Sunday, 26 September 2010

Paper Americana (and a request for suggestions)

Some of you may have noticed that lately I have been mostly reading and reviewing classics(just looking at the sidebar under 'Jess is Reading' confirms this).

Well I have been concentrating on classics but more specifically American Classics. I'm not sure why but I have always been drawn to American Classic literature a lot more than English or French etc. I guess because it excites me, I relish the prospect of reading Steinbeck or Wharton far more than the prospect of reading Dickens or Bronte.

I have decided to embrace this and I enrolled on a American Literature course (its not a qualification but purely for fun). The first session was last week and featured The Scarlet Letter and the course ends in March with Faulkner. For this course I'll be reading around 15 American Novels which includes authors such as Hemingway, Updike and Plath but I also want to add my own reading list to run along side this until March(ish).

I have come up with a rough list of additional American novels which I will read and includes authors such as Melville, Twain and Crane but its also a list which contains more modern writers such as Toni Morrison and McCarthy. I don't want to get bogged down with endless classics so I have also added some quite recent books such as The Hours and Olive Kitteridge which were Pulitzer prize winners.

There is now an additional page on the blog titled 'The American Project' which I haven't finished yet but will eventually contain all the books I will read during this time in the date order that they were published. This isn't a 'challenge' and as such I do not have a deadline or a set number of books I have to read, I'll keep going with it until I get bored really.

So that's my reading plan for the next few months and I wanted to ask if anyone had any suggestions for me? The suggested books can be either old or more recent but must come under what you would consider either an American Classic or be what you would consider to be a great American Author. Please don't assume I am knowledgeable in this area, I had no idea who Richard Wright was until I read Black Boy and I didn't know what a 'beat' writer was until I recently read On the Road. So any suggestions (even if you think its an obvious one) are most welcome.

Posted by Jess


  1. What a great project, I'm going to be really interested in what you will be reading. I love Gore Vidal's writing and recently I've started on Paul Auster's books.
    I love Wharton but I've only read Updike's Rabbit books and Couples, must get around to the others.

  2. what an interesting project!I've been reading more and more classics the last couple of years too but never really thought about which country of origin I prefer-- not sure if I have a preference really in the literary category-- except that I tend to prefer classic over contemporary.

    I'll let you know if think of any authors/books for you to consider-- What about Gone With The Wind?

  3. That sounds like so much fun! Enjoy.

  4. I recently read Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather that would be a nice addition to your list.

    Good luck with this project.

  5. Do you follow Book Snob? She had a similar post last month and got a ton of suggestions you can see in her comments (you can see my suggestions there too!) ;) and you can see the list she compiled from those suggestions here.

  6. I love this project! I second Suzanne's suggestion of Death Comes for the Archbishop, which has been my favorite of Cather's so far. Other suggestions might include Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (if Russian immigrant in America counts). I prefer The Grapes of Wrath to East of Eden when it comes to STeinbeck, and if you read Faulkner, I absolutely adored As I Lay Dying. In more modern literature, I read Little Children by Tom Perrotta earlier this year and it was fantastic.

    I can't wait to see what you read!

  7. I second the recommendation of Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather.

  8. What an exciting project! I haven't got any suggestions but I'm looking forward to following your reading list :)

  9. Any Cather would be good, I highly recommend James Baldwin (maybe Go Tell it on the Mountain or Another Country). Also, Sinclair Lewis wrote a lot of novels but his big classics are Main Street, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, and Babbitt. Those are all great. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a wonderful coming of age story. If you want something on the lighter side The Inn at Lake Devine is a fabulous novel by Elinor Lipman. And a wondeful forgotten classic that has thankfully been getting a lot of attention lately is Stoner by John Williams. It is suchh a great book. I could go on, but I will stop here.

  10. Here are my suggestions:
    -Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
    -Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself

    Happy Reading!

  11. Fantastic project! And people have already made most of the suggestions I was going to. My only addition is Marilynne Robinson. Maybe Joyce Carol Oates too? Look forward to seeing your full list. Where is your course?

  12. To be honest, I just clicked on the comments section to see every one else's suggestions. There's something about American authors that vaguely intimidates me. Updike, Roth, Hemingway, Kerouac, Joseph Heller - all really literary men, and they scare me a little. So, I'm not sure what to suggest, but good luck!

  13. I wish I could help you, but I seem to be more of a UK classics girl. You do remind me that that needs to change.. If I ever need inspiration, I'll know where to find you :)

  14. Katrina - Ive added Gore Vidal's The City & The Pillar to my list so thankyou for that rec.

    Lesa - I do have a copy of Gone with the Wind so Ill add that to my list, its a heck of a big book though isn't it LOL

    Rachel - I'm looking forward to it!

    Suzanne - I had never heard of Willa Cather but your right that looks like a great addition to my list so Ive added it.

    Amanda - I had Lolita on my list anyway as he counts since he wrote in English and I did love East of Eden but I also have The Grapes of Wrath. You have bumped up my list by quite a bit there though as Ive aded As I lay dying, The Awakening and Little Children!

    Emily Jane - Im so glad I asked for suggestions as I would have never found this book otherwise.

    Toni - thanks very much, I wonder what Ill learn from it all :)

    Kathy - thanks for that link - I have sent booksnob a message so thanks again.

    Thomas - I just had a look at James Balwin on Amazon and I had no idea he wrote Giovanni's Room (or that he was even an American author) since I already have a copy of that book I have added him to the list.

    I've also added Babbitt and stoner

    Chelle - Slauterhouse 5 is on my course list which should be interesting LOL Your other suggestion sounds very interesting so I have added this.

    Lyndsey - Its in my local community adult college, basically its separate from the actual college but its organised by some adult book lovers that want to also learn. They are a lovely bunch of people.

    Clover - its funny but the English classic writers intimidate me a lot more LOL I think because I tried reading Dickins and the like when I was alot younger and just never really got on with them.

    irisonbooks - LOL expect to see loads of classics coming up.

  15. You have to read To Kill a Mockingbird. Absolutely must.

    I'd also suggest O Pioneers! by Willa Cather.

  16. You're getting some great suggestions. I'd add EA Poe as well. If you find you can't stomach Faulkner (he's an acquired taste) try Flannery O'Conner. Both are Southern Gothic. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is credited as the first modern true-crime novel, and it is an excellent read, so it would be a good add as well.

  17. If you haven't already, you gotta get your Wharton on and read her stuff. It's awesome.

  18. People have already beat me to it, but I'll put in seconds for In Cold Blood, Slaugtherhouse-5, To Kill a Mockingbird.

    All of the suggestions are terrific.

  19. I agree with Clover. I read lots of American fiction and the authors she names intimidate me as well. Or at least they did until I read them. Now I find most of them mentioned to just be plain boring and, frankly way too male for me. A lot of the suggestions here in the comments are way more enjoyable than Roth, Updike, et al. I would hate for those established, esteemed gentleman to turn someone away from American Lit.

  20. Chrisbookarama - I have already read To Kill a Mickingbird pre blog days but Ive added the Cather one. Thats three books by Willa I have now!

    Elisabeth - I have just finished an O'connor book and umm wasnt sure what to make of it all LOL I think I enjoyed it (I think)

    SocrMom78 - I have recently reviews The custom of the country which I really enjoyed and I have Ethan Frome and the house of Mirth on my list so expect to see reviews for those.

    C.B. James - I have added In Cold Blood now - its going to be one of the few non-fiction on my list

    Thomas - I have no idea if Irving would be classified as being 'quite male' but I didnt like his book for that reason. Couples by Updike is one Im not particulary looking forward to but unfortunately I have to read that one for my course.

  21. I'm excited by your project, Jessica! We can explore American literature together! I'm going to check my list against yours and see if I'm missing anything...

  22. Since you didn't specify a date, I'd suggest the modern classic Breakfast at Tiffany's. I'm also very fond O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra. And if you enjoy reading plays, you can't go wrong with Tennessee Williams. Good luck, this looks like a wonderful project.