A Reading Life

Today I would like to welcome to my blog Kelly, a Catholic homeschooling mom of two boys, ages 8 and 5. She has begun the amazing task of starting her own lending library from her home, and can now say she owns about 2,500 books...with more on the way! She writes from Wisconsin, where she is busy creating a cataloging system for her books and hunting down good children's books that she highlights on her blog, http://thebookloversball.blogspot.com/. As she likes to say, "Good children's books can touch anyone."

Even though I watched TV as a kid, I always loved to read. I was a typical 1970s/80s girl who read Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, and Carolyn Haywood’s Betsy. Regrettably, I also read my fair share of Judy Blume and other then-popular fiction. I also must have read the Little House series, right? But I remember the TV series much more, of course. (It was a total delight when I read the whole series a few years ago with my then five-year-old son. It all seemed brand-new to me. Oh, and if you love the series like I do, be sure to enjoy the audio versions of all of the books done amazingly well by Cherry Jones - unabridged!) I can only guess at the number of hours I spent reading in my bedroom during my childhood. 

In high school, I fell in love with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, both the movie and the book. (I learned early on the power of the movie over the book to leave a lasting visual impression.) In later adult years during a difficult time, I read through all of Austen’s novels. During that same time, I read through the entire Bible - it took me about 18 months. (Please, find a way to do this at least once in your life. You will not regret it!)

When I graduated college, I couldn’t wait to begin reading for enjoyment again. I had taken an English literature class during my last semester and treasured the list the teaching assistant compiled for me (I still have that list somewhere...). My greatest accomplishment off that list was reading Middlemarch by George Eliot, a long but beautifully painful read.

In my 20s, I read whatever struck me - popular fiction with a classic novel thrown in here and there. No doubt, I wasted some good reading time here but I only realized it in hindsight. In my 30s, before children, I discovered an amazing Catholic author named Michael D. O’Brien. His books were absolutely life-changing, the kind of books that live inside of you. Our public library owned them, so I read them all. Even my husband, who is not a big reader, was unable to put Father Elijah down until he finished it. We still talk about that book eight years later. 

When my son arrived, I had already collected a few books for him. I had been waiting so long for the chance to read to my children! I had the requisite Dr. Seuss books along with a few others I had picked up on the sale tables at various bookstores. I wasn’t deliberate about it; I thought any children’s book was good. We utilized the public library heavily. Our family book collection was small - perhaps 50 books total. The public library was so well-stocked that I didn’t feel any urgency to own more than a few books.

When my oldest son was 2 1/2 years old, I began to think ahead about his education. I felt a strong pull to homeschool so I read books and articles for months to learn all I could about it. As I was researching, I began to come across book lists that had been compiled by homeschooling moms. The lists were titled things like, “Top 50 books to read to your child” or “Must-read books.” I couldn’t resist. I love lists! Print, print, print. I used up a lot of paper and a lot of ink. I began to realize that the world of children’s books extended far beyond Dr. Seuss and that there was a quality to these books that was so different from the popular literature I was finding prominently displayed at the public library. I began to utilize the public library’s online hold/request system to track these books down and began to buy copies of our favorites. I soon learned how important books would be in our educational journey, and I discovered Amazon. Our home library began to grow.

Another big change in my reading life occurred about a year ago when I discovered a group of ladies online who are operating (or hoping to operate) homeschool lending libraries out of their homes. Their libraries are comprised largely of older, out-of-print books published during what many call “The Golden Age of Children's Literature,” from 1930-1970. My membership in this group has been another life-changing experience for me and has inspired additional growth in my knowledge and love for good children’s books. Could I open a library like that? I wondered. So before I really knew what I was doing, I began buying large quantities of these good books. I was buying online and going to library and rummage sales. I was working off those wonderful booklists I love so much and also adding books that are favorites of ours, books from the past and some newer books. We had begun reading many of these for history, science and literature and I discovered again that there really is a difference in some of the older books: a beauty in language and understanding of children and a desire to pass on good values even in the midst of darkness and pain. I hated history and science when I was young. These books changed that for me. Good children’s books can touch anyone.

I now have close to 2,500 books in my home library and I am growing that number every month. I still have that dream of opening a homeschool lending library someday - only God knows if it will ever happen. I spend a lot of time and any money that I can trying to rescue these books that are being purged from peoples’ homes and the public library. I feel like I am saving something that is dying in our culture and enriching our lives at the same time. Thankfully, my boys love books. When they are both reading fluently on their own, I hope they will find hours of delight on our bookshelves. In the meantime, I love our read-aloud time. I love that I get to enjoy these wonderful books, too. I plan to read to them until they leave home! And at the end of a busy day, I love the few minutes I have to curl up with one of the many books that are always sitting on my nightstand. (Even though I have many books I want to read, I am re-reading Father Elijah by Michael D. O’Brien. Something about this time in our country compelled me to read it again. I am also reading through the Catechism of the Catholic Church; Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid; and Boys Should Be Boys by Meg Meeker. This is all very heavy/serious reading for me now - I need to add in something lighter!)


I used to love watching TV. Every night had its line-up and I ordered my life around that. I suppose VCRs changed that a bit, freeing me up to - gasp! - do something else while my favorite show was on. And then cable made it possible to watch something any time of the day or night. This went on for many years before something began to change. I felt a call to cancel cable. I felt a call to turn off the TV and do something else. I realized that I felt enslaved, like my time was not my own, that I was giving my precious free time to The Box. I began to crave freedom from the TV schedule, the movies, and even the sports. And for me to give up watching sports? You’d have to know me to understand what a big deal it was, and how odd it made me look to my family. Thankfully, my husband was open to it and one day, the TV went dark. We started a tradition of playing games together - we got really good at Cribbage. We started reading. For me, reading had already been a big part of my life once - I was simply reviving it. For him, he was always a reluctant reader so this was something new. 

Fast forward eight years, and two children later. My husband and I do not play Cribbage every night anymore. (!) We don’t read together at night anymore. (!) We have a TV, but it is down in the basement on a cart. We pull it out when we really want to watch something, usually a sporting event.  And I guess I watched all of the presidential debates last fall, though some I watched online. It’s a pain to pull it out and get the antennae positioned right (just slightly better than rabbit ears) so we don’t do it often. I think there’s something to that. Our kids occasionally watch DVDs on my laptop or on our little travel DVD player. And because my husband and I are often so tired when it comes to date night, we regularly watch a movie or old TV show on Netflix. I don’t judge those who enjoy watching TV or have cable. I lived that life for a very long time and do still enjoy a good movie now and then. But for me, nothing can beat a reading life filled with truly good and worthy books. I love my reading life.

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