Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Read for the Heart

Oh my! I've been waiting for this book. No really. I've been waiting for somebody to put the words in my head together and put them into a book and for that book to be published. This is that book. I hug it. I love it. It is awesome!

A friend of mine gave me a copy of this book for Christmas and I was thinking it was a lot like The Book Tree (click on title for review) and it is that. However, it is that and so much more. I would say that the differences between Read for the Heart and The Book Tree is that Clarkson shares more of her philosophy behind what she feels is good quality literature and she spreads her thoughts about by book genre. So, for example, in The Book Tree the authors give you their philosophy upfront and the rest of the book is full of suggestions for quality books to read. Read for the Heart is divided up into category by genre with an introduction by Clarkson to each part. She also has a more Montgomery-ish flair to her, so of course I'm going to like that.

Sarah Clarkson says a lot in this book that I agreed with. We had some differences of opinion on particular book titles but you can't agree with people on everything all of the time and I'm feeling magnanimous at the moment.

The very best argument that Clarkson makes in this book, and I know that this is not going to sit pretty with some of you, is against abridged classics or re-writes. It irks me when I see abridged copies of classic pieces of literature because I feel like we're doing ourselves a disservice by not making ourselves work towards deeper understanding of great works. We're such a McDonald's society - give it to us quick and easy. But where is the benefit of watering down the classics in the long run? Instead of calling ourselves to higher standards, we're trying to find the shortcut and the easy way around MASTERPIECES. It's like standing in the Louvre, looking at the Mona Lisa and deciding she's too complicated. So we grab a pencil and draw a stick figure of a lady. Er, we guess it's a lady. The stick figure has long, string-like looking hair. Must be the Mona Lisa. "AH!," we say, "I have gazed upon the Mona Lisa and she is lovely."

But she's a stick figure.

I'm not even going to begin describing the inner emotional turmoil I felt when I laid eyes on an abridged copy of Anne of Green Gables. My word, people!! (Don't admit it to me if you've read it.) It was written in 1908. There are no language barriers or difficulties between then and now. It's practically a children's book story. Where are our limits?

Clarkson, unlike me, doesn't rant though. She just gives you facts in a pretty little way. I know one of the common complaints about classic literature is that the vocabulary gets in the way. Instead of looking up definitions and expanding our vocabulary by learning new words, we'd rather just....not. Clarkson addresses the issue of vocabulary and I offer you this excerpt from Read for the Heart:

On a more spiritual level, the habit of reading influences the ability to think deeply about life-altering ideas of faith and belief. Madeleine L'Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, once wrote that the decreasing vocabulary of modern culture would result in an inability to think greatly about God:

"The more limited our language is, the more limited we are; the more limited the literature we give to our children, the more limited their capacity to respond, and therefore, in their turn, to create. The more our vocabulary is controlled, the less we will be able to think for ourselves. We do think in words, and the fewer words we know, the more restricted our thoughts. As our vocabulary expands, so does our power to think."

When we limit our ability to articulate truth about God, we limit our awareness of His presence and power in our lives. An inadequate vocabulary sometimes equals an inadequate comprehension of spiritual reality. God formed our brains to be molded by words.

. . .

A young intellect nourished by a feast of words can tackle any concept -- whether mathematical, scientific, spiritual, or imaginative - with confidence. (pages 20-21)

I think it's downright tragic that we would try to limit our reading experiences with rewrites and abridged versions of classics. Language translations are one thing. I'm not arguing against those, but I do think we could stand to broaden our vocabulary and maybe even preserve what's left of it. We complain when kids don't like to read but would rather spend their time playing video games or watching t.v. and yet we remove challenges that might inspire them. Perhaps if we raised them on a steady diet of good stories and healthy vocabulary, their minds would crave more complex activities and books! (Yes, I am arguing.)

The secret, which is not really a secret, according to Clarkson is to start reading early and then read often. She would argue that we should begin building within our children a love for classics and then gradually introduce the classics to them at an age where they can truly appreciate it. Developing and training child in the habit of reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent/guardian could give to a child. A child who begins reading young develops a taste for it and can tackle bigger and greater reading habits with age. Then, when the child is of an appropriate age, he or she can grab those great classics of the past and not just read them, but ENJOY them for what they are, in all of their original glory! Instead of being scared of great literature, great literature will be their natural choice.

I think we adults, who are always looking for a quick fix, give children the permission that they are looking for to avoid hard things in the book department. Sure, Les Miserables (for example) is a stretch. It's long and tedious in parts. But the reward in having read it? Priceless! There is a richness in it that cannot be substituted by the Claire Danes. It is a masterpiece for a reason so why do we not train ourselves to enjoy it for what it is?

Clarkson also talks about the gift of imagination in this book but I'm going to save that discussion for a separate post.

There is a lot of thought-worthy information in this book and I think it offers some good and valid arguments as to why we need to be reading the best in literature to our children. By offering them the greatest writings that we can, they will learn to seek good writing all on their own. I appreciated her bringing her opinion to the table, as it is, and I feel quite comfortable in recommending this book to others. I'd be hard pressed not to!


Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

I don't think classics should be abridge either. I think kids should discipline themselves to learn to read longer books.

Amber said...

AMEN!!! I am adding this book to my Amazon wishlist! I homeschool my kids and they read the classics. Unabridged.

Barbara H. said...

I think with something like Les Miserables, which is well-known for its extensive rabbit trails, I'd rather someone read an abridged version than not at all. But Anne of Green Gables? That is very easily understood in its original form. I agree, I do think we need to expand our (and our children's) vocabulary and horizons and understanding rather than chop everything into "fast food" for them.

Carrie said...

I know Les Mis has rabbit trails. And I skimmed them myself! I didn't really care about the sewer systems in Paris. That said, I still think we shouldn't ABRIDGE the book but leave it as it. Those that want to read it can and those that don't can skim.

Shonya said...

Oh! Oh! I'm so excited about this book--I want it NOW! And I wholeheartedly agree with you--no abridged books please! My 13 yo daughter read Les Mis this year--chuckle. Took her about 4 months, but ya know! ;) LOVE L'Engle quote! What a great post

Andrew Wiggins said...

Did you find suggested titles in this book that you hadn't come across before? I have so many books and articles that recommend reading lists for children that I'm never at a loss for what to read to my kids. Is this book much more than that so it would still be worth reading?

Thanks for the review.

Carrie said...

Wiggins - Actually, I think her list is smaller than that in The Book Tree. The defining point of this book is that she divides the book by genre instead of age and argues her points as to her selection well. There's more...hmmm...philosophy behind it.

I agree that I would probably never be at a loss to find something for my kids to read and admittedly I consult no lists! Mostly, I appreciated hearing the "why" arguments behind her lists.

Hopefully this helps. For myself, I really am glad to have this book on hand for argument sake. For you, you might prefer to just skip or skim.

Cassandra said...

Someone wrote an abridged version to Anne of Green Gables??? Seriously? I started reading that book around age 7. I've also read it as an adult. There is no reason to write an abridged version of that book!!

Anonymous said...

I read your blog today!! Now it's bookmarked on my toolbar so I can read it every day :) Thanks for the suggestions and reviews, Carrie!

Shonya said...

Are you familiar with 'Honey For a Child's Heart' by Gladys Hunt? How would these books compare?

Carrie said...

I haven't read Honey for a Child's Heart so unfortunately I cannot compare.

Anyone else?

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I have Honey for a Child's Heart and have looked through it, but I haven't thoroughly read it. However, it does have extensive book lists. I'd say a little over half the book is devoted to lists, and they are divided by age group.

Okay, Carrie, are you saying I should CONTINUE to TRY to find time to finish the unabridged Les Mis, or should I bite the bullet and go with the (admittedly still very long, still translated from the original, etc., etc., etc.) abridged version? :-)

One more thing, while I'm "arguing" ;-) . One of the concepts/tenets/arguments behind much of the classical education stuff I've read (and I've read a good bit) is that we SHOULD introduce our young children to abridged versions of the classics, so that when they're old enough to read the "real thing," they'll be comfortable with the story and not scared off by it.

Hmmmm. Interesting. Much food for thought.

I want to read Read for the Heart myself, and I've only recently paid attention to Clarkson at all, so I suspect I'll be adding several of her titles to my TBR list!


Stephanie Kay said...

Just a point of clarification- this book is by SARAH Clarkson (the daughter) not SALLY Clarkson (the mom who has other books). I'm very interested to read this book! As a general rule I agree with you about abridged books. But I can also see the value of reading an abridged version to familiarize yourself with a story so you don't trip over all the rabbit trails or archaic language later. But an abridged Anne?! Seriously?! (shaking head.)

Carrie said...

Amy - yes, and I hear the argument and have always rather sympathized with it to a degree. Perhaps I should say that I've always felt like it was the best argument for abridged works.

However, I really, really, really like the point that Sarah makes that we feed our children age/stage of life appropriate classics. So you would build up.

When we think about it, the complaint is that we didn't appreciate the classics we read in high school, right? Maybe that's because we were rushed into works that we would have had a better appreciation for a bit older. Something else for high school and then when we're reading adults, we'll reach for things that are more suitable.

And I wasn't picking on you. =D I picked a random title!

Carrie said...

P.S. Here's the abridged Anne of Green Gables for ages 9-12:

Again, I'll point out that Anne herself is 12...

hopeinbrazil said...

Over the years I've collected half a dozen books on "classics everyone should read", but these are two new titles to me. Thanks for pointing them out.

MJ @ Creative Madness Mama said...

Googled the book, found your review. Thanks for providing it! Love when I find a blogger I trust to share opinions on something I'm actually interested in!

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