Library of America releases make classics new again

Thirty years ago the Library of America embarked on an ambitious project. They started to issue books that are widely considered to be classics, the greatest works written by American authors.

The LOA has published titles by William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston, Washington Irving, Jack London, Herman Melville, Flannery O’Connor, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Walt Whitman, and many others.

These are books that are meant to last-printed on acid-free paper-bound with highly durable rayon-solid, substantial books made with the goal to last for perpetuity. In recent years the LOA has begun to issue some collections by authors who are still living. The novelist Philip Roth recently retired from writing. The LOA has already published much of his work.

The LOA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving this material. They sell about 250,000 books per year, but the majority of their funding is derived from individual contributions. They maintain an impressive website (www.loa.org). Check it out. There are hundreds of titles listed and many potential gift ideas for those literary people you might know. Here are some recent LOA releases that exemplify the variety and depth of their selections:

“The Little House Books” by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Vol. 1 and 2, 1,512 pages, $75).

My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Anderson, read books aloud every afternoon. She often chose ones by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mrs. Anderson was a fan. She displayed photos that had been taken during visits in the author’s home. There they were; Laura Ingalls Wilder and Mrs. Anderson, smiling for the camera. Years later I realized that Mrs. Anderson was my first acquaintance with the phenomenon of author adulation.

This was years before “Little House” was adapted for TV. Those stories she read for us are all in this collection: “Little House in the Big Woods,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “On the Shores of Plum Creek,” “By the Shores of Silver Lake,” “The Long Winter” and “These Happy Golden Years.” This is a wonderful series.

“American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s” (1672 pages, $70).

These two volumes have some of the finest sci-fi ever written. The first book has “The Space Merchants” by Pohl and Cornbluth, “More Than Human” by Theodore Sturgeon, “The Long Tomorrow” by Leigh Brackett and “The Shrinking Man” by Richard Matheson. The second volume has Robert Heinlein’s “Double Star,” Alfred Bester’s “The Stars are My Destination,” “A Case of Conscience” by James Blish, “Who?” by Algis Budrys and “The Big Time” by Fritz Lieber.” Classics, all.

“America Antislavery Writings: Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation” (970 pages, $40).

The Library of America excels at releasing important collections of material. This one was issued to mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 2013. It is filled with essays, speeches, poetry, sermons, hymns, plays, fiction, pamphlets, autobiography and children’s literature. There’s material here by Benjamin Franklin, Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Louisa May Alcott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Abraham Lincoln.

Coming in January: “Collected Stories” by Sherwood Anderson (928 pages, $35). Five stories including his unforgettable tale “Winesburg, Ohio.”

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