Suzanne Fields
Three decades ago, Woody Allen made a movie called "Zelig," and Zelig is still among us -- popping up in Hollywood, politics, academia and anywhere where ambition is on the make. Zelig is a human chameleon, a liar and an imposter eager to fit in anywhere opportunity knocks. Under hypnosis, he tells his psychiatrist that he started lying when he was a boy. A clique of bright schoolmates asked him whether he had read "Moby Dick," and he said he had when he hadn't. In those distant days, the literary canon, with its great books, was important enough that few dared admit they hadn't read such an important literary work.

Even fewer suffer that problem today. English majors have fallen on hard times. The study of the humanities is in sharp decline, and "Moby Dick" has gone the way of Captain Ahab, into the drink. But literary appreciation is staging a comeback, starting with the ridiculous, leading to the serious and sometimes close to the sublime.

"The lives of successful people almost never involve continuing to do what they were prepared for," says Richard Brodhead, president of Duke University, of liberal arts education. "As their lives unfold, they find that by drawing on their preparation in unexpected ways, they're able to do things they hadn't intended or imagined." Even in the digital age, the spoken and written word remains the basic tool of communication, and the successful have to know how to make a cogent argument in more than 140 characters. A library of "cozy classics" has now been published for a teething set. Babies and toddlers, the New York Times tells us, are offered board books of "Moby Dick," "War and Peace," and "Wuthering Heights." Food for thinking. These infants get to chew on the written word.

"People are realizing that it's never too (soon) to start putting things in front of them that are a little more meaningful, that have more levels," says Suzanne Gibbs Taylor, a publisher whose BabyLit series has sold more than 300,000 books. She has re-created Jane Austen for the youngest among us.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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