Ellington, Elizabeth & Jane Freimiller. A Year of Reading.

Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2002.

All heavy readers, and especially all librarians, tend to pick up any volume that purports to recommend other books that one ought to read, and promises to tell you why they picked these in particular. The subtitle here is “A Month-by-Month Guide to Classics and Crowd-Pleasers for You or Your Book Group,” which tells you the method they have in mind.

There are twelve chapters, one per calendar month, each of which includes suggested titles under five rubrics: Crowd-pleasers, classics, challenges, Memoirs, and “potluck.” Each month is thematic in some way — February is Black History Month, March is Women’s History Month, September is “back to school,” etc. However, of the total of sixty books they include, a full third are “women’s books,” focused on women and their special concerns in fiction and nonfiction, and another dozen are memoirs of one sort or another, which strikes me as a rather unbalanced selection for a general audience.

There are a number of odd individual choices, too. “Classics” include Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and The Good Earth (all “women’s books,” please note) — but also Yezierska’s Bread Givers. The fact that it was written in 1925 doesn’t make it a “classic.” I don’t know that I would consider Jasmine by Mukherjee a “crowd-pleaser,” either. Not for most crowds.

I always read a book like this with a notepad at hand, of course, and I came up with a dozen or so titles I wasn’t familiar with, but mostly from the “she also wrote” and “if you liked this one” notes. I don’t know: I’ve put together probably a hundred reading lists of one kind and another over the years, all intended for the general public, so I understand what’s involved. I think this one could have been considerably better. It’s determinedly politically correct, with an elitist flavor, and its literary judgments are trite and unoriginal. It may be because Ellington is a Ph.D. in (apparently) literature and women’s studies while Freimiller has a doctorate in philosophy. Both are involved in book groups, but they’re still essentially amateurs when it comes to recommending entertaining reading for others.

Published in: on 13 September 2016 at 4:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

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