The Old Books

Having grown up on the moderate side of the conservative Christian homeschool movement, I enjoy reading accounts by those who’s experience overlapped enough to be recognizable, but crossed that invisible threshold from reasonable to extreme. Of course, particularities matter a lot, including temperaments. Something that I found unreasonable and sort of aggravating could be more seriously harmful for my brother.

I appreciated that about a blog I encountered today about only reading the old books as a teen. My friends and I read the old books as well, and there were even a few Homeschool Girl niche books mixed in there, like Elsie Dinsmore and Janette Oak, and the occasional Girl’s Group where earnest an mother would suggest that we should not count on having a job, because it’s really better to serve in one’s father’s house until an appropriate courtship commenced. But my parents have good taste in books, a fair dose of good sense, and are good critical thinkers. That I read different books than many of my peers in public school was in no way sinister, regardless of their feelings about F. Scott Fitzgerald or J D Salinger. I’m sure they thought that some of them were not appropriate before a certain age, but that came up more in movies than books. I suppose that if I’d wanted to read A Game of Thrones when it first came out, and my parents were aware of what was in it, my parents would have objected. And we talked about the books — mostly the old ones, and sometimes the pulp sci-fi fantasy, including things like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (Magic? Check. Rape? Yeah. Questioning the power of the Creator? Yep. Also a leprous anti-hero for the main character). Not that I read most of those for school. By junior high we were having laze faire literature class consisting of picking up a book from the bookshelves or the library and talking about it with my parents and on internet message boards. Of course, if you do things that way, you’re not going to end up getting to some books that have been important to literature, but not to anyone you know personally or read a lot of. I read Homer because he was important to Virgil, who was important to Dante, who had a place on the bookshelf of a friend. But I didn’t read Virginia Woolf because she wasn’t important to anyone I knew or read. Actually, I did read A Room of One’s Own, because it was on my grandmother’s bookshelf.

So much of this is a matter of chance and friendships. I still haven’t read some of those high school classics. Maybe I’ll read some of them sometime. I tried starting Catcher in the Rye the other day, but didn’t care about anything or anyone in the first chapter and didn’t want to pay money in the hopes that I’d come to like it better. I keep telling myself I’m going to read The Sun Also Rises, but haven’t managed — I did finally get through All Quiet on the Western Front, though.

I don’t agree with the above blog post on some things — I think she’s gone somewhat too far in the opposite direction. It’s not true that old boos are automatically less challenging than new ones (which she doesn’t say, but implies). I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to have a subculture that’s defined in part by enthusiasm for a set of books which aren’t entirely mainstream. It’s not wrong that I could walk into a conference in Wichita, Kansas get a sheet of quotes with Elder Porpherious, Kierkegaard, Solzienitzen, St Maximus the Confessor, Dostoevsky, and C S Lewis, and know that these were my people, and my parents’ people, though we had never met before. But I imagine Samantha as being one of those girls in my homeschool group with stricter parents lacking an inner Kierkegaardian spy, and rougher experiences finding herself in college and later. It makes me wish I could have a cup of tea with those girls I knew but never quite understood, who may have been embarrassed by my family’s chaotic ways.

One thought on “The Old Books

  1. I’ve been following and enjoying your blog for a while on Kate B’s recommendation (I’m an OrthoJohnnie, SF10, who went to St. Juliana’s but occasionally dropped in at HT), and with even more interest now that I know that you were homeschooled. Me too, mostly happily, all the way until I went to SJC, also by fairly moderate evangelicals. Samantha’s post made me sad, because although my family was much more reasonable and only a teensy bit cultish, I knew a lot of families like hers. Man, homeschooling can be so good, or so bad…

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