What’s So Great About the Great Books?

by Jen W.

As a classical homeschooling mom, one of the greatest joys and challenges of teaching my kids has been exploring “great books” with them. I know this is something many people see as an insurmountable challenge to strive for on their own. They look at literature guides that contain terms like “post modern” or “metalanguage” or “deconstructionism.” Those terms can be meaningful, but they can also create a block to looking at the real heart of literature.

I studied literature in college, but I often looked at stories differently than those around me. I often received high scores for great answers, but I sometimes heard that my answers were “wrong.” For me, at its heart, literature is about people. Yes, you can take a feminist, post-modern or deconstructionist view of the world and overlay any piece of literature with it. I think that tells us a lot about how people live now and affords little thought to the bigger picture. Ultimately, too much jargon turns people off of studying literature. It simply isn’t necessary in order to connect with literature on a basic level and let it inform your world.

What did people value in the past? What did they find funny? What did people want in a leader? What did young women find romantic? What characteristics in people make them better spouses? When one looks at those sorts of questions, I think it connects us to people and the past in ways that only great stories can do. There are universal truths and problems to be found in many such stories that hold true in the lives of real people today. This doesn’t mean we will feel a personal connection to every story that we read. It doesn’t even mean we will enjoy every story that we read. But, I firmly believe that wide reading will teach us about the people around us. When books tell us about people, they also tell us about politics, economics and what it was like for a particular person to live in a particular time and place.

In this series, we’ll look at a number of great works. I’ll explore their more universal themes and explain why I (and only I, with the caveat that many experts would disagree with my personal opinions) believe they have stood the test of time and why people should still read them. What this series will not be is a how-to of literary analysis; this is because I think there are already a lot of great resources out there that fill that niche. I will create a separate list of resources for anyone interested in learning more about the mechanics of literary analysis.


Jen jen_wW.– Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

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