Yes, of course homeschoolers should read novels. But do they have the time? All of the great fiction classics of the past were written when reading novels was virtually the only form of home entertainment available. Literacy in the United States, England, France, and Germany had become so widespread in the nineteenth century that novelists found an eager audience hungry for as much storytelling as they could get. To fill those long quiet evenings, long novels with lots of characters and complicated plots were the vogue.
Dickens, Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, Victor Hugo, James Fenimore Cooper, and dozens of lesser known writers were read by millions of readers who looked forward to the next work of their favorite author. Serial fiction was a staple of all the great magazines.
But today, few people have the time to curl up with a nice long novel when that reading time must compete with television sitcoms, videos, CDs, computers, and the movies. In fact, today's budding writers of fiction cannot possibly duplicate the successful novelists of the past. Maugham, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were the best-selling novelists of the first half of the 20th century. But who reads them today outside of college courses?
A few veteran novelists - like John Updike, Tom Wolfe, and Leon Uris - are still read today. Ayn Rand is certainly read by many of the younger generation for her philosophical appeal. But the great best-sellers of today are crime and mystery novels or popular romances written at a fifth-grade level.
The sorry fact is that Americans are far less literate today than they were fifty and a hundred years ago. That decline in literacy has certainly had its impact on American reading habits. Those who wish to write for a large audience must write for a semi-literate public. In fact, many novelists hope their books will be made into movies.
But because most homeschoolers are excellent readers - having been taught to read by phonics - they enjoy reading the great fiction classics. Why? Because the authors were superb story-tellers, and everyone loves a great story. You had to be a very good and suspenseful writer to get a reader through 600 pages of dense text.
Storytelling is what a novel is all about. Human beings have enjoyed listening and telling stories from the beginning of time. One of the reasons why the Bible continues to be a best-seller is because of its stories. As a youngster I got to know more about God and religion through reading Bible stories than reading the Bible itself.
The beauty of home education is that homeschoolers have the time to read great fiction. Most homeschooling parents restrict TV viewing, and the quality of classic fiction is so much better than what is seen on TV, that the homeschooler gains much more knowledge, wisdom, and pure enjoyment from reading great novels.
The writers of the classics were keen observers of human foibles, intuitive creators of character and circumstances, weavers of ingenious plots, skillful at building suspense, and masters at the use of language. The characters they created, whether a Jane Eyre or a David Copperfield, became as real as actual human beings. These authors perfected the art of writing, so that we can improve our own literacy by simply studying and copying their marvelous texts.
Literary style is a matter of a writer's individual development. Each writer acquires his or her own vocabulary, which becomes a distinct self-owned dialect. Like composers, writers differ so greatly from one another. As artists, they develop their own palettes of language color and texture based on their own temperaments and philosophies of life.
Each human being has a story to tell, which is why storytelling is such a deep human trait. That is why it is such an exhilarating experience to read a great writer. A master storyteller is one who has examined life with a clear set of eyes and an emotional sensitivity that reveals what it is to be human.
Of course, writers have their own life stories to tell, revealing their secret selves in ways that readers can identify with. Life is an adventure: dangerous, daring, romantic, exciting, risk-taking, challenging, purposeful. But its most powerful component is love. All great novels are love stories, which is why we still read them.
Homeschooling is a product of love: love of parents, love of learning, and love of life. All are derived from love of God, the Creator who gave us life and this great country we live in. May homeschoolers be inspired by all these great miracles, that also include the small miracles of great writers.