Old Books For New Inspiration

I don’t know about you, but I look back on 2012, and wish that I had made time to read more than I did. I read my Bible, I read a book for the women’s Bible study at my church, started several books, and  read books to my kids; but, sadly, that was the extent of it.

I’m so easily drawn to reading only the books on the best-sellers’ lists, or the most widely-circulated blog posts. Those are fine pieces of writing for a reason, and I’m so thankful for modern writers of influence. And yet, as a child of the fast-food-drive-through-everything generation, I regularly turn to the easily digestible, the quickly accessible, the simply affordable. I resist anything that requires more time, more effort, more dedication, and more discipline.  Like so many other things in life, good things don’t always come easily, they are acquired through deliberate pursuit. I’ve been drawn to this quote by C.S. Lewis and am compelled by it:

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it. […] The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.

Just because a book is old, does not make it good. However, those that have inspired and stood the test of time…well, they offer us gifts that our peers in the modern age simply cannot.

Here are a few that are on my list for this year:

Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton (started, but haven’t finished. Free on iBooks.)

Holiness, by J.C. Ryle (started, but haven’t finished.)

The Education of A Child from The Wisdom of Fenelon 1687, by Francois de Salignac de La Mothe Fenelon (I’ve read excerpts, and is excellent!)

The Duties of Parents, by J.C. Ryle (highly recommended by my better-half!)

The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis (to read again after many years.)

We want to become better moms. Can I humbly propose that we may achieve our goal, by adding not just how-to books on becoming more efficient home managers and patient mothers, but the great minds of old. The treasures to be found through older books and writers of the past can yield fruit that will build wise character and understanding, forming who we can become today in our practical, nose-wiping, child-training, Savior-loving daily lives.

Grace and peace to you, friends!

Ruth@GraceLaced, www.gracelaced.com

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  1. says

    GREAT idea. I always run to modern self-help type books when I need a dose of mama inspiration/help! Looking to the “old” is a wonderful (welcomed) change I will seek out more of!

  2. says

    You already know I LOVE this… :)
    Made me happy to see “The Weight of Glory” on the list too!
    The Ryle book is also on my shelf and I haven’t read it yet…
    Jas and I and some friends are reading through “Mere Christianity” again (It’s been years) and I’d forgotten just. how. good. it is…
    See you in a couple of HOURS !!!

  3. Julia says

    Challenge accepted! I think I’ll cheat a little and finish Mere Christianity (which I started last year and then somehow lost steam). Now that my youngest is four, I have a small bit of extra time – and now a good way to fill it. Great post.

    • gracelaced says

      I’m cheating too, Julia, as a few on that list are ones I’ve started and never finished! :) Thanks for the comment!

    • gracelaced says

      I agree completely, Johanna! I think sometimes we are so task oriented that we only read books that help us to be more productive, when in reality, we would be more efficient if we were to “think” better! :)

  4. Aubrie says

    I love this, Ruth! My husband and I have committed to reading for five hours each week in 2013, and we’ve both been amazed by how much this has enriched our lives already. It’s so easy to say we don’t have time, but by cutting out some unnecessary things, we’ve found that we really do have time. I plan to add a few of these titles you’ve suggested to my to-read list for this year. Thanks!

    • gracelaced says

      That is such a worthy goal, Aubrie. I find that when I don’t make time for reading, I really have nothing to even write about….and my mind turns to mush! :)

  5. says

    My husband and I like to read old commentaries and Christian books. Prayer by O. Hallesby is good and so is the commentary on Romans by C.O. Rosenius. I also find that the older books have so much wisdom and insight. Love your post!

  6. Michelle @ The Willing Cook says

    I have to admit that I usually run away from newer books. I’ve just about had my fill of self-help books. In fact, my dad got me my Christmas gift request…The Treasury of David. I love to read old theologians, especially Henry & Spurgeon.

    I’ll certainly take on your challenge. I started Pilgrims Progress (for the first time!!!) this summer and am just spellbound by the brilliance of Bunyan and how applicable it is to today. I want to finish that. I’ve also started Grace: Gods Unmerited Favor by Spurgeon and The Sovereignty of God by Pink. I need to stay focused and push through. Thanks for the challenge.

    I might add that this same argument applies to children’s literature. There is some bad stuff out there, but the classics are still alive!


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