New Year's Day: When making resolutions, remember ambitious reader Clifton Fadiman
Clifton Fadiman released 'The Lifetime Reading Plan,' his rankings of the world's greatest books, in 1960.
On this New Year’s Day, a holiday given over to ambitious plans for the coming 12 months, let’s pause and salute the patron saint of plan-happy readers everywhere, Clifton Fadiman.Skip to next paragraph
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Fadiman, who died in 1999 at age 95, was one of the most popular American intellectuals of his day, helping to establish the Book-of-the-Month Club, editing the Encyclopedia Britannica, serving as a book editor of The New Yorker, hosting a radio program called “Information Please,” and crafting erudite, witty essays for Holiday magazine.
But every Jan. 1, American bookworms should remember Fadiman for a special reason. In 1960, Fadiman published “The Lifetime Reading Plan,” his list of the world’s greatest books, along with brief essays about why they mattered. The list included everyone from Confucius to Jane Austen, Boswell to George Bernard Shaw, Edith Wharton to William Faulkner. A revised “Lifetime Reading Plan” appeared in 1997.
But the contents of Fadiman’s guide was perhaps less important than its promising premise – that one’s reading life could be planned and that it could be charted as diligently through the decades as a farmer, consulting his almanac, might plot out the planting of his crops.
By the close of each December, many readers see how illusory plans for reading tend to be. For most of us, reading doesn’t follow design but caprice. We read what friends give us as gifts. We plunge into what we happen to find at the bookstore or at the neighborhood rummage sale, or on the forgotten shelf of a vacation cottage. The sheer serendipity of reading, its indulgence of chance, is, in fact, one of the great pleasures of a life in books.
But Fadiman helped remind us that in reading, as in dieting or career advancement, it sometimes helps to have a few goals, too.
Which is why, like more than a few bibliophiles, I find myself making some reading resolutions each New Year’s Day. Lacking Fadiman’s ambition, I won’t plan my reading for a lifetime, but I will try to pencil in a handful of good intentions for 2014. Most of my resolutions involve books I can see near my bedside, bought but unread, and stacked as high as kindling near the window. They’re a mix of recent and vintage titles that caught my interest – and might attract yours.