Norton is Fifty Years Old

No, not Ed Norton but the infamous Norton Anthology of English Literature. This is the single book to which I attribute my failing eyesight and I still have nightmares recalling those hours of reading where the paper was so thin you could read the printing on the other side of the page, and given the inordinately small font used in the book to force as much reading as possible into a mere three trillion pages it was hard enough to read the front of the page.

What did I learn about English literature? Well, I wouldn’t be so silly as to say more than 99% of Americans (it may only be 97 or even 96%) but more than enough to allow me to be somewhat selective in what I read and studied in later years and courses. In other words, I had a good basic knowledge to build on and I owe it all the M. H. Abrams (one of my gods) and Norton publishing. As the years passed and my daughter became the far more astute scholar of literature, I noticed that Norton had added many more specific volumes to the original two volume Anthology (mine was hard bound since it hadn’t come out in paper yet). I even bought the Kid a copy of The Norton Anthology of Women Writers one Christmas. I’m not sure what the Anthology looks like today; I’m sure there has been some revision to better address the more prevalent literary topics, but I hope that it still helps to ground current and future English majors before they are let out to roam in the glut of contemporary writing that seems to maintain a focus in today’s colleges and universities.

Yes, I am an old-fashioned believer in core education. In my college a student wouldn’t be allowed any elective courses until they the student was at least an upperclassman and perhaps not even then.

My one concern which the Norton Anthology aided was that I had a low opinion of American Literature and successfully avoided reading the literature of my own country until I was looking forward to retirement. Now I have discovered some quite good examples of American Literature but I approach it as another country to add to my quest for good literature all over the globe. I might suggest that the designation English Literature is a major limitation to learning being perpetrated year after year in our colleges and universities.

It’s all literature!