The Library of America


The Library of America has been around for a couple of decades now.  They print little blue-covered books with black paper covers, and they use onion-skin paper. 



They are assembling the definitive collection of the Essential American Writers.



They started with the obvious: Melville, Hawthorne, Twain, the letters and speeches and writings of the Founding Fathers.



Then they started to think about what made someone an “American writer.”



I own their edition of George Washington, and two volumes of Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson, and Wallace Stevens (everything he wrote fits in one book!), and Flannery O’Connor (ditto!), and Philip K. Dick, and one of their Thoreau volumes, and probably a couple of others I’m forgetting. We have a huge literary history in this country, and LOA is memorializing and perpetuating it in this series.  Their books ain’t cheap, but they’re nice editions, and they’re worth owning.



They are not perfect.  In the Lincoln volumes, I would love to know what Lincoln was responding to when he wrote his letters. Even a summary of the other person’s letter would be good. But, no, they just give you Lincoln.  (I have a collection of Groucho Marx’s letters – no, not from the Library of America, but they should think about reissuing it – and you get everything: not just the letters he wrote, but the letters he received.  Most of the time they are just as clever as his, and you get the context too.  So huh, Library of America.  Get a clue.)



LOA has covered the nineteenth century pretty completely now, I think.  They are doing the same with twentieth-century lit too (as you can probably tell, with Philip K. Dick included above). 



They are doing a pretty damned good job of preserving our country’s literature.



They do a neat little thing online: A Story A Week.  They send an email once a week, with a link to their website, and you can go read a story from one of their publications.  It is invariably something I’ve never read before.  Recently I read a bit of Mark Twain, and a short personal reminiscence by Dreiser, and a very odd thing by Edith Wharton, and a couple of things by people I’d never heard of.



It’s nice to be reminded that we have such a rich literary heritage.



And it only took us three hundred years to get there!


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

6 Responses to The Library of America

  1. Thanks, Loren, this is interesting and I’ll look for these. I’ve been poring over this lately, too, and it’s entirely possible that you know if it already, but I am finding it fascinating:

    Have a lovely Sunday.


    • Thanks for the “Letters of Note” recommendation; I looked at the website and followed it immediately. I’ve always loved collections of letters (especially if they’re well presented and well edited, as the Lincoln letters are not in the LOA edition).

  2. Oooo, can you steer me toward the Groucho Marx’ letters? Do you have an ISBN you can throw my way, I would love to have a copy of these. Thanks muchly!

    • It’s still in print, as “The Groucho Letters” (ISBN-13: 978-0306806070); you can find it easily on Amazon. It’s one of the best correspondence collections I’ve ever read; he was naturally funny. Also it’s a mini-history of the early history of television; he and his friend Fred Allen go back and forth forever over why Groucho’s show was a hit and Fred’s was a flop.

      • Thank you so much, I will try to find it today! How very exciting!

        I like your blog by the way, I just stumbled across it yesterday and am quite impressed by your even handed nature and range of subjects please keep it up. Thanks again.

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