Book Report: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Tales by Washington Irving (1987)

As you might now, if you’re Gimlet, Gimlet’s mom, or Deb (that is, someone who reads my book reports), I’m trying to intersperse some classical literature within my normal reading diet of cartoon books, space operas, and crime fiction these days. Here’s the first American author I’ve read in some time, dabbling in the French (Hugo and Dumas), Russian (Tolstoy), and British (Austen and Dickens) literatures lately. And you know what? Oddly enough, writers who use the American idiom, even the American Idiom of 200 years ago, are more accessible to the modern American reader (or at least me) than the imports.

This book collects a number of short stories from Washington Irving, the first American-born novelist to get note (or so the insert tells me). He wrote a number of tales in a series of volumes, many of which focused on the regular American theme of the old rural ways versus the new urban ways (rural=better). The theme goes back 200 years, back to a concept urban that we would find rural and quaint today. I can surmise where Irving would stand on the direct election of Presidents/elimination of the electoral college issue.

The volume includes The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, the two tales most alluded to or made into cartoons. Additionally, it contains a number of other stories from the same volume, so they have the similar tall tale sort of flavor to them (the volume is based on the premise that it’s a collection of papers and true stories from Diedrich Knickerbocker). This book also contains a selection from the Tales of a Nervous Gentleman series, including a series of ghostly stories told by a group of hunters in a remote lodge where each tale follows the other in telling as the speakers riff off of each others’ stories.

Very enjoyable, and it makes me want to get the originals from which the stories appeared. Also telling: the number of Yahoo! IM statuses I got from turns of phrase in the book. I think it was 3. Three lines I quoted from the book. Far more than I get from most of the volumes of poetry I get, and far beyond what I get from space operas or crime fiction (that is, more than nothing). I guess that’s what makes this literature classic.

Books mentioned in this review: