“The wisest woman I ever knew–the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend–told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, “I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!” That is the secret; always have something “going” to grow by. If we mothers were all “growing” there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls.” Parents Review Volume 3, no. 2, 1892/93, pgs. 92-95
I love to read. I always have. Not everyone comes into adulthood with this attitude, but that is somewhat irrelevant to our discussion today. Today we are going to chat about why we simply must read; why it is neither a luxury, nor a selfish act; why is neither dreadful, nor dry, nor dull. Why reading is simple and delightful and entirely necessary to our flourishing as a human being. But first, we shall chat about food.
No one denies that we must eat each day. Quite frankly, a cursory scroll down your facebook page or the health section of the paper or even a conversation with friends will likely lead you to the fact that many of us think a lot about what we eat. Some people go paleo, others dairy-free, some have allergies, others have sensitivities, and still others abstain from groups of foods by choice and often with the claim of much scientific evidence in their corner. Whether we eat enough, or too much, or the right things and how that affects our moods, weight, and energy levels is fodder for hours of discussion. Like it or not, our bodies were made to survive by eating food and so we simply must make choices as to what foods we will take in and how to prepare them. We cannot avoid food or our bodies would suffer and eventually die.
“Diet for the body is abundantly considered, but no one pauses to say, ‘I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?'” Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 24
Now, our bodies present a physical reality that cannot be ignored and so we deal with our hunger, thirst, elimination, warmth, and tiredness day to day. As Charlotte points out above and I am bringing up now, how often do we consider the realities of our non-physical selves? Our minds and spirits each have needs in order to grow and thrive. How often do we see those around us in life who suffer greatly because they have not fed their spirit or their mind sufficiently and when even a small difficulty befalls them, they are overwhelmed? So what is the proper diet of the mind?
“A child is a Person with the spiritual requirements and capabilities of a person.
Knowledge ‘nourishes’ the mind as food nourishes the body.
A child requires knowledge as much as he requires food.” Charlotte Mason, Vol.6, p 18
Do not take the word “children” above to mean only those under 18. We are all children of God. This is true for each one of us. It is our responsibility as parents to provide our children with sources of knowledge, but as we become independent adults it is also our duty to provide ourselves with food for the mind.
Perhaps you are thinking I am about to tell you that you must have some very thick classic in the works at all times, or perhaps you do indeed read People magazine quite often and so you’ve got this covered. I would love to lead you back to reread the first quote at the top of this post. Scroll up, I’ll wait. I’m encouraging you to read variety. A peppy novel is easy to read when time is short in the carpool line. A moderately easy book, maybe that you are reading with friends in a book club, is perfect for when the youngest of your crew is put to bed and you have fifteen minutes to spare. Then keep a more challenging book around too. When everyone is in bed may be your prime reading time – are you giving that time to Netflix instead? On the contrary, maybe getting up 15 minutes earlier would give you the space you need to get to a good book?
I have also heard of many variations of the three book rule. Perhaps one non-fiction, one fiction, and one book to grow a personal interest? One history, one science, and one thriller? One for work, one that you should have enjoyed in high school, and one spiritual book? This is your list, make it your own. While you should seek books that will help you be a better human being in general, they should also help you to be the best version of whoever you uniquely are. Your stack should not fill you with dread, it should feel like a tempting meal for a hungry traveler. Maybe thinking of it as a meal would help – one appetizer, one meat and potatoes, and one dessert.
“Working men will have leisure in the future and how this leisure is to be employed is a question much discussed. Now, no one can employ leisure fitly whose mind is not brought into active play every day; the small affairs of a man’s own life supply no intellectual food and but small and monotonous intellectual exercise. Science, history, philosophy, literature, must no longer be the luxuries of the ‘educated’ classes; all classes must be educated and sit down to these things of the mind as they do to their daily bread. History must afford its pageants, science its wonders, literature its intimacies, philosophy its speculations, religion its assurances to every man, and his education must have prepared him for wanderings in these realms of gold.” Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, pg. 43 (Emphasis mine)
Let me also let you in on some of the ways that I sneak in a bit of reading throughout the day. I used to be very much of the mind that reading should be leisurely, enjoyed in silence, and supplemented by things like tea and a couch. As such, when I became a parent, I was convinced that I would never find time to read again. It was impossible! It was when I let go of the perfect, Pinteresty vision of what reading should look like that I realized I could sneak in reading instead of a lot of the other activities that were taking up my time, or at times that I could do more than one thing.
First and foremost, women with newborns – this is my favorite time for reading. Newborns need lots of time to cuddle and nurse and moms need lots of rest in this phase of life. Now is a great time to sneak in a few minutes here and there to read. When I have a nursing baby, I get lots of reading done. That is, if I put my phone down. Ahem.
Secondly, consider an e-reader. I don’t really love them, I prefer a beautifully bound book, but you know what… I’d rather read than not read and always having a Kindle full of books in my purse means that I can read when I am waiting in the parking lot to pick up a child, or in the waiting room at the dentist, or any other spot that I find myself with a few minutes to spare. One caveat, I will say get the inexpensive black and white version of the e-readers. The fancy, LED-screen, app-filled, mini-computers are both harder on the eyes and more likely to lead you into the world of email and social media than reading. Simplicity is key.
Third, assess your time. Where are your moments in the day that feel… sluggish? Easily wasted? A bit frantic or scattered? Often, we have entire pockets of time in our day that go to waste because we aren’t even sure what we should do next or we allow ourselves to waste time on the same frustrating thing over and over rather than fix it and regain that time. Identifying the problem and creating a system to deal with it could both free up a lot of mental energy and time. For example, when I bought a home and had children who were 6, 4, and newly born I found that each time I walked into the house, if I wanted the coats put away, I had to hang them in our entryway closet. In everyone’s rush to be home, I would often find myself with two coats on the floor at my feet and wet shoes tossed either on top or near those coats, while I also had a new baby and my own coat to put away. It was frustrating for me and my children had a terrible habit. One day, I put up a set of 6 hooks in that same closet at the height they could reach. Within two weeks of practicing, everyone hung up their own coats and scarves, mittens stayed in pockets, and shoes had a home next to the hooks. I was free to hang up only my own things and the baby’s. It freed 5 minutes each time we arrived home, but it also left me with a happy feeling rather than a frustrated one and thus improved probably at least the next 15 minutes following each arrival home. From a $20 set of hooks.
Lastly, do not feel like this list of books must be entirely your own. Perhaps listening to an audio book with your husband in the evening might be something you do to wind down from the day, or even consider reading aloud to one another. I like to read good fiction to my older children each night, one chapter each evening. They are of the age now that if I read just slightly above their reading level, it could easily qualify as a “moderately easy” book for an adult. Quite frankly, this is one of the most joyful parts of my day as I missed so many good stories in my youth and this gives me the ability to not only enjoy them, but to share them with my children. Listening to audiobooks in the car is a great idea, as well as while you walk or exercise. Put a speaker in your bathroom (I use this one attached to my phone and Audible app) and listen during the shower or listen as you clean your kitchen or do laundry.
Once you truly understand how your mind will come alive when given its proper nourishment, and you begin to see the fruits of a mind awakened to wonder and knowledge, you’ll come up with lots of ideas for finding a bit more reading time.
I’d love to hear other ideas – where do you find yourself sneaking in some reading time?
“Varied humane reading, as well as human thought expressed in the forms of art, is, not a luxury, a tit-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life, which they must have in abundant portions and at regular periods.” Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 111
Need some book recommendations? Here are some of my favorite places to go: