Recommendations in 70 categories, including “All-Star Sports,” “Great Novellas” and “Sci-Fi Classics”
Great Books for Every Book Lover: 2002 Great Reading Suggestions for the Discriminating Bibliophile. By Thomas Craughwell. Workman/Black Dog & Leventhal, 784 pp. , varied prices.
By Janice Harayda
More than a decade ago, Thomas Craughwell created the popular Book Lover’s Page-a-Day calendars that recommend a book for each day of the year. After they became a hit, he gathered more than 2000 of their suggestions into Great Books for Every Book Lover, and the result has several advantages over many similar guides for readers.
Craughwell recommends books in 70 categories, such as “All-Star Sports Books,” “Great Novellas,” “Notable Biographies,” “Sci-Fi Classics” and “For Young Readers.” This breadth alone would set his book apart from the many guides that focus mainstream fiction and nonfiction keyed to the tastes to women’s book clubs. Great Books for Every Book Lover also indexes all books by title and author, which makes it easy to use.
The capsule descriptions of books vary in quality and accuracy. A chapter on “A Masterpiece You Might Have Missed” lists Elizabeth Berg’s Talk Before Sleep, which doesn’t belong there, along with The Woman Warrior, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾, which do. First published in 1998, the book includes no titles from the past decade and, like most guides, tends to overpraise bestsellers. It’s also old enough that you may have to track it down online, though Workman has a nominal policy of keeping all of its titles in print.
Still, how many guides include, as this one does, a chapter on erotica? Then there’s the “Exercise & Fitness” chapter. Bet your library’s list of suggested titles for reading groups doesn’t include The Complete Book of Butt and Legs.
Best line: At his best, Craughwell can sum up rich and complex books in a few strokes. Here is his description of Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (from the “Spiritual Classics” chapter): “In 1941, Merton was a brilliant young professor at Columbia University. Yet his career, even his love life, left him restless and dissatisfied. To the horror of his colleagues and friends, Merton gave it all up and entered the silent, contemplative world of Gethsemani Abbey. In this profoundly eloquent book, he explains why he did it.” Other examples may appear later this week.
Worst line: On Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums: “Some people say Kerouac is damn near a mystic in this road novel that mixes Zen Buddhism with the wild prose and wild parties.” Yes, and that’s why some people say the Beat Generation was more of a lifestyle trend than a literary movement. You could also argue with more than a few of Craughwell’s choices. Why pick Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day June 6, 1944 as the D-Day book instead of Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day? Ambrose’s book has more recent research but nowhere near the emotional power and narrative drive of Ryan’s.
Published: January 1998
Furthermore: Craughwell also wrote Every Eye Beholds You: A World Anthology of Prayer. He lives in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.