Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge

Being an English major and frequent page-turner since I learned to read, I've felt some pressure to read "the classics." After years of feeling stuck in college classes and forced to read books they wanted me to read, I felt like I lost my will to read for personal pleasure.

But I just can't get away from the allure of a reading challenge, which gives me hope that my passion for reading hasn't died.

Since I am interested in giving my son a classical education, reading all of the classics myself can only help me. I have already read some of these, but I am rereading those and cracking open the ones that are new to me.

If you'd like to challenge yourself, feel free to join me.


My plan:

1. Start at the beginning of the list. 
2. Read a little each day.
3. Blog about my progress (at least once a month) to share and keep myself motivated.

Without further ado, here is the list:
Books marked by an orange asterisk (*) are books that are being re-read. Books written in blue ink are ones I have completed. I'll be reading a few from each section so as not to overload on any one type of literature. 

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

The Confessions- Augustine (A.D. c. 400)
The Book of Margery Kempe- Margery Kempe (c. 1430)*
Essays- Michel de Montaigne (1580)
The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself- Teresa of Avila (1588)
Meditations- Rene Descartes (1641)
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners- John Bunyan (1666)
The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration- Mary Rowlandson (1682)
Confessions- Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1781)
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin- Benjamin Franklin (1791)*
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself- Harriet Jacobs (1861)
Life and Times of Frederick Douglass- Frederick Douglass (1881)*
Up from Slavery- Booker T. Washington (1901)
Ecce Homo- Friedrich Nietzsche (1908)
Mein Kampf- Adolf Hitler (1925)
An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth- Mohandas Gandhi (1929)
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas- Gertrude Stein (1933)
The Seven Storey Mountain- Thomas Merton (1948)
Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life- C.S. Lewis (1955)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X- Malcolm X (1965)
Journal of a Solitude- May Sarton (1973)
The Gulag Archipelago- Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
Born Again- Charles W. Colson (1977)
Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez- Richard Rodriguez (1982)
All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs- Elie Wiesel (1995)

The Histories- Herodotus (441 B.C.)
The Peloponnesian War- Thucydides (c. 400 B.C.)
The Republic- Plato (c. 375 B.C.)
Lives- Plutarch (A.D. 100-125)
The City of God- Augustine (Completed 426)
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People- Bede (731)
The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli (1513)
Utopia- Sire Thomas More (1516)*
The True End of Civil Government- John Locke (1690)
The History of England, Volume V- David Hume (1754)
The Social Contract- Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762)
Common Sense- Thomas Paine (1776)
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire- Edward Gibbon (1776-1788)
The Vindication of the Rights of Women- Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
Democracy in America- Alexis de Tocqueville (1835-40)
The Communist Manifesto- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848)
The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy- Jacob Burckhardt (1860)
The Souls of Black Folk- W.E.B. Du Bois (1903)
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism- Max Weber (1904)
Queen Victoria- Lytton Strachey (1921)
The Road to Wigan Pier- George Orwell (1937)
The New England Mind- Perry Miller (1939)
The Great Crash 1929- John Kenneth Galbraith (1955)
The Longest Day- Cornelius Ryan (1959)
The Feminine Mystique- Betty Friedan (1963)
Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made- Eugene D. Genovese (1974)
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century- Barbara Tuchman (1978)
All the Presidentʼs Men- Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (1987)
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era- James M. McPherson (1988)
A Midwifeʼs Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary- Laura Thatcher Ulrich (1990)
The End of History and the Last Man- Francis Fukuyama (1992)

Agamemnon- Aeschylus (c. 458 B.C.)
Oedipus the King- Sophocles (c. 450 B.C.)*
Medea- Euripides (c. 431 B.C.)
The Birds- Aristophanes (c. 400 B.C.)
Poetics- Aristotle (c. 330 B.C.)
Doctor Faustus- Christopher Marlowe (1588)*
Richard III- William Shakespeare (1592-93)
A Midsummer Nightʼs Dream- William Shakespeare (1594-95)*
Hamlet- William Shakespeare (1600)*)
Tartuffe- Moliere (1669)*
The Way of the World- William Congreve (1700)
She Stoops to Conquer- Oliver Goldsmith (1773)
The School for Scandal- Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1777)
A Dollʼs House- Henrik Ibsen (1879)*
The Importance of Being Earnest-Oscar Wilde (1899)
The Cherry Orchard- Anton Chekhov (1904)
Saint Joan- George Bernard Shaw (1924)
Murder in the Cathedral- T.S. Eliot (1935)
Our Town- Thornton Wilder (1938)
Long Dayʼs Journey Into Night- Eugene OʼNeill (1940)
No Exit- Jean Paul Sartre (1944)
A Streetcar Named Desire- Tennessee Williams (1947)
Death of a Salesman- Arthur Miller (1949)
A Man for All Seasons- Robert Bolt (1960)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead- Tom Stoppard (1967)
Equus- Peter Shaffer (1974)

The Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2000 B.C.)*
The Iliad and the Odyssey*- Homer (c. 800 B.C.)
Greek Lyricists (c. 600 B.C.)
Odes- Horace (65-8 B.C.)
Beowulf (c. 1000)*
Inferno- Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)*
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c. 1350)*
The Canterbury Tales- Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400)*
Sonnets- William Shakespeare (1564-1616)*
John Donne (1572-1631)*
Psalms- King James Bible (1611)
Paradise Lost- John Milton (1608-1674)*
Songs of Innocence and Experience- William Blake (1757-1827)
William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
John Keats (1795- 1821)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1883)
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)*
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)*
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)*
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)*
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)
Robert Frost (1874-1963)*
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
Ezra Pound (1885-1972)*
T.S. Eliot (1888-1954)*
Langston Hughes (1902-1967)*
W. H. Auden (1907-1973)
Philip Larkin (1922-1985)
Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)
Mark Strand (1934-)
Adrienne Rich (1929-)
Seamus Heaney (1939-)
Robert Pinsky (1940-)
Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)
Rita Dove (1952-)


  1. What a great list of books. I try to cover these as well with my kids:) Thanks for stopping by Lifes Adventures:)

  2. Hi, Paula,
    I am a homeschool mom of five, sort of classically educating, and I have been reading through The Well Educated Mind since January 2012. I am beginning Mrs. Dalloway today. Don Quixote was my absolute favorite. I am always searching for others on the WEM journey. I will definitely be following you as you read through the list.

  3. Thank you, Ruth! Having others follow me will surely keep me accountable. I'm loving DQ so far and narrate all the funny parts to my son. I'll be following you as well!

  4. I tried to respond to your question on but the registration and login doesn't work.

    "Has anyone been down this graduate school road (for an English degree) that can tell me if grad. school is likely to be more hands-off than schooling for the B.A.?"

    The answer is yes and no.

    There are more options and freedom but all the options are somewhat systematic and rigorous. A lot depends upon the school but most MA programs require three things: 1) course work, 2) comprehensive exams and usually 3) a thesis. The thesis is your choice under the guidance of an advisor. The course work is also your choice but should probably be directed to help you with your exams. The courses are similar to upper level undergrad classes but usually have greater reading and writing requirements. The comp exams require you to “master” one or more fields of study. These are things like: Renaissance, Early American, 19th Century British, Literary Theory, etc. Each field of study will have a comprehensive reading list that you are expected to master. Some programs provide some limited flexibility on the reading list but for the most part it includes all the works generally considered influential. Some programs will also require you to have some degree of understanding of the main critical responses to the works as well. (e.g., this list from Xavier You will then have some combination of oral and written exam on this material.

    Here are some links to sample reading list. A few even provide examples of the kinds of exam questions you would be expected to respond to.

    You can also find others if you Google “MA English comprehensive exam reading lists”

    Hope this has been helpful.

    1. That is very helpful! Thank you! Those reading lists nearly match the one from my school, but I had never seen sample exam questions before. Thank you so very much for taking the time to share your experience and these useful links with me.