Invitation to the Classics

Invitation to the Classics:
A Guide to Books You've Always Wanted to Read
by Louise Cowan (Editor), Os Guinness (Editor)

Intimidated! That’s how I felt my children approached the high school years. I felt unsure of my abilities to guide my children using so many books and documents that I had never read before. I wanted to be able to have some intelligent, thoughtful discussions with my children, approaching all these ideas from a biblical worldview. How could I do this if I didn’t even know why Beowulf is considered such an important work? I’d heard that there are deeper meanings behind Gulliver’s Travels but I didn’t know exactly what they are. And what about Shakespeare? What exactly do some of his plays mean, anyway? Then I discovered this book, Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You’ve Always Wanted to Read.

This beautiful 365 page hardback provides just enough background and commentary necessary for the busy mother who has a myriad of other responsibilities on top of homeschooling. You can actually hand this book to a high school-aged student to read on his own. It shouldn’t be read in one sitting. It is more like a reference guide to pull out when you are beginning a particular book or play. Over 80 famous classical works are included from Homer to contemporary writers. Here is a small sampling of authors and works mentioned: Beowulf, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Thomas More, Don Quixote, El Cid, Shakespeare, John Donne, Milton, Pilgrim’s Progress, Swift, Pride and Prejudice, Goethe, Keats, Wordsworth, Hawthorne, Melville’s Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Flannery O’Connor.

Recently, when my daughter read Beowulf for the first time, I spent fifteen minutes reading up on the background and themes in this classic poem. This prepared me to help her think more deeply about the meaning of this poem. This book has been a great help to me and I consider it essential to our home library. Occasionally, I use as my ‘prep’ sources for the upper level children’s books. For example, my daughter is reading the first volume of The Once and Future King. This silly Arthurian story actually has deeper meanings concerning the marks of a good leader/govt. Watership Down is another example. These books begged to be discussed with the student so that they will think more deeply about the themes presented in story form. I would not have discovered many of these important ideas simply for lack of time had I not looked these books up at Sparknotes and read the brief commentary.

I am no longer intimidated by the high school years that lie before us. I have the necessary tools now and feel that I can do this. We’ve been having a great time this year reading, learning and discussing classic works together. My grade for Invitation to the Classics is:
Grading Scale
A = You MUST have this book in your library!
B= This is a very good book. Would be a nice addition to your library.
C= A straw in the haystack, but certainly NOT the needle.
D= Good fire starter.