Mel Brooks made it into the new 16th edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. So did John Lennon, Alice Walker, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Seuss, and 335 other newly canonized authors. But the challenge for general editor Justin Kaplan was not only what to add to the 137-year-old classic — it was also what to delete since the tome’s last update in 1980.
”I cut out a lot of boilerplate high sentiment,” says Kaplan on the phone from his home in Cambridge, Mass. In its place, the editor (who won a 1967 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for Mr. Clemens and Mark Train and a 1980 American Book Award for Walt Whitman: A Life) filled in what he perceived as gaps — with quotes from the Talmud, for example, and from religious sages previously unrepresented. He brushed up his Shakespeare selections. He brought in ”significant moderns” — George Wallace on segregation, Gloria Steinem on feminism. And he introduced a pop sensibility unknown to proper Bostonian John Bartlett in 1855, including among the new Old Masters Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Cookie Monster, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
”I think the culture is much broader based now, much more vernacular,” observes Kaplan. As if anyone would argue with the inclusion of the Doors’ lyric ”Come on, baby, light my fire.” And he likes to think of the new Bartlett’s as broader based, too, serving browsers, scholars, and, he says, ”people who don’t have any ideas of their own.” You know who you are.