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Classic Reads: a Case for Plurality?

Educator and philosopher Mortimer Adler lists three criteria for books considered for inclusion in the literary canon: Contemporary significance, inexhaustibility (the book can be read again and again), and relevance to the ‘great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for 25 centuries.

While the criteria makes sense, my own list of classic reads differs from lists created by educators, academics, and philosophers like Adler. While I loved many of the classics assigned by my teachers, there were plenty of books I didn’t care for. Moby Dick, for example, felt foreign to me. Perhaps I’d feel differently now. Or perhaps not.

The qualities that make a book significant and inexhaustible are, it seems to me, subjective. I’m deeply moved by the short stories of Andre Dubus, a brilliant author who writes about love and family, sin and redemption. I relate to his imperfect characters, their problems, their attempts to do the right thing, whatever that may be, their success and their failures. For me, Dubus’s stories are inexhaustible-I read again and again, always finding beauty and meaning, some new nugget of insight.

If there is a problem with the literary canon, it’s that subjective selections are presented as objective. We’re taught that books on the list are the great books. We should enjoy them-or at least appreciate their brilliance-and we (I at any rate) feel inadequate if we don’t. But what exactly are those ‘great ideas and great issues’ and who are the ‘thinking individuals’ to whom Adler refers?

Issues and ideas change-once primarily books by dead white men, the canon now, thankfully, includes works by women and minorities, as well as by authors writing outside the Western tradition; thus ‘contemporary significance’ and ‘relevance’ change. Ideas of love, death, redemption and so on expand to include ideas about difference or otherness. As the face of academia changes, becomes increasingly diverse, Adler’s ‘thinking individuals’ also change, as do their evaluative criteria.

I’m not suggesting the canon be chosen by populist vote (although maybe the creators should be more plural). I am suggesting that the lists are subjective-and subject to the sensibilities of elites whose criteria may differ from ours. Accepting this subjectivity is freeing. We need not feel guilty for disliking a ‘great’ book any more than we ought to feel guilty for finding meaning in a mass market paperback-an interesting dilemma in its own right, considering Dickens’ immense popularity.

As with Dickens-and Mozart-today’s popular works may be tomorrow’s classics!

I’m honored and thrilled to know and work with Christine Nolfi, Molly Greene, and Rachel Thompson-memorable authors whose brilliant work is on my classics list!

Which books are on your list? And what criteria do you consider most important?

Why not grab one of the sponsors’ books? You never know where you’ll find your next great read!

Broken PiecesIn Leah's WakeMark of the LoonSecond Chance Grill

Welcome to bestselling author Rachel Thompson’s newest work! Vastly different in tone from her previous essay collections A Walk In The Snark and The Mancode: Exposed, BROKEN PIECES is a collection of pieces inspired by life: love, loss, abuse, trust, grief, and ultimately, love again.

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A Story of Love, Loss, Connection, and Grace

At the heart of the seemingly perfect Tyler family stands sixteen-year-old Leah. Her proud parents are happily married, successful professionals. Her adoring younger sister is wise and responsible beyond her years. And Leah herself is a talented athlete with a bright collegiate future. But living out her father’s lost dreams, and living up to her sister’s worshipful expectations, is no easy task for a teenager. And when temptation enters her life in the form of drugs, desire, and a dangerously exciting boy, Leah’s world turns on a dime from idyllic to chaotic to nearly tragic.

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What happens when a workaholic serial remodeler falls in love with an old stone cottage built by an ornithologist and his eccentric Irish wife? If you’re Madison Boone, you kick your budding romance with handsome Psych Professor Coleman Welles to the curb and lose yourself in a new project.

Madison renovates distressed homes in addition to her busy real estate sales career. When she hears about a quaint house on a private tract of land overlooking Lake Sonoma, she climbs in the window for a private tour and falls in love with the place. Good fortune enables her to purchase the Blackburne’s property, but far more than a new home and lush gardens await discovery during this renovation.

As Madison works on the remodel, she’s drawn into an old love story with dangerous consequences. She unearths buried secrets and discovers herself in the process. Good thing she has three wise, hilarious friends to advise her along the way! Mark of the Loon is the skillful combination of history, mystery, and romance in a novel that explores deep friendship, choices, and how individuals cope with loss.

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Dr. Mary Chance needs a sabbatical from medicine to grieve the loss of her closest friend. But when she inherits a struggling restaurant in Liberty, Ohio she isn’t prepared for Blossom Perini. Mary can’t resist falling for the precocious preteen-or the girl’s father. The bond they forge will transform all their lives and set in motion an outpouring of love that spreads across America.

Welcome back to Liberty, where the women surrounding the town’s only restaurant are as charming as they are eccentric.

Second Chance Grill is the prequel to Treasure Me, 2012 Next Generation Indie Awards Finalist, which The Midwest Book Review calls ‘A riveting read for those who enjoy adventure fiction, highly recommended.’

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