Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Neglected Gems from The Time Reading Program

Can a Classic be forgotten? If it is forgotten, is it still a Classic?

Maybe so, if it's still available for rediscovery and appreciation.  Case in point: the titles chosen, back in the 60s, by the editors of Time magazine for their Reading Program. Here is what Wikipedia tells us about it:

The Time Reading Program...was a book club by Time from 1961 through 1966....TRP books followed no specific theme but covered literature both classic and contemporary, as well as nonfiction works and historic topics. The books themselves were chosen by National Book Award judge Max Gissen, perhaps best remembered as the chief book reviewer for Time from 1947 until the TRP began in 1961.

The books themselves were published by Time Inc. and followed a specific format despite their widely varying subject matter....Each book had a wraparound cover with a continuous piece of artwork across both covers and the spine, generally a painting by a contemporary artist commissioned specifically for the TRP edition. The TRP covers attracted a measure of acclaim at the time--according to Time, 19 TRP covers were cited in 1964 for awards from The American Institute of Graphic Arts, Commercial Art Magazine and the Society of Illustrators guild.

Perhaps most importantly for scholars and collectors, most of the TRP books had unique introductions written by various scholars specifically for the TRP edition. In a few cases, the texts have also been revised by the authors to create a definitive edition, although this should not be confused with abridgement, as the goal is not to make the book shorter....
Time once again attempted the reading program in the early 80s, with many of the same titles. Today, as with most book club editions, TRP books are generally not of particular value to collectors, with most titles being worth less than five dollars even in excellent condition.
Some of my copies were acquired when I belonged to the club in the 80s; the rest I've collected for considerably less than five dollars at second-hand books stores. They're easy to spot, being all the same size, having beautiful covers of stiff cardboard (now tending to break with age) and bearing the words "Time Inc" on their spines. When I see one, I buy it. 

So now are you wishing for a look at the list of titles? It so happens I've created one just for you. You will find it here, at "Lists of Bests." You can even check off the ones you've read and see what percentage of the total you've "consumed." And while poking around there, you might find, on other lists, other neglected classics to discover again.

And if you're really into forgotten classics, try perusing this website, The Neglected Books Page. Heaven forbid a website about neglected reading should itself be at all neglected!


  1. My favorite in this series is "The Trial of Dr. Adams" by Sybille Bedford.

  2. The list provided is terrific, thank you. Two possible corrections: I don't see "Poet's Choice" on the list. Also, "In Flanders Field" appears to be duplicated (#53, #83). Thanks again.