Tuesday, November 15, 2011

“…in the winter of my great down-and-outness…”

(Virtual Libraries – Part II: Library of America)

So the first-person narrator establishes the tone of Tomorrow, the haunting short story by Eugene O’Neill that originally appeared in Seven Arts magazine in 1917. The story describes a week or so in the lives of a group of men, heavy drinkers who are barely getting by, and who find solace in small moments of camaraderie and fantasies of the future.

Were it not for the Library of America (LOA), chances are I wouldn’t have come across Tomorrow. You may know the LOA as the nonprofit publisher and bookseller of distinctive-looking volumes*  of famous works by American writers including   James Agee, William Faulkner, and Edith Wharton, to name just a few. But they’re also the source of a free Story of the Week, a subscription service that introduces readers to short stories, essays, and poems, drawn from the publisher’s collections.

Eugene O'Neill, author of Tomorrow

Not long ago the link to Tomorrow arrived in my mailbox with a well-written introduction that explained that although O’Neill intended the work to be the first in a series of stories about these characters, this was the only one published. From the introduction:
Fans of O’Neill’s plays—and especially of The Iceman Cometh—will recognize several of the characters and themes in the story, some of which is autobiographical.  
Although the ending of Tomorrow won’t surprise you, it’s well worth reading for a demonstration of O’Neill’s talent as a writer of narrative and the flashes of hope and tenderness that persist against a background of desolation. You can read Tomorrow here, and find a list and links to more than 70 other free texts by well-known authors as well as those whose reputations may no longer shine as brightly as they once did. Go here for a free subscription to the Story of the Week.

Edith Wharton and...

...Ambrose Bierce, two of the many authors
to be found in the LOA collections.

The LOA web site also offers access to on-line exhibits through their Authors in Depth feature. I recently viewed one on the centennial celebration of Isaac Bashevis Singer, which presents a range of interesting artifacts from the life of this Yiddish (Polish-born) writer and introduced me to the works of his novelist brother, Israel Joshua Singer. (Interestingly, Israel Singer was originally considered the better writer. Moreover, it was only after his death that I.B. Singer became widely admired in the United States, eventually winning the Nobel Prize.)

* LOA books are distributed by the Penguin group and often feature a photo of the author against a black background and a horizontal red, white and blue stripe.

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