My New Project- Classical Self Education with “The Well Educated Mind”

In my book Dignity is a Renewable Resource, I wrote how I felt that my exposure to great classical books was limited. This week I stumbled upon a book called The Well Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer and thought I should give myself a new project. After all what’s life without an ongoing project, right?

The book is an adult’s guide to self education in the classical tradition of studying various works of literature in chronological order. I think some of the value of the classics is lost on us because of a lack of context. Just a few days ago I was discussing the topic with my family. We were concurring that we didn’t quite grasp the relevance of The Catcher in the Rye and why it was so critically acclaimed. I shared that part of the phenomenon with some classics is that the mechanics used were novel or revolutionary. For instance, Jane Austen’s realism and social commentary were different in style than previous authors. Her stories were told from the perspective of women doing ordinary things, which in itself was unordinary.

In The Well Educated Mind, Wise Bauers offers a technique for digesting the works, using a pattern of trivium to understand, analyze and evaluate a book. First is to try to understand the book’s basic structure and argument. Second, one should evaluate the book’s assertion and finally, form an opinion about the book’s ideas.

Wise Bauer suggests the following books, read in the following order. I’ll post updates on my process and progress of the project and would love you to join me. If you want to follow along and self educate, please buy the book and start with me. We can share our thoughts and analysis of the books here. This is not a “get educated quick” project and will take years. My goal is to complete one book a month. I’ve already read a few of these, but will reread as I didn’t necessarily analyze and evaluate previously.

Novels to read:

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605)
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1679)
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift (1726)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1815)
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
  • The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1851)
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
  • The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1878)
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881)
  • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902)
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925)
  • Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
  • 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)
  • Seize the Day by Saul Bellow (1956)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)
  • If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (1972)
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)
  • White Noise by Don Delillo (1985)
  • Possession by A.S. Byatt (1990)

How many of these have you read? Are you up for traveling this journey with me?


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  1. Hi, Shanna, I am reading through the WEM since January 2012 with a group of other WEM bloggers. We will be starting The Red Badge of Courage very soon. How far have you gotten?

    • HelloMyNameisShanna says:

      Hi, Ruth! I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t gotten very far on this list, but mostly because I keep getting distracted with other books! I went through a Jane Austen phase and then a John Steinbeck phase, but need to get back to the list. I’d love to connect and keep in touch with other WEM bloggers!

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