Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Books Like Whoa: America's Birthday Edition

Happy America's Birthday to you! (okay technically early, whatevs). In anticipation of this joyous event, the Huffpo has posted the 88 books that shaped America, Interesting list - how many have you read?

But to me there's only a couple of books that I think of when I'm thinking about books that are definitively American.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair encapsulates two great American traditions - the immigrant experience and the "soapbox" expository journalism. I remember weeping when I read this for AP History because you just keep thinking, "Damn. Can't a Lithuanian catch a break?" Poor Jurgis is subject to all the ills of the foreigner's experience in a new homeland and though this book is remembered more for the muck-racking aspect of exposing the meat packing industry, it is at it's heart a story of one man trying to make a life for himself in the midwest. In an age of increasingly vicious rhetoric about modern immigration issues, we'd all be well served to give this a reread and remember that we are a nation of immigrants.

The other is, of course, that high school English favorite: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Aside from the raptures of breaking down the individual color symbolism and the oblique references to Thomas Jefferson's agrarian ideal, this is the definitive, "The American Dream is dead" novel. Or is it? That's kind of the point. I think there is room for idealists and pessimists alike in this American treasure, and what with the latest cinematic adaption coming down the pike this year, now is the right time for a reread. The folks at Book Riot are sponsoring a read along and if you've never had the pleasure of reading this book, you need to do it. Now. I'll wait...

What makes a novel definitively American? 

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