Edited by Geoffrey O’Brien
Little, Brown. 1,438 pp. $50
Over 10 years, a lot of things get said, and some are worth keeping. So the new edition of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” — the previous edition came out in October 2002 — contains memorable lines from a busy decade. Some of the new quotes reflect newsy, some might say cultural, moments. Consider the words of Justin Timberlake, “Bartlett’s” youngest contributor: “I am sorry if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction.”
The new entries remind us of the poignant times we live in. There’s Todd Beamer, one of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, who led a charge against the Sept. 11 hijackers with the battle cry: “Let’s roll.” There’s Sarah Palin speaking of Alaska’s next-door neighbor: “You can actually see Russia from land here.” There are the last words of Steve Jobs: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”
The new edition also shuffles in fresh quotes from the well-spoken who have appeared in earlier editions (Martin Luther King Jr.: “A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard”). And it adds song lyrics (Johnny Cash: “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”),memorable words from women (Dorothy Parker: “Brevity is the soul of lingerie”) and a wider range of contributions from people of color (Alice Walker: “Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me”).
But a work of this sort is a protean being, evolving as it ages, as editor Geoffrey O’Brien notes in the preface: “A new edition of ‘Bartlett’s’ must gamble on the newest utterances, but only a future editor will be in a position to measure how long-lasting any of them proves.”