There have been times when somebody has read this section and concluded that making any list of books, or even having a curriculum, is somehow incompatible with Charlotte Mason's philosophy. This conclusion was always puzzling to me as it is difficult to reconcile that notion with the reality that Mason *had* a curriculum, a booklist, one she requires parents using her programme to use without pre-approved deviation.
I think her point is that any specific booklist is of secondary importance. What matters is that the books on any chosen curriculum list should be chosen based on principles, and they way we use them should also be informed and supported by Mason's principles.
It needs to be a fit book. It needs to be a book from which the children are able to dig their own knowledge. Having to work a bit at a book is not the mark of a book that does not fit the child's needs. It's sometimes a delicate balance between a book that stretches and a book that is so difficult for a given child that he can't dig anything at all out of it. Parenting goes in cycles and the current pendulum swing seems to me most often to err on the side of the notions that any digging makes a book to hard, the reading for school should not require much effort, but should be as easy and delightful as plucking gumdrops from the trees in Lollypop Land. But in books, as in many things in life, lightly come, lightly go. That we have to work at a bit is more readily retained. When we have to think about it, that thinking is itself part of the learning process and the ideas are more readily assimilated.
There are other principles to consider- is it rich language, living, literary language? Is it thinly disguised propaganda or a living book written by somebody who loves their topic and communicates well?
Learn the principles. Look up some of the books Mason actually used and read a few excerpts to get a feel for the kind of things she referred to as a living book. Then apply them to the books you use in your home.
Other posts you may find helpful:
Using books as read alouds
Guidelines for Living Science
When this book is too hard
Addendum for those who join me in historical CM Geekery:
I like to uncover the historical context and background to what I find in CM's books. If you do as well, you will probably enjoy learning about where this "100 Best Books" notion comes from. Mason didn't just pluck it out of the air.
There are still some gems I think, even if you fall outside those sets of a Venn diagram. Ruskin's remarks are just funny, although I don't believe he meant to be. But you needn't read it all, just reading half a dozen responses gives one some ideas about why Miss Mason excused herself from providing a similar list for the school-room!
2. Marcus Aurelius, "Meditations."
4. Confucius, " Analects."
5. "Le Bouddha et as Religion" (St. Hilaire.)
6. Aristotle, " Ethics."
7. Mahomet, "Koran."
8. " Apostolic Fathers," Wake's Col-lection. '
9. St. Augustine, " Confessions."
10. Thomas a Kempis, " Imitation."
11. Pascal, "Penses"
12. Spinoza " Tractatus Theologico-politicus."
13. Comte, "Catechism of Positive Philosophy " (Congreve).
14. Butler, "Analogy."
15. Jeremy Taylor, "Holy Living and Holy Dying."
16. Bunyan, "Pilgrim's Progress"
17. Keble, "Christian Year.''
18. Aristotle, " Politics."
19. Plato's Dialogues ; at any rate, the Phaedo " and " Republic."
20. Demosthenes, " De Corona."
24. Cicero, " De officialis," " De Amiaitii," "De Senectate."
25. Homer, "Iliad" and "Odyssey."
29. Malory, " Morte d'Arthar."
30. "Maha Bharat;" " Ramayana." Epitomised by Talboys Wheeler in the first two vols. of his " History of India."
31. Firduai, "Shahnameb."
32. "Sheking " (Chinese Odes).
34. Sophocles, " OEdipus Trilogy."
35. Euripides, " Media”
36. Aristophanes, "The Knights.”
40. Tacitus, "Germania.”
42. Gibbon, " Decline and FalL”
43. Hume, " England.”
44. Grote, " Greece.”
45. Carlyle, " French Revolution.”
46. Green, " Short History of Eng-land.”
47. Bacon, "Novum Organum.”
48. Mill, " Logic.”
49. (Also John Stuart Mill) "Political Economy.”
50. Darwin, " Origin of Species.”
51. Smith, "Wealth of Nations" (part of.)
52. Berkeley, " Human Knowledge'
53. Descartes, " Discours sur la Methode.”
54. Locke, "Conduct of the Under-standing."
55. Lewes, " History of Philosophy.”
56. Cook's Voyages.
57. Humboldt's 'Travels.
58. Darwin, "Naturalist on the Beagle."
60. Milton, " Paradise Lost " and the shorter poems.
61. Dante, "Divine Commedia."
62. Spenser. "Faerie Queen."
63. Dryden's Poem.,
64. Chaucer: Morris's, or (if expurgated) Clarke's, or Mrs. Haweis' edition.
souls, divided into sheep and goats;" and probably there is no better advice on the choice of books than that which, in his pithy manner, he gave to the students of Edinburgh University : "Learn to be good readers, which is perhaps a more difficult thing than you imagine. Learn to be discriminative in your reading—to read all kinds of things that you have an interest in, and that you find to be really fit for what you are engaged on."* Of this opinion was Dr. Johnson—" A. man," he says, " ought to read just as inclination leads him, for what he reads as a task will do him little good." "You see," says Professor Max Muller, "the best books are not the best books for everybody."
in whom I, for my part, most implicitly trust are Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. Holding these extraordinary opinions, if you asked me to pick out a biographical work for general reading, I should choose (after Boswell's supremely great book, of course) Lockhart's " Life of Scott." Let the general reader follow my advice, and he will find himself not only introduced to the greatest genius that has ever written novels, but provided with the example of a man, modest, just, generous, resolute, and merciful—a man whose very faults and failings have been transformed into virtues through the noble atonement that he offered at the peril and the sacrifice of his life.
Mr. COLLINS is also of opinion that "the most perfect letters in the English language " are those of Byron, published in his Life by Moore, and he recommends a book unknown, we venture to affirm, to nine-tenths of even our middle-aged readers. " Read, my good public, Mrs. Inchbald's 'Simple Story,' in which you will find the character of a young woman who is made interesting even by her faults—a rare triumph, I can tell you, in our art."*
doubly impossible for one who has other engagements in life, to make himself acquainted with the hundredth part of it. So that our choice lies for the most part between ignorance of much that we would greatly like to know and that kind of acquaintance which is to be acquired only by desultory read-ing?'(The Pleasures, the Dangers and the Uses of Desultory Reading by Stafford Henry Northcote Iddesleigh, "This discourse was read by the Earl of Iddesleigh, lord rector of the University of Edinburgh, in the United Presbyterian synod-hall, the first of a series of addresses to the students, on November 3, 1885.")
" Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested," that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly and with diligence and attention."