Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Well-Educated Mind

As you know, I read and loved The Well-Trained Mind. As I mentioned in my post discussing it, I'd recommend it as reading to anyone interested in educational techniques and philosophies, or anyone who has kids and is interested in learning how children learn. It was compelling, to me anyway, and seemed to make a lot of sense.

One of The Well-Trained Mind's co-authors, Susan Wise Bauer, who teaches American literature at the College of William and Mary, also wrote another book, geared for adults, called The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. I don't know if this is a good book or not because I haven't read it (it mostly pertains to how to read a book and how to critically analyze the book), but I did want to see which books she highlighted as "must reads" and thought I'd offer them up for discussion. Keep in mind that the whole premise of a classical education is the integration of all subjects so the books you'd be reading for grammar, spelling and reading would mesh nicely with the period of history you were studying. That said, Bauer tries to recommend books from many different time periods so that the classical model is able to be followed.

She divides her recommendations into five categories: novels, autobiographies and memoirs, tales of historians and politicians, drama and poetry and, as I mentioned, not only makes recommendations on what to read, but how to best to critically analyze it.

Here's the list of novels she recommends. I've read some, but not most. I'll confess that a few I have little interest in, but many I do. Never mind that I forgot my pen and paper the other night at Barnes and Noble, right?

1) Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (she recommends the translation by John Rutherford)

2) The Pilgrim's Progress
by John Bunyan

3) Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift

4) Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen (I knew there was a reason I liked Bauer!)

5) Oliver Twist
by Charles Dickens

6) Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontë

7) The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

8) Moby-Dick
by Herman Melville

9) Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe

10) Madame Bovary
by Gustave Flaubert

11) Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (she recommends the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

12) Anna Karenina
by Leo Tolstoy (she recommends the translation by Constance Garnett, revised by Leonard J. Kent and Nina Berberova)

13) The Return of the Native
by Thomas Hardy

14) The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James

15) Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain

16) The Red Badge of Courage
by Stephen Crane

17) Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad

18) The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton

19) The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

20) Mrs. Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf

21) The Trial
by Franz Kafka (she recommends the translation by Breon Mitchell)

22) Native Son
by Richard Wright

23) The Stranger
by Albert Camus (she recommends the translation by Matthew Ward)

24) 1984
by George Orwell

25) Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison

26) Seize the Day
by Saul Bellow

27) One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez (she recommends the translation by Gregory Rabassa)

28) If on a winter's night a traveler
by Italo Calvino (she recommends the translation by William Weaver)

29) Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison

30) White Noise
by Don Delillo

31) Possession
by A.S. Byatt

What do you think of her recommendations? I feel there are some surprising omissions but, for the most part agreed with her list though I also realize another scholar might put together a very different list. And since I haven't read most of them, nor am I a great academic, who am I to judge the quality of the list?

I'm looking at the list from a less scholarly angle: I just want to find books to read that I'll enjoy and although Oprah Book Club-ish fiction is, well, fun, I prefer to mix books that are a little weightier into what I read more often than not. Bauer said something in The Well-Trained Mind that really stuck with me, and what she said, basically, was that if you only feed your child Twinkies and McDonalds don't be surprised if they grow accustomed to that food and become overweight and develop health troubles. It's the same with with books. If your child consistently reads books with unchallenging vocabulary and simple sentence structure, don't be surprised if it's more difficult for them to tackle good books when they're adults.

What books on this list did you, my readers, enjoy? Or which ones are you interested in? Why?


dad said...

in the same vein, check out the list begun by mortimer adler and robert hutchins (univ of chicago)in their Great Books of the Western World series of the 1920s and 1930s. the divisions, i believe, were science, mathematics, language and philosophy. original texts only. seveal lifetimes later ...

dad said...

"several" not seveal

MOST with an attitude said...

I enjoyed Don Quixote. It was required reading for one of my Spanish classes and I dreaded it's length, at first, but then really got into the characters. It is a story about the journey and life adventures of a man who is not all "with it".
The characters are colorful and unique, the text is comedic at times and sentimentally sweet. I don't know how the translation reads (I had to read it in spanish), but I'm sure its just as good.
Jane Eyre is also a good one but it starts out a bit slow. She is written as a headstrong and stubborn character, but you end up rooting for her to be happy. I liked it!

terri said...

I am quite impressed with this list. The books that I have read on the list were fabulous! Most, however, were read in HS or college. Others on the list that I have not gotten to, I have been wanting to. Like, Song of Solomon, Anna Karenina and P&P (nope, not yet). Perhaps I need to change my own literary strategy.

Please don't tell me you're having Madeleine read these next year.

I remember being deeply moved by The Scarlet Letter and Uncle Tom's Cabin in HS, but Pilgrim's Progress? ick.

I read The Stranger, and for some strange reason, I think I read it in French (L'Etranger). I barely remember it, but I recall enjoying its depth.

I like this list better than the other blog book list that was circulating. Thanks!

SuperMom said...

Terri, We read The Stranger together in AP English ;), though I'm sure you could have read it in French also.

Thanks for the heads-up on Don Quixote, Sar. It wasn't one I'd marked to read anytime soon, but I might just do that now (though in English, not in Spanish). Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books and I've read it multiple times... it's only a notch below P&P in my book.

Thanks for the other list too, Dad, it will be interesting to compare them.

SuperMom said...

Oh, and no, I do not have Madeleine slated to read any of these next year, LOL. I think we'll stick with children's classics for at least a year or two. ;)

angieoh! said...

I felt pretty good after reading this list. The only ones I hadn't read were Nos. 3,26,28, & 31. My favorite?

Pride and Prejudice. Hands Down.

Lately I have been reading a lot of biographies, I especially enjoyed "John Adams" good read and an interesting time to consider.

My favorite fiction book? The Red Tent. Must read.

i said...

LOL, thanks, Supermom. I guess that AP English was a repressed memory!

Liz said...

I was surprised by some of the modern choices, Don Delillo? I loved White Noise, but I wouldn't consider him THE modern master. The New York Times Book Review ran an interesting article last year where authors chose the most important novel of the 20th century. A unique take on defining a new classic.