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Home Uncategorized One Robust Story?

One Robust Story?

Philip Coleman
The Cambridge History of American Poetry, edited by Alfred Bendixen and Stephen Burt, Cambridge University Press, 1,326 pp, £143, ISBN: 978-0511762284 Weighing in at over three pounds in hardback, the 1,326 pages of The Cambridge History of American Poetry, edited by Alfred Bendixen and Stephen Burt, are unlikely to make comfortable bedtime reading for many readers. The physical book is so large it’s almost a relief to discover that it’s also available for Kindle – which can be bought for nearly a third of the hardcopy cost. Nonetheless, it is a handsome volume. Musings on the book’s materiality aside, however, who actually reads works like this? Where do they read them (if not in bed) and what do they read them for? Since its publication four years ago the book has received a number of positive reviews, mainly in academic and scholarly journals. Outlining some of the volume’s “possible uses” – from classroom tool to reference work – Rachel Trousdale concluded her review in Twentieth-Century Literature with the suggestion that for “readers with the time, it is enormously satisfying to read it cover to cover: even the most knowledgeable reader will gain insight into the richness, variety, and surprising harmony of American poetry.” It is an immensely satisfying read, for sure, but part of the satisfaction of having read it cover to cover is similar to the sense of smugness readers often feel having finished David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, say, or Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Many readers who claim to have read those works probably haven’t read them at all but, to be fair, they often pick them up fully intending to do so, if and when they can find the time. On that point then Trousdale is absolutely right: it takes a fair bit of time – three years in this reader’s case – to work one’s way through the contents of a book like this, together with all of its additional scholarly apparatus (most of the chapters contain detailed notes and they all have accompanying bibliographies). Given her focus on a single chapter (by George S Lensing) and the editors’ introduction, one doubts whether Mutlu Konuk Blasing had enough time to read the whole book in her review for the Wallace Stevens Journal, but it seems clear that other reviewers – including Walter Hunter in Essays in Criticism, Meredith L McGill in American Literary History, Timo Müller in Amerikastudien/American Studies, and Elisa New in Modern Philology – have…

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