This year I’m taking an even more deliberate approach to my self-directed studies. Over the past few years I’ve read widely, without too much depth in any given topic.
Sure, I’ve read a fair amount of history, but I haven’t done something like read 6 books on the American Civil War.
If I haven’t gained hardcore expertise through my wide-ranging reading habits, I have gained something perhaps more valuable — self-knowledge. I’m at the point now where I know my authentic interests and can thus pursue them intensely.
My mind has hovered around certain topics for years now, and now it’s time to nosedive into them and become, if not a PHD, at least smarter than 99.9% of the population on those topics of interest.
Overview of My Self-Education Curriculum for 2024
This year, I’m going to take 5 courses, each on a particular topic, much like a college student would during one year at school.
Mostly, the topics fall within history, philosophy and literature, as these are the fields in which I’d like to become well-read. But there are also some random ones.
Half of the courses are offered for free online by real colleges. The other half are self-study courses I’ve designed, basically just a list of books on the topic, with some documentaries and online lectures as well.
For each course, I plan to use a notebook and fill it up with quotes, summaries, reflections, and key concepts, with the knowledge that I’ll come back to them many times to continue interacting with the most important material.
Note that on the side of these courses I’ll also be reading novels, likely before bed. I can’t get on without a novel to read!
Hopefully, by seeing my learning plans for 2024, and the reasoning behind why I’m learning these topics, you’ll get some ideas about how to structure your own studies for this coming year.
This Year’s Guiding Self-Learning Goals
I had three big goals when picking my topics, classes, and books, and designing the curriculum:
- Literature: Gain a stronger foundation in Western literature to enhance your understanding of great fiction, as well as your ability to read like a writer, and to see if graduate school for literature is something you want to do.
- Interests: Become more well read in history, philosophy, and nature by reading several books on a few topics of interest in those subjects.
- Transcendentalism: Read transcendentalism throughout the year to gain a deep appreciation and understanding of their wisdom. (I got a Transcendentalism reader that I plan to dip in and out of throughout the year, hopefully internalizing their teachings).
Before crafting your curriculum, take some time to think about your life goals. Are there specific skills or subjects that would help you achieve those goals?
For example, if you were considering switching careers, maybe a few courses built around those other careers would be best.
Also, just think about what topics you’ve been curious about for awhile then find or create courses around those. Or maybe you just need a reminder.
For instance, I created a makeshift book-based course called Solitude, Nature, and Spirituality because I feel I need more of those things in my life, and want to be able to articulate to myself why they’re so important.
It seems they’ve sunk in my value system from where they were in college, and, if my mental health is any sign, that’s something I need to remedy.
That said, here’s this year’s DIY university-style curriculum. Hopefully it’ll help you fellow autodidacts create your own.
Quarter 1 – Winter
In my first quarter I’ll be studying Don Quixote through a Yale Online Course, and then Nietzche’s Greatest Works, a reading course I designed for myself (three books plus some lectures I found).
I’ve never really done a University-style literature course based on just one book, where you read history and criticism alongside the primary text, so I’m excited for this experience.
Nietzche’s name has been circulating me for years. I hear his words quoted by so many great thinkers, and therefore want to dive into his best works.
Don Quixote (LIT/HIST)
University Literature Course: Don Quixote
- Don Quixote Translation
- Imperial Spain
- Moorish Spain
- Don Quixote: A Casebook
- 2 lectures per week (1.5 hours)
- Assigned readings + Moorish Spain, Fletcher (20 pages of Spanish history, 40 pages of criticism, and 80 pages of Don Quixote per week) (30 pages per day)
Intro to Nietzsche (LIT/PHIL)
DIY Reading Course
- Beyond Good and Evil – 200
- On the Genealogy of Morals – 200
- Thus Spoke Zarathustra – 400
- Prof. Guess Nietzsche Lectures (7 Parts)
- 10 pages per day
- 1 lecture per week
Quarter 2 – Spring
Next up is my interdisciplinary course of reading on the topics of Solitude, Nature, and the Spirit.
I feel like Spring — the season I do a lot of backpacking in the mountains — is the perfect time to break into modern poetry with the help of a fabulous Yale lecturer, while at the same time working through books about the importance of nature and quiet to the psyche.
Hopefully this quarter will give me a heightened alertness to and appreciation for the subtle things in life, like the scholarly, poetic choice of a word or the sound of a duck flapping its wings.
Plus, I also want to learn a bit about nature writing as a discipline, so exposing myself to this form of writing should be a great start.
Solitude, Nature, and the Spirit (PHIL/Nature)
DIY Reading Course
- The Wisdom of Solitude: A Zen Retreat in the Woods
- Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World
- Sacred Nature
- A Sand County Almanack
- The Spell of the Sensuous
- The Practice of the Wild: Essays
- Philosophical Solitude (Essay)
- On Solitude – Montaigne (Essay)
- 20 pages per day
Quarter 3 – Summer
In the summer I’ll just be taking one course, as I plan to spend more time outdoors and less time in the books.
It’s a self-made one about the US Civil War & Reconstruction, a topic I’ve read about briefly several times and learned about in school, but have never deeply explored with a course of reading, so I’m pretty excited for this.
It’ll also help me become more well-read in US history, which is a lifelong goal.
Notice how the reading list consists of 3 histories, 2 biographies (1 auto), and 1 novel taking place during the war. When learning history, they don’t all have to be traditional histories.
US Civil War & Reconstruction History (HIST)
DIY Reading Course
- Battle Cry of Freedom
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
- Absolom Absolom (Faulkner Novel)
- And There was Light
- The Confederate War
- ~30 pages per day (3 hours per week)
Quarter 4 – Fall
In the Fall I’m going to learn about modern poetry, thanks to Yale’s free course.
I’ve never taken a poetry class before so I’m excited most of all to learn how to get more juice out of my poetry readings and to see an expert reader and interpreter in action on the lecturing stage.
Modern Poetry (LIT)
University Literature Course: Modern Poetry
- 2 lectures per week (1.5 hours)
- ~20 poems per week + Norton readings (4 hours)
Build Your Own Annual Self-Study Curriculum
Now that you have a sense of how I create my self-study plans, consider creating your own! Whether it’s existentialism, botany, coding, the history of Europe, or something else, pick some topics that excite you and compile lists of 5-7 books on them. Or, check online to see if there are any free courses.