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I Just Want to Go On Record

And say that I think Malcolm Jones’s critique of the Library of America is pretty stupid. I wanted to write something more inflammatory and fun, but E.J. and Nate wisely advised against it.

In case you haven’t read this piece, Jones basically tees-off on the LOA, claiming they’ve “jumped the shark” by publishing sub-par writers and not adhering to their mission:

Here’s how the LOA describes itself and its mission: “The Library of America helps to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping in print, authoritative editions of America’s best and most significant writing. An independent nonprofit organization, it was founded in 1979 with seed money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation.”

What’s really at work in Jones’s diatribe is a filtered exposure of his own aesthetic concept of “best and most significant.” This is sooooooo Newsweek. Obviously, the Jones canon is as predictable as white toast (with special emphasis on white and male), and he’s not a big fan of Philip K. Dick (OK, my blood starts to boil), Nathaniel West, Lovecraft, Dawn Powell. But here’s the moment that really pissed me off:

And then, in May, here comes an entire volume dedicated to . . . Shirley Jackson? A writer mostly famous for one short story, “The Lottery.” Is LOA about to jump the shark?

It’s been a couple years, but I’ll totally stand by We Have Always Lived in the Castle. And I’ll make a random guess that Jones has never read this, or The Haunting of Hill House, both of which are in the prestigious Penguin Classics series . . .

Besides, every good publisher uses its platform to introduce audiences to authors they may not be aware of, or might enjoy being exposed to. What was the fastest selling LOA book in history? The first collection of PKD novels. Why? Perhaps because a lot of readers are sick of the predictable and unchanging “American Canon.” Preserve away LOA. Give me surprises, bind them in elegant black, matching volumes. And cheers to editor Geoffrey O’Brien for taking risks and modernizing an enterprise that could otherwise become insanely insular and staid.



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