Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thoughts on the Library of America

While wrapping up my recent post focused on Jewish American writers, I spent a fair bit of time looking at the Library of America website.  While they have a very different focus and mission from the New York Review of Book Classics imprint, which I discussed in some detail here, I think it is a noble mission to try to keep American authors in print in a definitive edition.  However, it must be admitted that these are books for serious readers, not casual ones.  The print is pretty small and the pages are usually tissue-thin, so they should not be loaned out to high schoolers doing book reports, for example.  On the positive side, they usually have comprehensive notes.  Their editions typically don't quite reach the level of a scholarly edition from say Oxford or Cambridge, but they are very good for a serious reader who is not working on a dissertation.  I fall into that sweet spot.

Given how many of their titles are in the public domain, in some ways their biggest competition is with the free e-books from Project Gutenberg.  There's no question that I have looked at some very tempting volumes and then decided that, as much as I like holding a physical book (particularly when reading on the train), these editions aren't all that great for casual reading; also, I have basically run out of shelf space.  Thus, I passed on getting the Henry James volumes or any further Mark Twain volumes.  In addition, I have been buying books for a long, long time, and I often do have the primary contents in some other format.

If I had unlimited shelf space and money (and time), I suppose I would get all the volumes in the collection (and they actually do have a discount if you do that).  Short of that, I have pulled together a personalized list of the volumes from their catalog that interest me the most and that are most in line with what I actually do like to read.  I'll mark it with an O if I actually own the book in question, and in those cases I'll add more details on the contents (more for myself than anyone else).  I simply don't have the energy to list all the details of all the volumes in this list, and anyone interested can certainly follow up over at LOA.  It appears I own 38, perhaps 40 counting their slimmed-down one volume editions of World War II and Vietnam War reporting.  I don't think I've read the complete contents of any of these books, though I am closest with the Raymond Carver Collected Stories and the poetry of Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens.

Given how long the list is, I'll just make a few somewhat random comments before I delve into it.

Sometimes timing is everything.  I have had the first volume in their Arthur Miller plays series for years, but they only had that one volume.  There was a 6 year gap until 2012 when volume 2 came out and then another 3 year wait for the third volume.  Since there was no real indication they were publishing more, I went ahead and filled the gap with other editions of these plays (though honestly Miller falls off so fast after The Archbishop's Ceiling from 1985 that I can't see buying this third volume -- maybe I'll reconsider some day).  That's basically the same story with Philip Roth's Zuckerman Bound where I've had a copy of this for ages, so see no particular reason to upgrade to the LOA edition.

In general, I am more likely to check books out of the library or to go the e-book route, so I think I probably will hold off on getting the Bernard Malamud books (even though there is a hint that they will eventually put out that third volume covering his work from the 1970s).  This is perhaps one author where I will end up getting the books from LOA but only if I find them at a bit of a discount (and I clear off a bit more shelf space).

There are a couple of significant missed opportunities.  Many (most?) reviewers feel that the selections in the Pauline Kael volume are inferior to those in For Keeps, and I am leaning towards getting that book instead.

There is a different and more serious problem with the Susan Sontag edition, where there are quite a few copy-editing mistakes.  I suspect this is an unfortunate situation where LOA trusted her son to do the editing, and he simply wasn't up to the task for some reason.  LOA has indicated that at some point they will reissue the book with corrections, but there is no particular timeline (and they may not be particularly open about it either, to avoid having to replace the copies already sold).  This is a shame, as I was all set to buy the book, but I will hold off for quite some time now to try to ensure I get the corrected version.*

While not in the same league, I think it was a missed opportunity to not try to get the rights to the Reginald Marsh line illustrations for Dos Passos's The U.S.A. Trilogy.  I have included a couple here (if you scroll way down the post).  I actually went out of my way to order an edition with the illustrations; it was totally worth it.  Given that LOA attempts to have the definitive edition of these works that, to me, would mean incorporating the illustrations, but it is more a sin of omission.  At least the copy-editing seems ok in this volume.

I have to say, I do like some of the new things they are trying, like the The Cool School anthology and the essays in Shakespeare in America, though the downside of doing more edited collections is that there is inevitably more controversy over what is and isn't included.  For instance, apparently The Cool School collection does not include a single poem or journal entry from Allen Ginsberg (estate problems?) and another reviewer bemoans the absence of Carolyn Cassady.  On the whole, however, these look like pretty solid collections.

As it happens, I wasn't even aware of either of these until yesterday, and now they are the two books I am most likely to order from LOA.  The third is Art in America 1945–1970: Writings from the Age of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism.  At the moment, those are probably the only 3 that I am likely to buy in the next year, though I will surely be tempted by a few others.  Down the road I will plan on getting the corrected Sontag, and I may yet waver on the Malamud and Miller books.  (I can feel the siren call already on Miller, but I'll see if I can convince the Robarts Library to pick them up, so I can actually read the plays first and decide if they are worth making space for on the shelves.)  And I want to double-check that I don't own Eudora Welty's Complete Novels, since that is one that I probably would have ordered and stashed away somewhere, the same as Flannery O'Connor is MIA somewhere in the basement.**  I will probably seriously consider getting the first of the Dawn Powell volumes as well.  Though it's not like I don't have plenty of reading to get through without it...

Without further ado, here is The List:

Henry Adams   
    History of the United States During the Administrations of Jefferson (1801–1809)
    History of the United States During the Administrations of Madison (1809–1817)
James Baldwin   
O   Collected Essays (Notes of a Native Son • Nobody Knows My Name • The Fire Next Time • No Name in the Street)
    Early Novels & Stories
    Later Novels
Saul Bellow   
    Novels 1944–1953
    Novels 1956–1964
    Novels 1970-1982
    Novels 1984–2000
Ambrose Bierce   
    The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs
Elizabeth Bishop   
    Poems, Prose, and Letters
Paul Bowles   
O   Collected Stories and Later Writings
O   The Sheltering Sky, Let It Come Down, The Spider's House
Raymond Carver   
O   Collected Stories (Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love • Cathedral)
Willa Cather   
    Early Novels and Stories
    Later Novels
    Stories, Poems, and Other Writings
Raymond Chandler   
    Later Novels and Other Writings
    Stories and Early Novels
John Cheever   
    Collected Stories and Other Writings
    Complete Novels
Kate Chopin   
    Complete Novels and Stories
Philip K. Dick   
    Four Novels of the 1960s
    Five Novels of the 1960s and 70s
O   VALIS and Later Novels (A Maze of Death • The Divine Invasion • The Transmigration of Timothy Archer)
John Dos Passos   
    Novels 1920–1925
    Travel Books and Other Writings 1916–1941
R   U.S.A.

Loren Eiseley
     Collected Essays on Evolution, Nature, the Cosmos (2 volume set)

Ralph Waldo Emerson   
    Essays and Lectures
    Selected Journals 1820–1842
    Selected Journals 1841–1877
James T. Farrell   
    Studs Lonigan: A Trilogy
William Faulkner   
    Novels 1926–1929
    Novels 1930–1935
O   Novels 1936–1940 (Absalom, Absalom! • The Unvanquished • If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (The Wild Palms) • The Hamlet)
O   Novels 1942–1954 (Go Down, Moses Intruder in the Dust Requiem for a Nun A Fable)
    Novels 1957–1962
F. Scott Fitzgerald   
O   Novels and Stories 1920–1922 (This Side of Paradise • The Beautiful and Damned • Tales of the Jazz Age)
Benjamin Franklin   
    Autobiography, Poor Richard, and Later Writings
    Silence Dogood, The Busy-Body, and Early Writings
Robert Frost   
O   Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays
Dashiell Hammett   
    Complete Novels
    Crime Stories and Other Writings
Nathaniel Hawthorne   
    Collected Novels
O   Tales and Sketches (Twice-told Tales • Mosses from an Old Manse • Tanglewood Tales)
William Dean Howells   
    Novels 1875–1886
    Novels 1886–1888
Washington Irving   
    History, Tales and Sketches
Henry James   
    Collected Travel Writings: Great Britain and America
    Collected Travel Writings: The Continent
    Complete Stories 1864–1874
    Complete Stories 1874–1884
    Complete Stories 1884–1891
    Complete Stories 1892–1898
    Complete Stories 1898–1910
    Novels 1871–1880
    Novels 1881–1886
    Novels 1886–1890
    Novels 1896–1899
    Novels 1901–1902
    Novels 1903-1911
William James   
    Writings 1902–1910
Thomas Jefferson   
Sarah Orne Jewett   
    Novels and Stories
James Weldon Johnson   
Pauline Kael   
    The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael

Elmore Leonard   
    Four Novels of the 1970s
    Four Novels of the 1980s
    Four Later Novels
Aldo Leopold
    A Sand County Almanac & Other Writings on Conservation and Ecology

Sinclair Lewis   
    Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth
    Main Street and Babbitt
A. J. Liebling   
    The Sweet Science and Other Writings
Abraham Lincoln   
    Speeches and Writings 1832–1858
    Speeches and Writings 1859–1865
Jack London   
    Novels and Stories
Ross Macdonald   
    Four Novels of the 1950s
    Three Novels of the 1960s
    Four Later Novels
Bernard Malamud   
    Novels and Stories of the 1940s & 50s
    Novels and Stories of the 1960s
William Maxwell   
O   Early Novels and Stories (Bright Center of Heaven • They Came Like Swallows • The Folded Leaf • Time Will Darken It)
O   Later Novels and Stories (The Château • So Long, See You Tomorrow)
Carson McCullers   
    Complete Novels
Herman Melville   
O   Pierre, Israel Potter, The Piazza Tales, The Confidence-Man, Billy Budd
    Redburn, White-Jacket, Moby-Dick
    Typee, Omoo, Mardi
H. L. Mencken   
    Prejudices: First, Second, and Third Series
O   Prejudices: Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Series
    The Days Trilogy, Expanded Edition
W. S. Merwin   
    Collected Poems 1952-1993
    Collected Poems 1996-2011
Arthur Miller   
O   Collected Plays 1944–1961
O   Collected Plays 1964–1982
    Collected Plays 1987–2004, with Stage and Radio Plays of the 1930s & 40s
John Muir   
    Nature Writings
Vladimir Nabokov   
O   Novels and Memoirs 1941–1951 (The Real Life of Sebastian Knight • Bend Sinister • Speak, Memory)
O   Novels 1955–1962 (Lolita • Pnin • Pale Fire • Lolita: A Screenplay)
    Novels 1969–1974
Frank Norris   
    Novels and Essays
Flannery O'Connor   
O   Collected Works
Eugene O'Neill   
O   Complete Plays 1913–1920
O   Complete Plays 1920–1931
O   Complete Plays 1932–1943

Frederick Law Olmsted
    Writings on Landscape, Culture, and Society

Thomas Paine
    Collected Writings

Francis Parkman   
O   France and England in North America: Volume One
O   France and England in North America: Volume Two
Edgar Allan Poe   
    Poetry and Tales
Katherine Anne Porter   
O   Collected Stories and Other Writings (Flowering Judas and Other Stories • Pale Horse, Pale Rider • The Leaning Tower and Other Stories)
Dawn Powell   
    Novels 1930–1942
O   Novels 1944–1962 (My Home Is Far Away • The Locusts Have No King • The Wicked Pavilion • The Golden Spur)
Philip Roth   
    Novels and Stories 1959–1962
    Novels 1967–1972
    Novels 1973–1977
    Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy & Epilogue 1979–1985
    Novels 1993-1995
    The American Trilogy 1997–2000
    Novels 2001-2007
O   Nemeses (Everyman • Indignation • The Humbling • Nemesis)
Isaac Bashevis Singer   
    Collected Stories: A Friend of Kafka to Passions
    Collected Stories: Gimpel the Fool to The Letter Writer
    Collected Stories: One Night In Brazil to The Death Of Methuselah
Susan Sontag   
    Essays of the 1960s & 70s
Gertrude Stein   
    Writings 1903–1932
    Writings 1932–1946
John Steinbeck   
O   Novels and Stories 1932–1937 (The Pastures of Heaven • To a God Unknown • Tortilla Flat • In Dubious Battle • Of Mice and Men)
O   The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings 1936–1941 (The Long Valley • The Log from the Sea of Cortez • The Harvest Gypsies)
O   Novels 1942–1952 (The Moon Is Down • Cannery Row • The Pearl • East of Eden)
O   Travels with Charley and Later Novels 1947–1962 (The Wayward Bus • Burning Bright • Sweet Thursday • The Winter of Our Discontent)
Wallace Stevens   
O   Collected Poetry and Prose
Henry David Thoreau   
O   A Week, Walden, The Maine Woods, Cape Cod
    Collected Essays and Poems
James Thurber   
    Writings and Drawings
Alexis de Tocqueville   
    Democracy in America
Barbara W. Tuchman   
    The Guns of August, The Proud Tower
Mark Twain   
    Mississippi Writings
    Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852–1890
    Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1891–1910
    Historical Romances
    The Innocents Abroad and Roughing It
    A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator, Other Travels
O   The Gilded Age and Later Novels (The American Claimant • Tom Sawyer Abroad • Tom Sawyer, Detective • No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger)
John Updike   
    Collected Early Stories
    Collected Later Stories
Kurt Vonnegut   
O   Novels & Stories 1950–1962 (Player Piano • The Sirens of Titan • Mother Night)
O   Novels & Stories 1963–1973 (Cat’s Cradle • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater • Slaughterhouse-Five • Breakfast of Champions)
O   Novels 1976–1985 (Slapstick • Jailbird • Deadeye Dick • Galápagos)
O   Novels 1987–1997 (BluebeardHocus Pocus Timequake)

Eudora Welty   
O   Complete Novels (The Robber Bridegroom Delta Wedding The Ponder Heart Losing Battles The Optimist’s Daughter)
    Stories, Essays, and Memoir
Nathanael West   
    Novels and Other Writings
Edith Wharton   
    Collected Stories 1891–1910
    Collected Stories 1911–1937
    Four Novels of the 1920s
    Novellas and Other Writings
Walt Whitman   
    Poetry and Prose
Thornton Wilder   
    Collected Plays and Writings on Theater
    The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Other Novels 1926–1948
    The Eighth Day, Theophilus North, Autobiographical Writings
Tennessee Williams   
O   Plays 1937–1955
O   Plays 1957–1980
Edmund Wilson   
    Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920s and 30s
    Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1930s and 40s
Various Authors
    Harlem Renaissance Novels: Five Novels of the 1920s
    Harlem Renaissance Novels: Four Novels of the 1930s
O    Art in America 1945–1970: Writings from the Age of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism
O    The Cool School: Writing from America’s Hip Underground
O    Shakespeare in America: An Anthology from the Revolution to Now
    Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology
    American Science Fiction: Five Classic Novels 1956-1958
    American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels 1953–1956
O   Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s
O   Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s
    Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s
    Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1950s
O   Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology
O   Writing New York: A Literary Anthology

* So the corrections have been made to the the Sontag volume, and they expect that the first print run will be flushed out of Amazon's system by mid January 2016 and the LOA's site by February, but if you read between the lines that means they are still knowingly selling an inferior copy to their customers.  I have to say I think that is really inexcusable, but it is what it is.  You have been warned.  Since we will be in Chicago in late March, in early March, I will order a copy of the Sontag through Amazon.  They are the most likely to accept a return if I somehow still get one of the books from the bad batch.  I'll probably consider getting Arthur Miller Plays #3 and the 2 Baldwin novel collections at that time as well.

Edit (12/22/2016): I did order the Paul Bowles 2 volume set, and I was sorely tempted by some of the Henry James's volumes, and even the first one by William Dean Howells (since it is floating around for incredibly cheap on Amazon), but I did hold off since their novels can be found for free at Project Gutenberg.  I'm wavering a bit on the Baldwin novels and haven't actually ordered them.  (It's possible I'd make more progress in actually reading the novels by checking them out individually at the library.)  I'm hoping to score the Sontag volume at some point in 2017.  So far I haven't been able to confirm that I'd end up with the corrected version.  This is one downside of not having many brick and mortar stores any longer...

** After further reflection, I will pass on Miller Plays #3 -- so many of the early plays and radio plays are just curiosities that don't really merit more than a quick read.  I found Welty's Collected Stories (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, not LOA), but I don't think I ever had anything that gathered up her novels, so I ended up getting the LOA edition of her novels.  I have not been able to put my hands on O'Connor's Complete Stories, though it is probably downstairs somewhere.  I think this is a case where there is just enough additional material (Wise Blood and her essays) that I will order the LOA volume and then donate Complete Stories whenever it turns up.  I'm much less certain about the Baldwin novel set, but it depends on what I can find it selling for in early March.  Also, while I am nowhere near as interested in the fourth Vonnegut volume, compared to the first three, I think I'll order it anyway to complete the set.

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