Cheryl, I found this post helpful and interesting. I love that you called reading "this mysterious faculty." I have taught three of my kids to read so far, and as I think about what the process looked like for each of them, other than the obvious use of phonics, the only common thread was that for each one of them there was a "light bulb" moment that had nothing to do with me, a moment where it all suddenly clicked and they were reading fluently. I feel like because of that, I still haven't really settled on a 'method' or 'way' of teaching reading.
In retrospect, I probably started phonics instruction too early with my oldest. We took it slow still, so the damage was minimal. We were using the little Abeka handbook. Then I had a baby during her first grade year, so I put the phonics on pause for a month or two, but everyday while I rocked the baby she would sit and look through books on her own, and after those two months she could read anything she wanted to read. She has been reading voraciously ever since.
My second child is a later reader. I could tell from early on that things were going to be different, so I decided that the incremental Orton-Gillingham approach of All About Reading would be the best thing. We inched our way slooooowly but consistently through that. Periodically I would become anxious, and then have to repent of that, over and over. I did my due diligence, ruling out eye problems and dyslexia, etc. Thanks to Sarah Mackenzie's influence, I spent a lot of time trying to find audiobooks and family read-alouds that I thought he would love. I really think that was the most important part of what we did, because he truly does love stories. It might be a coincidence, but he also showed a big improvement around the time he started piano lessons. For him the "light bulb" happened this school year (he'll be 9 next month).
My third child is six. At the beginning of this year, he was reading CVC words with instant recognition even though I hadn't specifically worked with him on phonics yet. I did a few weeks of Charlotte Mason-style reading lessons with him, using Discover Reading as a guide and the Treadwell primer for reading material, and he was off and running within a month. He'll read just about anything now, so I just let him practice reading and then we reinforce phonics rules through spelling.
I plan on spending some more time trying to understand Charlotte Mason's approach to reading before my next two girls are ready, because of the three processes I described above, that approach was by far the most delightful. (But I will probably keep AAR in my back pocket, just in case!)
Where I struggle the most . . . I don't feel like I understand how the brain works in learning to read, and so I don't have confidence in choosing one approach over another. Also, I think it would be ideal for me to have memorized and internalized all the phonics rules so that I could easily teach them "by the way," without a program, but unfortunately I can't recall ever learning a spelling rule in school.
On combining reading, handwriting, and composition, I do like a lot of things about Charlotte Mason's approach. We use copywork and oral narration every day, and now written narration for my oldest. My oldest struggled with studied dictation, however, and I felt ill-equipped to figure out why, so I am incorporating All About Spelling, but I really would prefer for everything to be more integrated instead of using different programs for everything. We do a little bit of CAP's Writing and Rhetoric too, because I think it is so lovely and I'm fascinated by the progym approach, but we go at a slower pace with it so we can still emphasize narration without piling on too much extra work.