A tempering of Great books fervour

by Anna Blanch on December 5, 2008

In a tongue in cheek NY Times article James Campbell argues that the foreboding Great Books of the Western World were a ploy to undermine the “love of reading.” Campbell argues that selecting 443 exemplary works to bind in 54 black leatherette volumes in the 1950s did not encourage intellectual growth of generations of Americans. The creation of a canon through selection and omission was problematic then as it is now. Dickens was famously left out but Melville included despite heated debate among the editorial board.

The first volume, Great Converation was written by Robert Maynard Hutchins as an introduction to the series and presents a ten year reading plan for the series. A full list of the 54 volumes and their contents can be found here. Other classic guides to the canon (whatever it actually is) Clifton Fadiman’s Lifetime Reading Plan and Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon.

There have been many responses to the canon, such as it is, but the one I want to share with you is this list of books which the authors suggest should be “thrown out” of the canon. Books earmarked for exit include Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I guess it depends on your definition of canon but I enjoyed all three of these books (as much as you can enjoy such depression). I should note that Rod Dreher’s commentary on the list is almost better than the list itself.

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