Well Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

Blogwalking to Fanda Classiclit is always interesting and somehow always got me curious about everything new in this blog. I read about a self project called Well Educated Mind, curiosity lead me to googling what is it really about. This WEM thing is particularly a way to understand deeply about Classics books, the goal is to understand what is the  thought(s) or the message(s) from the writer in every piece of Classics books (if I’m not mistaken). You can read this WEM thing in this PDF  or buy the book or visit Susan Wise Bauer blog.

This is a part of PDF about WEM I already read:

Reading Critically
If you what to get more than entertainment out of a book you should ask whether it will lead you along a path whose end is different from its beginning, whether its characters have motivations and ambitions and hangups that are recognizably human, and whether those motivations and ambitions and hangups give rise to the novel’s crisis and situations.

Inquiry Reading (Getting the facts)
When reading commit yourself to stop at the end of each chapter (or substantial section) and jot down a few sentences in your reading journal. These sentences should summarize the chapter’s contents, main assertions, the most important events and what you have learned. If you read with the intention to make a summary you will focus better on what you are reading. When you find your mind drifting, gently bring yourself back to the words knowing that you will write a summary. A chapter generally has one theme or one idea that the author wants to develop and wants you to understand.

As you read, do jot down questions that come to your mind. Record your reactions, questions, thoughts, disagreements or agreements with the writer, with what is happening in the book. Indicate sections to be reread and the questions you have. Scribble down any ideas, phrases, or sentences that strike you, reflections or connected thoughts that the book brings to your mind. These questions, disagreements, and reflection should be visually distinct from your summary of the book’s contents. It is important to note page numbers beside your comments. Leave very wide margins on either side of your paragraphs for making comments later.

It is helpful to keep a list of characters as you read, their names, their positions, and their relationships to each other; maybe a genealogical table. Looking up words that you do not know is also very important. Knowing the word can change the whole context and meaning of a paragraph.

After reading the book, the chapter summaries will be an outline of the book. You will want
to be able to answer the following questions:
a. Who is(are) the central character(s) in this book?
b. What is the book’s most important event?
c. Is there some point in the book where the characters change?
d. Glance back through the list of major events that you’ve jotted down for each chapter and
try to identify the most central and life-changing of them all. Does something happen that
makes everyone behave differently?
e. Which character is most affected?
The goal of at this stage of reading is to know what the author says.

Logic-Stage Reading (Evaluating)
Now you will want to ask:
a. Why did the author write this book?
b. What did he or she set out to do?

  • i. layout facts,
  • ii. convince you of the truth in a set of deductions,
  • iii. give you an emotional experience,
  • iv. present a dilemma to be faced?

c. If you are reading nonfiction, you would now begin to analyze the writer’s argument:

  • i. What idea is she trying to convince you of?
  • ii. What evidence does he give you for believing this argument?
  • iii. When you evaluate nonfiction you ask: Am I persuaded?

d. But when you evaluate fiction you are invited to enter another world. You will ask:

  • i. Am I transported?
  • ii. Do I see, feel, hear this other world?
  • iii. Can I sympathize with the people who live there?
  • iv. Do I understand their wants and desires and problems?
  • v. Or am I left unmoved?

e. What does the central character (or characters) want? What is standing in his (or her) way? And what strategy does he (or she) pursue in order to overcome this block?
f. Generally a deeper, more essential need or want lies beneath this surface desire. You can often get at this deeper motivation by asking the second question: What’s standing in the way?
g. Is a person keeping the hero/ine from achieving his/her deepest wants? If so, is that person a “villain” in the sense, an evildoer who wishes to do another character harm? Or is the “villain” simply another character with a deep want of his/her own that happens to be at cross-purposes with the hero/ines’s need?
h. The block in the heroine’s way doesn’t have to be a person. A collection of circumstances, a malign force that constantly pushes her in the wrong direction, an impersonal set of events that have united to complicate her life-these can also keep a character from getting what she wants. The novelist’s world may demonstrate that human
beings are always at the mercy of a flawed, fallen creation–or an uncaring, mechanical universe in which they are as insignificant as flies.
i. Once you’ve identified, at least tentatively, a character’s wants and the “block” that keeps him from fulfilling them, you can begin to answer the third question: What strategy does the character follow in order to overcome the difficulties that stand in his way? Does he bulldoze his way through the opposition, using strength or wealth to overcome his difficulties? Does he manipulate, scheme, or plan? Does he exercise intelligence? Grit his teeth and keep on going? Buckle under the pressure, wilt and die? This strategy produces the plot of the novel.
j. Characters have always longed for escape, freedom, an ideal existence, control of their lives. Some want to find the inherent meaning of life, not the meaning imposed on him by the corporations that have already constructed the story of his life for him. What keeps him from discovering this meaning? Does he manage to find it in the end?
k. Where is the story set?
l. Are there important images or metaphors?

Rhetoric-Stage Reading (Forming your own opinion)
The final stage of reading–rhetoric-stage reading–has the following as its goal. Now you
know what, why and how. The final question is: So What?

What does this writer want me to do?
What does this writer want me to believe?
What does this writer want me to experience?

Am I convinced that I must do, or believe, what the writer wants me to do or believe?
Have I experienced what the writer wants me to experience?
If not, why?

Uninformed opinions are easy to come by. But thinking through someone else’s argument, agreeing with it for specific, well-articulated reasons, or disagreeing with it because you’re able to find holes in the writer’s argument, or because the writer left out facts which s/he should have considered and weren’t–that different. The rhetoric stage follows the logic stage for this very reason. The good reader bases his opinion on intelligent and analysis, not mere unthinking reaction.

The journal is an excellent logic stage tool. But in the rhetoric stage of inquiry, you need something more. Rhetoric is the heart of clear, precise communication, and persuasion also involves two people. In your case, one of those people may be the book’s author: the book is communicating an idea to you, persuading you of something. But for you to articulate your own ideas clearly back to the book, you need to bring someone else into the process.

The ideas to discuss in the rhetoric stage of novel reading have to do with the nature of human experience: What are people like? What guides and shapes them? Are we Free? If not
what binds and restricts us? What is the ideal man or woman like? Is there such a thing as an
ideal man or woman–or does this idea itself suggest some sort of transcendent “truth” that is only
an illusion?

Do you sympathize with the characters? Which one(s), and why? Can you find some point of empathy (emotional or intellectual identification) with each major character? Do you like him/her? dislike? feel sorry for? pity? The characters’ dilemma, or their reaction to it, must provoke some kind of recognition; even in the oddest and most maniacal character, there should be something that we acknowledge.

In a great novel, even the evildoers posses some emotion or motivation that also exists in the reader. The novel’s bad guy is a villain not because he is a monster, but because some real quality has been distorted and exaggerated until it turns destructive. In the same way, a heroine should not possess undiluted goodness; such a character would be unrecognizable. Her greatness should result from her triumph over flaws that we recognize, and might even share. If she fails to triumph, we should feel that her failure could be our own; were we in her shoes, we too might

Try to identify the character quality that allows you to sympathize with each character. Do you feel this quality in yourself or observe it in others? In the novel, is this quality distorted, or exaggerated, or somehow twisted away from the norm? What opposing tendency destroys it, or stands in the way of its full flowering? Do you recognize that contrary impulse in yourself as well?

What does the setting of the book tell you about the way human beings are shaped?
Does the writer’s times affect him/her? (Gender bias, reflection of social customs.)
Is there an argument in the book? What exactly is the writer telling you? The primary purpose of a novelist is to lead you through an experience, not to convince you of a point. But in many novels, there is an idea. The writer, in describing the life of one particular character, is making a statement about the human condition in general.

Do you agree? Now you can as yourself that ultimate question: Is this work true? Does the experience create an emotion in you? Is it consistent with universal truths? Your core values? Or is it merely emotionally leading?

Here you should consider two senses of the word true. A novel that is convincing, vivid, engaging, carefully written so that each detail corresponds to reality, a novel that draws you into its world and keeps you interested in the fates of its characters–that novel is real, resonating with our own experience of the world. But a work can be true in this sense and still present an idea about what human experience should be that is opposite to our own convictions. Or a work can vividly portray one aspect of human existence while suggesting that this is the only level on which humans can live. Or a story can suggest that there is no “should be”–nothing to strive for beyond what we see, nothing to believe in beyond what is. All of these ideas we may strenuously rejected while still finding the book itself “believable.” So in what sense is the book true?

Related to this is one final question: What is fiction meant to do? Why are you reading a novel at all? Are you expecting to find out some truth about human nature? Should a novel reveal some difficult, hard-to-face truth about ourselves? Do novels show the inevitable end of certain paths? Or are they, instead, agents of moral change? Do they show us models so that we can amend our ways? This idea–that fiction provides us with a model–itself has a certain assumption behind it: There is some standard of human behavior which applies to all of us, in all cultures, and our quest in life is to uncover it. The novel gives us a way to become aware of and explore our own beliefs through the lives of the story’s characters and their dilemmas.

If you want to develop your mind further the next step is to write your arguments, reactions and feelings about what you have read. This is another important part of communication. Being able to express your opinions in writing so others can understand them and respond to them is an important step in education and your ability to know your self (what life means to you, what you value, what moves you) as well as use reason and logic.

Reading List

  1. Don Quixote- Miguel de Cervantes (1605)
  2. The Pilgrimʼs Progress- John Bunyan (1679)
  3. Gulliverʼs Travels- Jonathan Swift (1726)
  4. Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen (1815)
  5. Oliver Twist- Charles Dickens (1838)
  6. Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte (1847)
  7. The Scarlet Letter- Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
  8. Moby-Dick- Herman Melville (1851)
  9. Uncle Tomʼs Cabin- Harriet Beecher Stowe (1851)
  10. Madame Bovary- Gustave Flaubert (1857)
  11. Crime and Punishment- Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
  12. Anna Karenina- Leo Tolstoy (1877)
  13. The Return of the Native- Thomas Hardy (1878)
  14. The Portrait of a Lady- Henry James (1881)
  15. Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain (1884)
  16. The Red Badge of Courage- Stephen Crane (1895)
  17. Heart of Darkness- Joseph Conrad (1902)
  18. The House of Mirth- Edith Wharton (1905)
  19. The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  20. Mrs. Dalloway- Virginia Woolf (1925)
  21. The Trial- Franz Kafka (1925)
  22. Native Son- Richard Wright (1940)
  23. The Stranger- Albert Camus (1942)
  24. 1984- George Orwell (1949)
  25. Invisible Man- Ralph Ellison (1952)
  26. Seize the Day- Saul Bellow (1956)
  27. One Hundred Years of Solitude- Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)
  28. If on a winterʼs night a traveler- Italo Calvino (1972)
  29. Song of Solomon- Toni Morrison (1977)
  30. White Noise- Don DelilloPossession- A.S. Byatt (1990)


  1. The Confessions- Augustine (A.D. c. 400)
  2. The Book of Margery Kempe- Margery Kempe (c. 1430)
  3. Essays- Michel de Montaigne (1580)
  4. The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself- Teresa of Avila (1588)
  5. Meditations- Rene Descartes (1641)
  6. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners- John Bunyan (1666)
  7. The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration- Mary Rowlandson (1682)
  8. Confessions- Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1781)

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