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Grade 9 Up–This hefty, reliable, and readable tome documents the development of U.S. letters from their practical, tendentious origins to the end of the 20th century. As the brief introduction explains, the editors include various representative works, not merely critically acclaimed texts. Johnny Gruelle is in with "Raggedy Ann," and so is E. B. White (but not William Steig or Russell Hoban). Robert Heinlein, Scott Turow, Stephen King, Sue Grafton, John Grisham, and Rod McKuen all appear. Essay overviews precede the year-by-year listings in each of five sections (1582-1789, 1790-1860, 1861-1914, 1915-'49, 1950-'99). They assume familiarity with basic historical facts, but provide social and political contexts. Sidebars give birth/death dates and prize and bestseller lists, again expanding the volume's scope beyond literary heights. Except for the first section, where scarcity of imaginative forms leads to inclusion of diaries, letters, and sermons, all sections include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, literary criticism, and the catch-all "publications and events" (e.g., the founding of The American Scholar and of the Folger Library). The earlier sections are a mine for browsing. With the last decade(s), however, readers might pick some fights: Why omit Charles Baxter, Larry Watson, Lan Samantha Chang, Ward Just, Jonathan Franzen, Mark Salzman, and Wally Lamb? There are sporadic black-and-white author photos and reproductions. This volume's scope, accuracy, and accessibility are hard to resist: it supercedes Richard M. Ludwig and Clifford A. Nault, Jr.'s Annals of American Literature, 1602-1983 (Oxford, 1989; o.p.).–Patricia D. Lothrop, St. George's School, Newport, RI
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This chronology includes more than 8,400 literary works by more than 5,000 writers. Sections for each year are grouped in five chapters by period, from 1582 to 1999. Within each year, entries are grouped by genre, such as diaries and other personal writings, fiction, essays, literary criticism and scholarship, nonfiction, poetry, and drama. Within each genre, authors are listed alphabetically, generally with birth and death dates and short descriptions of named works for the year. Each chapter has an introduction, averaging about four pages, that gives an overview of the major events of the period. Not surprisingly, increasing attention is given to more recent years. The last chapter, "Modernism and Postmodernism," treats the years 1950-99 and fills 245 pages, compared to the 86 pages of "The Colonial Period" (1582-1789). Interspersed through the text are black-and-white images, primarily of writers, and tables of events, such as births and deaths from the period, best-sellers, and literary awards and prizes. The author and title indexes are indispensable.
The volume's most immediate competitors are Annals of American Literature, 1602-1983 (Oxford, 1986) and A Chronological Outline of American Literature (Greenwood, 1987). The indexing and descriptions of included titles, as well as narrative introductions, make The Chronology of American Literature preferable to both. These predecessors provide strictly titles and authors, and indexing does not get to the poem, story, or song level, the way it does in the newer volume. Neither provides the richness of detail present in The Chronology of American Literature that helps create a fuller sense of the context of literary development. In addition, The Chronology of American Literature includes the widest array of popular and little-studied authors. The year-by-year arrangement makes it a good complement to The Oxford Companion to American Literature (1995) or The HarperCollins Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature (2002).
The Chronology of American Literature is easy to browse and, for book lovers, difficult to put down. Highly recommended for high-school, public, and academic libraries. RBB
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