Several books helped me get started on this self-education journey. The first two were The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classical Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major and Great Books by David Denby.
Now I have to admit that I never finished Great Books. I started it numerous times but always got caught up in something else I was reading. This book, for me, is one to be read slow and thoughtfully because Denby, a New York film critic who goes back to Columbia to retake the Lit course he took in the late 60s, talks of the relevance of the class-assigned books in a personable way, not in dry, critical evaluations. He interweaves his opinions, observations and personal stories throughout the book and gives a different perspective on the importance of Great Books.
How books affect us depends on where we are in life and our frame of mind. Rereading books give us deeper perspectives and understanding, and Denby documents this. I still have Great Books and I will still read it.
The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classical Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded, on the other hand, is like a wish list of books to read. How obsessive am I? I have an Excel file running a list of these books. Checkmarks for completion? Very few. It's a work in progress. Like the title says, a lifetime plan.
The lifetime list of 133 authors (many with multiple works) plus another 100 notable authors, was intimidating. About three years ago I found another plan to follow and started March 1, 2004. It's been slow going and I'll share why next time.