The Great 2018 Book Purge.

Great Book Purge a bit of an exaggeration, but there will be a thinning. When it’s done I’ll fill you readers in on the final tally. It is the time of year when I begin my year-end cleaning blitz. I suppose fall is when I tackle the equivalent of Spring Cleaning.

I am not much of a spring cleaner. In springtime, my energy is mostly directed towards end of school year activities both in my house and out of it. There are a few annual checklist items, such as calling HVAC companies, pest control, and sprucing up the yard after winter, such as winter is here. But deep spring cleaning? It’s just not my thing.

For me, fall cleaning is where it’s at!  Since we are finally getting a taste of fall (and by fall I mean daily highs below 85), my sudden itch to begin the New Year with an organized, deeply cleaned house is ready to be scratched. With that comes the dreaded task of figuring out which books to keep and which ones to toss.

As I noted in my review of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as much as that process speaks to the rabid minimalist inside me, I don’t live alone. Ruthless purging would be an extremely challenging undertaking, fraught with family drama not worth the rewards. I purge little by little, one closet, cabinet and bureau at a time.

However, I am in charge of 90% our library. I could, theoretically, pare down to the 30 books Marie Kondo suggests. I won’t because it’s not a feasible solution for our family, but I could. This article from Lithub explores the emotional connection bibliophiles have to books and the angst that can comes with deciding which ones “spark joy” and which should be tossed on the pile. Some books really are one and done reads, or books we acquired knowing full well we might never get to them; not now or in the future. For the true book lover, however, it is not as simple as that. From the Lithub piece:

It occurred to me that part of the reason why tackling the “books” stage of the Full Kondo seems so daunting is that to many of us our books don’t really belong in the category she has assigned. They are not impersonal units of knowledge, interchangeable and replaceable, but rather receptacles for the moments of our lives, whose pages have sopped up morning hopes and late-night sorrows, carried in honeymoon suitcases or clutched to broken hearts. They are mementos, which she cautions readers not to even attempt to contemplate getting rid of until the very last.

To be fair, Kondo no longer thinks that ripping books to pieces is a good idea, but it’s telling to learn that she herself once did this to save space. Keeping parts of books might make sense if your entire library consisted of cooking or craft manuals, but sounds completely crazy when applied to novels or narrative nonfiction. Which chapters of Anna Karenina or In Cold Blood would you keep, for example? The picture Kondo paints is a bleak one, referring mostly to business books and textbooks, to “studying” and “necessary information.” The “classics” she refers to are not Dickens and Brontë but “authors like Drucker and Carnegie,” a management consultant and an industrialist, respectively. With no offense to those two illustrious professions, I am not very shocked that these didn’t “spark joy.”

None of this is to say that there aren’t books book lovers should be willing to dispose of. I suspect I will shed at least 30. That’s not even counting at least 20 on the shelves that were borrowed from or dropped off by friends and need to be returned. I have as many books floating around also. Either way, purging 50 books (well, maybe 40) is better than none.

I’m not sure how this round will end, but I am hopeful. Because I am currently gripped with the urge to purge nearly every space in the house that is within my domain, I think I’ll get rid of quite a few. I expect I’ll even lose a few that I never thought I’d part with, but there does come a point when you have to accept that you’re probably never going to pick up a certain books a finish it, and that there’s a reason for that.

Analyzing why certain books land on the pile might be a fun mental exercise, so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Beyond Early Readers — marginalia books

Our youngest two children -10 and 12- are beyond early reader and even the newly independent reader stages. They are currently reading Tom Sawyer for their literature class. However, those early years when young kids are just beginning to read independently are precious, and Marginalia Books offers some excellent suggestions for nurturing that stage of a child’s literary development.

 

My two oldest weren’t exactly fluent readers yet but old favorites like Mouse Soup and Frog and Toad were too easy. They needed something interesting and challenging but weren’t ready for most chapter books. Here are some of the early chapter books we found and loved: Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo We loved the […]

via Beyond Early Readers — marginalia books

You can return bad Kindle books.

I never really considered before this past week whether or not it was possible to return Kindle books once they’ve been purchased and downloaded. It makes sense now, but until someone recently  informed me otherwise, I just assumed I couldn’t return them. I am grateful for that education.

While attempting to write 40,000 words and hitting a creative wall, I decided to do some research on the topic on which I was writing in the event that my entire project is an exercise in redundancy that someone else may have already done before, and better.

By the time I reached the 12% point in the book, I’d read what amounted to a long and windy bit of information unsuitable for anything other than a women’s study dissertation. Despite the gnawing feeling that I’d wasted a perfectly good $15, I forged on, despite wondering if my head would explode at one more sight of the words intersectionality, oppression, or patriarchy. By the time I reached 20%, I knew there was no point in reading further.

On the one hand, I was fairly certain that the book I was reading wasn’t in any way related to the book I am writing, which was good. On the other, I’d wasted my money, or so I thought. Thankfully someone informed me that Kindle books can be returned, refunded and removed from my device. I quickly returned the book, and bought another related one which I hope is in some way insightful. I also hope it doesn’t render my efforts redundant and unnecessary. I don’t think it will, as my particular take is unique and goes against the cultural grain, but we’ll see.

Consider this a PSA informing you in case you didn’t know, dear readers, that you’re not stuck with a bad book purchase just because you bought it on your Kindle device.

Rabbit Trail: The Ways We Teach.

We often focus on what we’re teaching to the exclusion of why, and most importantly how, we’re teaching. As a result, there is a lot of instructional wheel-spinning. That’s my formally uneducated conclusion on the subject. I’ve considered this frequently of late; whether I am teaching my kids as well as other kids I teach, effectively.

Over the weekend I had occasion to be part of an encouraging and informative session facilitated by an intelligent young teacher on the subject of mimetic teaching. It added more blocks to the structure my mind is erecting around what it means to be educated, and what it means to teach to the appropriate ends.

The antithetical aims of education, as a pragmatic tool for potentially securing wealth on the one hand versus a vehicle through which we pass on virtues to produce well-formed human beings on the other, confound me on a regular basis. This is not because I am unclear on which is more important. I am also fully aware that is possible to do both, and that we must do both.

Rather, it leaves me scratching my head because the former aim -education as a tool for securing material comfort- is accomplished via a mapped path where the destination is reached through checking the appropriate boxes at designated checkpoints along the way. Check off the right boxes at the right time, then you reach your destination. Based on the checked boxes you are declared educated, thus fully formed; or at least formed enough to embark on a responsible adult life.

The latter and less pursued aim- education as the vehicle through which we pass on virtues to produce a well-formed human being- feels more like meandering a scenic route. It includes many of the checked boxes, but also other disciplines of higher value, which are not as easily quantified. This is the understanding of education defined much more aptly in Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language published in 1828:

The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

This is where I fear myself doing a less than stellar job educating my children. It isn’t the acquisition of the checked boxes as outlined by the current education model that is difficult. Further, if we view “usefulness in their future stations” solely in postmodern economic terms, I’d dare say I’m doing pretty well, and certainly no worse than most. I know plenty of parents who are doing an even better job than we are at box-checking, religious education, arts, and manners.

For reasons I couldn’t quite grasp until very recently, I still hadn’t been able to shake the notion that somewhere there is a huge gap in my kids’ education and it has absolutely nothing to do with academic achievement or economic readiness. I’ve no doubt I’ll leave some gaps there too, but the gap I fear we are leaving is the one we won’t see until it too late to fill except by letting our children learn the hard, painful way. It’s the gap of learning to make decisions and be at ease and secure apart from us, a skill we value far too little in our culture which insists we make our children the center of our worlds; the be all and end all of our existence, lest they be damaged. Or worst of all, have low self-esteem.

Ironically, the technology which makes our lives so much “easier” is the very thing that is creating a generation of young adults who are incapable of navigating simple decisions on their own. It was a conversation in a grocery checkout lane with random, strange women where the only apparent shared experience is the fact that we are all mothers, that crystallized for me many of the things we fail to teach. More than that, however, are the ways we teach. In this particular case, it was the fact that most of our kids could barely stand to allow us a simple quiet trip to the neighborhood grocery store to buy milk or eggs without numerous calls and myriad text messages.

I was raised by a generation of parents who wouldn’t even allow us to enter the living room to interrupt conversation among adults unless someone was “sick, dead, or dying”. While I am not advocating that level of extreme separation of spheres between parents and children, we did learn at least two things. The first was what was worthy of interrupting our parents for while they were busy. The second was how to decide for ourselves if it would be more appropriate to have an apple or a banana for snack. The number of young adults -and not so young adults- I have encountered who are incapable of living life and making relatively simple decisions without the consultation of experts via Google or approval via Facebook is a repudiation of the ways we as parents are teaching them.

The greater implications of refusing to cut the apron strings in the appropriate ways and times strikes at the heart of Webster’s definition:

series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations.

It encompasses a whole lot more than anything which can assessed via the SAT or ACT tests.

Short Story Review: The Bachelor

The Bachelor, by Joseph Epstein. Posted at Standpoint Magazine Online, July/August 2018 edition. Read the story in its entirety here.

One of the literature and arts websites I subscribe to is Prufrock, which is published by the Weekly Standard. This short story was included in the latest edition sent to my inbox. Because it is a short story, easily read in 20 minutes, it would be really enjoyable to me if any of you inclined to click over and read it would come back here and share your thoughts.

The Bachelor is written as a first person narrative whose titular character is of course, a bachelor; a lifelong one. At 52-years of age, he is a successful attorney thoroughly enjoying his freedom. The minor things that most of us marrieds have concluded are well worth sacrificing for our beloveds and the families we’ve built are no longer minor sacrifices to the bachelor, and life is good.

Despite the fact that he genuinely enjoys women, he simply hasn’t found one worth the trouble of giving up his autonomy. That is, until he meets Laura Ross.

That’s as much as I can offer without spoiling the story, so click over and read it.

I liked it.

Content advisory: It’s a clean story in so far as it is free of any gratuitous sex or language, but it’s a very adult story and our bachelor is living the life of a healthy, red-blooded, secular bachelor. It’s not a Christian morality tale.

In which I don’t contemplate the Rule of St. Benedict.

This post isn’t going to be nearly as deep as it starts. I figured I might divulge that lest anyone expects profound wisdom. However, you just might find it if you click on the references linked.

If you’ve read here any length of time, You know that I am quite a fan of Joshua Gibbs. Gibbs, a teacher who leads students through a tour of the great books at a Christian classical school, authors a blog called The Cedar Room at Circe Institute. He recently authored a book which I’ve yet to read although I plan to. When I do, I’ll review it here. Almost everything he offers regarding the intersection of education, faith, and creating an atmosphere conducive to learning resonates with me, and I always look forward to reading what he has to say because it inspires me both as a teacher and as an aspiring writer.

Tonight is a rare date night, so as I was soaking my feet in preparation for the  softest possible result, I decided to catch up on his most recent posts. I often read educational inspiration on Fridays, as this is when I self-flagellate while re-examining the week behind me; from my time with my students at home (my children), to the students I teach at school. I was working backwards from today’s post to the first of the week, as I often do. Between a welcome opportunity to contemplate the rule of St. Benedict  (seriously, go read that!) and the role of the “sage on the stage”,  Gibbs drops in this ditty which sends me off on a mental rabbit trail, which may or may not be of worth at some point. I’ll have to ponder. Note the bolded part, which is where I’m about to park:

Students made eyes at one another, mouthed little conversations to one another, flirted with each other, and studied the six dozen pencil pouches and other gear (why everyone must have a water bottle these days is beyond my reckoning— were children of my generation dying of dehydration in math class and I simply never heard about it?) which filled the table. I found myself constantly working around the additional distractions the table created, and neither did I find conversation richer around the table than inside a classroom wherein all were oriented to the front.

And with that simple, unimportant, yet astute and accurate observation, my contemplation of the deep things concerning education and life was derailed as I wondered: Why DO we all send our kids off to school and every where else, with a big, reusable, and often expensive water bottle in tow? I carry one as well but I know why, and the answer startlingly simple and vain: If I drink more water, I eat less food, and my fabulously caramel skin stays hydrated, staving off the wrinkles a wee bit longer. Surely, your average six-year-old spending his days shuffling between an air conditioned classroom and a covered playground harbors no such concerns.

Our 10-year-old has already lost one $19 water bottle this school year, and she almost lost a second except this time we had the presence of mind to write her name on it. When she left it on the playground a while back, I got a call from another mother to inform me that she had taken possession of the water bottle and would reunite it with us on Monday.

Mr. Gibbs asked the question concerning those of us who were students in years gone by: were we all suffering from the dehydration we all seem so intent on sparing our children? I doubt it highly, but it still leaves me wondering. Usually with a little thought, a book and a few clicks, I can connect the dots and ascertain some idea of how particular cultural and parenting tics gained a foothold in our daily lives. The water bottle obsession, however, eludes me.

Just maybe, when I figure that one out, I can revisit the sage on the stage and the rule of St. Benedict.

Y’all have a great weekend, now!

Nurse Matilda

nurse matilda

Nurse Matilda, from Nanny McPhee, the collected tales of Nurse Matilda, by Christianna Brand. Originally published in 1964. I read the first story in the book, which was 132 pages. The entire volume (published in 2005) is 384 pages.

The past couple of weeks have been a little hectic. How hectic? I haven’t even made it to the library hectic. When coupled with the fact that I was spending far too much time imbibing the sensational, depressing and slightly infuriating news of the day, I decided what I needed was a good, funny children’s book. I don’t really need to go to the library to find a book, since I haven’t even read all of these yet:

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Given that there are shelves and shelves of books here, many that I haven’t ever read, I decided to poke around and find something cute and funny, and landed on this collection of beloved stories by Christianna Brand. They  are the stories on which the Nanny McPhee movies our family enjoys were based on.

Nurse Matilda is an ugly nanny with a magic stick who is called in by parents whose children are naughty beyond anything anyone else has been able handle, and the Brown children are the worst the nannies of their town have ever seen. Every group of nannies and nurses who run screaming from the Brown house after little more than one day on the job offers the Browns this advice: “You need Nurse Matilda!”

The Browns not only have children who are naughtier than most, they also have more children than most other families which makes their plight all the more lamentable. They don’t know who this Nurse Matilda is or how to reach her, but thankfully she mysteriously shows up at their door one day ready to tackle the task.

The children try as they might to rattle Nurse Matilda, but to no avail. They are no match for her, as she is able to handle all of their hysterical antics with aplomb, emerging victorious as she helps the children learn to be more obedient and mannerly. Along the way, the formerly ugly nanny becomes more and more beautiful to everyone in her midst as the children become better behaved.

I enjoyed this story’s slight twist on the ending that most people are familiar with from the movie, as it did surprise me, and I fully appreciate why Nurse Matilda is a beloved character. She was just what the doctor ordered for me this week.

4 out of 5 Stars

Reading level: This book can be quite enjoyable at the 3-4 grade independent reading level. As a read aloud, children as young as 1st grade would find it quite funny. Especially the baby.