Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major,
The New Lifetime Reading Plan:
The Classic Guide to World
Literature, Revised and Expanded

(Harper Perennial, 1998)

I picked this book up on a whim, looking for something interesting to read and not sure what I wanted. This book is a guide of books that have become part of the collective culture of today. On first checking over the table of contents, I was both amazed by how much I had read, and ashamed of what I missed.

Divided into sections bound loosely by time period, this book gives the reader lists of literature that make up much of the literary canon. Part One includes Ancient and Greco-Roman writings, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Part Two covers medieval writers from Augustine's Confessions to Cervantes' Don Quixote, though the last is on the cusp of the Restoration. Part Three works its way from Shakespeare through to the American Revolution, including philosophers such as Hobbes, Descartes and Voltaire.

Part Four contains 18th and 19th century writers, from Goethe to Nietzsche, including Austen, Dickens, Dostoyevsky and Twain. Part Five comprises the 20th century, from selected works by Sigmund Freud to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, with works by Proust, Chekov and Solzhenitsyn.

Those concerned that this is only another list of Dead White Men will be relieved to find literature and philosophical writings from the East, including Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Lady Murasaki's The Tale of Genji and Tanizaki Junichiro's The Makioka Sisters. India and the Middle East are also denoted, especially with sacred writings. South American and African writers are not as well represented, but are certainly included.

The choice of some works both surprised and delighted me. I was surprised by The Communist Manifesto and The Koran, and delighted by Lewis Carroll. Each listing discusses the author, the times, and the effect of the book or books on society, either at the time or currently. These 133 works provide thought provoking debate and interesting reading.

The authors suggest translations and editions for many of the works, which is very helpful when faced with a shelf full of varying editions of Dante or Herodotus. At the end, they also add a list of 100 20th century authors, described in brief, for those looking for even more books to read.

The New Lifetime Reading Plan gives a biblioholic like me plenty to look for, and most of these works are not difficult to find in print or in libraries.

[ by Beth Derochea ]



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