Tag Archives: Susan Wise Bauer


Seize the Day Heb Check-in

Did you Seize the Day?

I’m seizing this hebdomadal check-in and turning it into a quick wrap-up.

I found Bellow’s brief novel to be a combination of Mrs Dalloway and The House of Mirth: a day in the life of a midlife crisis.

I was also reminded of our “city-bad, country-good” theme.  How many examples of that can we find in the WEM novel list?  I’ll start with Oliver Twist. Feel free to name others.

What did you think of our hippo-like main character?  Did you feel sympathy for him?

Oh, and what did you think of Dr. Adler?  Were his harsh actions toward his son justified?

One cannot read the phrase Seize the Day without thinking of its Latin counterpart:
Carpe Diem.  Did you ever wonder about the phrase’s popularity?  Where does it come from?  Do what I did.  Pick up your trusty copy of The Well-Educated Mind and read page 360.  The poet Horace includes the words Carpe Diem in Odes.  SWB paraphrases Horace’s philosophy: “Accept your mortality and always act in the knowledge that time is short.”  

Based on the short time we spent with Tommy Wilhelm, do you believe things will improve for him?  Is the ending of Seize the Day hopeful?

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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Seize the Day


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Do you agree with SWB?

In The Well-Educated Mind Susan Wise Bauer has an annotated list of the novels.  Fearful of spoilers, I avoid this list until after I have completed a book, then I scoop up my WEM copy and devour SWB’s synopsis.  Have you read her summary of Mrs. Dalloway?  Allow me to share a little.

But the story actually takes place not in the physical world, but in a different kind of universe: a mental reality, where the laws that given time and space are different, where characters who never meet in person intersect, mysteriously, in their thoughts…

Yep.  We’re in agreement.  Definitely “a mental reality”.
The quote continues.

and where Septimus and Clarissa, unacquainted with each other, are mirror images.

Hold the phone!  Really?  Mirror images?
Party-planning lady?  Suicide-committing man?

Septimus is unable to cope with disrupted, shattered, post-World War I England; Clarissa Dalloway survives, but only because she refuses to think deeply…          (The Well-Educated Mind,  page 103)

Mirror images, huh.  This I will have to ponder.
Do you agree with SWB?


Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Mrs. Dalloway


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Stupid Question: The Husband Edition

Stupid QuestionsLast night my beloved posed a question for which I had no good response, therefore I’m passing it on to you, dear readers:

Why did we read House of Mirth when Edith Wharton penned a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Age of Innocence?

It’s a legitimate question.  What little research I’ve done purports that she wrote AOI as an “apology” for HOM.  So, did we read her early work because it was a greater expose of the flawed moral and social structures of early 20th century urban American life?  Did Wharton go to far, or was her apology simply a bend to the very societal pressures she had condemned?

Or did SWB just go “eeny-meeny-miney-mo?”


Posted by on May 15, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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Study Skilz Syllabus

Yesterday was like a WEM class reunion.  Adriana, our honorary class president, got everyone organized to write posts about their reading, note-taking, and learning process.  If you’re looking to get more out of your DIY Masters Degree, these posts are a great place to start.

                    Adriana at Classical Quest

Chapter Summaries

Fanda at Fanda Classlit

Ruth at An Experiment with The Well-Educated Mind

Jean at Howling Frog Books

Tonia at the Sunny Patch

And the three of us here:



                                Christina Joy

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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in The Blog, Well-Educated Mind


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Diary of of a Wimpy WEMer

JournalsUnlike my super cute journals (Jeannette’s right, invest in ones you love,) I’m a mess.

I feel like you need to know that before you read this post about my WEM methodology.  Don’t let the doctored photos and wordy explanations fool you.  Those are pitfalls in the dangerous land of internet perfection.  My classics journey takes place in the land of illegible scribbles, rushed chapters, half-written ideas, misspellings and forgotten deadlines.

For instance, I read late at night.  I need the quiet silence.  I’ve come to terms with the fact that it goes against SWB’s recommendation.  But I do try to follow some of her other suggestions.

I keep a character list.

Character List

Although this is an example from back in the day when I took notes about each person.  Prior to that I used to put the page of their first appearance here as well.  Oh, the glory days.

I summarize every chapter, if by “every” you mean the ones at the beginning of the novel thoroughly, the middle ones in sloppy scrawl, and the last two to twelve not at all.  I try to write the factual summary in cursive, and then print out my reactions, questions, analysis, foreshadowing and the like below.

Chapter Summaries

The printed part is the equivalent of talking to myself.

Confused Note

Which I also sometimes do.  By reading aloud, that is.  This is my go-to strategy for dealing with a particularly difficult section of a book or a dreary, weary brain.  And then there are the times that I just turn the whole shebang over to the professionals:  audiobooks.

I also picked up a helpful hint from John Bunyan.  You remember how throughout Pilgrim’s Progress he gave us those clever little side notes told you what was happening?

Pilgrim's Progress Margin Notes

I try to pencil in little things like that if 1) the action is hard to follow 2) I think something pivotal has just occurred, or 3) I have reread the same paragraph four times.

I also jot other notes in the margins next to a plethora of underlined text.  In college wind symphony our conductor once gave a helpful bit of advice that I’ve carried into my classic book marking.  He said that we shouldn’t just circle a note or dynamic marking; doing so wouldn’t help us fix the mistake.  Instead we needed to write something that explains the problem to be addressed; name the note, draw eyeglasses to remind you to watch the director, write the words “slow down.”  Deceivingly simple, astoundingly effective.

Margin Notes

So when I highlight a passage I try to take the time to scribble a few words to myself that explains the significance of the section.

Recently I implemented a new technique in my WEM journaling.  For past novels I’ve simply added pages to the end of each section to answer SWB’s questions.  For the reading of POAL I put those questions in my journal first, and as I came across portions of the book that seemed to specifically address those things I had a preorganized location to drop the page numbers for safe keeping.  It’s hard to tell how well it worked because I did a really lousy, half-baked job of answering the questions on James’ snoozer novel.

Rhetoric Answers

Because we blog about the books I also have an additional note-taking method.  I keep a small piece of lined paper (I’m definitely with Christine about the importance of lines) as a bookmark.  On one side I list words and pages for future Classic Word of the Day posts, and the other I brainstorm ideas for other posts.

Bookmark List

So, now you know what I’ll be up to in about an hour.  Sooner or later I’ll quit cleaning/grading/planning/chilling-with-my-husband, don my pajamas, and crawl into bed.  I’ll crack open the Huck Finn, read a chapter, stop to chat with my beloved about it, journal a little, remember something I should have told him earlier, jot down some more, complain about how he turns over as many times as a puppy when he gets into bed thereby messing up my handwriting, start another chapter, finally decide my eyes will stay open no longer, flip off the reading light and snore away the hours.

See you in the morning.


Posted by on February 19, 2013 in The Blog


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Moby-Dick is a notoriously difficult novel to finish.  There is no shortage of evidence.  Susan Wise Bauer, who placed this book on the reading list we unflinchingly follow, shares her own personal MD experience in The Well-Educated Mind:

My bête noire is Moby-Dick; I know it’s one of the great works of American literature, but I have made at least eight runs at it during my adult life and have never managed to get past midpoint.  I even took and entrie graduate seminar on Melville, did a presentation, and got an A without finishing the book.

Nathaniel Philbrick, who’s read the classic twelve times and written a book called Why Read Moby-Dick? labels it a “mighty mess” and admits that,

There is an inevitable tendency to grow impatient with the novel, to want to rush and even skip over what may seem like yet another extraneous section and find out what, if anything, is going to happen next to Ahab and the Pequod.

There were certainly many times these tendencies tempted me, and it was nice to see that others smart people out there had similar reactions and would admit, “We feel your pain.

Despite all of that, we did it.  We finished!  (If you haven’t yet, don’t worry, just keep reading!  You can do it!  We believe in you!  Go! Go! Go!  Yaaaaaay, you!)

But tell me, what chapter(s) did you have to slog through?  Which ones were your White Whale?  How did you traverse the waves?  Did you channel your inner Ahab, rely on a calm-yet-caffeinated Starbuckish countenance, read the whole thing with a Queequeg dialect to keep it interesting?  Did you abandon ship?  (It’s okay, your secret’s safe with me.)

For me, it was the Whales-in-Art Trifecta (Chapters 55-57) that I feared would result in my tumbling off the mast-head in sheer boredom.   Don’t get me wrong, I love art, but reading about the visual arts, void of actual visual art, is, well, as Martin Mull quipped about the connection between writing and music, a lot like “dancing about architecture.”

My end notes did point me in the direction of Herman Melville’s Picture Gallery: Sources and Types of the “Pictorial” Chapters of Moby-Dick by Stuart M. Frank, but I’ve yet to check it out.  Maybe it will transform my least faves into my besties, but don’t wait for it, just tell me now, which chapters haunted you like Fedallah?


Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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Renaming Oliver Twist

You’ve finished Oliver Twist?  Great!

But for those of us following the WEM guidelines, we still have an assignment.  Remember when I said that I was required to take notes?  Keep a character list?  Fold down corners?  Look up definitions of words?  All of those things are suggestions by Susan Wise Bauer in her section titled “How to Read a Novel”.  Upon completion of the latest classic, I grab three things: my copy of the novel, my journal, and my copy of WEM.  I then do my best to answer the thoughtful questions Bauer has crafted.  One of the things she asks me to do is to give the novel a new title and subtitle.

“Now give your book a title that mentions the main character, and a subtitle that tells how that character is affected by the book’s main events.” WEM pg. 70

Here’s my attempt at titling Dickens’ sad story:

Oliver Twist: an innocent orphan is abused and manipulated by evil characters and, finally, rescued from his sad life by kind, wealthy people who are related to him.

It’s rather wordy and not very catchy.  But check this out.  According to the WEM synopsis for Oliver Twist, the book “was originally subittled The Parish Boy’s Progress in a satirical play on Bunyan’s title.  Christian is a grown man who can pursue his own destiny, but Oliver Twist is entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers.”

Whoa!  The classic novels are so intertwined!  Remember the Don Quixote references?  And way back when we started Oliver, I felt Dickens was making allusions to  Pilgrim’s Progress .  It makes me wonder what we’ll find in Jane Eyre.

Blog friends, here’s an assignment for you.  I’d love to read your attempts at renaming Oliver Twist in the comments section.


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I’m Back, and I’m Argumentative.

Susan Wise Bauer suggests that we might get more out of our analysis of these novels if we engage ourselves in debate with those who hold different opinions than ours.

We’re not so good at this.  I mean, just look at our little one-sentence gravatar profiles.  We’re all kind of alike.

But don’t despair.  I know how to be disagreeable.  Are you ready for my latest shocking disagreement?  Here it is:

I thought the depiction of Nancy’s death was not gory, but beautifully written.

Too bad that sentence isn’t.  Let me explain further.

The entire novel is the most sophisticated writing we’ve encountered on the list to date.  Dickens, while sometimes a bit wordy, is rich in his descriptive powers.  When he sets a scene he doesn’t just give you the surface view of the surroundings, but lends perspective – that of his characters, and by way of them, his own.

When Dickens describes Nancy’s death he is doing so through the eyes, and demented mind of Bill Sikes.  Chapter XLVIII isn’t a crime scene (sorry, Christine, I told you I was disagreeable), it’s a scene that shows that even this evil man is tormented with the reality of what he has done.  Dickens values life, that’s probably a blog post in and of itself, but here we see the value of Nancy’s life cannot be discounted even by the one who stole it from her.

To be sure, the chapter is full of disturbing details.  But as much as they disturb us, they disturb Sikes a thousand times over.  They are details that scream to him, haunt him, prove to him, and by way of him – to us, that life, even the life of a prostitute, has value.

I’ve never watched a full episode of CSI, but because the show places shockingly graphic scenes of violence in the first 30 seconds the gore has not escaped me.  While acknowledging that Dickens does indeed begin his novel with death, it’s not a death like the one he paints for Nancy. He saves the blood spattered, hair bunched death until we can appreciate whose blood was spilled, and whose hair was pulled by the depravity of her lover.

And as Jeannette pointed out in the comments, the murder and its aftermath are uninterrupted by Dickens’ trademark sarcasm.  None is needed here.  We get the point, made all the more poignant by the change in style.  You must not smile about this.  Dickens will not allow you to take this lightly. There might be reform for the poor laws, or corrupt officials, but there is no reform for death.

So when it comes down to it, Christine, I’m not really disagreeing with you at all.  I just got all wordy on your question “Doesn’t it seems like Dickens, as and author, has crossed some sort of line?  The short answer it “Yup.”  Oh, and I went a little crazy with your title (which I kind of loved.)

That’s good.  I hate controversy.

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Posted by on January 4, 2012 in Oliver Twist


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In My Son’s Second Grade Writing Curriculum . . .

I found this:Let the indoctrination begin.


Posted by on November 20, 2011 in Pilgrim's Progress


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To Quote The Princess Bride . . .

Mawwage.  Mawwage is what bwings us together today.

That’s because it’s what Susan Wise Bauer thinks dear Lizzy wants.  Here’s what she has to say about it:

What does Elizabeth Bennet want?  This most central of questions often appears to have a straightforward answer.  Elizabeth Bennet wants to get married.

It just doesn’t seem that straightforward to me.  I think it’s obvious that Kitty wants marriage.  Obviously, Mr. Collins wants marriage.  It’s also obvious that Mrs. Bennet wants marriage for her daughters.  I even think it’s obvious that Jane wants marriage.  But Elizabeth?  She seems a little indifferent toward the estate to me.  Now, she does give us reason to believe that she seeks love.

Wove.  Twue love. . .

I’m, sorry, I meant to quote Elizabeth.  Try this one instead.

. . .

Well, I can’t seem to find a quote that supports that idea, either.  So let’s see, maybe what Elizabeth really wants is to be a modern, independent woman.  After all, we see her marching through miles of mud to reach her sister, boldly turning down not one, but two marriage proposals, and talking back to Lady Catherine.  Pretty strong-willed gal, I’d say.  And she doesn’t do any of those things in order that they would bring her closer to marriage or love.  Yet oddly, they do.

Many of you mentioned Lizzy’s dynamic family in your assessment of what our heroine wants.  To be sure, they are a thorn in her side, and as the story progresses her embarrassment at their actions only increases.  Out of this humiliation is borne the remainder of SWB’s explanation.  And here, I agree with Mrs. Bauer:

But 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?  What destroys Elizabeth Bennet’s marriageability, complicates her life, threatens to destroy her happiness?  Her family:  her wild younger sister, her ridiculous mother, her passive and cynical father.  Elizabeth wants to marry, but her deepest want goes beyond matrimony.  She wants to abandon the world she was born into and move into another world.  She wants to escape.

And now, just one more little question remains:

Will Elizabeth Darcy be happy in her new Pemberly Life?

I pass the baton off to one of my fellow readers for this answer though, because this is all starting to feel like a bad dweam wiffin a dweam.


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