Saturday, September 06, 2008

United States History in Books: Library of America

Spent a little time at Borders this morning with two of my daughters.  As I've previously written, I'm becoming acquainted and in some cases re-acquainted with the classic novels.  One of the books I was looking for was Henry David Thoreau's Walden. In between tugs on my pant leg and pleas of, "Daddy, when can we go to the kids section?" I found a couple of editions on the Borders shelf and started to look at them quite carefully.  I've been trying to find enduring editions that we'll be able to keep on our shelves for our kids to enjoy.  I'm not necessarily interested in hardcovers as those generally cost more, but I'm definitely interested in authoritative editions that are nicely put together (ergo, my interest in the Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions).

One edition of Walden that I perused was an edition published by Yale University, which I ended up purchasing.  The other was a paperback edition published by the Library of America.  I noticed as I looked through the shelves that they had published a bunch of the classic books that currently interest me.  I ultimately didn't get that edition because this Yale edition seemed to offer a bit more (and for $2 cheaper).  However, I was intrigued.  So I Googled "Library of America" and found their website.  Turns out they are a non-profit organization that is helping to preserve the great works of American literature.  

Apparently, last year they celebrated their 25th anniversary and their website has a neat video about the organization and American literature as a whole.  One great point made in the video by a Yale American History professor is that we often think of the writings of America's founders (Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, et al) as separate from the literature of America's writers and novelists (Hawthorne, Cather, Twain, et al).  Her point is that the two enhance each other and that when one reads both, one can understand "the American character in all of its complexity and different modes."  Here's the video:

While I didn't end up purchasing the Library of America edition, I will definitely keep them in the back of my mind as I'm shopping around for upcoming reads (including Edith Wharton's House of Mirth.)

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