“It is a great thing to start life with a small
number of really good books. You may not appreciate them at first…and
then suddenly, on a day which marks an epoch in your life, you see…how
the one stands for nothing and the other for literature.” - Sir Arthur
Thomas Jefferson compiled three libraries over his lifetime – the
earliest one, assembled during his youth and early career, was damaged
by fire and the second was sold to replace the Library of Congress after
it was destroyed during the War of 1812. From the sale of the second
library in 1815 until his death in 1823, he began assembling another
large library – because, as he said, he could not live without books.
These were no haphazard collections. They were carefully divided up
into Francis Bacon’s three divisions of knowledge: Philosophy, History,
and Fine Arts, with numerous subsections within these. To Jefferson,
not all books were equal, and his collection of books was considered the
finest in the nation.
Through his exposure to the great thoughts of the past, Jefferson
accumulated a vast amount of knowledge that he then used as a basis to
make his own stamp upon history. At Classical Prep, we want our
students to have their own arsenal of the greatest thoughts of mankind.
At the end of each school year, we will provide the opportunity for
parents to buy the books students read in their literature courses so
that by the time they graduate, they will have their own library of
time-honored classics. We want them to have a treasure trove of
literature, not because they will fully comprehend its value now – but
because there will come a time when they realize that what they found
between those pages was not just a great story or an entertaining
thought– it actually contained ideas that can lift them above the
confusion of the momentary into a larger perspective.
In our common humanity, the simple and complex truths that exist in
all great literature wait to be discovered. In The Odyssey, the hero
faces challenges that have become synonymous with daily problems people
face today: the sirens with their beautiful songs leading to deadly
results or the six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charbydis
between which Odysseus must row. In The Yearling, the hero remembers
childhood moments of piercing beauty and comes to an understanding of
his father’s efforts to protect him from the realities of life. These
books touch a place in our hearts no matter what age, their truth only
growing more evident as we mature.
A new group of studies has emerged this year indicating that reading
on digital devices rather than long-form texts negatively impacts both
the “cognitive and emotional aspects of reading.” These studies
conclude that there is something about the physical pages of a book that
enhance the reading experience: “the tactile sense of progress…the fixity of a text…the gradual unfolding of paper.”
If this is the case, what might be the cognitive effects upon
rereading a book? There is something about an old, familiar book -- the
pages of which have been marked up at an earlier time -- that reminds a
reader of the person they were when the words on the page were perhaps
not yet fully understood. Their value and power to move us becomes
more evident as we grow older, as the ideas become part of the fabric of
who we are and how we explain the world.
Jefferson loved books because he knew their power to affect change.
Great literature can rescue from the tyranny of shallow thoughts and a
focus on the trivial. It allows anyone to access some of the most
complex and beautiful thoughts of mankind, challenging the reader to see
more in themselves and the world then before. Of all the things one can
buy for a child, none will last as long or have as profound an effect
as a great book.
Anne Corcoran, Founder