What Are The Great American Reads?

I am slowly but surely catching up with comments on the blog, as I mentioned I was on Sunday when I was asking about your favourite reads half way through the year. I am only a month behind now so am getting there, honest. However until I do I thought I would hold off writing some reviews and the like and do a shortish post today as I want to ask you something with it being the 4th of July…

…Independence Day, and I hope for all the American readers of the blog it is a wonderful day for y’all and there aren’t any spaceships looming in the sky! My question teams with this theme as it made me wonder, what are the true American great reads and have I read them? I have read the ‘Grapes of Wrath’, which I really didn’t get on with but I bet would be on the list, but apart from that ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ (another I didn’t get), ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ (which I loved) and ‘Peyton Place’ (which I don’t think anyone but me would say is an American great) I think my knowledge, and in fact having read many, is low. Especially the classics, though what about the modern ones?

So what I am really asking today is which two books would you say were American greats for you personally, both a classic and a modern novel, and why?


Filed under Random Savidgeness

27 responses to “What Are The Great American Reads?

  1. I’d almost agree on Peyton Place, but I’d probably say Henry Bellamann’s King’s Row instead. It was out before Peyton Place and dealt with a lot more of the same themes but in a different way. For a modern read I would definitely say The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

  2. I always think the term ‘Great American Novel’ is a bit of a misnomer, as surely it’s impossible for any one, individual novel to capture or represent all of Americana without simultaneously making enormous omissions?
    Having said that, some of my favourite all-American novels would be:

    ‘Infinite Jest’ – David Foster Wallace,
    ‘On the Road’ – Jack Kerouac,
    ‘Freedom’ – Jonathan Franzen,
    ‘Beloved’ – Toni Morrison,
    ‘The Border Trilogy’ – Cormac McCarthy,

  3. Kateg

    My classic is The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald and my modern classic is Stoner by John Williams. Enjoying a hot summer day here in New York ready to watch fireworks and have some hot dogs!!

  4. My classic would definitely be Moby-Dick. For something modern, probably The Joy Luck Club, which speaks so well to the immigrant experience.

  5. Definitely Gatsby; for Kerouac I would choose The Dharma Bums; and oddly enough I would say The Secret History by Donna Tartt!

  6. The Great American novel really depends on who you ask and what their background is. I would have to say The Sound and the Fury, Beloved, Huckleberry Finn, Invisible Man, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby,…I could name a lot more. It’s very difficult to nail it down to one. I think that’s beauty of reading American literature. There is something for everyone.

  7. So I don’t think I need to mention ‘The Great Gatsby’, one of my all-time favourites, as it seems to have quite a few other admirers as well. You will laugh when I tell you that I think ‘White Fang’ by Jack London or ‘Shane’ by Jack Shaefer are some of the best portrayals of the classic American experience. Although I read them as a child at school, I only got to appreciate them later. If you didn’t like Grapes of Wrath but want to try another Steinbeck, you might want to give ‘East of Eden’ a go – I found it far more sophisticated and interesting, or ‘Tortilla Flat’ which says so much about the Mexican immigrant experience (even nowadays).

  8. Bet

    I’ve read most of the classic American novels, but they are not nearly as meaningful to me as the British ones! I have never been able to swallow Moby Dick, and I have given up trying. When I read your question, the first book that came to mind for me was A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe. It’s modern, it’s long, it’s a bit quirky. But I enjoyed every minute of it.

  9. Quite a few titles already listed, lots of good ones and a few curious ones, too.l Select with care.

    One that I think you’d enjoy is ‘My Antonia’ by Willa Cather. Another one that I think you’d like is Dashell Hammet’s ‘The Thin Man’. That would give you one from the countryside and one from the big city. That’s America to me. 😉

  10. Laura Caldwell

    Definitely Jack London! Last thing that I read of his was his short story “To Build a Fire.” Excellent. “Of Mice and Men” by Steinbeck. For a more modern choice, I would probably read a Toni Morrison like “Beloved.” Or, my favorite book “The Secret History.” I want to read Sinclair Lewis: “Main Street” and “Babbit,” but I don’t know anything about them. Oh wait! “Catch 22” by Joseph Heller and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey. Maybe those last two are not quite the “Great American Novel” but they are darn good. 🙂

  11. I’d venture to say that when Americans talk about “the great American novel,” it’s very often code for The Great Gatsby. And well it should be – it’s the literary embodiment of the American Dream’s definition and puncturing. I’d say the Great American short story collection is A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. Modern novel – Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

  12. queenofthepark

    Hard to go past To Kill a Mockingbird. But don’t forget Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is perfection itself!!

  13. gaskella

    For me The Great Gatsby – such an evocation of a lifestyle, and for a modern choice The Shipping News, or The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, although Peyton Place is up there too!

  14. I’m like Bet in struggling to get the same level of enjoyment from American authors. Most of the big names leave me cold (Hemmingway and William Faulkner especially) The few that I have appreciated would be Portrait of A Lady by Henry James, Main Street by Sinclair Lewis and of course Raymond Chandler)

  15. Hi Simon, yesterday was also special for another reason, it was one year ago that ATLAS and CMS announced at CERN the discovery of a “Higgs-like” boson!

    US authors – hmm, how about the wonderful Saul Bellow? Yes I know he was born in Canada, but he lived most of his life in the USA. I’ve only read three of his books (and that was a long time ago) but I’d certainly recommend “Herzog”. I’d also nominate Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” for your consideration.

  16. The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic if you at all interested in the evolution of American religious thought. Late 19thc realism by a newspaperman turned novelist. Commodification and the scripting of faith. Available in a Penguin edition.

  17. Delyn

    “Death Comes For The Archbishop” – Willa Cather, “The Human Stain”- Philip Roth ( couldn’t put it down!) and, to be sure, “The Great Gatsby”.

  18. I would have to agree with To Kill a Mockingbird for my classic. I actually just finished Philipp Meyer’s The Son and, though it’s hard to feel out a novel so fresh after publication, it completely encompasses so much of America for me.

  19. bit late but here we go
    Moby dick
    Huckleberry finn
    great gatsby
    Usa by Dos Passos
    Grapes of wrath
    carver stories
    New york trilogy
    just a few of the top of my head ,all the best stu

  20. Heidi

    Gone with the Wind and In Cold Blood are two good ones. Also The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

  21. Impossible question! But definitely read Faulkner, Cather, Steinbeck (East of Eden is much better than Grapes of Wrath to me ), Fitzgerald, and for something a little off the beaten path but fantastic, The Heart is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.

  22. Late in responding, but, here goes; The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, of course, To Kill a Mockingbird. They have all stayed with me, been read again and again, and are, well, they are great.

    I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. I will remember it for its prose, its images, the questions it poses.

  23. Bet

    Reading more comments reminded me of Southern Gothic author Flannery O’Connor. Read some of her short stories– they are quintessentially Southern American. One of my favorites is “Revelation”

  24. Sarah C.

    No way to pick just two, and a lot of great suggestions have been given already that I would second. You cannot avoid the classic-ness of the likes of Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and To Kill a Mockingbird – those are required reading for everyone both in the US and beyond. But to throw a few outsider picks in there for you, I’d suggest Henry Roth’s, Call it Sleep (for the early urban experience) and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (which deserves to be on more best-of lists). More contemporary picks would be Don DeLillo’s Underworld, DFW’s Infinite Jest, and anything by Kurt Vonnegut and/or Paul Auster. Happy reading!

  25. Liam

    Late to the game, but it has to be Beloved, surely?

  26. Elizabeth

    I would add A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to the list. Also, I think The Scarlet Letter (which I don’t think you are fond of).

    I think these books, like many of the others listed, capture a particular moment in American history or a specific time period.

  27. Pingback: May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Homes | Savidge Reads

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