The Well-Educated Mind: Novels

Now that it’s officially summer reading season, I thought I’d give you more of a rundown on the lists in The Well-Educated Mind. You may vaguely remember the overview I gave of the opening section. If not, here it is again.

Chapter 5 is “The Story of People: Reading through History with the Novel.” Bauer gives a 10 minutes history of the novel, which you’ll have to actually buy the book to read.

She then proceeds to tell you how to read a novel (beyond merely going from one word to the next in succession until the final page). She gives you tips and questions to guide you through reading at the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stage. Because I don’t want to deprive you of the joy layered reading, I’ll reproduce those below (parentheticals refer to pagination).

Grammar Stage Reading (71-73)

  • Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
  • Keep a list of characters as you read
  • Briefly note the main event of each chapter
  • Make initial notes on passages that seem interesting
  • Give the book your own title and subtitle

Logic-Stage Reading (73-81)

  • Is this novel a “fable” or a “chronicle”?
  • 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?
  • Who is telling this story?
  • Where is the story set?
  • What style does the writer employ?
  • What images and metaphors get repeated?
  • Pay close attention to beginnings and endings

Rhetoric-stage Reading (82-86)

  • Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones, and why?
  • Does the writer’s technique give you a clue as to her “argument” – her take on the human condition?
  • Is the novel self-reflective?
  • Did the writer’s times affect him?
  • Is there an argument in this book?
  • Do you agree?

Bauer then offers an annotated novel list. That is 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’m still stuck on Don Quixote, but I think I’ll remedy that this summer and move on to the next. Here’s her chronological list:

I don’t know enough about modern novels to comment on the additions past 1900, but I think it’s a pretty solid list. I’m sure we could add or subtract some, but if you’re looking to deepen your understanding of quality literature, this is a good place to start.

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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