Challenge: Ten Great American Novels

This post was spurred into print by the challenge from a blog called
Fiction Fan’s Book Reviews—sign in, you’ll enjoy it!
http://www.fictionfanblog.wordpress.com.          Her latest post
is “Great American Novel Quest” and she asks her readers to think
about ten American novels they’d choose as the best.

She cites a few varying opinions of the criteria used–and the whole
thing got me inspired to come up with my own list.  It’s a list that
hopefully encompasses the American theme, spirit, condition, and
overall picture of who, what we are.  I think the books should be
ones that everyone should “have under his or her belt”.

Some lists might include newer American novels, but my list
has been seasoned by time and I stand by it.  In abc order by
author, they are:

Dreiser, Theodore             An American Tragedy
Faulkner, William              Light in August
Fitzgerald, F. Scott            The Great Gatsby
Hammett, Dashiell             The Maltese Falcon
Heller, Joseph                     Catch-22
Lee, Harper                         To Kill A Mockingbird
Salinger, J.D.                        Catcher in the Rye
Steinbeck, John                   The Grapes of Wrath
Twain, Mark                        Huckleberry Finn
Updike, John                        Rabbit, Run

My question to you is: can you know America if you haven’t read them?

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8 Responses to Challenge: Ten Great American Novels

  1. FictionFan says:

    Thanks for the link!

    Great list. Good to see Faulkner there – I haven’t read any but have been surprised nobody’s mentioned him till now. I forgot to add Mockingbird to my own list, but of course it should be there. Haven’t heard of your top pick but shall investigate. I knew somebody would mention Catcher in the Rye – it doesn’t appeal to me at all and I’ve been trying to avoid it for years…but I suppose I should really add it. Of the ones I’ve read, the only one I struggle with is the Updike – I really didn’t get on with it at all – perhaps a re-read is in order.

    Food for thought there – many of these will appear on my next updated list… 😀

    • The thing with this kind of list is that we recognize the greatness of the
      novel, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we liked it! It’s just that it
      had to be written, said. I don’t really have a top pick—they’re just in
      alphabetical order by author, thus Dreiser is first in list. As for Updike,
      he has to be on the list, that’s all. He’s the American writer for the 50s
      through the 80s. He is the period, The New Yorker, the writer of the time.
      But I agree with the struggle. A good deal of my silent commentary as I
      read him is “you wish!” —such vanity with his love life! I didn’t finish
      some of his later work :/ If I were to choose a top one, it’d be To Kill
      A Mockingbird. Thanks for the inspiration from YOUR post and getting me
      thinking. It’s been fun.

      • FictionFan says:

        Yes, Mockingbird or Gatsby would be my top choice of the few I’ve read so far. I’m going to be much more self-centred in my search – I’ll try the ones I don’t expect to enjoy, but they’ll only be declared a GAN if I love them! Arrogant, I know, but hey! reading should be fun! 😉

        Buttondeb’s choices look good too…I can see my little list is going to end up very long indeed. This challenge could go on for decades…!

        • I have had fun thinking about these books today—and hope the discussion DOES keep going. All depends
          on the criteria— and that’s debatable, too. What a novel idea that reading should be enjoyable! : )

  2. Buttondeb says:

    Okay, half of those you listed, plus
    Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter
    Walker’s The Color Purple
    Capote’s In Cold Blood,
    Kerouac’s On the Road
    and I would choose The Sound and the Fury over August.
    I also tinkered with the criteria a bit, as the zeitgeist of the U.S. has evolved over our short history. So I chose those that I think capture particular elements of who we are.

    Now how about poets?!

    • Good choices! Certainly selecting parts of Americana, for better
      or worse! Now I’m curious which five of mine you discarded!
      Thanks for keeping the discussion going. Poets? You tempt
      me to write a new post . . . Frost, Sandburg, Bishop, Dickinson
      . . . shall I insert Updike here, too?

  3. Buttondeb says:

    Well, it’s not that I would dismiss any of your choices, just that I would add some in the interest of broadening the picture of who we are. Kind of like if someone from another country asked for 10 novels that would explain Americans to a non American….
    For example, “In Cold Blood” made me feel ill, and I had to skip over a lot of it, but it speaks to something that seems sadly integral to our culture.

    As for the poets, yes! With Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass at the top of the list!

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