Monday, March 24, 2014

On Reading Classics and The Well-Educated Mind

Here's another thinking-about-books post.  I have always had a soft spot in my heart for classics and wish that they would be read more for interest and less "just because it's a classic".  There are some pretty obvious exceptions (600 pages of the Greek, The Histories by Herodotus, anyone?), but there are many classics that are quite enjoyable just for themselves.

If you don't know where to start in reading classics, I highly recommend Susan Wise Bauer's book, The Well-Educated Mind.  She breaks down classics into several categories: Novels, Poetry, Plays, etc., covering one section in each chapter.  Then, in each category, she lists the most well-known classics and gives a summary, ISBN number, and her favorite edition.  She also includes a set of discussion questions for each category.  The discussion questions are in three sets: Grammar Stage (simply reading through and making notes on what the book is about), then Logic Stage (answering questions about things like structure and style), and finally Rhetoric Stage (what do I think about this book?).
My next read
I have really enjoyed reading the books that she recommends.  I am going through by historical periods, starting by reading all of the ancient writings and now working through the medieval/renaissance books.  I have read everything from Oedipus Rex to The Koran to Dante's The Divine Comedy.  I have learned so much about reading and about history through these wonderful classics.  Not everything is wonderful, but I've been surprised by some very good writing, like the time I read The Birds and laughed my head off.  I have also learned that, with very old writings, translation can make or break a book.  By using Wise Bauer's recommended editions, I've been able to better comprehend and enjoy the writings.
My most recent read
I think that The Well-Educated Mind deserves a place in every home library.  It's a fascinating read if you just want to sit down and read through the whole thing like a novel.  Or, if you have a goal of reading some great books, this book is the first step to reaching that goal.

1 comment:

  1. You might like the project a friend of mine is doing over at her blog. She blogs through all the stages, as Bauer suggests. (Pardon me if you already know her!) :-)