Have you lost the art of reading for pleasure? Are there books you know you should read but haven’t because they seem too daunting? In The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer provides a welcome and encouraging antidote to the distractions of our age, electronic and otherwise. In her previous book, The Well-Trained Mind, the author provided a road map of classical education for parents wishing to home-school their children, and that book is now the premier resource for home-schoolers. In this new book, Bauer takes the same elements and techniques and adapts them to the use of adult readers who want both enjoyment and self-improvement from the time they spend reading.
The Well-Educated Mind offers brief, entertaining histories of five literary genres–fiction, autobiography, history, drama, and poetry–accompanied by detailed instructions on how to read each type. The annotated lists at the end of each chapter, ranging from Cervantes to A. S. Byatt, Herodotus to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, preview recommended reading and encourage readers to make vital connections between ancient traditions and contemporary writing.
The Well-Educated Mind reassures those readers who worry that they read too slowly or with below-average comprehension. If you can understand a daily newspaper, there’s no reason you can’t read and enjoy Shakespeare’s Sonnets or Jane Eyre. But no one should attempt to read the “Great Books” without a guide and a plan. Susan Wise Bauer will show you how to allocate time to your reading on a regular basis; how to master a difficult argument; how to make personal and literary judgments about what you read; how to appreciate the resonant links among texts within a genre–what does Anna Karenina owe to Madame Bovary?–and also between genres. Followed carefully, the advice in The Well-Educated Mind will restore and expand the pleasure of the written word.
Publisher’s description from W. W. Norton
“Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind (which she co-wrote with Jessie Wise) taught parents how to educate kids; her latest is designed for adults seeking self-education in the classical tradition. Reading-sustained, disciplined and structured-is her core methodology, so she starts with tips on improving reading skills and setting up a reading schedule (start with half-hour sessions four mornings a week, with daily journal writing). Reading is a discipline, like meditating or running, she says, and it needs regular exercise. To grow through reading-to reach the “Great Conversation” of ideas-Bauer outlines the three stages of the classical tradition: first, read for facts; then evaluate them; finally, form your own opinions. After explaining the mechanics of each stage (e.g., what type of notes to take in the book itself, or in the journal), Bauer begins the list section of the book, with separate chapters for her five major genres: fiction, autobiography/memoir, history/politics, drama and poetry. She introduces each category with a concise discussion of its historical development and the major scholarly debates, clearly defining all important terms (e.g., postmodernism, metafiction). And then, the piece de resistance: lists, in chronological order, of some 30 major works in each genre, complete with advice on choosing the edition and a one-page synopsis. Bauer has crafted a timeless, intelligent book.”–Publishers Weekly
“Carry around a new book like The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, by Susan Wise Bauer, and friends will leaf through it earnestly, dreaming of a day when they’ll finally be conversant with Sophocles and Rene Descartes.” —The New York Times
“If she’s not careful, Susan Wise Bauer will wind up a guru on PBS. The author’s lists of choices for “great books” are gutsy. Anyone can debate such lists; provocation is part of the fun of drawing them up, and Bauer is no slouch at it. For good reason, Mein Kampf makes the autobiography list, but she says she cannot finish Moby Dick and wants none of Joyce’s Ulysses, called “too brutal to read.” Bauer provides good synopses for her selections and runs them right up to the present (inlcuding such novels as A. S. Byatt’s Possession). She also adds short but spicy histories of her five genres. The history of the novel, she writes, is one grand circle, from the self-reflexivity of Cervantes to the metafiction of today. For Bauer, history is both a literary pleasure and requirement for good citizenship. Bauer is a real rebel; she does not mistake the last century of cranky half-truths from Frankfurt garrets and Sorbonne cafes for 2,500 years of philosophical aesthetics. All her genres include not only Dead White Males but also authors far beyond that usual cast of suspects. In contrast to both extremes of the culture wars, she proves you can speak two truths at once. In the best sense, Bauer is a neoclassicist.”–America Magazine
“If you find yourself both elated and sobered by that thought, I have a reading suggestion for you: a book that seeks to tame the Western canon and make the goal of being well read a bit more attainable for the harried twenty-first century reader. In The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer holds out a helping hand to the individual seeking a road map for the land of books, a guide for getting the most out of one’s (depressingly) finite reading time. Broad reading has long been the engine of classical education, and the author suggests that whatever your own educational background, it can work for you, too. It’s this holistic vision, presenting the continuity and innovation in literature from one age to the next, that makes The Well-Educated Mind so appealing. It encourages us to pursue life-long learning through great books, and to fuse the books we read into a comprehensive whole, an intricate map of the world. With this approach to reading, undiscovered countries soon become familiar haunts, and–book by book–the world around us grows richer.”–Watermarkbooks.com
WW Norton, 2003, ISBN 0-393-05094-7