I am always skeptical when starting to read a book that is not a novel, because it has always been harder for me to focus, and consequently, to enjoy the reading. It was no different with Susan Wise Bauer’s book, however, it might be different from now on. Similar to Mortimer Adler’s How To Read A Book, this book is about self-improving our reading skills and maximising our enjoyment of it.
The Well-Educated Mind is divided into two parts. In the first four chapters, Wise Bauer takes us through different tips and skills we must acquire in order to read better. In the last five chapters she makes an overview and gives specific advise on how to read the five main literary genres: fiction, autobiography, history, drama, and poetry.
For a chapter by chapter commentary:
PREPARING FOR CLASSICAL EDUCATION
Chapter 1 TrainingYour Own Mind:The Classical Education You Never Had
Her introduction to the book is basically to make the reader understand that most people don’t read books properly, which makes reading more frustrating and less enjoyable. To truly appreciate a book one must follow the steps of the trivium and seek to understand what the author is saying, independently of what our reaction to it may be. Most people jump from reading the text to giving their own perspective on it, which often makes them overlook what the author was trying to say.
Chapter 2 Wrestling with Books: The Act of Reading
This chapter had a couple of
Chapter 3 Keeping the Journal: A Written Record of New Ideas
This is the chapter from which I learned the most precious lesson. In this chapter she argues about the importance of constantly writing your reactions to the book, whether it is a connection you made, a question that you thought of, or simply a part you didn’t understand to which you want to comeback later. All which made a pretty strong case for keeping a journal, something I had always been kind of agains to, but after reading this chapter I thought her logic not only applies to readings, but to life in general.
Chapter 4 Starting to Read: Final Preparations
In this chapter she goes into more depth about the relation between the trivium and reading. Grammar is understanding the language, the words, what the author is saying. Logic is to understand why the author wrote what he wrote, what were the arguments behind his point and why did he present them in such way. Rhetoric is being able to express the author’s ideas in a coherent and compelling manner, and to compare and contrast them to the beliefs, knowledge, and past experiences one brings into a reading.
JUMPING INTO THE GREAT CONVERSATION
Chapter 5 The Story of People: Reading through History with the Novel
A novel is written with the objective of creating a different world in which the characters go through a meaningful experience, and as avid readers we need to always be thinking about these elements. It’s important to think about how the characters change from the beginning to the end, and to think about what was the author trying to express or say by choosing that particular plot, characters, and world.
Chapter 6 The Story of Me: Autobiography and Memoir
An autobiography is the author looking back in his own life and adding new meaning to it, meaning that could only be seen in retrospect. Choosing the important events and leaving out the casual nonsense. It’s important to ponder who is the author writing for and with what purpose.
Chapter 7 The Story of the Past: The Tales of Historians (and Politicians)
The purpose of this genre is to tell a story about facts. It’s important to think why is this relevant, place the reading in historical context, note its purpose and how it connects to different historical events. A crucial aspect is to think about whether we accept the source of information as reliable and to notice any cracks in the story.
Chapter 8 The World Stage: Reading through History with Drama
When reading drama it is important to think about the contrasting elements and structure of the play. About how the plot, the characters, and the main idea are interconnected. Think about how the characters interact, the language they use. Ultimately, think about how would you direct the play, what changes would you make.
Chapter 9 History Refracted: The Poets and Their Poems
This was my favorite chapter of the second part. Mostly because this is the genre I like to read the most and at the same time, have the hardest time understanding. A couple of tips would be to look at the poem objectively, its structure, its rhyme, its language. Then think about the author, his presence. What is he trying to accomplish, to transmit. What change is he expecting to see in the world. Why did he choose certain phrases. What response was he trying to get when he wrote it, how self-aware was he.