Magazine December 3, 2018, Issue

Bad Banditti, Bad Book

Smoke of a .45, by Charles Marion Russel (Wikimedia Commons)
The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit, by John Rollin Ridge (Penguin Classics, 208 pp., $17)

Pity the publisher of classic literature. With only so much of it to go around, an imprint hoping to expand its catalogue in the 21st century must either promote a mediocre but popular writer or “rediscover” an “unfairly marginalized” one. The Library of America is an occasional offender in the former regard, having insisted with a straight face that H. P. Lovecraft, Jack Kerouac, and Kurt Vonnegut belong in the same dignified company as, say, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and W. E. B. Du Bois.

Rehabilitating a “forgotten” writer is a trickier matter. The point of publishing a book is

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