Books: “Little Men” and Studying Until You Go Insane

I don’t make a habit of reading classics. My tastes run toward science fiction and fantasy. That being said, I do read classics occasionally.

In this particular case it’s because I had a large pile of books sitting in my bedroom. When we finally got around to putting in a book case, my wife chose what books to place in it. Rather than put in the books that I would have preferred (mostly role-playing games), she put in the books that I had gotten out of my parents’ basement when they moved–that is to say the books I was reading around age 10 or so. We’re talking The Hardy Boys, a couple books related to Snoopy, a number of young adult novels (A Wrinkle in Time)and a few classics that I happened to own and like (Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Little Men, the sequel–sort of–to Little Women).

As such, I’ve been flipping through them every so often and re-reading bits. Here’s a funny thing I noticed recently though… In one of Mark Twain’s books (I forget which), he mentions a boy who is fantastically gifted, studies incredibly hard and ends up far in advance of his age. Then he has a breakdown and ends up unable to read. Similarly in Little Men, Louisa May Alcott includes a character who was pushed too hard as a child and also breaks down and similarly has trouble even learning the alphabet after that.

In fact there are a number of points in Little Men where there seems to be concern that too much studying can damage a child, specifically a boy. I could imagine that in a society that is slowly moving from being a mostly rural society to one that is mostly urban. Also, the timing is roughly right for the authors of both books to accept some of the ideas associated with muscular Christianity.

It struck me as funny that they seemed to have a similar anxiety about studying too much that some today have toward video games.

It makes me wonder what other anxieties people have today that will seem a little odd to people in the future.

Off the top of my head I can think of:

–weight gain
–excessive internet use
–excessive television use
–video games (I’m looking at you, Jack Thompson…)

I’m sure other people can name more.

That’s not to say that these things can’t be problems. Any one of them can be a problem. I’d argue though, that each of them get more press than heart disease. Heart disease is of course, one of the biggest killers in the US.

I’m not claiming exemption from worrying about any of them. I limit my kids time on the television and with video games. I’m just saying that I’d bet that there are bunch of things that we worry about far out of proportion to the actual risk.

2 thoughts on “Books: “Little Men” and Studying Until You Go Insane”

  1. Jim,

    I think my dad had the attitude that too much studying could be damaging. I used to get yelled at for reading too much during family vacations. Perhaps it’s part of the New England Puritan attitude regarding work? Did Calvin say anything about “studying” too much? Perhaps something akin to idle hands are the devil’s tools, and studying would be associated with idleness?

    You might want to take a look at the book Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson. He doesn’t discuss the concept that kids could be damaged by studying too much, but does discuss the effects of the Internet, television and video games.

  2. I’ve heard the book recommended. Actually, I’ve heard the author interviewed and it does sound good.

    As for your dad… My guess is that it could be as simple as annoyance that they went someplace and you’re doing something you could have been doing at home.

    I remember spending a lot of time reading on vacation too. Mostly though it was on the way there. As my dad was from Colorado originally, we’d drive there most summers and I remember spending much of the 2 day drive reading in the car. I don’t remember my parents being annoyed with it.

    I do remember them being annoyed if I tried to continue reading instead of doing whatever was the planned activity of the moment (“We’re leaving now. Put down the book.”)

    I don’t know that it’s a particularly Calvinist thing. Of course I haven’t read everything he’s written. I doubt I’ve read the entire Institutes–just bits and pieces as needed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>