Books for the Journey - A Guide to the World of Reading
Compiled and Edited by Pamela J. Fenner, Anne J. Greer and John H. Wulsin, Jr.
Michaelmas Press – 2003
With almost two million books in print, a guide to which ones are worth reading can be useful. This isn’t a new idea of course. There have been a number of “Best Books” of the century, the millennium – or forever. But this isn’t a snobbish intellectual’s “best hundred books” a la Harold Bloom. The editors don’t list their favorites, but asked English teachers and graduating high school students for their opinions and have come up with not a hundred, but one thousand five hundred books to recommend. Too many? Perhaps, for some. For others there are never enough. In any case, the result is most eclectic.
The books are divided into four categories:
- DRAMA, MYTHOLOGY, POETRY AND SACRED WRITING
- BIOGRAPHY AND HISITORY
- SENIORS LOOK BACK
Which is as good a division as any, perhaps better than most. The only one that requires an explanation is number 4. The editors asked graduating high school seniors (not pensioners) which books they recommend "as worthwhile companions on the journey.”
We all have our own favorites and are annoyed when one or more of them are omitted. So the first thing I did was to check whether all the books I would have recommended are represented. Most are. Starting with J.D. Salinger. One can safely assume that “Catcher in the Rye” will be in most American hit lists, regardless of the number of entries. But what about JDS’s other published works. In this case we give an A to “Books for the Journey”, for “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters” are also there, as well as Salinger’s book of nine short stories.
James Jones is represented by “The Thin Red Line”, but not his masterpiece “From Here to Eternity”. James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and “Dubliners” are listed, but “Ulysses” of all things missed the boat. Well, maybe they are just being honest. I mean who actually reads “Ulysses”? Larry Mc Multry also has only one book – “Lonesome Dove”. I don’t object to this because once you read that how can you resist the rest of the trilogy?
John Le Carré is missing altogether. Is it possible that all those American English teachers and students don’t read everything Le Carré produces? Well, if they don’t or haven’t, and they read this review, now is the time to start.
Latin American authors receive short shrift. Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel García Marquez have one book each on the list. But, arguably the greatest of them all, Jorge Luis Borges, receives the same treatment here as the Nobel Committee gave him. He is ignored completely.
But enough nitpicking about absences. For those who may think there is too much, I can also agree to a point. Bearing in mind what is missing, and that Alice Hoffman (who the hell is Alice Hoffman?) has no less than fourteen entries, an imbalance is evident. Also, as proof that there is no snob effect here, authors such as Michael Creighton and Stephen King are well represented.
But enough, enough criticism. I can’t help it. Let’s get positive. Michaelmas is an anthroposophical publisher and the teachers and students queried were apparently mostly or all from the Waldorf school scene. Red flag! Let’s see how many books by Rudolf Steiner are listed. Ah, relief, only two: “Goethe the Scientist” and “Philosophy of Freedom” – the latter given the archaic title “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity” here. There are a few more anthroposophical books, but nothing to justify the red flag.
I tried a test on myself. How many of the 1,500 books listed had I, who have read a lot of books in my life, already read. I soon worked out a schematic list:
1- already read
2- not read
3- would like to read again
4- not sure if read
5- should read
I won’t reveal the results, except to say that number 2 won, especially in the nonfiction category. 1 and 2 are close in fiction, but I think “1” didn’t win outright because there are so many Native American pieces, or which I am almost wholly ignorant.
The classics authors seem to be all represented with at least one work, often more. And some really unexpected gems may be found if you look closely. I read “The Case for Vegetarianism” decades ago and was totally convinced by it and it became one of my favorites. I lent it to someone or lost it in one of many relocations and have never been able to find reference to it anywhere. Now I found it in “Books for the Journey”. However, this book by John L. Hill was published in the USA in 1996, so it couldn’t be the same book I remember, which was written by an Englishman, whose name I don’t recall, much earlier. Nevertheless, I ordered it because it seems to cover much the same ground as the first one – and more. When it arrives from Barnes & Noble in about a month it will almost certainly be reviewed here in SCR.
There is a complete and most useful title and authors index at the end of the book.
“Books for the Journey” is informative and fun. What more can you ask?
Michaelmas Press has published two more books which I like, but don’t have time to go into here in any depth, so I'll just mention them and recommend them, especially to parents and teachers:
“Beyond the Rainbow Bridge – Nurturing our children from birth to seven” and
“Waldorf Education – a Family Guide”
Frank Thomas Smith