The Well-Educated Mind: Autobiography and Memoir

Last week, I posted a list of novels from Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind. The next section in her book covers autobiography and memoir, which is a bit more complicated than you might think.

After giving a brief overview of the history of criticism of the genre, Bauer guides readers through the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages of reading. Here are those questions:

Grammar-Stage Reading (129-132)

  • Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
  • What are the central events in the writer’s life?
  • What historical events coincide – or merge – with these personal events?
  • Who is the most important person (or people) in the writer’s life? What events form the outline of that story?
  • Give the book your own title and subtitle

Logic-Stage Reading (132-137)

  • What is the theme that ties the narrative together?
  • Where is the life’s turning point? Is there a “conversion”?
  • For what does the writer apologize? In apologizing, how does the writer justify?
  • What is the model – the ideal – for this person’s life?
  • What is the end of the life: the place where the writer has arrived, found closure, discovered rest?
  • Now, revisit your first question: What is the theme of this writer’s life?

Rhetoric-Stage Reading (137-141)

  • Is the writer writing for himself, or for a group?
  • What are the three moments, or time frames, of the autobiography? (When the events happened, when they were written down, when they were read)
  • Where does the writer’s judgment lie?
  • Do you reach a different conclusion from the writer about the pattern of his life?
  • What have you brought away from this story?

Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated novel list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases (e.g. Gulliver’s Travels) to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

I’ve gotten through the Augustine’s Confessions, Meditations, a good bit of Ecce Homo but I need to get back on track:

You might be surprised by what’s included and what’s not. Hopefully you’ll notice that many of the inclusions are from African-Americans. For those of us, like me, who are white and grew up in the South, some of these books might be more worth our time than others.

Also, I can’t think of a better way to have a better grip on where race relations are today than by reading some of these stories. I mean, yes, you can also talk to people, but I am speaking as an introvert who wants to do some helpful summer reading. If that’s you as well, why not select a few titles here and have at it?

Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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