CHRONICLE OF AMERICAN LITERATURE
If you need to check when an American writer published a work, or what it was about, or which books were doing well when, or you just want to browse to improve your knowledge of American literature, this book — edited by Daniel S Burt — provides the answers. Works are listed in chronological order by the year in which they were published.
Each annual section is split into categories such as fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry. However, it’s not a dry catalogue of dates. Events are put into their social and political contexts, each work is briefly described and discussed, tables give details of births and deaths, best sellers and literary prizes, and pages are enlivened with the occasional photographs of literary luminaries of the time.
The time span is from 1582 through to 1999, divided into five sections, each with a brief introduction. Because early material is scarce, the section on the colonial period lists diaries, letters and sermons as well as the other categories. The selection of 8,000 works by 5,000 authors goes well beyond just the most famous. You may well disagree with the editor’s choices in the most recent period, but then nobody yet knows which works of the past decade or two have gained a permanent place in the canon. The author and title indexes are excellent.
I’ve had this book on my shelves for a while and it is proving very useful for answering research queries. It’s hardly going to be a book for every fireside, but if you want it, you’re going to want it a lot. And even if you only consult it once in a while, its cost is hardly going to break the bank.
[Daniel S Burt [ed.], The Chronology of American Literature: America’s Literary Achievements from the Colonial Era to Modern Times, published by Houghton Mifflin at US$40.00; hardback, pp805. ISBN 0-618-16821-4.]