Saturday, March 5, 2016

What Then, Shall We Read?...Modern vs. Classic

I love making connections, forming ideas, building knowledge.  Most recently, this idea of reading older, classic works of literature versus new modern works and bestsellers has been on my radar.  The more I read classic works, the more value I see in them.  I rather enjoy older novels for their rich language and deep thought.

Last week, in Friday Findings, I linked The Modern Place for Older Books written by Wendi Capehart at Archipelago because I loved Charlotte Mason's idea of reading books written in a certain time period as you study that period in history.  Of course Archipelago is the blog of Ambleside Online, a free Charlotte Mason curricula utilized primarily by homeschoolers.  Many of the books used in AO are older classic works.

Yesterday, I read Punctuation in Novels, which gave an interesting visual comparison of punctuation in a William Faulkner novel and a Cormac McCarthy novel.  Not only has the language changed over the past century, but the punctuation and length of sentence as well.  (Unfortunately, this linked post has an expletive in the middle, which definitely does not aid the reader in understanding.)

Also, in preparation for our CM Book Study I read sections from Charlotte Mason's Vol. 4, Ourselves this week.  Last night, we specifically discussed a quote from pages 10-11, in Book II, which states....
We are safest with those which have lived long enough to become classics; and this, for two reasons. The fact that they have not been allowed to die proves in itself that the authors have that to say, and a way of saying it, which the world cannot do without.  In the next place, the older novels and plays deal with conduct, and conduct is our chief concern in life.  Modern works of the kind deal largely with emotions, a less wholesome subject of contemplation. 
I found it interesting that Charlotte likened older novels to conduct and modern novels to emotion.  Ironically, Charlotte Mason lived from 1842-1923 so much of what she considered modern is now classic to modern society.

Lastly this morning, I read The 6 Risks of Reading Older Books.  Betsy's post and reasoning made me sad.  I was disappointed that she appeared to mock books like The Secret Garden, Understood Betsy, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  I wondered if she's actually ever read those books. And, I couldn't disagree more with her "Risk #6".   I believe our children will learn to be more discerning from a classic work that regards conduct than a modern work that plays on emotion.

As for me and my house, we will continue to read a variety of books with emphasis on classic literature.  I believe many of those classic titles foster truth, beauty and goodness.  How about you?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Do you prefer modern or classic lit?  Feel free to comment below...


  1. I much prefer classic literature over modern.
    There seems to be this big divide in Christianity these days over the value of being "relevant" to current culture. The author of the post you linked seems to be in the "Christians must be relevant" camp. Personal experience has taught me what a foolhardy and ineffective path that is. I choose rather to teach my sons to think clearly and critically, and one of the best ways to do that is to teach them excellent language. Like George Orwell wrote, the best way to impair good thinking is to limit good language (he said it way better than that, though!). Classic books just soak excellent language into kids.
    We just finished reading "The Princess and Curdie" out loud as a family. Not only is Curdie exactly the kind of hero you want your little boys to imitate, but MacDonald's language is beautiful and precise and engaging. I've been hearing my 6 year old using words and phrases he's picked up from the novel, so I know it's really seeped into him.
    I also think classic novels lead kids to empathize with characters they might not otherwise be interested in. My son would probably rather die than be subjected to a modern book about an 8 year old girl, but he loved it when we read Heidi. The story was just that good and that well-written.
    I could go on and on about this, but I'll just make one other point. Lots of folks are concerned with racism and lack of diversity in classic lit. My sons are both black, and I can say with confidence that, if you are a discerning chooser of books and have a few matter-of-fact conversations, this can really be a non-issue.
    Great topic, Melissa!

  2. I'm sure they are out there... the new ones that are good. But boy, it sure seems way more difficult to find them. When I go to a bookstore to browse lately, and book after book that you pick up is either full of sorcery, witchcraft, magic, or some such. I was just in a store a week or so ago and I stood and stared at the YA section feeling so very very sad, thinking that if that is all young people today get to choose from to read, I have much pity for them.