There is one book I can turn to over and over again in my home library and always find something new and interesting to read, something I love to read again, and something that can be used for everything from home schooling and home work, critiquing and analyzing literature or just reading a good story. This book has followed me everywhere I have lived and it is The Norton Anthology of American Literature.
Sounds strange doesn’t it? Somewhat like this collection of stories should be a book required for a college course. Well it is, but there is so much more to The Norton Anthology of American Literature than just a classroom.
This book offers a selection of stories written by the most famous (or infamous) of American literature writers, like Thomas Paine, Washington Irving, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Emily Dickinson, Kate Chopin, Jack London, Robert Frost, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemmingway, and E.E. Cummings. While most selections are short stories, there are also longer stories and poetry included. Though many well known authors’ works are including in this anthology there are also several not so well known authors.
Some of my favorite stories and poems to read again include:
Anne Bradstreet’s To My Dear and Loving Husband and Before the Birth of One of Her Children
Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle
Edgar Allen Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher
Should you wish to really read a thriller around Halloween these two stories can send chills up anyone’s spine. But for the children the story of Rip Van Winkle can provide weeks of entertaining reading as you explore the almost fairy tale nature of Rip’s sleep. Take the kids bowling, to experience the crash and bang of the bowling in this story. Create a fairy tale naptime based on Rip’s walk through the woods. You can even plan an entire Halloween party around the theme of sleeping through time and waking up to a whole new world. Magic and mystery, science and fiction and even a moral or two are available in this story.
Other favorites include:
Samuel Clemens, Huckleberry Finn
Kate Chopin, At the ‘Cadian Ball
Stephen Crane, The Open Boat
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
Ernest Hemmingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and;
Flannery O’Connor, Good Country People
This anthology is broken down into different eras of American literature making it easy to follow not only the progression of literature and its impact on culture and society but following through The Norton Anthology of American Literature provides the reader with a look at the history that makes these stories great and that influences even today’s writers.
Each story includes a selection of footnotes to help you with references or words no longer used. The beginning of each author’s section includes some biographical and historical background on the author. At the end of each selection are a number of questions to be answered should you be in a philosophical frame of mind, using it for a book club, or home schooling. Names, dates, places, influences are all provided making it not only an enjoyable read, because you can always ignore the footnotes and questions, but making it eye opening experience as you explore the literature more thoroughly. There are even some that can be read to your children or read with them.
The current issue is available in either full copy for approximately $154.00 or in several editions with each edition containing selections for a specific period in American literature and history.
It’s been many years since I have had to use The Norton Anthology of American Literature for the classroom, either for myself or for teaching, but it is one book that because of its collection of short stories, history, and biography that I can take up over and over again to read a familiar favorite or find a story that I just haven’t read before.