Upon finishing the first chapter of The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, I was motivated and optimistic. I did not have the benefit of a classical education, but that is no excuse for letting myself slide into intellectual lethargy. I do not have time (or money) to participate in an online Great Books tutorial, but I can commit to a half hour per day, four days per week reading schedule. I found myself thinking, in true Bob the Builder spirit, “Can I do it? Yes, I can!” And, perhaps just as valuable, I was encouraged that the task of guiding my children through the classics is achievable if I am willing to read and discuss these books as well. In fact, in the newly revised The Well-Trained Mind (2004), this book replaces the formerly recommended high school reading text, How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren (This book is still a recommended resource for reading scientific nonfiction).
Mrs. Bauer, coauthor of The Well-Trained Mind, follows up her encouraging pep talk with general guidelines on reading for enrichment. She offers time-tested suggestions such as keeping a commonplace book (a journal of sorts), having a reading partner, and marking up our texts. She also offers suggestions for those whose reading skills are truly in need of remediation before embarking on a Great Books course of study (a short reading test helps pinpoint legitimate problem areas). Following the general section, five literary genres are explored - fiction, autobiography, history, drama, and poetry. She begins with an entertaining history of each genre, followed by an approach to reading based on the trivium - the grammar, logic, and rhetoric levels of reading. Then come the suggested lists with best editions, summaries, supplementary books, video versions (for drama only), and ideas to consider. Books are to be read in chronological order within each genre in order to recognize continuity of thought and style across the ages.