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img330No wonder this man has a pensive look on his face with that stack of books to read. The face in the photograph is Clifton Fadiman found on the back cover of the book The Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman published by The World Publishing Company in 1960.

img332Why this post? What is so special about the book? The impetus for writing about this particular book came to me after reading an article with the title, “A Year of 15-Minute Daily Doses From the Harvard Classics” in the venerable Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the Saturday/Sunday December 27-28, 2014 issue on the opinion page A13. It is an article written by Professor Paula Marantz Cohen. She is a Distinguished Professor of English, Co-Editor of the Journal of Modern Literature, and Host of the Drexel Interview at Drexel University.

The article, mentioned above, written by a Professor who by her own admission “having long felt myself insufficiently educated (despite expensive and prolonged schooling)” was intrigued by the claim of the initiator of the the Harvard Classics series, the then President of Harvard, Charles W. Eliot, that ” a five foot shelf would hold books enough to give a liberal education to anyone who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading.” In short, to make the somewhat wordy WSJ article palatable, Marantz Cohen took him up on his suggestion at the end of 2013, and started reading some or all of these books. The books are fifty volumes of these so called “Great Works” and would make up a five foot shelf!

According to Professor Marantz Cohen “most of the DWEMS (dead white European males) as they would be irreverently dubbed later in the Century”, were represented. Unfortunately, she did not provide any proof of who would call these writers, unspecified by her in the article, the DWEMS’s.

You could wonder and I certainly do, as an European obviously not dead yet male, if DWEMS is a new code for students to learn in an English course. Could  it be part of that well known liberal education, in which form or content take a backseat to political parlance?

G. K. Chesterton would I assume probably turn around in his grave having to teach a crowd imbibed with that sort of wisdom. After the usual moaning by this representative of the liberal ivory tower crowd, the minorities and regional voices she claimed were not adequately represented by the editors of the five foot bookshelf books. Remember this argument holds no water as we live a 100 years later and the vision of the editors may not have parallelled our own. The minority did not terrorize the majority back then, as they attempt to do now through control of mass media and education, sitting in well protected, so called “Ivory Towers”.

After finishing the article in the Wall Street Journal, I reminded myself there are other so called great lists of authors such as the Burgess 99, or the New York Public Library list or any other of these “book lists”. So why not consider The Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman?

img329In this wonderful book, the author expresses his admiration for that true educator, of those long forgotten days, Mortimer J. Adler whose book How to Read a Book , I have read. Let us have a look at what Mr. Fadiman recommends to us to read.

img334img335img336img337Not too shabby a list, in my opinion. Reading a portion of the books on this list would probably give one a college degree of some sort. While we can always debate the use and the criteria of selection for a list, and the relevance of such a list in our time, we certainly cannot argue about Fadiman’s erudite vision formulating his list.

For good order, another value to the book, can be found in the bibliography at the end. Mr. Fadiman lists a number of works as a supplemental reading to the titles he selected for his 100 title book list. How does Fadiman approach his selected authors?

img346img347img339Even if you had never read anything at all by Thomas Mann, but were, let us say, a collector of photography books, you still would know something about him if you had seen a copy of this very famous German photography book, shown below.

img344(Source: The Open Book– A history of the photographic book from 1878 to the present-Hasselblad Center, page 68)

This book with the title Die Welt Is Schon was published in 1928 with photos by Albert Renger-Patzsch. The above photo shows the rare publisher’s book band with a text by Thomas Mann, that reads “exiting and inspirational for anyone with eyes, a wonderful book”. The publisher of the photo book, the Kurt Wolff Verlag from Munich, Germany was also the publisher of Heinrich Mann’s books, the older brother of Thomas Mann.

A curious thing, is how one can connect the dots with a bit of erudition, the books by Thomas Mann became the staple of the A. Knopf Publishing House from 1945 on. Knopf employed the Dean of the Master book jacket designers, the German emigre George Salter whose assistant, Miriam Woods, was the dust jacket designer of Fadiman’s book shown above.

The book jackets by George Salter are excellently covered in the book Classic Book Dust Jackets, the design legacy of George Salter by Thomas Hansen. In fact, it is with another of Thomas Mann’s books, this one as a book of the month club selection from 1948, with the title Dr. Faustus, that Salter changes his style.“The complex geometric form-was based on Duerer’s engraving Melancholia and Salter relates it to Mann’s novel”.

The inspiration must have come for Salter from reading Mann’s text, according to the book by Professor Hansen. Shown below is the American dust jacket from our own collection.

img568

back cover, photograph by Yousuf Karsh

img569 img570 img573Dr. Faustus is number ten on another book list: the Best German Novels of the Twentieth Century, and has been reprinted in various forms a number of times.

I have some sincere doubt that a liberal education will prepare you for today’s world, or that an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal will help you to understand how far the downward ramp in education goes. On the other hand, the five foot bookshelf is good advice, if you form your own opinion, and The Lifetime Reading Plan is good advice, if you form your own opinion.

Here is why I collect and assemble mini collections of what I believe are some of the icons of culture, irrespective of where you are from, what you do or what you did or did not learn in college, call me a libertarian, call me an anarchist, call me whatever you want but read, read, read a lifetime, and you will make friends.

I would like to share Monika Mann’s words from the back of this fabulous Caedmon record with Thomas Mann reading his own work, shown below.

img348 img349Start READING!

 

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