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#1
Old 08-21-2010, 10:57 PM
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The Five Essential American Literature Books

I am an Anglophile. I have read every Dickens, every Wilkie Collins, every Jane Austen, Conan-Doyle, Thackery and Wilde. I love me 'dem Brits.

And a girlfriend and I were talking about American Literature and I realize I have read practically none... Never bothered with To Kill A Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye. I can't recall any Mark Twain although I did read everything Edgar Allen Poe wrote (he is almost Gothically British, in a sense).

Since I know there is no way I will be able to get through the entire canon of American Literature, help me devise a Top Five list of American must-reads. I can't stay away from my Pepys for too long, but feel I should sample a little of what is best from the States.
#2
Old 08-22-2010, 12:26 AM
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High school American lit teacher, here.

My honors students read more than five American Lit books a year, but if I were to pick five from my current reading list, I'd tell you to read:

The Great Gatsby
Of Mice and Men
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Scarlet Letter
Catcher in the Rye
#3
Old 08-22-2010, 01:05 AM
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Originally Posted by ProudlyDefiant View Post
The Great Gatsby
Of Mice and Men
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Scarlet Letter
Catcher in the Rye
Well, I would definitely replace the Salinger with a Faulkner or Hemingway and it would be nice to find space for Lolita somewhere, but I doubt many lists will deviate too much from these.
#4
Old 08-22-2010, 01:12 AM
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not a HS English teacher, but i think the best bet for making an "essential" list would be to be diverse with the historical periods, and focus on books that are quintessentially American.

Crucible (note: it's a play, not a novel. if you're inclined towards reading a novel then i'll agree with proudlydefiant's suggestion of The Scarlett letter)
Tom Sawyer
Moby Dick
Great Gatsby
Grapes of Wrath

am i in the minority in thinking that tom sawyer is a superior novel to huck finn?
#5
Old 08-22-2010, 01:17 AM
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I haven't read all of these, but so far as I understand, this should be a more fun and more variegated list of books than what ProudlyDefiant suggested.

Slaughterhouse-Five
Invisible Man
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The Oz books
Dashiell Hammett
Robert Heinlein
Isaac Asimov
Catch-22
The short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The Devil's Dictionary (Not a novel but a fun read)
James Fenimore Cooper
Death of a Salesman (a play)

And yes I realize that this is far more than 5, but it seems best to pick 5 that sound interesting to you, than 5 that are simply ranked as the most literary.

Last edited by Sage Rat; 08-22-2010 at 01:19 AM.
#6
Old 08-22-2010, 01:21 AM
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American novels? Hm. I guess if given full control I'd put these on my syllabus:

Catch-22
The Sound and the Fury
The Great Gatsby
The Martian Chronicles
Cat's Cradle

It hurt me to leave off the Bell Jar and Hemingway. But 5 is the number, and I wanted to really get down with it.
#7
Old 08-22-2010, 01:47 AM
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I don't know what the Top 5 would be, but I would say that it must include Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird (though I could maybe see Tom Sawyer instead of Huck).

From the suggestions made by others, I think I'd round out the five with The Scarlet Letter, Last of the Mohicans, and, if we absolutely must have a Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath.
#8
Old 08-22-2010, 02:53 AM
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Arrgh, I hate the Scarlet Letter. I read it like 6 times for school assignments.

My personal favs:
1. Huckleberry Finn
2. Catch-22
3. Moby Dick (although I think it would be much improved if "Whaling for Dummies" was removed and just the story remained)
4. The Natural
5. The Good Earth
#9
Old 08-22-2010, 08:39 AM
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That's a tough call, really, boiling it down to five 'American' novels.

I'd be tempted, and with I believe some justification, to leave the Hawthorne and Melville out because they're essentially British novels written by Americans. That is, they're novels written in a style and at a time prior to the establishment of a true 'American' literary scene. Sort of how some folks like to place the birth of American literature with Twain. I'm not sure I'd go that far but I think there's an argument there.

Things I'd want to include would be things that give an indication of a time and place and people truly American and provide some insight. To that end I'd go with

The Great Gatsby
Tom Sawyer
The Jungle
To Kill A Mockingbird
Of Mice and Men

Feh, ask me tomorrow I'll give you a different list. Maybe Bonfire of the Vanities or something.
#10
Old 08-22-2010, 09:35 AM
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The Great Gatsby
Tom Sawyer OR Huck Finn
To Kill A Mockingbird
Bonfire of the Vanities
Atlas Shrugged

All very much "American" in culture and style.
#11
Old 08-22-2010, 09:49 AM
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The Fountainhead
The Great Gatsby
The Scarlet Letter
To Kill a Mockingbird
Uncle Tom's Cabin
#12
Old 08-22-2010, 10:15 AM
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i found the fountainhead to be an easier/more enjoyable read than atlas shrugged also. go figure.
#13
Old 08-22-2010, 10:21 AM
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Waking up this morning, I will expand...

I now *do* remember reading The Great Gatsby and The Scarlet Letter in High School. and I was in an Honors program so I don't know why I didn't read To Kill A Mockingbird or any Twain that I can recall (or was it that forgettable for me?!?!)

I have read all of Rand and get into a rut of re-reading either Fountainhead or Shrugged every three or four years. I embraced Ray Bradbury as I segued out of the Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls Wilder books so I consider him covered.

I am narrowing this down that I should probably read Harper Lee, Mark Twain, Hemingway, and... Salinger? Faulkner? Melville? Steinbeck?

Well, I am at least seeing that I will probably be reading more than five books (and interspersing my Pepys in between. Gosh, I love Pepys....)
#14
Old 08-22-2010, 10:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Superhal View Post
3. Moby Dick (although I think it would be much improved if "Whaling for Dummies" was removed and just the story remained)
I love Whaling for Dummies.

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Originally Posted by Fried Dough Ho View Post

I have read all of Rand and get into a rut of re-reading either Fountainhead or Shrugged every three or four years.
Oh my God, I can't imagine re-reading Rand, and I reread Whaling for Dummies every three or four years.
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Old 08-22-2010, 11:22 AM
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No love for East of Eden? I'm surprised.
#16
Old 08-22-2010, 12:52 PM
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Waking up this morning, I will expand...

I now *do* remember reading The Great Gatsby and The Scarlet Letter in High School. and I was in an Honors program so I don't know why I didn't read To Kill A Mockingbird or any Twain that I can recall (or was it that forgettable for me?!?!)

I have read all of Rand and get into a rut of re-reading either Fountainhead or Shrugged every three or four years. I embraced Ray Bradbury as I segued out of the Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls Wilder books so I consider him covered.

I am narrowing this down that I should probably read Harper Lee, Mark Twain, Hemingway, and... Salinger? Faulkner? Melville? Steinbeck?

Well, I am at least seeing that I will probably be reading more than five books (and interspersing my Pepys in between. Gosh, I love Pepys....)
<terrible heathen>To Kill A Mockingbird is a good read. It's fundamentally a children's book, I think, and while Lee is certainly a talented writer, I'm never quite comfortable lumping it in with true works of genius.

Add some Vonnegut to your list - I'd start with Cat's Cradle there. And if you're interested in science fiction, you can't go wrong with Asimov (not great literature, but sure as hell important).

Similarly, dig into some Heinlein. I couldn't possibly pick a sane number of books to recommend, but if you want a prime example of the sense of wonder and excitement that apparently sprang up post-WWII in America, read some of his juvenile/YA works. They're not great literature, but they're tremendous fun, and certainly helped shape a generation.

I've been struggling with Faulkner, myself. My first introduction wasn't until college, and I started with Go Down, Moses, which I think is a little bit too intense to start with. I'd start out with A Fable or Absalom, Absalom! - but that's just me. I'd definitely rate Faulkner as one of, if not the most intellectually challenging American novelists.

Read Moby Dick. Don't feel bad if you end up skipping a page here and there, unless you're super interested in whaling. It's truly a great book but does suffer a bit from bloat.

Huck Finn is great, but Twain really shines in his short stories and essays. Absolutely anything he wrote is worth your time.
#17
Old 08-22-2010, 01:17 PM
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  1. Hucklebery Finn - I would consider this one essential.
  2. Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle or Breakfast of Champions. Just pick one but read some Vonnegut.
  3. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
  4. The World According To Garp - John Irving
  5. The Complete Stories - Flannery O'Conner
I don't know that I would bother with Salinger. If you had asked for 10 suggestions instead of 5 I would have included Steinbeck, Hawthorne and Melville.
#18
Old 08-22-2010, 02:03 PM
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Similarly, dig into some Heinlein. I couldn't possibly pick a sane number of books to recommend, but if you want a prime example of the sense of wonder and excitement that apparently sprang up post-WWII in America, read some of his juvenile/YA works. They're not great literature, but they're tremendous fun, and certainly helped shape a generation.
I read a whole bunch of Science Fiction in my youth; up until my 25th year or so. Lots of Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, and then Niven and LeGuin, Harlan and Philip K. Dick. I was hanging out with LASFS folks and attending WorldCon and whatnot.

It all shut down after a particularly bad episode with David Brin and Orson Scott Card. The whole community was a tremendous turn-off and I changed my reading habits tremendously.

Ironically, I am reading my first fantasy novel now in over 20 years at the insistence of a friend (art-related Memory and Dream by Charles deLint) and *hating* it. But I promised I would read it and I'm about 20 pages to end so I will definitely be picking up something new to start this evening.

I have both The Alienist and Instance of the Fingerpost beckoning, but that is still outside the the theme of this particular thread.
#19
Old 08-22-2010, 02:05 PM
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I've been struggling with Faulkner, myself. My first introduction wasn't until college, and I started with Go Down, Moses, which I think is a little bit too intense to start with. I'd start out with A Fable or Absalom, Absalom! - but that's just me. I'd definitely rate Faulkner as one of, if not the most intellectually challenging American novelists.
A Fable? That's an interesting choice - can I ask why that one? (Not arguing with its inclusion - I haven't read it despite an effort or two, but it doesn't seem to be commonly viewed as one of his more seminal works.)
#20
Old 08-22-2010, 02:07 PM
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If it's just five:

The Jungle
Portnoy's Complaint
Arrowsmith
Naked Lunch
and something by Mark Twain
#21
Old 08-22-2010, 02:15 PM
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Now that Fried Dough Ho mentions Laura Ingalls Wilder, it occurs to me that Little House on the Prairie is an excellent suggestion, also.

And personally, I'm not really thinking in terms of what books are best, per se, but which books provide the best cross-section of Americana. I'm as big an Asimov as anyone, but Foundation, say, isn't really about America in any sense except possibly a weak allegory.
#22
Old 08-22-2010, 03:20 PM
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Originally Posted by NinjaChick View Post
I've been struggling with Faulkner, myself. My first introduction wasn't until college, and I started with Go Down, Moses, which I think is a little bit too intense to start with. I'd start out with A Fable or Absalom, Absalom! - but that's just me. I'd definitely rate Faulkner as one of, if not the most intellectually challenging American novelists.
A Fable? That's an interesting choice - can I ask why that one? (Not arguing with its inclusion - I haven't read it despite an effort or two, but it doesn't seem to be commonly viewed as one of his more seminal works.)
A Fable just felt the most approachable to me of the Faulkner I've read. I think for one, while the details might be challenging to follow, the basic plots (war is hellish, a Jesus allegory) were more familiar to me than in some of his other works; and two (trying to figure out how to explain it clearly): I've found thus far that, to me, almost all his work feels vaguely surreal (e.g., I've never spent any time in the old deep south hunting bear or dealing with racial issues, so Go Down, Moses feels somewhat other-worldly to me), but A Fable is fairly up-front about that - it's the point, I think? As I said, I've struggled a lot with him, so it could just be me, but I guess it feels more accessible than some of his other novels.

(But I also don't know that I believe Faulkner himself when he says that Go Down Moses is one novel and not a collection of stories, so I might just be missing his point entirely.)
#23
Old 08-22-2010, 03:57 PM
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Tom Sawyer/ Huckleberry Finn - Twain- should be read one after the other, both great
For Whom the Bell Tolls - Hemingway - my all-time favourite book
Gravity's Rainbow- Pynchon - mental and dense - worth many rereads
To Kill a Mockingbird - This is a given, an astonishing work

The fifth is a bit of a tie:

Underworld - Don DeLillo - The opening sequence at the baseball game is the most cinematic and evocative thing I've ever read. It is fantastic, his prose works like one of those cameras that swoop up and down the field and around the stands. The trouble is the rest of the massive tome is pish in comparison. Still, what a writer,in parts.

Bonfire of the Vanities - Wolfe - He's only written two good books (The Right Stuff is the other obv.) but this one has such electric dialogue.It charges on, relentless.
#24
Old 08-22-2010, 04:04 PM
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Old Man and the Sea (or other by Hemingway)
Call of the Wild (or other by London)
Bonfire of the Vanities (or other by Wolfe *)
Huck Finn (or Sawyer)
something by Steinbeck

* - I also liked I Am Charlotte Simmons, and of course Right Stuff.

I preferred Norris' Octopus to Sinclair's Jungle. Many of those mentioned in the thread are on Wikipedia's list. I've read about one-third of that list, didn't like Great Gatsby, and hated the one of Passos' USA Trilogy I read.

Last edited by septimus; 08-22-2010 at 04:06 PM.
#25
Old 08-22-2010, 04:19 PM
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The Last Picture Show - Larry McMurtry

Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier

Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson

Of Mice and Men - Steinbeck

Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
#26
Old 08-22-2010, 05:33 PM
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My focus, in making a list like this, tends to be more historical than literary. It's also one of those things, like "5 favorite movies," where my list would probably change every time you asked me.

Still, here one possible list:

Melville - Moby Dick
Twain - Tom Sawyer
Sinclair - The Jungle
Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath
Wright - Native Son

Of course, the fact that i have no post-WWII novels on my list makes the whole exercise a bit silly. The fact is that reducing a list like this to 5 is basically impossible.

There's a non-fiction book that i think could also easily go on the list: The Education of Henry Adams, by Henry Adams.
#27
Old 08-22-2010, 05:50 PM
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Are we counting Lolita as an "American" novel? I would, and if so, that's top of the list for me. Follow that with Huck Finn, Catch 22, Great Gatsby, and Sound and the Fury.
#28
Old 08-22-2010, 05:59 PM
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Originally Posted by ProudlyDefiant View Post
High school American lit teacher, here.

My honors students read more than five American Lit books a year, but if I were to pick five from my current reading list, I'd tell you to read:

The Great Gatsby
Of Mice and Men
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Scarlet Letter
Catcher in the Rye
Reviewing my own list (and my syllabus... back to school tomorrow!), if I could suggest plays instead of novels I'd definitely remove Catcher in the Rye and replace it with Death of a Salesman instead.

Although To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time faves, it is taught at the 8th grade level in my district, so I don't get to teach it to my juniors.
#29
Old 08-22-2010, 06:03 PM
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Originally Posted by jordanr2 View Post
A Fable? That's an interesting choice - can I ask why that one? (Not arguing with its inclusion - I haven't read it despite an effort or two, but it doesn't seem to be commonly viewed as one of his more seminal works.)
A Fable just felt the most approachable to me of the Faulkner I've read. I think for one, while the details might be challenging to follow, the basic plots (war is hellish, a Jesus allegory) were more familiar to me than in some of his other works; and two (trying to figure out how to explain it clearly): I've found thus far that, to me, almost all his work feels vaguely surreal (e.g., I've never spent any time in the old deep south hunting bear or dealing with racial issues, so Go Down, Moses feels somewhat other-worldly to me), but A Fable is fairly up-front about that - it's the point, I think? As I said, I've struggled a lot with him, so it could just be me, but I guess it feels more accessible than some of his other novels.

(But I also don't know that I believe Faulkner himself when he says that Go Down Moses is one novel and not a collection of stories, so I might just be missing his point entirely.)
Cool, thanks for the explanation. I often find Faulkner frustratingly opaque (which is my problem, not his) and that book has been especially difficult for me to tackle, so it's nice to know that someone other than the Pulitzer committee of 1955 has found it worth reading.
#30
Old 08-22-2010, 06:07 PM
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Moby-Dick
Emerson's essays
D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature
Bellow, Adventures of Augie March
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
#31
Old 08-22-2010, 06:29 PM
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There are some good suggestions in this thread. But Fitzgerald's milquetoast prose feels like only one step beyond Anglophilia, and Faulkner's vision of America lives in a few Southern counties and nowhere else. If you want some really muscular American prose, try:

Norman Mailer, The Naked and the Dead
Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me

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Originally Posted by Fried Dough Ho View Post
I can't stay away from my Pepys for too long, but feel I should sample a little of what is best from the States.
Ha! One of those Brits who can't even pronounce their names like they're spelled.
#32
Old 08-22-2010, 07:00 PM
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In semi-seriousness...

"At the Mountains of Madness" by H. P. Lovecraft.

Sure, it's pulp fiction, but it's pulp fiction that's stood the test of time. While the majority of Lovecraft's pulp contemporaries have disappeared from the public consciousness, he retains a large influence on modern pop-culture.

And his writing is very, very "Yankee".
#33
Old 08-22-2010, 07:07 PM
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Reviewing my own list (and my syllabus... back to school tomorrow!), if I could suggest plays instead of novels I'd definitely remove Catcher in the Rye and replace it with Death of a Salesman instead.
i will agree that DoaS is a powerful and depressing play but i remember as an 11th grader that "raisin in the sun" moved me deeper than "death of a salesmen." so did "the glass menagerie." maybe it's because i was personally more disposed to connect with racism and ostracism than unfulfilled dreams. i'd like to think it's because of my age rather than my own personal insecurities.
#34
Old 08-22-2010, 07:14 PM
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Are we counting Lolita as an "American" novel?
We have to, don't we? Otherwise the Ayn Rand suggestions above would have been laughed out of court.

As someone whose fiction reading primarily constists of mysteries and science fiction, here's a list:

To Kill a Mockingbird
Huckleberry Finn
An American Tragedy
Cannery Row
and - any random Hemingway in order to realize just how excruciatingly uninteresting his writing really is.
#35
Old 08-22-2010, 07:21 PM
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Are we counting Lolita as an "American" novel?
A novel written by a Russian, first published in France, written in English? Why not?
#36
Old 08-22-2010, 09:38 PM
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I'd be tempted, and with I believe some justification, to leave the Hawthorne and Melville out because they're essentially British novels written by Americans.
Huh. I'm about 150 pages into Moby Dick (and have been for about three weeks), and his sense of humor seems quintessentially American to me, as does his almost self-satisfied acceptance of people from different social classes--even savages--as his equals.

I was thinking about the challenge from a different perspective: are there genres that America dominates, and if so, what would be some good and representative examples from the genres?

The ones I could think of, with suggestions:
-Westerns: nobody does these like we do. Lonesome Dove, maybe (which I haven't read), or get some current flavor plus some fantastic literature in with some Cormac McCarthy, maybe even Blood Meridian.
-Horror: others do it, but between Poe and Lovecraft, we can make something of a claim for turning it into a genre. Maybe At the Mountains of Madness.
-Hard-boiled detectives: Brits have the brain-teaser-mystery category sewn up, between Doyle and Christie, but I think America has a lock on hard-boiled detective stories. The Big Sleep is my favorite by my favorite author in this genre, Raymond Chandler.
-Science Fiction: We didn't invent it, but we damn sure popularized it, and it's a major, major influence on global culture by now. I'm thinking Left Hand of Darkness for some reason.
-Road Trips: Obviously other folks have done them (Canterbury something or other, I seem to recall...), but they're a staple of American fiction. Be a purist and go with Dharma Bums, or stretch the genre a little to allow one of the classics: Huckleberry Finn.

Obviously this isn't a list of the Five Greatest American Novels, but I think it'd provide an interesting overview to some of the more influential strains within American literature.
#37
Old 08-22-2010, 10:31 PM
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Originally Posted by ProudlyDefiant View Post

Reviewing my own list (and my syllabus... back to school tomorrow!), if I could suggest plays instead of novels I'd definitely remove Catcher in the Rye and replace it with Death of a Salesman instead.
i will agree that DoaS is a powerful and depressing play but i remember as an 11th grader that "raisin in the sun" moved me deeper than "death of a salesmen." so did "the glass menagerie." maybe it's because i was personally more disposed to connect with racism and ostracism than unfulfilled dreams. i'd like to think it's because of my age rather than my own personal insecurities.
I teach Raisin in the Sun as well. I taught The Glass Menagerie in my Theatre Arts elective. I had several students choose to write their final papers comparing and contrasting Willie Loman and Walter Younger and their interpretation/struggle for the American Dream.
#38
Old 08-22-2010, 10:42 PM
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Whew, Larry McMurtry mentioned twice on this list so I'll pipe up .

Lonesome Dove is a must-read, even if it's not included as part of a "top five American novels", it's compelling and ten years after my initial read, I still think about the characters often.

I do think The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn belongs on the list, and I would include Of Mice and Men as well, although maybe Grapes of Wrath is a better choice, I prefer OMAM.
#39
Old 08-22-2010, 10:56 PM
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If you want the Official, Dead-white-male style canon of the five Greatest American Books, my impression is that they'd be (in chronological order)

1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
2. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
3. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

(Note that Walden is non-fiction. It's a "great book" but not a novel.)

These are not necessarily the most popular or widely-read. For example, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer may well be more popular and more entertaining than Huckleberry Finn, but it isn't as deep or as Great as a Work of Literature. But at any rate, you must read something by Twain: if there is such as thing as the Great American Author, he is it.

The list above leans toward the 19th century, maybe because those older books have had more time to establish themselves as part of the canon. A more-recent-leaning list might well include Hemingway (who some say was at his best in his short stories), Steinbeck, and Faulkner (who can be fairly difficult), or maybe at least something by an African-American author (like Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man).

But really, you should read To Kill a Mockingbird. Most people who read it like it; it's some people's favorite book; and it's very American.

Last edited by Thudlow Boink; 08-22-2010 at 10:58 PM.
#40
Old 08-22-2010, 11:04 PM
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Wow, I'm shocked at a couple of trends:

1. The lack of Hemingway
2. No sci-fi or horror, at all.

This begs the question: is academia advanced enough to accept sci-fi/horror as "literature?"
#41
Old 08-22-2010, 11:33 PM
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American novels? Hm. I guess if given full control I'd put these on my syllabus:

Catch-22
The Sound and the Fury
The Great Gatsby
The Martian Chronicles
Cat's Cradle
Hmm... I've read all of those except "The Sound and the Fury", but that signifies nothing.
#42
Old 08-22-2010, 11:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Superhal View Post
1. The lack of Hemingway
The problem with citing Hemingway novels as examples of American literature is that they tend not to be set in the US. I would have listed For Whom the Bell Tolls (my favorite Hemingway), but it's a novel of the Spanish Civil War.

Last edited by Spoke; 08-22-2010 at 11:46 PM.
#43
Old 08-23-2010, 12:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Mister Rik View Post
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Originally Posted by Sunshine and Smiles View Post
American novels? Hm. I guess if given full control I'd put these on my syllabus:

Catch-22
The Sound and the Fury
The Great Gatsby
The Martian Chronicles
Cat's Cradle
Hmm... I've read all of those except "The Sound and the Fury", but that signifies nothing.
Well, there's always tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow....
#44
Old 08-23-2010, 12:07 AM
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Catch 22
Sirens of Titan
Catcher in the Rye
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Graps Of Wrath

5 books that had an impact on me.

But the list could be a lot longer if I considered some more Science Fiction.
#45
Old 08-23-2010, 12:13 AM
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Originally Posted by Kolak of Twilo View Post
The World According To Garp - John Irving
Now that you mention it, Irving might be a good choice (either Garp or A Prayer for Owen Meany) if the OP wants to read something recent (i.e. by a living author) that's not unlike the kind of novels the great English novelists wrote, while still being certainly American and modern. But he's too recent to be part of a canonical top five "essential" or "classic" books.
#46
Old 08-23-2010, 12:21 AM
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Speaking of "Irving", there's always Washington Irving, author of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.
#47
Old 08-23-2010, 08:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Superhal View Post
Wow, I'm shocked at a couple of trends:

1. The lack of Hemingway
2. No sci-fi or horror, at all.

This begs the question: is academia advanced enough to accept sci-fi/horror as "literature?"
The answer there is yes, there are plenty of academics who'll accept sci-fi/horror as "literature." There have been scholarly works on everyone from Lovecraft to Dean Koontz. Recently when I was writing a paper for school that discussed figures like Delany and Butler, I found more scholarly sources than I knew what to do with.
#48
Old 08-23-2010, 09:47 AM
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ender's game is sci/fi (and political) and it's on a bunch of HS freshmen reading lists.
#49
Old 08-23-2010, 11:34 AM
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You have to include Huckleberry Finn. It is the archetype of the modern novel. Everything after that is a matter of taste and style. I noticed Faulkner, Pearl Buck, and Steinbeck mentioned on the lists above, they may be difficult to appreciate in the modern context. If you choose J.F. Cooper, make sure to read Twain's commentary on his writing, and maybe consider that before or after J.K Rowling. Although he doesn't get counted by many as producing great literature, try Stephen King's Shawshank Redemption.

I'd say it's impossible to pick just five books, but try this:

1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn [Twain] (read Tom Sawyer first if you have the time)
2. The Good Earth [Buck], The Grapes of Wrath [Steinbeck], As I Lay Dying [Faulkner] (pick one)
3. The Shawshank Redemption [King]
4. Cat's Cradle [Vonnegut] (Slaughterhouse is more well know, but over-rated)
5. Portnoy's Complaint [Roth], or The Cider House Rules [Irving]

Then read all the rest.
#50
Old 08-23-2010, 12:18 PM
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If the focus is on getting a feel for American literature, I would probably take a slightly different approach and try to get one western ("Lonesome Dove"??) and one detective novel.
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