Saturday, September 02, 2000

Great Books

On my recent trip to California, I read The New Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major. I think the title is somewhat misleading -- it sounds as if the goal of the book is to get you to plow through these classics, from #1 (The Epic of Gilgamesh) to #133 (Things Fall Apart). While I suppose you could use the book this way, I see this book put to better use as a list of suggestions for books you might consider reading. As in, "Hey, The Federalist Papers -- that would be pretty interesting."

And the commentary itself is the most valuable. I had the good fortune to read a number of these books in three semesters of "Great Books" at the University of Michigan. I had wonderful professors who guided me through the works. This book, with a handful of pages devoted to each work, is no substitute for that. Still, the suggestion can be very helpful for someone approaching, say, Nietzsche:

"Suggestion: Use the edition called The Portable Nietzsche, if available. The translations are intelligent, the notes and other apparatus helpful. You might read the whole of Zarathustra, uneven as that strange work is; the selections from Beyond Good and Evil; Toward a Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, and perhaps The Antichrist."

I don't know how many of these books I'll read -- they said the list is aimed at those "who have not met more than ten percent" of the authors (I'm in the twenties, I think). But I probably will want this book on my bookshelf for when I feel like picking up a classic and am looking for some guidance. Now where can I get a copy of Gilgamesh?
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