Homeschool Reads December Edition

I wanted to share what books we are currently reading, or have finished reading, in December. Most of our morning school time is devoted to reading good books. Here are our recent selections.

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson

This is the first title we covered in our Teaching Character Through Literature Study (available from Beautiful Feet). This is a quick read, and we covered it in just a few days. I purposely kept us at two or three chapters per day so we could discuss what was going on in the story and with the characters. The children quite enjoyed this and (I think) took several lessons to heart. This story prompted a very good conversation about pride.

With holidays in December, our school schedule has been light. We have started a few new titles, mentioned briefly below, but I won’t comment too extensively until next month when we are finished reading them.

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyon

This book was added to our Reading list because it is the book that the March sisters are reading throughout Little Women. This is the first allegory for Kyri, and I have been so impressed with how well she is following the story and understanding the deeper meaning.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

As mentioned above, Kyri is working through Little Women. She is reading an Illustrated Classics edition (abridged) but I recently added a lovely unabridged volume to our library so we will read the unabridged together when she finishes.

The Burgess Book of Birds by Thornton Burgess

We have recently added in this selection to our morning reading time. I love it because it is a wonderful way to introduce real facts about animals, like migration and nesting, but in a delightful, fanciful way.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Kyri finished the Illustrated Children’s (abridged) edition last month, and has started the unabridged version this month. She is so enamored with the entire story. I think we may have to get some goats and a hay loft for her!

King Arthur and His Knights by Elizabeth Lodor Merchant

This is a wonderful collection of stories about King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. This has been our family read aloud and we will be finishing it in January.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2016

I am really excited to participate in the Back to the Classics Challenge this year. This will be my first year!

There are twelve categories of classics, and minimally a person should plan to read six books, but all twelve is best. I am finalizing my 2016 Reading Plan (I’ll be sharing that soon!) and have enjoyed finding titles from these categories as well. Want to learn more about the challenge? Head over to Books and Chocolate.

Okay, onto my list!

I am feeling pretty good about my selections for the year, but I will say that there are two categories that I am still hemming and hawing on… the Reread from HS/College and the Collection of Short Stories. I’ve got two in mind for each, but I’ll make my final choice (or read both if time permits) as the year progresses and update my list.

19th Century
Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

20th Century
C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy

Woman Author
Louisa May Alcott’s Jo’s Boys

Classic in translation
Dietrich Bonheifer’s The Cost of Discipleship

Non-white author
Richard Wright’s Native Son

Adventure Classic
Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo

Fantasy, Sci-fi, Dystopian
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

Detective Novel
GK Chesterton’s Father Brown Mysteries

Name of Place in Title
Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Banned or censored
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Reread a classic from HS/college
James Fennimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans or
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

Volume of classic short stories
The Best Short Stories of O. Henry or
James Joyce’s Dubliners

After I read each selection, I’ll be posting my thoughts and insights here. I hope you will  follow my progress in the reading challenge!

The Screwtape Letters Part 2

I am quickly growing my list of “books to be reread regularly” and The Screwtape Letters is firmly in this list. I have gotten so much from my first read, I can only imagine what I will glean from the next time through. Here are some of the highlights of several chapters I have read.

In Letter 14, Screwtape is tackling the topic of Humility.

“Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By jove! I’m being humble’, and almost immediately pride – pride at his own humility – will appear.”

“You must therefor conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely a low opinion) of his own talent and character.”

“Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be.

By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools.”

“The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents – or in a sunrise, and elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love – a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours.”

This was a fascinating letter. I think we really do have a basic misunderstanding of humility, and because of this (along with the expectation that as Christians we are expected to have humility) we struggle with how to live out this part of our faith. We may think we are supposed to downplay our talents and strengths, or to have a lower opinion of ourselves than is necessary. But rather than bringing ourselves down low, we should be raising ourselves up, along with everyone else, as glorious and excellent things. We can celebrate our own talents, along with the talents of others. We should not be biased in our own favor, but neither do we need to devalue ourselves.

Letter 15 deals with time and eternity, and humans’ perception of them.

“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

“He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present – either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.

“Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present.”

“It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time – for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”

“Hence, nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, lust and ambition look ahead. Do not think lust an exception. When the present pleasure arrives, the sin (which alone interests us) is already over.”

“The duty of planning tomorrow’s work is today’s duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present. This is now straw splitting. He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. His ideal is a man, who having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.”

This is one of my favorite letters, because it really shines a light on a problem that so many of us deal with. God wants us focused on eternity or on the Present. But because we are always moving toward the future, it is easy for Satan to distract us from this by refocusing our attention on the Future. Fear of what may come (or not), Lust for something we don’t have yet (or will at all), ambition for something we want. All these things pull our attention away from our Present.

Fear is probably a big one – we are so afraid of the future – how we will make it financially, how our kids or our marriage will end up in 10 or 15 years. We get so crippled by these fears, that we are unable to really function in the Present. God has a better plan for us.

We should focus on the Present – the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure – and cast all of our fears about the Future onto the alter; let us rest in knowing that God will handle it.

In Letter 16, Screwtape is concerned that the “patient” is attending the same church regularly and makes suggestions on how to deal with that “problem.”

“Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.”

“In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires.”

“In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the enemy wants him to be a pupil.”

“At the first [church] of these the Vicar is a man who has been so long engaged in watering down the faith to make it easier for a supposedly incredulous and hard-headed congregation that it is now he who shocks his parishioners with his unbelief, not vice versa.  He has undermined many a soul’s Christianity.”

“The real fun is working up hatred between those who say ‘mass’ and those who say ‘holy communion’ when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker’s doctrine and Thomas Aquinas’, in any form which would hold water for five minutes. And all the purely indifferent things – candles and clothes and what not – are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials – namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples.”

I love this letter. We have spent the past several years without a church home. I know how it feels to shop for a church. I know plenty of people who have felt they had to keep searching until they found just the “right” church for them. Screwtape reveals how this can be a tool of our Enemy, teaching us to be critical of details when we should be finding a common cause (worship) with a congregation. One problem with churches that he describes is this tendency to water down the scripture to make it easier or more palatable to the masses.

I think this is one of the biggest challenges facing churches today.

In an attempt to feel relevant with a quickly changing society, churches often feel the pressure to lighten up a little on scriptural truths in order to be more appealing and welcoming. We may get to a point where the church doctrine is not recognizable as Christian anymore.

Another point made in this letter is what Screwtape describes as party churches. He states that this tends not to be about doctrine so much as little things, things that really make no difference in church teachings (like candles and clothes). I think the sheer number of denominations is enough to show that parties are very much a thing. While there are doctrinal issues that divide the various denominations, there are also a lot of minor details that people get hung up on.

Read The Screwtape Letters Part 1.