I’ve enjoyed posting themed reading lists here from time to time, and so I thought I’d try to make it a regular monthly feature. I’m going to start with a retrospective of fiction and poetry that I think represents the American experience over its history. These are the books that I would assign if I were teaching an American literature course, but I found them all entertaining reads, as well.
Anthology, American Gothic Tales – American gothic and the short story.
Michael Cunningham, The Hours - Contemporary American writing.
Emily Dickinson, Selected Poems – Pre-modernist poetry.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby – The myth of the American dream.
Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections – The modern American dysfunctional family.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter - Colonial America and Puritanism.
Joseph Heller, Catch-22 – World War II.
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises – Expatriate Americans.
Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle - Early Americana.
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest - Psychology and conformity in mid-20th-century America.
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird - The great American novel.
Valerie Martin, Property – Slavery.
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian – The American West.
Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – The American South.
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick – American Romanticism.
Edgar Allan Poe, Complete Stories and Poems – Birth of genre fiction, including horror, science fiction and the detective mystery.
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye – Coming of age in America.
Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels – The American Civil War.
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – The Antebellum South.
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass – The American experience in poetry.
Notes: I realize this list is woefully incomplete. For instance, minority and immigrant writers are not at all represented, some time periods have been elided, and many great writers are not present. I wanted to keep the list short (20 books, if you count Twain’s two as one) and accessible, and I also limited it to my absolute favorites. But I am hoping it will spark some discussion and suggestions from you for further reading. Please leave your suggestions in the comments.