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.
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .