder, to wonder, to connect with the author and his ideas, to notice how the readings connect with one another
Celeste Cruz is mommy to eight children under age ten. Once upon a time she was training to be an English professor; now, she can often be found chasing her little ones while schooling her elementary kids. (Some days are more successful than others.) When she has her hands free, she enjoys distance running, nature journaling, traditional Catholicism, exploring her native Northern California, and beach-combing with her husband of thirteen years. She moderates for the AmblesideOnline Forums, fits her life into small squares on Instagram, and shares the joys of a Catholic Charlotte Mason home education at Joyous Lessons.