Gobbling up Books

Dear Reader,

Do you have a child who gobbles up books? You know the sort I mean– those who read in their beds till all hours, who have been through everything in the children’s section of the library, who come home every week with huge stacks of books. I have one child who is definitely like this, another who reads quite a bit, and two more who just aren’t there yet.

I frequently hear parents lament that their children are not readers and wonder how they can inspire them to read more. But when the children are readers, we tend to assume they are okay intellectually or academically. After all, if one can read well, one can access whatever information they need, right?

But a couple of things I have read lately have made me wonder whether we don’t need to worry about our book-gobblers sometimes too.

The first is from the novel Waverley by Sir Walter Scott. The main character in it, Edward Waverley, is a book-gobbler. It says of him, “young Waverley drove through the sea of books like a vessel without pilot or rudder.” This is not viewed as  good thing by the book’s author, however. Edward does not thus become an educated man. He is rather a romantic one with lots of fancies but no fixed purpose. He is called “one who read rather to awaken the imagination then to benefit the understanding.” Now I am a fan of imagination. But I would also like my children to have understanding.

The author suggests that one might be benefited rather by having fewer materials to read but being able to master them at a  deeper level:

“I believe one reason why such numerous instances of erudition occur among the lower ranks is, that, with the same powers of mind, the poor student is limited to a narrow circle for indulging his passion for books, and must necessarily make himself master of the few he possesses ere he can acquire more.”

In other words, better to read the same book deeply a few times than to fly through ten quickly.

This was brought back to me by another author, Charlotte Mason, in her sixth volume, Towards a Philosophy of Education. She says,

“In the first place we all know that desultory reading is delightful and incidentally profitable but is not education whose concern is knowledge. That is, the mind of the desultory reader only rarely makes the act of appropriation which is necessary before the matter we read becomes personal knowledge. We must read in order to know or we do not know by reading.”

My oldest child, the one who reads but not quite so voraciously, has chosen lately to reread Tolkien’s books which he has already been through once rather than to try any of the new selections I tried to tempt him with. But upon further reflection, I am pleased with this. He will obtain a deep reading of these books this way and they are quality books which merit such a reading. This, I think, is the ideal to which we strive.

But I am still left with two who struggle to read (the younger two at 7 and 8 years old) and one, my 10-year-old, who flies through books with abandon. Part of me hates to try to rein her in, and indeed I don’t know if that is the right way to proceed, but another part says that she must also learn to get understanding from her books. I have begun to requite the older two to do a bit more of their own reading for history. In her first week, she has shown that she can take things slowly and get understanding. So perhaps this is the way to go, not to curtail the reading she does on her own, but to require some reading which necessitates slowing down and understanding.

Do you have  book-gobbler? Are you happy with that or do you look for something more?


5 responses to this post.

  1. Really thought-provoking post. Thank you. I’m a book gobbler and I’ve often thought I would benefit from re-reading what I already have but I get bored and want s’thing new/different – not a good thing really. But of course, it means I read fast which can be very beneficial for textbooks etc.. in University.


  2. Posted by Patti on October 8, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Dear Nebby: I always appreciate your thoughtful posts – they get me thinking. I have been wondering lately, too about a couple of my book gobblers. We have a Charlotte Mason style school so they are required to read from challenging books for their school work, but I have noticed what they chose from the library for their free reading is often nowhere near the same quality as the more challenging books we have them reading for school. I’ve been wondering if it is like letting my children eat candy at will then wondering why they pick at their dinner. I’m wondering if so much easy reading makes them less satisfied with what they have to work harder for. I also find it difficult to keep ahead of them perusing all of their books for content so that the values portrayed don’t damage their consciences. So many of the books they pick up at the library have “modern” values and foster rebellious ideas and are just plain sloppy writing. As I was praying about this I found a Charlotte Mason site with recommended book lists (we’ve found several helpful ones but this one is new to us) so I’m hoping to make a list for my voracious readers to work through rather than just letting them grab books off the shelf at the library. Thanks for taking time to share! Patti


  3. Thanks for both your comments. Patti- what is the CM site you found? I wonder if I should perhaps just get my children books and then let thme choose from those. Though most of what they read is not bad; it is not the modern, twaddly stuff. But I am alos not sure it stretches them. I have to admit my habit until very recently was to read very light books. I am trying to read meatier ones now though. I read the Newcomes and not I am reading Waverley, both books CM recommended in her writing.


  4. Posted by Patti on October 8, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Dear Nebby: The CM site I referred to is http://www.charlottemasonhelp.com/2009/07/books-and-schedules.html which is Higher Up and Further In curriculum so I just looked through her literature and reading lists for books my children haven’t read yet. This looks a bit like the Ambleside Online listings which I have found helpful as well. I also have used Simply Charlotte Mason book lists. My 13 year old has actually used the Simply Charlotte Mason list herself to look for books to read then we see if we can find them at our local library or order them in. Hope you find something helpful here for your precious children, too. Blessings, Patti


  5. Reblogged this on homeschoolingmiddleeast and commented:
    I worry that I don’t have a child who gobbles up books – love that expression! But this post by Nebby has really made me think again. I gobble up books but I should definitely think carefully about the merits of this and the merits of wanting this for my kids. Reading is great BUT ideally, thoughtfully and one way to do this is to re-read good quality books. I never re-read books, I’m always on to the next thing. Having read Nebby, I want to encourage my kids to read differently from me. I will also try and look up the book lists Nebby and commenter, Patti discuss.


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