The Well-Educated Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer (W W Norton & Co, NY 2003)
The Well-Educated Mind reminds me of Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book, only it's less intimidating. In a time when most people who can read, don't, and in which teachers are thrilled if their students read anything at all, no matter how worthless or even harmful, it's sobering to be reminded that—avid reader as I am—there is a world of reading far beyond the level of attention I bring to a book. My palate can distinquish between a white wine and a red, and can distinguish each from kerosene, but the sophisticated analysis of even a moderate expert is beyond by attainment. Susan Wise Bauer encourages me to believe it is not beyond my reach, however.
This may be what those annoying English teachers were trying so unsuccessfully to convey when they sucked all the fun out of a book by their analysis. If so, I missed the point altogether, because Bauer's approach—which incorporates historical, social, and literary context along with what amounts to a serious paying attention to what one reads—is both challenging and intriguing. In reality, I have to admit my list of books to read once, let alone three times with note-taking, is intimidating as it is. Still, I've already gained just by reading this book. (Once only, and even so not quite all of the extensive readings section before I had to return it to the library.)
Like The Well-Trained Mind, The Well-Educated Mind would be worthwhile for the extensive list (with summaries) of recommended reading alone.