educating myself (in a novel way)

I am uneducated. There, I said it.

Sure, I’ve been to school, and I know how to read. I also know a few things, including a lot of trivia. But the more I learn the more I am convinced that I am largely uneducated. I am also convinced that many adults, especially those who have been to college, do not think this way about themselves, but they should. It is a kind of catch-22; the more one knows, the more one doesn’t know. In other words, it takes being educated to realize one isn’t. So, I guess I am both. I could become disheartened, but in fact it is just the opposite. The world of knowledge is before me and that is exciting.

Being a homeschooling parent I am also interested in the concept of a classical education. A classical education includes a lot of reading. If you are looking for some good books to read, and you want to spend several decades reading them, take a look at both of these lists:

Adler’s book list
Professor Cadbury’s book list

I want to read them all.

Now I love books, but I have to confess a problem: I love to buy (or check out) books more than I ever read them. I have stacks and stacks of books. I’ve gotten rid of more books over the years than most people have ever owned or, for some, even held in their hands. I’m not saying this is a good thing. A lot of the books I have are classics. They range all over, but probably most are works of non-fiction, including a lot of philosophy, theology, history, and biography. The fiction is a lot of European and American classics, and mysteries. I also have a fair amount of poetry. Regardless, most of these books sit on their shelves or in their piles having been started several times each but never finished. Novels are the worst for me.

With that in mind I am embarking on a plan. Or, at least, attempting to embark. The plan is not really my own, but I am willing to embrace it and try to make it my own. And like most grand schemes announced by bloggers, mine will likely suffer the usual fate of making it gloriously to sometime next week and then failing due to some minuscule, but entirely “understandable,” problem. Regardless, here is my plan: I will read through the book list proposed by Susan Wise Bauer in chapter five of her book: The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. That chapter is titled: “The Story of People: Reading through History with the Novel.”

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

You will notice the books are listed in chronological order of their publication. That is part of Susan Wise Bauer’s strategy. To read in order of publication date is to also read through the order of the history these books are a part of; it is to see just a little more the significance of each novel as they pertain to their time and place. In this way one gets a sense of the novel’s development.

I realize some of you are laughing because you know I will never get through this list, and others are laughing because you are surprised I have not already read each of these several times and even wonder why the list is so short. Hey, I’ve read a couple on the list, and started a few others more than once. Anyway, I am thoroughly excited about tackling such a great list of books. I hope this project will provide some genuine and lasting educational substance to my life.

I figure if I give myself two or three years I should be able to get through the book list without killing myself, but it will still be a difficult push for me. It might even take much longer depending on how much work I want to do with each book, such as note taking and re-reading. Susan Wise Bauer also provides some good advice on reading, a history of the novel, and thoughts pertaining to each of the books. I picked the novel because that’s the kind of book I have the most trouble getting through. Unfortunately I am a rather slow reader, though I am also working on my reading mechanics; my eyes tend to go back over the words I just read (back and forth) which slows me down considerably. I also tend to daydream when I read. In fact it is difficult for me to read more than a couple of sentences before I start making connections with other things and my mind wanders. It is my bane!

So what do you think? Is this something you would do?


  1. >I'm with you Tuck. I'm uneducated also. And, I'm with you and Bella on the journey. Let's read!Also-Add Norms & Nobility to your list. In fact…. I think it may be a good Christmas gift from the Jahns to the Teagues.The on-going conversation.

  2. >I love "The Well-Trained Mind" and I love this idea. I have read most of these (lit major and major nerd) but not in this particular order with this intention…would be fun to undertake.

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