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WTM book list - pros and cons?

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The reading list for WTM is fairly extensive. How closely are you following the lists? Are most people reading most of the recommended books? Also, are you following the outlining, research, etc. for the rhetoric stage where SWB recommends: reading about the time period, events of the time, the author, etc. before reading the book and then reading and discussing, followed up with some sort of paper? It sounds like a thorough way to read the "great books", but how many are doing it in this format? How is it working for you? Pros and cons? How many books done in this fashion are really feasible in a year? I realize the WTM is a guide and not a rule book, but there is so much there that I wonder if it's really possible.


I have a number of questions here, but input on any level would be appreciated.:)

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I see that you are new to the board so let me first say welcome.


We employ many of the ideas laid out in TWTM in our Great Book/History study. I align chapters of Spielvogel with history lectures from The Teaching Company, then choose appropriate literature selections of the time period. There are not enough hours in the day to cover every item on the literature lists in depth; nor will your student connect with each selection. Frankly there are times when you will need to say that you have given a book a good try, then return it to the library.


The Teaching Company also produces literature lectures which add depth to our reading and discussion. Last year, when doing ancients, The Aeneid was a major component of our study. We listened to the Vandiver lectures as we read. This year, studying the middle ages, we listened to an overview on the literature of the time period, as well as the Dante lecture series.


The papers that are written on selections vary as well. In some cases, we just read and discuss the book and forget the paper altogether. In other cases, we require a descriptive essay on a character. Yet in others we aim for a more polished product. With all of the time spent on an analysis of The Aeneid last year and Inferno this year, it was only natural to assign a paper having him compare them. In particular, we asked him to compare the journey of Dante the pilgrim to the descent of Aeneas into the underworld.


I realize that one could read more quantitatively, but, for works that are pillars of western literature, we have taken a considerable amount of time for discussion and analysis.


Additionally we have found in some cases that it suffices to assign selected chapters (for example Herodotus Histories) or selected poems (Horace Odes). Instead of having my son read a translation of De republica (Cicero) last year, I assigned a biography of Cicero. Next year, in Latin, we will spend at least a quarter of the year on Cicero's work.


That is part of the beauty of this method. If something is missed on the first go around, there are opportunities to pick it up again later.


And as many parents on this board will tell you, the converations that result from reading these books will amaze you! Have fun.



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Most kids won't do most of them. In fact, you could choose to do just a handful of them, like 4, and do them really, really thoroughly, or do like someone else recently suggested, get abridged versions and go through most of them. That might be an idea if you are jumping in at the high school level and don't have the benefit of seeing these books before in an abridged version in one of the previous cycles through history.


This year my son is going through 20th century history and we're doing modern lit. SWB suggests Darwin's On the Origin of Species, but I'd prefer for my son to read excerpts of that when he goes through one of the biological sciences. She suggests Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, but I'm going to save that for when he does a government class. I don't want him reading Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass at 14yo, and he's already read Huckleberry Finn. We chose a different Kafka story than the one she suggested.


We have a fabulous used bookstore here where I can get all kinds of classics in paperback form. I get many more than I think we will go through and I start reading them. I keep them on a shelf that's designated for the current year and my son chooses from the shelf. If I read a book and think it's inappropriate (which is sometimes the case when a younger student is reading books designed for adults), I remove it from the list. Frequently I'll find a book from the period that I've fallen in love with and I simply can't bear for my son not to read it. Also, especially in 20th century lit, there is a tendency for books to have very dark themes. There was a thread about this not too long ago, that parents were deliberately hunting down books that would break up the darkness and inject some humor, or science fiction, or at least some lighter themes. For this reason I chose [The Screwtape Letters[/i] instead of Mere Christianity, and we listened to it on CD. That was a nice break from some of the heavier stuff we had done earlier this year.

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The Well Educated Mind has good questions and good book lists which complement the book lists in The Well Trained Mind.


We are just starting doing some of the Great Books along the lines of TWTM this year with an 8th and a 9th grader. Realistically, we are not as rigorous as others here. What doing the Great Books looks like for us is reading aloud together/discussing, using literature guides, and going slowly -- so about 6 books in a school year. This year we're doing 8 books, but that is because we've read the Lord of the Rings trilogy previously and know it well, and because 2 of the ancient classics we're doing are abridged versions.



Specifically how we are accomplishing it this year:


1. Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings

- the full year lit. guide of Lit. Lessons from Lord of the Rigns

- the 3 books of the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkien



2. Great Books ala WTM:


- Epic of Gilgamesh (abridged version, out-of-print book by Jennifer Westwood) (4 weeks)

- study guide to Gilgamesh by SMARR

(disappointing and not that helpful; 4 pieces of paper folded over to make 8 pages; mostly vocabulary words keyed to their specific translation; some comprehension questions (who did this or said that); only about half a dozen actual discussion questions)


- The Illiad (translation version by Fagles) (12 weeks)

- study guide to The Illiad by Novel Units publishers

(better than the SMARR above, but not quite as helpful as I'd hoped for; keyed for the Fitzgerald translation of The Odyssey; summary of each chapter; comprehension questions for each chapter; 1-2 discussion questions for each chapter; ideas for additional activities or writing assignments)


- The Odyssey (translation version by Fagles) (12 weeks)

- study guide "Discovering Literature Series: The Odyssey" by Garlic Press Publishers

(excellent; VERY helpful; keyed for 4 different translations of the Odyssey: Fagles, Fitzgerald, Lattimore, and Rouse; lengthy summary of each chapter; 8-12 comprehension and discussion questions for each chapter; teaching text on various literary elements (irony; metaphor; etc.) throughout the guide, with examples from the Odyssey; numerous writing assignments to choose from; additional activity ideas)


- Greek myths (2 weeks)


- The Aenied (abridged version by Church) (6 weeks)



We, too are using Spielvogel's Human Odyssey for our history, and I'm looking into getting the accompanying volume that has reading selections through history. I'm also considering getting a Teaching Company course from the library to go with the ancient Greek myths, as we are coming up fast on that.



In addition to the books we're reading aloud/discussing this year:

- Fellowship of the Ring

- The Two Towers

- Return of the King

- Epic of Gilgamesh (abridged)

- The Iliad

- The Odysessy

- some Greek myths

- The Aeneid (abridged)


The boys are doing some solo reading to go along with our ancients history and/or classics for their grade level. We do minimal discussion/work with those books together -- they write a short paper on each (usually a book review, but on 2 of the books, I'm having them do something like a character analysis or other type of writing).



Next year, the older son will probably do British lit. to go along with our medieval history studies, using Lighting Literature lit. packs and possibly some of the Sonlight British Lit. year. The younger son will do the Lightning Lit. & Comp. 8th grade program. I hope to incorporate more writing next year. This year, the focus was more on exposure to lit. and learning to read/discuss it and less on the writing. We will also continue with the Spielvogel for history. We'll see if the boys connect with the Teaching Company courses or not.



Anyways, that's what TWTM Great Books looks like at our house -- slow and gentle compared to most here. But it's working well for us! Best of luck in your own literature journey! Warmest regards, Lori D.

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Thanks to everyone who replied. Your responses were very helpful and very thorough. I appreciate the advice. I was really curious about what was realistic for the next level.


My dd is middle school level and I was considering using the Omnibus curriculum. However, they have the student begin reading the great books beginning in 7th grade and I wasn't sure if she was ready yet. She is an avid reader, (in the car, while brushing teeth, while walking down stairs), but she has not tackled any of the more diffucult books. Her favorite genre is historical fiction. I wanted to be sure to include the "lighter" side of literature so that she doesn't dislike (too much) the books that I will "make" her read that she didn't select.


Thanks for the information on the Lightning Literature and the Discovering Literature programs. I was not familiar with them. I have the Well Educated mind on the shelf waiting to be used. I will have to get the one by Spielvogel. My husband and I had heard of the Teaching Company and were considering them, but we didn't know anyone actually using them. It's good to know that they may be worthwhile to incorporate into our plans.


We will be beginning this level of study of the summer. (We are only taking a few weeks off for camps, etc.)


I have a couple more questions for you. Do you have them outline/summarize using the Spielvogel book or just read and discuss? Also, did any of you continue to use a formal writing program into the upper middle/high school years, or did you just have them write about the books etc. using the Well Educated mind and WTM for guidance? My dd can write well if she chooses, but I am deciding how formal and for how long she needs a formal writing curriculum. If she does not like the writing assignment it is like pulling teeth, but if she's interested she does a pretty good job. If you did a program what was it and how did it work for you?


Thanks for you comments.


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Here is one tentative plan for our ninth grade literature study, which will rely on using three anthologies of ancient literature that I picked up on ebay (Holt: World Literature, Revised Edition, Bedford: Anthology of World Literature Ancient World, and Longman Anthology World Literature, Volume A Ancient World). I also have Holt: Elements of Literature, another anthology at the high school level of chronological literature. These books will provide a bit of background and essay questions, some photos and biographical information. Whenever possible we will read the whole book, but at least now I feel confident that we can get through the year looking at some of these Great Books.


Ninth Grade Literature



First semester


1. Bible, Genesis-Job

Bedford p. 127

Longman p. 50

Holt, p. 160

Great Authors #1-7


2. Gilgamesh

Bedford p. 55

Longman p. 88

Holt p. 136

Great Authors #2


3. Homer, Iliad

Bedford p. 277

Longman p. 230

Holt p. 214

Great Authors #7


4. Homer, Odyssey

Bedford p. 421

Longman p. 291

Great Authors #8


5. Herodutus, Histories

Longman p. 694

Great Authors #13


6. Thucydides, Peloponnesian War

Bedford p. 1135

Longman p. 700

Holt p. 284

Great Authors #14


7. Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

Bedford p. 899

Longman p. 648

Holt p. 301

Great Authors #11


8. Euripides, Meclea

Bedford p. 1004

Longman p. 748

Great Authors #12


9. Aristophanes, Frogs

Great Authors #15


10. Plato’s Republic

Bedford p. 1111

Longman p. 712

Books that Made History #13, #25

Great Authors #16


11. Aristotle, Poetics, Ethics

Bedford p. 1153


Second Semester

1. Bible, Book of Daniel


2. Lucretius, On the Nature of Things

Bedford p. 786


3. Cicero, de Republica

Books that Change Lives #33


4. Virgil, Aeneid

Bedford p. 1181

Longman p. 1163

Holt p. 379

Great Authors #19

Books that Change Lives #20


5. Ovid, Metamorphoses

Holt, p. 422

Bedford p. 1270

Longman p. 1264

Great Authors #20


6. Bible, Corinthians


7. Josephus, Wars of the Jews


8. Plutarch, Lives of the Greeks

Great Authors #21


9. Tacitus, Annals



Teaching Company Courses


Human Prehistory and the First Civilization

Old Testament, New Testament

Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations

Ancient Greek Civilization

Classical Mythology

Foundations of Western Civilization

Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition

Great Battles of the Ancient World

Great Ideas of Philosophy

Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age

Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition

Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt

History of Ancient Egypt

History of Ancient Rome

The Vikings

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