Monday, September 26, 2011

A Pretty Complete Education

My name is Carolyn and I am a book lover.  I last bought a book less than a week ago.  I love not only the contents but also the look and feel of books.  (Yes, I have a Kindle.  And yes, I do download and read books on it but it will never replace a real book for me.)  Not surprisingly, we own a lot of books.  We have a small library, and we have more books than the library can handle.  We recycle books periodically to make room for more.  A stack of books is always waiting to exit to friends or organizations.

Given my love for books, it is no wonder that I especially love collections.  There is one collection that I especially enjoy not only for the contents but also for the history behind the collection.  The Harvard Classics was published in fifty-one volumes in 1909.  With more than twenty-three thousand pages it is a very comprehensive collection.

Our own set of Harvard Classics

 Some say the collection is fifty books.  The additional book is an anthology of lectures that completes the set of fifty one.

My paternal grandmother introduced me to the Harvard Classics when I was a small child.  Grandma was a school teacher and a book lover and she valued her set of Harvard Classics above all books except for the Holy Bible and her dictionary.  She managed to have nine children and still teach school.  On occasion she taught in a neighboring county.  She took the school-aged children with her to board for the week and attend her one-room school and employed a live-in housekeeper to care for the house and the smaller children.  She and the children would come home on Friday afternoon and return to the boarding house Sunday night.  Grandma wasn't much for cooking and cleaning and she treasured her years as a teacher and a life-long learner.

Grandma allowed me to read some of the books, but only when I was the only grandchild around.  She didn't want her books damaged.  When I was a teen, she started receiving the "Reader's Digest" Condensed Books.  She had always said I should not read condensed versions of anything because the editors did not always know what parts should be eliminated in the process.  When I mentioned that to Grandma she said, "Well, I'm getting pretty old and I may not have time to read all the things I want to read.  Reading a condensed version is better than not reading the book at all."

I regret that I did not get to have Grandma's set of Harvard Classics, but I always think of her when I pull one of ours from the shelf.  Like many others, Grandma bought the Harvard Classics from a traveling salesman.  It was common in the early 1900s for peddlars to visit rural areas to sell their wares.  Grandma saved a little money every week in order to purchase the next book in the collection.  I'm not sure how long it took for her to complete the set.

You will find the contents of the Harvard Classics absolutely mind-boggling.  Here is a quick summary.  Edited by Charles William Eliot, the collection was also known as "Dr. Eliot's Five Foot Shelf."  His stated desire was that the collection would be "all things to all men."  (Remember the time here folks.  Gender neutrality wasn't even a dream back then.)

Who knows how many young men and women enhanced their educations and broadened their thinking with the Harvard Classics?  The collection is amazing more than a century after it was published.  Wonder why no one has come up with an anthology like this for the twentieth century?


Rudee said...

You've so skillfully woven the thread of your grandmother's thirst for knowledge all the way through this post. She sounds like a remarkable woman.

Ms. A said...

Impressive! I barely got four kids raised and I didn't work. Well, I worked my butt off, but didn't get paid for it. Your grandmother sounds like a true inspiration.

My Mind's Eye said...

AMEN to every word you wrote...I love books, how they smell, how they feel and the places they take me...and I see we also have cross stitching in common. I cross stitch that very same map of NC many years ago. I've lived with cats for the last 24 years so I'm now is safer with cats. LOL
Hugs C

Boondocks Love Shack Pack said...

We have quite a lot of books at our house too. Mom likes to read 'em, but I mostly enjoy chewing them.

Boondocks & The Love Shack Pack

KGMom said...

What a great post, Carolyn. (And I get the intro.)
As you no doubt surmise, I too am a book lover, with Kindle in tow. And we have the Great Books set--which has many crossovers to the Harvard Classics.
Your grandmother sounds amazing.

Anonymous said...

I love reading that list of books. I have read some of them, and suddenly wished I had read them all. Your grandmother sounds like a wonderful teacher, in every way.

Busy Bee Suz said...

What a collection of work! ( I looked at the link...OY)
I have to say, your Grandmother would be proud of you and your love of reading!!! What an amazing woman she to be admired.
Great post.

kks said...

Great post! I love books too....haven't had much time to read lately.....

JeanMac said...

Beautiful story. We too love books and I do love to hold a physical one in my hand:)

Taradharma said...

I'll have to tell my daughter to read this post. She is a teacher-in-training and wonders how she can keep up with it with her newborn.

I grew up with a set of encyclopedias that my parents bought from a traveling salesman. Another great resource was the hard-bound magazine, American Heritage. Those were my go-to books when working on school projects.

I, too, have my Kindle for traveling, but I still love going to the library, holding books in my hand.

Great post!

How Sam Sees It said...

I love books too, and have pretty much the same scenario you have described. We haven't bought a kindle yet, because I fear the loss of the book. I love holding books, I love the smell of a new book (yes, I'm a dork) and I love book signings. Nothing thrills me more than meeting a favorite author. I love old books especially and have collected a lot of the classics in leather. We also recycle - if you look at the latest post on our blog, you will see a pile of books on the pool table behind Sam's head. Those are destined for my mother-in-law.

Sam's Mom, Christine (currently reading three books at once...)

troutbirder said...

What a wonderful post, Carolyn. I've read some, mostly in the political and historical vein but the original list reminds me, I've been distracted a bit, of late, in my reading choices and need to get back to completing my liberal education. :)

My Mind's Eye said...

My crazy picture today:
Mom was outside on the back porch. I was ins side looking at her and actually meowing for my dinner. Her intent was to get me..but she didn't think about her reflection showing in the door.
Since she retired this is just one of the crazy things I have to endure.
Hugs Madi

Vicki Lane said...

A wonderful post! Your grandmother was quite a woman.

We have our own set of Harvard Classics -- inherited from my father-in-law.

Akannie said...

Carol...How wonderful !!
My downfall when I lived near you was the East Flat Rock Friends of the Library Book Sale.
In fact, that's where I got my set of the Great Books too....not to mention a millions others.

So many little time....

Cheryl said...

Sounds like a wonderful collection......I had to smile, I have a collection of the Readers Digest Condensed Books given to me by my father. I shall remember your Grandmothers words each time I take a book from the shelf :)

Your Grandmother was a remarkable woman and you are very much her Grand-daughter.

As always a pleasure to read your posts.

animal lover, quilt lover said...

My dad was dyslexic and I am dyslexic. I have always been the dumb one at least this is what I had always been told!!! Then 31 years ago Tom came into my life and he saw something else and told me so!!!!!!!!! I fell in love with this man who was so much younger then I and not my type at all. In love with what he sees in me and that has been constant ever since.
I love that you love books!!!
xx, Fern

NCmountainwoman said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Indeed Grandma was an interesting character, way ahead of her time.

Madi's Mom - Yes, I did that piece many, many years ago. And I do love the photograph of the reflection.

Boondocks - You must stop chewing books.

Donna - I have seen the Great Books collection. If I had more room I might look for them on eBay.

kks - Time for reading may be the best perk of retirement.

Taradharma - Our family encyclopedia when I was a kid was Funk and Wagnalls, bought at the grocery store, one book at a time.

Christine - I always have at least three books in process; a novel, a biography, and a non-fiction.

Akannie - I go to our annual book sales as well. I give them several boxes of books before the sale and then come home with several bags of books.

Fern - How unfortunate that we didn't know much about dyslexia when you were little. I grieve for the lost childhood of people who were thought to be slow learners when the real problem was dyslexia. Thank goodness you came out of it intact with a good feeling about yourself. And hooray for Tom!

Karin said...

Really enjoyed this post about books and your grandmother!