Open the catalog and find the first two pages devoted to a two-volume boxed edition of The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (price: $75). I’ve never read the books, published between 1932 and 1943, and have no intention of doing so. The series, I know, is much-loved, but books written for children have no place in a publishing venture dedicated to “America's best and most significant writing,” as the LoA boasts. Turn the page, and the news grows grimmer: American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, in two volumes totaling 1,680 pages (price: $70). In short, sub-literature for stunted adolescents. Will it sell? Of course, with generations of grownups touting the stuff to kids. Turn another page and the descent continues: Jack Kerouac: Collected Poems, 790 pages of prose from the tinniest of tin ears (price: $40).
Such books appear while worthy American writers and works remain unrepresented in the LoA: Thoreau’s journals, the fiction of Peter De Vries and J.F. Powers, the journalism of Joseph Mitchell and Whitney Balliett, the poems and prose of Marianne Moore and Louise Bogan, judicious selections from Sherwood Anderson and Edward Dahlberg, and a collection representing Yvor Winters and the Stanford School. We can be grateful Vladimir Nabokov has three volumes in the Library of America. In a 1968 interview included in Strong Opinions (1973), he says:
“No, I loathe popular pulp…I loathe science fiction with its gals and goons, suspense and supersensories…And, really, I don’t think I mock popular trash more often than do other authors who believe with me that a good laugh is the best pesticide.”