Here we go…

Late last Friday night Renaissance Wife relaunched the website thanks to the dedication and patience of an amazing web designer and dear friend. Now comes the fun part! This is where you get to wander around and find things to learn and do and consider.

It was always my plan to feature a new room and a new inspiration each week starting with the Library. I know libraries can conjure up images of dusty, dry old buildings with stern faces shushing you. But I want you to consider this an open-air library where not only is talking allowed but questions are encouraged.

I met my favorite librarian in 1978. We were Juniors in high school. She is now a Ph.D at a prestigious  southern university. Anything but stern, her love of literacy and reading has inspired young people to pursue education in all disciplines leading to medical breakthroughs and scientific discoveries that are changing the way diagnosis are made and treatments are implemented. She is also a gifted vocalist, devoted wife, mother and new grandmother. Much more about her to come in future posts.

Looking over the freshly launched website Saturday morning, I was inspired to use a gift certificate I had received for Christmas to a unique experience near the waterfront in Detroit. If you ever get a couple of free hours in Detroit the John K King Used and Rare Books store  is the place to spend them. An old glove factory has become the home to more than a million books, from rare and obscure to recent and trendy. Over whelmed I sat down in one of the aisles on a couple of stacked milk crates scattered throughout the four stories for just such a moment. Scanning the shelves, my eye caught a title on the spine of a book that just jumped out from the others. “The Whole Five Feet”… Now if you have ever followed a White Rabbit, you can probably recognize this as one of them. The chase was on.

“The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death and Pretty Much Everything Else” is a paperback I paid $6 for. Before flipping it over to read the back, I had a suspicion I knew where the author was going. I didn’t know exactly why but the name Harvard Classics came to mind. The Whole Five Feet is his experience the year he decided to read the Harvard Classics. All 51 of them.

Don’t get too far ahead of the story…but, yes. I did come home with 2 heavy boxes in the trunk of my car. Turns out John K King had exactly one complete set of The Harvard Classics. Now I have them.

If you are not familiar with the Harvard Classics, don’t worry. A lot of people haven’t read them. But turns out a lot of people have them or had them. You may remember a set of reddish colored books in your grandparents’ home. You probably don’t remember ever seeing anyone read them or talk about them but they were a standard in many homes, passed down because they were important if not understood.

In 1909, Dr Charles Elliot ended his 40 years as President of Harvard University by curating a comprehensive if not exhaustive set of books based on his premise that the average person could get the equivalent of a liberal arts education by reading a 5-foot bookshelf. He believed if just 15 minutes a day were devoted to reading these books, the depth and breadth of knowledge of higher education could be attained independently. 110 years later, I whole heartedly agree with Dr. Elliot.

While I do not have an advanced degree, I have always believed that the only limitations put on education are self-imposed.

I have always believed the axiom that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. 

I believe that if someone, anyone, else has learned something, I can too. I may not be as good at it or master it but I can learn it.

For too long, I believed that most of my opportunities to learn had passed before I recognized what they were. Case in point, over dinner Saturday night, explaining to my husband what a wonderful find these books were, I realized why I knew Harvard Classics. A quick call to my mother confirmed, my parents had subscribed to the 1969 publication. They never finished getting all the books and my mother no longer had them but the green spine with the gold print was part of my journey each time we packed and moved growing up.

This morning, I am excited about picking up a book that is 110 years old, that was overlooked when I was 10 years old but that has quietly challenged me to learn for myself. To read and study, to explore and discover, to think and talk and teach and grow…

I’m not saying everyone should read the Harvard Classics but if you are ready, you can read them for free thanks to the Gutenberg Project.

Where ever you decide to begin your personal renaissance…just get started. Who knows where your White Rabbit will take you today?

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