I read, save, research, create, and share booklists. I own books of booklists.
And I’m concerned with what I’m seeing amongst my fellow conservative Christians: a heavy leaning on old books for so many school-related booklists.
The fact is, if we submerge ourselves in old books, we run some serious risks.
The chronological fallacy says that it is not logical to preference one item over another just because it is older/newer. There must be other reasons than simply the item’s age for us to choose it.
Of course, this is a risk with anything other than the Bible itself. But to spend excessive amounts of time with the late Victorians, for instance, means we are soaking in naturalist, Romantic, and Rousseau-ian philosophy. The child as the blank slate until the enriching, natural environment kicks in and makes it all better? (The Secret Garden, Understood Betsy, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, here’s looking at you!) We also tend to read older books a bit less critically than newer ones; our guard is down.
In God’s marvelous, creative Providence, his Church is composed of people from all time periods, from all cultures, of all ages, races, colors, shapes, sizes. When we read almost exclusively about (or books by) a homogeneous group, we risk unconsciously adopting biased cultural attitudes. Even good older books often show racial prejudice that is unbiblical.
When we promote books by and about one cultural group from one time period to the near exclusion of others, we are limiting our view of God’s image bearers: what about the Christians in our churches who look different from us? What about our neighbors who are really into sports? What about our own children who might be passionate about space and rockets? A booklist composed almost exclusively of books from the 1850s-1950s will exclude a lot of people, both in terms of their actual representation and in terms of their interests and abilities.
Old books–while often wonderful literary specimens–are bound by book-making technologies of their day. More words is not necessarily a virtue; it might perhaps indicate a lack of revising technology (who wants to re-write by hand all of Moby Dick?). Similarly, modern picture books are not inferior because they are brightly colored. The technology to print books with multiple colors and shades has developed over the past century. Robert McCloskey did marvelous picture books in his day; Jerry Pinkney, Raul Colon, and Melissa Sweet are all doing amazing picture books now.
We can find ourselves growing discontent with our modern lifestyles, clamoring for “a simpler time,” thinking our problems would be easier to bear if only life were not so modern and noisy. And yet, Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. Our children are born into this particular time and place in God’s providence.
How will they know how to be discerning in their own time and place if we do not model that? How will we inculcate a love of reading if they are wildly interested in machines or the new planet just discovered or computers, and we keep throwing books their way that discuss the horse-and-carriage, Jonas Salk, or a lovely garden? Where will they see inspiration to be creative digitally if they only see picture books from 50 years ago? And what about the many significant national and global events of the past 50 years?
Don’t throw out the old books; do balance your reading diet.