Christians often defend the study of literature in purely utilitarian terms. We say that analyzing novels and poems helps us understand the world a little better, the way people think, their motivations and fears; we say a knowledge of the world's great writing is helpful for becoming better writers ourselves, or for training younger writers; we comb the pages of the classics searching for clues to secular worldviews.
We seldom encourage anyone to read good books simply because it's enjoyable. Obviously, some books might be kind of fun to read but are best left on the library shelf, but we aren't talking about those. One of the best reasons to teach literature as a "school subject" is to instill in our children a love of reading that will help shape them into men and women with a love of learning.
Anything touted simply for its academic value, no matter how much a student may like it initially, is bound to become boring eventually. Yet reading is the foundation for any study; without it, learners are unable to advance their own understanding, and must be dependent on others for acquiring information and ideas. If they can read well, however, students are able to acquire, collate and interpret large amounts of facts, and thus to expand not only their knowledge, but their very selves.
Alove of reading and the ability to read well are closely related. Knowing what to look forin a book (or newspaper, or play, or blog, or whatever) greatly increases anyone's enjoyment of reading. If you already like to read, knowing what you're doing will simply make you appreciate it evenmore.
It's not just ideas and worldviews you ought to be looking for, either. Simply admiring the beauty of the language and how great authors use it is good enough reason to read and enjoy literature. God endowed humans with a sense of the beautiful because all that fits that description reflects Him in some way (though always incompletely). Christian readers especially ought to identify and celebrate beauty in literature.
Our selection of literature resources is meant to reflect all these elements, to help students (and parents) understand the worldviews behind various works, to appreciate aesthetic beauty, and to simply enjoy reading a good book. More of a curriculum choice, but one which covers all these bases admirably, is Teaching the Classics by Adam and Missy Andrews; if you want to go even further, check out the Worldview Supplement.
Most of the books in this category are better suited to older students and adults; while younger students can benefit from rigorous literary study, they aren't normally able to "get" as much as more mature readers who've long since mastered the arts of decoding, comprehension, and basic plot analysis. As a result, we don't carry many workbooks as such, instead opting for titles that require active engagement.
Peter Leithart's books are among the more challenging in this regard. He assumes readers are willing and able to keep up with him, and brings his considerable intelligence to bear on writers as diverse as Dante, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and the Greek tragedians. In each book he looks first at the literature itself, then compares it to Christian and biblical thought, finding each text or author either deficient or compatible with a God-centered worldview. Plus, he's pretty funny at times.
How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, and How to Read a Poem by Burton Raffel are both now-classic introductions to the art of reading well. The first book is a flat-out must-read; the second is excellent for poetry-lovers and the uninitiated alike, and Raffel is hilarious. How to Read Slowly is James Sire's plea to take enough time with any text to actually understand it and compare its values and message to a Christian worldview.
Whether you're a fan of C. S. Lewis or not, his Experiment in Criticism is fantastic, offering a thorough introduction to the Medieval mindset and how it gave birth to some of the world's great literature. Louis Markos' Lewis Agonistes, on the other hand, shows us how we can apply Lewis' thought to a modern and postmodern context in order to defend our faith.
These are just a few of our available titles, wich include dictionaries of liteary terms, reference guides, introductions to poetry-writing for younger students, books about the Bible as literature, Louise Cowan and Os Guinness' Invitation to the Classics, etc. Our goal is to make Exodus Books one of the most complete and most easily-searchable sources for great literature, literature resources, and literature curriculum on the Web.
That hope isn't founded on a desire to "be the best," though we do want to do our best. Our primary motivation is to help restore among Christians a sense of the goodness and worthiness of literature, to overcome the commonattitude that holdsall secular writing at arm's length. We want Christians to read literature (be it secular or sacred) as Christians, and we offer these resources to help anyone who shares that purpose, or would like to.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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