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Selecting Books

As many of you know, the annual CiRCE conference was last week and was quite a success. All in attendance enjoyed informative and challenging speakers, delicious food, and gracious hosting by all of the sponsors. All in attendance also experienced a taste of what I would call “book glut.”

You know exactly what I mean. At any good conference there are book tables from publishers and vendors, all offering an enormous selection of resources and literature that we, being conscientious educators, immediately want to read.

The event takes place in essentially the same way each time. A table is set up and hundreds or thousands of books are displayed upon its surface. We are drawn to it, as Jupiter to any woman who is not his wife, unable to divert our feet away from the path to the table. It reminds me of a cartoon character being picked up and carried to a pie cooling on a windowsill by its mere aroma.

We look. We peruse. We flip through page after page of book after book and we enjoy it. Then a strange thing happens. We step back and look at the sheer number of books that we have not read and the feeling of wonder subsides a bit and gives way to anxiety.

“How can I read all of this?” The most direct answer is that we can’t. There are too many things worth reading and too many things that we want our students/children to read. We simply can’t squeeze it all in without doing more harm than good.

So…now what? We could simply walk away from the table and go watch TV. We could spend more time reading articles about how much there is to read. Or we could ask the right questions that will hopefully help us narrow it down a bit.

  1. In selecting works to read personally, some helpful questions might be:
    • What have I read lately? Perhaps its time for variety.
    • Do I have a reading plan? Do I need one? C.S. Lewis recommended shifting between classics and modern works with far more emphasis on the classics (I believe it was three classics to one modern).
    • Do I have any shameful areas of weakness or gaps in knowledge? It’s not that we can or will ever know about everything, but it may help to a bit of self-examination here.
  2. In selecting works for our students/children to read, some of these may help:
    • What do I want them to learn? Books can work as tools to teach greater virtues and truths (pardon the sterile analogy). Not every tool is needed for every job. If you want to teach them the beauty of chivalry and romance, you know they need to read The Story of King Arthur and His Knights and Pride and Prejudice. If you think in terms of themes, it can help you narrow down your choices. Don’t simply open a catalog and start searching in time periods (that’s asking for another bad case of book glut).
    • Why do I want them to read this? When you have your students read a book, is it because you (as a ______-year-old teacher) enjoy the work or because the students really need to read it? Did you assign it because everyone else teaches it or because you clearly see it place in nurturing the souls of your students?
  3. Here are some other painfully helpful hints:
    • Ask other teachers that you respect. What would they do if they were in your shoes, with your schedule and classes?
    • Realize that the bottom line is this: you cannot read it all. It is better to select a few great works than skim dozens, doing none of them justice.

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