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Great and Merely Good Books

Joseph Epstein wrote once that his experience in the University of Chicago's Great Books program left him with the strong desire for some "merely good books." This is an understandable sentiment which I recognized in myself the instant I read it. What is not understandable is the continuing upgrading of many books to "classic" or "great status" with no cause at all. I received a catalogue from Easton Books this week offering their trademark leather-bound books. As an ex-Evangelical Protestant I am familiar with leather bound Bibles (preferably with one's name in gold lettering on the bottom right corner). Such august covering befits the word of God. I can even imagine Easton's leather editions of such things as Stevenson's and Dickens's works, perhaps even Tolkien's. But what I do not understand is why anyone would want leather volumes of Kurt Vonnegut, Donald Trump (How to Get Rich), or, worse yet, that pestilence on world politics Jimmy Carter (Sharing Good Times). Who buys these things? And does the buying of such things warrant corporal, if not capital punishment?

The next item is printed in the University of St. Thomas's St. Thomas Magazine alerting readers to the "Great Books" reading group. The fall books were Aristotle's Children by Richard Rubenstein, Heading South, Looking North by Ariel Dorfman, Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh, Richard III by Shakespeare, Longitude by Dava Sobel, and Provocations by Kierkegaard. By my count, that's two great books (Shakespeare and Kierkegaard) along with a lot of other books that might range from pretty good to not so-good. The spring list includes titles by Anne Fadiman, the execrable Karen Armstrong, and C. G. Jung. I think this book club ought to just call itself the "Assorted Books Club" for accuracy.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 21, 2005 5:12 PM.

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