Judging a book.

I have been reading some Homeschool parents views and agree with the importance of building a home library of very good books. No surprise there then 🙂 Most parents are well aware that books can cause damage and are careful about what their children read. It’s a bit silly to keep children away from various screens on account of the content of the internet and TV channels, but give them free rein over all the revolting books aimed at destroying a child’s innocence or grammar and vocabulary. I know many American parents can say they have managed to get some lovely books from the library. To be honest our experience has been that finding high quality children’s books at the library has been quite a struggle. I have concluded that building a strong home library is the way to go.

Choosing books for our home library isn’t always easy. When I first took the children out of the school system I had come to the conclusion that there was hardly any literature of even a mediocre quality for children. Fortunately I was wrong. I like to look for recommendations from trusted sources, whether that be other parents whose views I trust, or websites with staff whose views I have learned are trustworthy. I have found some wonderful books this way. If I can’t find them, sometimes there are YouTube videos of the story.

One of my methods for choosing books is to read the reviews on Amazon. Now, the obvious disadvantage of these reviews is that I have no idea about the people writing them. Nevertheless there are some reviews that are clear and honest, giving me a good overview of whether to spend my cash that way. Some of the best adverts for books are the one star reviews. I have often gone ahead and bought a book based on the one star reviews.

But one thing I seem to be coming across with increasing frequency is those who give a book a one star review, saying the book is rubbish, for no other reason than they personally have not understood it! They are not criticising a deliberately opaque writing style, or an overuse of purple passage, they just say, I don’t get this so the book is rubbish. I can’t help wondering if this peevishness is rooted in the educational systems insistence that all must be rewarded. All are winners, and if a person faces some challenge they cannot immediately overcome then it’s the fault of the challenge, not the person who can’t meet it. To be honest I think it would be like me criticising the length of my road, simply because I can’t walk up it.

I wondered if this “if I don’t understand it, it must be wrong/rubbish,” view was a product of “modern” education: that is post 1970s (ish). But I stumbled upon a book from the early 20th C (public domain) about St Teresa of Avila by someone who doesn’t seem to have understood what she was doing with her life at all. He laments her humility and obedience as gross weaknesses that prevented her doing any good beyond the confines of her order and perhaps Spain – but as Spain remained Catholic she didn’t do her own country any favours really! It seems that the 19th Century had it’s share of people who thought they were qualified to write tomes on subjects of which they understood nothing. The author makes it clear he neither understands nor respects her vow to God, or her love of Carmel, and yet he claims he thinks she is a great woman. And why? He admires her great intellect and wit.

The writer is (sadly) a man of his time. Intellect and wit were the be all and end all. Simplicity, faith and wisdom were for the lesser people. Coming across someone like St Teresa had obviously left this author with some cognitive dissonance. How could this vastly intelligent woman had so abjectly failed to fulfil her potential he wonders?

I think I find in this book some of the roots of poor education as compulsory education was made law over America and Britain. The breadth and depth of the Classical approach to education was ditched in favour of something narrower, flatter and with a strangely arrogant edge to it.

In the end we are bound to have slid down to the place where a person will openly admit they have not understood something, and yet be arrogant enough to assume it is the author’s fault.

I really want my children to be willing to stretch themselves with reading and understanding what they read. Nothing worth while comes all that easily.

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