Sunday, October 22, 2006


The New Canon

Carlyle said the best university is a collection of books. Not if your collection consists of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (New York: Rizzoli, 2006), edited by Peter Boxall. This list was compiled by Derek Attridge, Cedric Watts, Laura Marcus, David Mariott, and others. In my provincial backwardness, I've never heard of any of these luminaries, and I've never heard of most of the books they recommend either.

Their list doesn't include the Iliad or the Odyssey, and so who can take it seriously? Schiller had it right:
If only a man has lived to read the 23rd book of the Iliad, he cannot complain of his lot.

Wenn man auch nur gelebt hätte, um den 23. Gesang der Ilias zu lesen, so könnte man sich über sein Dasein nicht beschweren.
Read the Iliad before you die, not Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, which is on Boxall's list.

Hat tip to Dennis Mangan, who may be interested to know that Boswell's Life of Johnson and Marcus Aurelius' Meditations are on Clifton Fadiman's carefully chosen Lifetime Reading Plan. Beware of revisions to Fadiman's original plan, though. Fadiman's original list had a hundred books, as opposed to Boxall's thousand. Pliny, Letters 7.9.15 (tr. Betty Radice):
For the saying is that a man should be deeply, not widely, read.

Aiunt enim multum legendum esse, non multa.

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