American Literature, My Way

I read a piece on Lit Hub today about the view of American literature from abroad. For what it’s worth–which is not much–here’s the list of 25 titles I settled on. They’re numbered for my own count, but aren’t in any particular order. I’ve omitted Faulkner, Salinger, Kerouac, Nabokov, Twain, and Toole (all of whom appear on the Lit Hub list) because they’ve never appealed to me personally.

This is slightly edited and corrected (in other words, IMPROVED) from the Twitter version. I’m reprinting it here because it seemed like a suitable celebration of the Fourth of July.

I don’t have enough poets, and probably not enough non-fiction/biography/dramatic literature; there’s also a dearth of the nineteenth-century female novelists I love so well but whose work is both long and problematic. But it’s a list of works that speak to this national project: its high idealism, its deep and repetitive failure, and the hope we still hold, must hold, for the future.

  1. Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  2. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
  3. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. The Collected Works, James Baldwin
  5. The Blithedale Romance, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  6. The Wings of the Dove, Henry James
  7. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  8. All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
  9. Winter in the Blood, James Welch
  10. Woman Hollering Creek, Sandra Cisneros
  11. Bread Givers, Anzia Yezierska
  12. The Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  13. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
  14. Collected Stories, John Cheever
  15. The Street, Ann Petry
  16. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
  17. Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
  18. My Antonia, Willa Cather
  19. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
  20. Beloved, Toni Morrison
  21. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee
  22. Angels in America, Tony Kushner
  23. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
  24. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
  25. The Narrative of the Life/My Bondage and My Freedom, Frederick Douglass
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