I Want to Read More Washington Irving – But How and Which?

Pic One by Steve Sears

 –Photo by Steve Sears


By Steve Sears

Okay, so I have this great dilemma.

Stay with me. If you are a Washington Irving literature lover, this will be good.

You see, I have always pondered ways to create for myself a “Washington Irving Reading Plan”. Bear in mind that I have read many of his works: Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., Tales of the Alhambra, Astoria and The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, Wolfert’s Roost, and parts of The Crayon Miscellany,. My reading list would include revisiting these, as well as for the first time venturing into Mahomet and His Successors, and the “Columbus” duo of offerings, in addition to Pierre Munro Irving’s classic 3 or 4-volume (depending on which you can locate) biography of his famous uncle, and Irving’s career (and perhaps life ending; he exhausted himself while writing it) Life of George Washington.

There is both a challenge and joy in reading Irving, depending on which side of the fence you live on. He, via his own career choice, was never pigeonholed into one type of writing, which can dampen the spirits of those who would prefer his fiction, recognizing that after 1824’s Tales of a Traveler, works of fiction by him are almost obsolete. Also, if you like biographies, you’ll have your pick of, yes, George Washington and Christopher Columbus, but also those of poet Margaret Miller Davidson and Oliver Goldsmith. So, the variety can keep things interesting, but also could curtail reading pleasure when you realize the great author’s work in certain areas is limited.

So, back to my “Washington Irving Reading Plan”. How to do this when in the throes of a full-time writing career, or when also desiring to read the works of other authors or topics as well? The latter more than the former is what is dogging me.

Since the beginning of my love of Irving’s writings – soon to be 29 years — it was not so much the topic he wrote about, but his gorgeous word usage. But that usage makes the subject start to rise slowly to the surface, making it important in life. Somewhere out there, if there’s a piece of Irving’s that just speaks to a barren field in whatever many pages, no doubt, for me, he has made it both an exciting and interesting read.

And barren fields are something I drive by almost daily with not a glance.

Where am I going with this? I guess it apropos to say that I need more than want to read Irving. He is a contrast with the other authors I favor, and although maybe saturation of the lauded man’s writings might seem best here, I’m thinking that, perhaps, pairing Abbotsford or Newstead Abbey with a work of fiction and essays or even poetry courtesy of another writer will suffice.

The Washington Irving Society would like to thank Steve Sears for writing this week’s blog. Feel free to comment here to communicate with Steve. You can also contact him at:


Published in: on January 22, 2020 at 1:52 pm  Comments (1)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://washingtonirvingsociety.org/2020/01/22/i-want-to-read-more-washington-irving-but-how-and-which/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. That’s a kind of delicious conundrum to have! I’ve been reading (by now, re-reading) Irving since 1983, usually several books a year. When the urge arises, I plant myself in front of the bookshelves and simply pick the one that calls the loudest. But two years ago, for no reason, I decided to do a chronological re-read, which proved to be a delightful way to approach him. For one thing, it forced me to re-read the few Irvings I don’t care for (Conquest of Grenada, Margaret Miller Davidson), which was instructive because, with so much time between readings, I found things that surprised me, and the re-read turned out to be worth the time. The other aspect to a chronological re-read, is that one is also forced to re-read favorites that you may have only recently read, which wasn’t really a terrible punishment.

    The experience made me love Irving, if anything, even more than I had already. One of the biggest surprises was how much I love Mahomet and His Successors. It has become, at this point in my life, perhaps my favorite of the three big historical biographies. Another small discovery was during the Life of Washington. Accepted wisdom is that it is stylistically the least like Irving, with few of the colorful touches and stylistic felicities that we so love from him. I decided to make this re-read about noting every time Irving wrote like Irving. It was interesting to observe that these characteristic touches were all over the first two volumes, and then steadily declined in frequency until the last volumewhen none appear at all.

    Another fun experiment has been reading different editions of some of his books. How is the first edition of Knickerbocker different from the ARE? Or the English compared to American editions of The Alhambra?

    Honestly, I don’t need an excuse to re-read Irving. At this point, for me, it’s like needed an excuse to breathe!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: