These past few weeks, I’ve been shopping around for a challenge to kick off 2013. Noting that I’m not quite as devoted to finishing challenges as I am to starting them, I decided to stack the deck and choose a challenge based on something I would be doing anyway: reading.
Back when I was first researching the possibility of homeschooling my kids, I read Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind. In this book, she gives a brief explanation of the trivium and how to apply that method of study to reading The Classics. She then goes on to give suggested reading lists in literature, memoir, history, drama, and poetry. I bought the first several books on her literature list (except for those I already owned) and actually read Don Quixote (the first novel on her list and, actually, the very first novel ever) in the manner she recommends. I liked it. It required a lot more brain than I think I usually use when I read, but I retained a lot more of the plot than I usually do. I’d intended to go back and read the rest of the books from her lists, but so far that’s not happened.
Then a couple of weeks ago I found a link to The Classics Club on Shelf Love, one of my favorite book blogs. The Classics Club is basically a reading challenge. To join, one chooses 50+ classics, posts the list on one’s blog, and vows to read all of the books on the list within 5 years.
This seemed like my kind of challenge.
So, I’ve named my challenge “Cavalcade of Classics,” and I’ve made what I hope is a realistic but challenging list. It’s drawn primarily from the literature, memoir, and history lists in The Well-Educated Mind except that I’ve replaced some books I’ve already read with others by the same author, and I’ve added a couple of others, most notably Atlas Shrugged, which I think I really ought to read to see what all the hubbub’s about even though it’s really long and I’m not at all sure I want to spend that much time with Ayn Rand (I read her Anthem in high school and liked it, though, so maybe it won’t be so bad). I also removed Mein Kampf. I know I should read it because of its large and abominable influence on the 20th century, but I heard that when you read something your brain waves mirror those of the author when he was writing it, and I don’t think I’m up for that in this case. This is also why I’m also not too sure about reading Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, but I’m still feeling up for that challenge, at least for now. We’ll see how I feel after a few dozen classics.
If a re-read is still on the list it’s because I last read it for a school assignment and think I ought to give it a closer look or because I really liked it and just want to re-read it. But if the thought of slogging through The Great Gatsby again threatens to derail the whole project, I’ll simply skip it. Actually, I reserve the right to cut this list ruthlessly if I get to 2014 and have only read five of the books or something. It’s my list, and I’ll cut a book if I want to.
Now without further ado…
My Cavalcade of Classics Challenge!
(Click the link above for the book list)
10 Replies to “Cavalcade of Classics Kick-off”
Don’t feel bad about not reading Mein Kampf. I really think it was a mistake that Bauer put it on her list. I’m not even really sure she has read it. Reading ideas you don’t agree with is a good exercise. Reading books that are lack coherence, organization and grammar are a waste of time. I know the book has some historical importance and you should know it if you are a scholar of the Third Reich. Otherwise it is enough to glance through a few pages to understand how peculiar and unreadable the thing really is.
I think Ecce Homo is another mistake. Nietsche is well worth reading. He is as great a German stylist as Hitler is not. But Ecce Homo is a questionable place to start. I think most readers would find it confusing and miss the irony. A better place to start would be Genealogy of Morals or Beyond Good and Evil. They are longer and require some effort. But you are more likely to walk away with some idea of what he is getting at.
More thoughts on Bauer here (http://bit.ly/Xp3ngB)
Have fun with your Cavalcade of Classics. Looking forward to following your adventure.
Thank you for the detailed comment, severalfourmany, and for the vote of confidence on my choice to leave Mein Kampf off of my list.
I’ll have to revisit the Nietzsche on my list, too. I read The Anti-Christ in college, but although I seem to have underlined generously, made copious marginal notations, and presumably wrote at least one paper on the book, I find I’ve retained practically none of it. As a result, I’m considering re-reading that one or Twilight of the Idols, which is the other half of the volume I have that includes The Anti-Christ and which I understand is written in a more accessible format. But The Genealogy of Morals also looks interesting (and is also written in essay format like Twilight of the Idols, or so I’ve read). I’ll have to make the choice as I get closer. I’m still trudging along the King’s Highway with Christiana and her kids, so I’ve got two hundred years and a whole lot of other memoirs before I get to Nietzsche anyway.
And incidentally, I read your blog post about Bauer a few weeks ago. I can’t remember how I found it (maybe a pingback to my post from yours?), but your comments about how Bauer’s reading list isn’t so much a list of classics as it is a list of the books she happens to have read has been swimming about in my brain for the past few weeks (which probably means I ought to make a comment on your post).
Sounds like an awesome challenge!! I have actually tried to do something similar (with a Well-Educated Mind, in fact!) a couple times, but fell off the wagon. I think my problem was that I felt compelled to dive in with both feet and got completely burned out…I wasn’t doing it right. I rushed things and of course, you can’t “get” these books b rushing them. Maybe I’ll read a few as well this year, because it’s still on my list of things to do, and I REALLY have to read these things before Elijah gets to high school :). Good luck! :).
That’s kind of how I was looking at it…trying to educate myself while educating the kids. I don’t think I’m going to do the full-on trivium treatment for every book, which I think is what tripped me up last time I tried. I’m a little worried about my chances of reading 88 classics in 5 years (along with all of the other “fun” books I want to read), but I’m excited to give it a try!
I think you have a point there about the trivium–I think that’s another thing that tripped me up. I get so caught up in the “process” that I lose what I was doing the thing for in the first place. It’s good that you are aware of that going into it. I actually didn’t think of it until I read what you wrote here. I’ve been trying t really hard over the past couple years to make sure that the things I do work for ME, and not the other way around (like, feeling obligated to do something just because the process or instructions say to do it, and not thinking about how it applies to my situation).
Good luck, Charity. This is very inspiring. I think creating a well-rounded reading list is very beneficial. I’ve always believed that reading should not be done at chance, with whatever books you happen to encounter, but it should be all structured, organized, controlled, so that one doesn’t waste time on rubbish. I guess that comes from my view of reading as not an activity of pleasure but a potent learning tool that needs to be used wisely. I am actually quite inspired to create a list of my own. For a long time I’ve wanted to read as much feminist literature as to create a solid base of knowledge that I can rely on in my own writing, and I think that taking the time and creating a list would be an excellent way to go about that. The fantastic library system here in US makes it possible to find about any book I might want, so why not put it to good use? I think I am going to start a list of my own today. (I might borrow a few ideas from your list, hope you don’t mind). Thanks for the inspiration.
I don’t mind at all! I mostly cribbed mine from Susan Wise Bauer. The biggest problem I have with reading lists is that they highlight just how many books I’ve not read yet (and how no matter how many I read, it’s barely going to make a dent in what I want to read). If our lists overlap, I’d love to discuss a book or two with you!