Monday, January 25, 2016

Book Discussion gives Mom a Full Heart

That post title is quite the headline. And since the essay is not written yet, perhaps you may wonder if the cart is before the horse by posting like this. Perhaps. But if the richness is displayed in the essay, surely it can be found in the thinking processes that produced the essay. So while my mind is still reeling from the mining expedition we just completed, (a metaphor brazenly stolen from the Circe Institute's writing course) let me just share some thoughts on the process thus far.

When I read a book, in particular a well known classic, I always feel a bit intimidated both during-and-after my reading that I will miss or have missed the universal ideas behind the story. This happened again when I read The Phantom of the Opera one evening last week after my oldest, Seth picked it out, read it and wanted to talk about it all in the span of about two hours. Alrighty then.

 I read it and was, for lack of a more dignified literary term, weirded out by the story. I had no idea what the point of such a strange tale was about. None.

The following Monday morning came around and Seth suggested we use this novel as the next essay in our Lost Tools of Writing (LTOW) course. Gulp. Well, sure, I admired his enthusiasm.

So we started off with a story chart which is what we have done for many of our books and then we launched ourselves into some should questions.  We also have done this many times before. That is when my brain really started to think. We generated some excellent should questions and then I let Seth pick the one he wanted to make as the Issue of the essay. He happened to pick one that I had written, which I thought was pretty darn good.

The next time we pulled out our papers, we started coming up with reasons from the story that we thought could either answer the 'should' question in the affirmative or the negative. And some things we thought, didn't go in either, so they just went in their own column. (All of this is taught in the LTOW course.) And we were both pleased with the kinds of ideas and content we generated about the story.
But it was the next step of using the Five Common Topics which I believe have their root in Aristotle that gave us so much more material to think about. You are asking questions of Comparison, Definition, Circumstance, Relation and Testimony. If you are wondering what those Common Topics look like when you are asking questions, this link will give you some ideas of how to ask those questions. That may look overwhelming, but  the LTOW breaks it into very manageable parts with video instruction by Andrew Kern and others to walk you through these steps.

The amount of thinking we have now done about this story is amazing. We even discussed how this story is like a very well known fairy tale that we had all read together in the fall, Beauty and the Beast.  That was a very good moment.

Essay writing is not all mountain-top experiences (enter today's work on Parallelism as Exhibit A), but we discussed how this process gives us a greater admiration for the authors of the books we enjoy when we see how much work is involved in crafting good writing.

This type of thinking is equally demanding, yet equally satisfying.  I hope our finished essays show both in full measure.


  1. Posted my email in my handwritten letter comments:
    to get my snail mail.
    I think reading should be easier? What do you think? Have you seen the musical?

    1. Saw your response, so happy!
      I have not seen the musical. What did you mean by reading should be easier?


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