The discussion of Living Books is a never ending, ever evolving, endlessly enjoyable discussion. I could sit and have a "Grand Conversation" about living books any day, at any time (especially if there is coffee!). However, I know that the understanding of, and passion for, living books develops over time and that for most of us,the subject of living books (and how to find them!) is more abstract than practical. I firmly believe that the journey and development of learning about living books is valuable and irreplaceable. It's truly a developed taste and passion, that gradually occurs as you start to seek and search for books that will truly "give them the best". This journey is not something, even if I could, that I would take from another and condense into a practical, step by step formula. However, I do know that having a place to begin is vital, and that is what I hope I can give all of my feasting friends, no matter where on the living books journey we currently reside. Here are my "Getting Started" notes and anagrams, describing what I have found to be true about both living books and twaddle, and the difference between the two.
Living Books What is a living book? You will find a multitude of definitions upon an internet search, and only half of them would be even remotely correct. It has become a term synonymous with Charlotte Mason, and widely misunderstood. You will also find a wide variety of correct definitions, and each of these bring us back to the way that Mason herself spoke about these books. This is my definition of a living book, based on what I find in Mason's volumes: A living book is a book filled with inspiring ideas, written by one author who is passionate about the subject, and who's passion permeates writing that is filled with both quality language and timeless truths.
I think that the hardest thing to grasp about living books, is that they are filled from cover to cover with ideas, not facts. For the most practically minded among us, the concept of ideas, instead of facts, is a difficult one to grasp. Ideas inspire,while facts inform. Ideas form connections with other ideas, while facts stand alone. Ideas are digested, while facts are merely chewed over in the moment. Ideas are the flesh upon the dry bones of factual information. This does not mean that living books will not contain factual information, but this information won't be presented in a rote, bulleted, dated, list. This information will not be presented on it's own, but rather with, and among, the other information that it is connected to, and that gives it significance.
To know that the Egyptians crossed the Red Sea after their Exodus from Egypt sometime between 1525 and 1270 BC is a fact. To read about the Exodus AND the Shang Dynasty in China that occurred at the same point in history, gives ideas. To know George Washington's birthday and the names of his parents are facts. To read about the perseverance and ingenuity he displayed during the crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night, gives ideas. Living Books contain ideas, because ideas are living. The mind feeds upon ideas, so when searching for a book that will nourish the minds of born persons before us, we must seek out ideas.
What else are we searching for?
Hopefully, this anagram will provide you something to commit to memory, and assist in your search.
When you hold a living book up next to twaddle, with no expertise whatsoever, you can tell the difference. Living authors, as a general rule, choose living illustrators. The words, ideas, thoughts, drawings, and stories within the pages of living books are all lovely. They impart loveliness to our days, and they leave us feeling fuller, richer, and more joyful. A living book is one that is remembered, delighted in by all ages, and discussed throughout the days and weeks following the reading. A living book will appeal to your God given desire for truth, goodness, and beauty.
Living books display insight regarding the subject that goes beyond just a presentation of fact. Insight involves personal experience, passion, and a depth of thought regarding every aspect of the subject at hand. This personal experience is possible because the author is passionate about, and has a desire to truly know and understand, that which she writes and presents to readers.The gift of a living book is a perspective, and insight, that is only available from that author, about that subject, at that time. We do not seek information from a living book. Mason said that it can not be too often said that information is NOT education. Instead, we seek to be invited into the hearts and minds of people gifted with passions and perspectives different from our own.
The ideas presented in a living book may only directly address one subject or topic, but they abundantly prove the science of relations, by leading to and bringing to remembrance the truth, goodness,and beauty of other subjects read about, or experienced. A vast variety of topics, subjects, and Grand Conversations come out of the pages of a living book.The gift of living ideas is one that keeps on giving. A living book is a display of connections between all things, and much more importantly, the spiritual sacredness of all things-whether it be science, math, or music. All things point to other things, and all things point to God.
Reading a living book will inspire great ideas, honorable action, a variety of connections, and the pursuit of virtue. The very essence of being living is that the words on the page contribute to life. This happens in the moments following the reading, as someone exclaims "Oh! That gives me the greatest idea", and also in days and weeks to come, when children are reminded of the adventures of their favorite characters, or see their favorite art on the walls of public places.
Living books make their mark on the lives of the readers, and on the world. The stories, persons, and adventures are like life long friends that form the very character of the partakers of their ideas and wisdom. They do not do this in a moralizing, or trivial way, through trite lessons presented to "simple minds" who must be taught what to think. Rather, a living book is a gift that keeps giving, read time and time again, and more importantly remembered for a lifetime. Each reading, and each memory of the beloved story, gives a person a new depth of understanding, or brings to light a new aspect of the character or story. Reading about the lives of people displays for us the results of choices, and the elements of human thought and emotion. We do not have to be told what lesson to take from a living story, but rather take what we need as we digest, relate to, love, and delight in stories and as we form relationships with real and fictional people of the past and present.
Living books stand the test of time. A living book can be set in any time period, and contain elements relevant solely to that time period, and yet still be enjoyed by readers for centuries. A living book contains, and gifts us, with truths that are truly timeless, and that apply to hearts and lives, regardless of current technology or culture. Ideas and knowledge gained from the cultural, or historical, content of a book is valuable, without a doubt. However, even more valuable is the truth that nourishes the soul, no matter when and in what culture, a person happens to exist.
If living books are what we seek, then twaddle is what we avoid.I believe that each person must set their personal threshold for twaddle tolerated, and far be it from me to suggest that a person, or a child, should never be allowed to indulge in books enjoyed that are less than living. However, there are only so many hours permitted us to provide the education that we are called to provide, and those hours become valuable as we begin to view them as fleeting. If they are fleeting, then we desire to spend them well. In order to know how to give them the best, we must know how to recognize what is less than.
Twaddle is foolish, and this foolishness often makes it less than desirable. We mustn't mistake silliness for foolishness. Silly does not indicate twaddle, and several living authors delight readers with silly and humorous rhymes and stories. Foolishness, however, is void of ideas, empty of virtue, and often inspire negative thoughts and reactions.
Twaddle doesn't display a power of language, but rather a weakness of writing. Twaddle isn't timeless, because it isn't well written and doesn't contain the brilliance of a gifted and insightful author. A book that is not living will never stand the test of time, and doesn't leave a reader inspired to greatness.
Abridged writings, or writing that has been simplified, is twaddle. Great ideas, and beautifully written stories capture the curiosity and heart of adults and children alike, even amidst language that isn't always fully understood. There are retellings (like of Shakespeare) that take difficult to translate words and language and present it to children in a format that has not lost its power. However, all adapted stories, that have taken the brilliant writing of inspired authors and dissected it, under the assumption that children need simple vocabulary and silly illustrations in order to delight in goodness, are twaddle. Children should never be underestimated, and we should always consider them worthy of the best.
A book doesn't have to be abridged, or adapted, to be dumbed down. Far too often, books are written AT children, instead of TO children. If we respect our children as born persons, and if we believe that they are worthy of the best, then we should require that all authors invited into their lives give them the same respect. A child doesn't need a mini, simple, or "young" version of great truths and big ideas. A child is in need of truth. A child is in need of goodness. A child is in need of beauty. Every author that is worth their time will see this need of upmost importance.
A book considered twaddle will not delight a child. Sure, there is temporary pleasure in a beloved cartoon character, and goodness knows that all of our children have those. However, true delight occurs when stories are living, and twaddle fails to deliver this phenomenon. Books that are rote, filled with lists of facts, too simple, dry, or just plain boring are not living and there is always a better alternative. Any time spent bored, or in drudgery, is time wasted. The world is teeming with living, delightful books and we will never have time to read them all. I wholeheartedly echo Mason that "there is never a time that a child should be required to suffer twaddle."
The depth present in living books is contrasted sharply by the shallow words of twaddle, that tend to be short lived, both in impact and in remembrance. A living book will cause you to stop, and think, and most living books have to be read slowly and deliberately to be digested (reading slowly is ideal!, whereas most books that can be flown through quickly are twaddle. Not all light reading is necessarily twaddle, but all twaddle is most definitely light, and lacking depth.
The words of twaddle carry no long term, or permanent significance. They don't change hearts, minds, or the world. They don't form characters, or inform worldviews. They don't inspire, because they hold nothing within them that can be taken possession of by the reader. The words of a living book become the sought after prize of a person, and because they are full of life themselves, they make fuller the life of the one who now owns them.
The quality, and impact, of living books becomes more greatly desired the more than we come into contact with them. As we increase the presence of living books, filled with living ideas, in our lives and in our lessons, the result of this increase will be the reward in and of itself. As you pursue the best for your born persons, you will come to seek after living books like the treasure that they are, and in doing so, will be succeeding in offering up courses of lovely, insightful, vast, inspiring, notable, generational words and ideas to be feasted upon by the children that you are bringing up in the way that they should go. You will quickly find the significance, and truth, of Mason's Great Recognition that the Holy Spirit is the Teacher of all things, and that your role in education is simply to provide the best variety of living books that you can get your hands upon. In doing so, you remove the burden from yourselves to "get it all right", and place the education of your children in the hands of the God that designed them, and the men who He has gifted with wisdom and passion, shared upon countless pages of countless books that can be delightfully feasted upon for a lifetime.
May All Your Days Be Spent...Delightfully Feasting