Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Interview: Jan Bloom, Author of Who Should We Then Read?

This article is reprinted from one of my newsletters from 2005.  I'll be reposting these articles over the next few month.  There will be more interviews from authors, book collectors, and author reviews.
Although I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Jan Bloom in person, our home library has greatly benefited because of her. She has written two great books that have a permanent place on my reference shelf: Who Should We Then Read? and What Should We Then Know?.

Ann: Jan, tell us about yourself and your family. As the mother of a high-school student I was very encouraged to read that your children were homeschooled until college.

Jan: Gary and I heard about homeschooling in 1982 when we attended a L'Abri seminar. Debbie Schaeffer Middleman spoke on developing a Philosophy of Education and then her brother-in-law, Ranald Macaulay, the husband of Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, spoke about the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason. During a Q & A session, someone mentioned home schooling, which we had never heard of, but it fit in with what we had already heard and gotten excited about from Debbie and Ranald.

Later that summer Gary heard Raymond Moore interviewed by Jim Dobson. We wrote to Moore, who was actually scheduled to do a seminar in Minneapolis within a month. We attended the Moore seminar, which reinforced the ideas from the L'Abri conference, and decided to take the huge step of not sending our oldest child to kindergarten.

Each year we evaluated our educational goals, our home situation, and my sense of humor. Our 3 children (Jenni, Jodi, and JJ) were homeschooled until they began taking classes at a community college.
Currently, Jenni is finishing her Master's Degree in English as a Second Language. Motherhood changed her schedule a bit, but she hopes to finish her thesis by summer's end. She is married to Jason, who drives a tractor trailer for a foods company. Their first child, Michael, was born November 18th. He weighed TWELVE pounds and was 23" long. OUCH!!! We are collecting wonderful books for Michael. They live an hour north of us.

Jodi, our second daughter, is working at an IT firm as an administrative assistant. She was the big reader. She is currently renting one bedroom in a gal's house and even in that little space she has many of her favorite books. She likes politics and is in a "Young Republicans" group. She lives an hour east of us in the uptown area of Minneapolis - no small town life for her!

JJ, our son, is in the Navy, serving in Djubouti, Africa, since September. He's due stateside any day. He did not read comfortably until he was 12, but then was never without a book. He is a computer geek and is enjoying new opportunities and adventures in the military. When he joined the Navy he was 1/4" UNDER the maximum height and only 12 pounds OVER the minimum weight! He is our 6'7" string bean son - but a cutie none-the-less!  Unhappily he has a son that he does not get to see. We pray for Blaize and his mommy every day.
Sometimes homeschooling children surprise their parents with their choices that we kind of thought they would NEVER make since we talked about everything! We've had to practice humility, forgiveness, and grace parenting adult children - sometimes even more than during those busy toddler days!

Ann: When did you start collecting books? Did you read much as a child? Did your parents read to you?

Jan: I read quite a bit - though it is only by the grace of God that I read anything of value. The libraries of my youth (I was born in 1955) had mostly great books in them- that's what children's publishers printed - so I read what was there. My mom read to us occasionally but she did not know good books at all, having come from a family which thought reading was being lazy.

When Gary and I got married, we had one 3 shelf bookcase filled with college textbooks, and 2 smaller tulip crates filled with Christian paperbacks. Because I thought reading fiction was unspiritual, I think the only fiction we had was a set of The Chronicles of Narnia, which had been a graduation gift from Gary years before.

Ann: Do your husband & kids love books as much as you?

Jan: Gary read to the children but not for himself - he didn't have time for books. He did not support me in my library efforts until the last decade or so. Now he LOVES books and is always on the lookout for books he would like to read. I occasionally give him a good fiction book to read but he mostly reads true-life adventure stories.
He is SUCH an asset in our booth at conferences - telling dads how important it is to read to their kids, and showing books he enjoyed reading to our children.

Our children each have a good collection of books. None of them are in permanent living situations right now, so most of their books are packed away here. We will allow that kind of storage! We know how welcome their own books will be when they are settled and have children of their own.

Ann: What where some of the first books you collected? Has your collection changed over the years? BTW, I learned about one of my now favorite authors from your first edition of Who Should We Then Read? -- Elizabeth Goudge.

Jan: Isn't she GREAT?! My favorite is THE ROSEMARY TREE. Her writing is so gentle yet goes so deep and her word choices are absolutely splendid!

Some of the first fiction I read as an adult were suggestions taken from Edith Schaeffer's biography, L'ABRI. I collected Helen MacInnes at first and then discovered P.G. Wodehouse and began collecting those. Both authors will be in WSWTR Volume 2 which will hopefully be available Spring 2006.

Currently my favorite books are in 2 shelving units in the living room: Bess Streeter Aldrich, Elizabeth Goudge, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle,George MacDonald, and P .G. Wodehouse, along with a few non-fiction current bestsellers by Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Philip Yancey, and John Eldredge.

I also have a good collection of novels published by Christian publishers - they are hard to find once they go out of print and many are worth reading again. I like Francine Rivers (which always surprises me since her books kind of look like cheap romances!), Angela Hunt, Robb Whitlow, Mike Phillips, Judith Pella, Penelope Wilcox, Jack Cavanagh, Robert Wise, Stephen Lawhead, and the Thoenes. I like to read books over!

Ann: How many books are in your collec- tion and how do you organize them?

Jan: I did not keep many books from our homeschooling days. I have my Genevieve Fosters, my Hillyers, and a few others, but not any Landmarks, COFAs or other series. I have quite a few missionary biographies, many Christian living and Bible study books, and, as I told you, lots of fiction. The Christian living and fiction is alphabetized by author's last name. Non-fiction is by subject. Because I don't have all that much it's easy to see what's there without any organizational strategies. We have maybe 3,000 books here at home.
That does not include the children's libraries that are boxed up.

Ann: Do you have any suggestions for someone who's just starting a book collection? (Reading your books should the the first suggestion!)

Jan: Be VERY selective. Keep only the best books - ones that are well-written, enjoyable, interesting, in good condition. Keep lists going of books you'd like to find and read. As you read them, decide if you'll keep them.
I fear for the generation of homeschooled children who have lived in homes that are drowning in books. Many moms are like I was at first - quantity seemed important so that people would be impressed with the SIZE of my library instead of its depth and richness. Hopefully our children will understand and still love books as they mature, in spite of the fact that we sometimes used grocery money for books...

Ann: Where do you buy most of your books?

Jan: We buy most of our books at thrift stores, used-book stores, and antique malls. I occasionally buy on ebay. Due to our conference and traveling schedule, we NEVER get to do garage sales, estate sales, library sales, or auctions. We have actually had people come into our booth at a conference, look around at the 4,000 books, all neatly organized and alphabetized, and ask if they were all donated!!!!

We look through thousands of books, selecting only a few for our business. We have had many people tell us that our selection is the BEST selection they have ever seen. That's because we are so careful in what we include. We mostly have authors and books that are true to a Christian worldview though we do have a PHILOSOPHY section where we have good primary sources dealing with topics that are against a Christian worldview. I think it is very important for students to read what the author said, not what some- one else says the author said. (e.g. Hitler, Mao, Darwin, etc.)

Ann: Tell us how you used books in your home school, especially in the high school years.

Jan: The kids read books like "The Light and The Glory" and its sequels, Clarence Carson's U. S. History series, Boorstin's America series, well-written biographies, and good historical fiction. They were always reading good books we found, many which were not on anyone's reading list or in anyone's book. I regret not having a book journal for each of them - they read so many neat books.

Ann: Are you still selling used books, too? If so, where?

Jan: Gary and I began traveling to other state's homeschool conferences 6 seasons ago. This is our 4th year of doing it full-time. We also do booksbloom seminars, which is when a support group invites us to set up our books and do workshops. The way it works out keeps us busy!

So far this year, we traveled from Minnesota to Florida, where we set up our 25 cases of books in the bedroom of the Farewell children, and participated in the Living Books retreat sponsored by LifetimeBooks and Gifts. (the Living Books retreat is PHENOMENAL every year!)

From there we spent a few days schlep- ping around Merritt Island with our friends, the Solids, then traveled to Tallahassee where we set up our books in our friends' garage and porch. Then it was on to Birmingham, Al where we did a weekend seminar at a church. Next was the midwinter conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Next year I am the "author speaker" at the midwinter, sharing the stage with John Taylor Gatto and Rob Shearer! Gracious!)

Gary had been asked to do some remodeling for his sister, so we went to her home in Fairfax, Virginia. She homeschools their 3 children, so we did a one-night seminar at her church. After 2 weeks of home repairs and playing, we moved on to Lititz, PA and did a seminar there, staying with a family with 7 children currently at home. Such fun!!! The Indiana conference was next, the last weekend of February. We zipped home in order to help Jodi, our 2nd daugh- ter, move. Whew!

The next weekend (after ONE day home really!) we were up in Fargo, ND for the ND conference. Last weekend we did a seminar in a church 2 hours from home. This weekend we are traveling 3 hours for a seminar in southern Minnesota. Then we have a week off (for Easter) and then will head to Nebraska and by then it will be April!!!

I looked and looked for a conference the second weekend of April and couldn't find one to do. That's because God knew that our son, JJ, would be coming home from his overseas assignment during that time, so instead of selling books, we will be home to spend time with our son whom we haven't seen since Memorial Day last year.
Then it's Minnesota, Overland Park, KS, Oklahoma City, OK, Arlington, TX, Lans- ing, MI, Oconomowoc, WI, Winston- Salem, NC, Wichita,KS, Denver, CO, Fresno, CA, Ontario, CA, Phoenix, AZ and finally Modesto, CA. We'll finish the sum- mer with a great family camp in Michigan the week before Labor Day.  Are you as tired reading that as I am typing it???!!!

If I may do a commercial, we are available for booksbloom seminars as we travel. Check our website (www.booksbloom.com) to see our conference schedule, and email us if we are in your area, or close to your area and you'd like to have us set up our books and speak. Gary does a couple of great talks for dads, "Read Alouds for Dads and Kids", "How to REALLY love your Homeschooling Wife", and "Got a Buddy?" which is about the importance of homeschool dads having strong relationships with other men. I can talk forever about great books, but I also do a workshop, "Help! I'm a Failure!" which is all about God's grace in our homeschooling days.  When we are home in the autumn, I sell on ebay under BOOKSBLOOM. I also have books listed on www.abebooks.com under BOOKSBLOOM.

Ann: Is Who Should We Then Read? your first book? Tell us how it came about. When did you first think about writing it, etc.?

Jan: Three friends of mine were doing the same thing I was - selling duplicate copies of good books in order to pay for the books we wanted to keep. We decided to pool our knowledge and write a brochure we could give to our customers - we all recommended the same authors and series. Well, 4 homeschooling moms in 2 different states just couldn't find time to do the project, so I took it on to finish it. Our idea of a brochure that we started with bears little resemblance to the finished project, which is a book of 152 authors, reading suggestions, and lists.

As I researched the authors we originally wanted included, I was led to new-to-me authors. Probably 25% of the authors in the book were unknown to me when I began the research and over half were ones we hadn't thought to include originally. It was so fun meeting these previously unknown treasures!

The first copy was a 60 page brochure that I stapled in the middle. It is DREADFUL! I revised it and had it printed and spiral bound. Tina Farewell, from Lifetime Books, saw it, liked the contents, and told me I HAD to change the awful cover! So I had an artist friend of Jenni's do some work for a new cover. A year later I revised it again, adding new authors, new series, and doing all the authors in one alphabetical order. I am almost embarrassed by those first few books, but they were necessary steps to get to the book we currently sell.
We self-publish, which sometimes feels a bit bogus, but now that WSWTR has sold more than 4,000 copies I guess I CAN call myself a published author!

Who Should We Then Read? (WSWTR) differs from other books on books because it tells the stories of authors whose books are recommended in the books on books. It also lists all the titles each author has produced. I like to read EVERYTHING an author has written IF I like the author, and I reckoned others may be the same way. It's great information for inter-library loans and collecting. The last quarter of the book has alphabetical lists of more than 30 series that are useful and fun to collect - Landmarks, COFAs, Signatures, and We Were There to name a few. It is so gratifying to have moms show me their copies of WSWTR- highlighted, paper-clipped, underlined, and dog-eared.

After a lifetime of being told I talked too much (my fifth grade teacher made me - only me!- memorize the spelling of loquacious, precocious, and obstreperous...what do you think caused her to do that??!!) it is almost unbelievable that my words are having an impact. It is awesome and I am SO grateful that the Lord was willing to use me.

Ann: How many other books have you written now? Any new books coming out soon?

Jan: My second book, What Should We Then Know? (WSWTK) was finished 2 years ago. It stresses the need for every family to have a good quality home library.

Ann: Here's a question that I always have a hard time answering... What is your favorite book?

Jan: Easy for me! Chronicles of Narnia. Safely Home by Randy Alcorn is the best book I've read in the last 5 years.

Ann: Is there anything else that you'd like to share with us?


Also, let your children see you enjoying reading. If you are constantly telling your children how important it is to read, and they never see you read, they will NOT believe you and not develop a love for books. Take time to read - serious reading and for pleasure.

And lastly, start keeping a book journal - just jot down the date, author, and title and maybe a few words about each book you read. Our friend, Jim Sloderbeck, began a book journal in 1991. Each year he tallies the books he has read that year. It is SO neat to see his entries and to want to read like he does. It's a great tool for kids too - not only keeping track of reading but having a reference if they forget an author or title.

Ann: Jan, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I started a book journal many years ago but haven’t kept up with it. I’m going to go dig it out now and start adding to it again! 

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