Great American Novel Quest

Let the Quest begin…

 

Last year I somewhat presumptuously declared in my review that Patrick Flanery’s Fallen Land should be on the shortlist for the title of Great American Novel. One of the reviewers I often chat to on Amazon US asked me which other books I would shortlist. After some humming and hawing, I had to admit that my knowledge of American literature was so woeful that I couldn’t come up with anything other than The Great Gatsby and Roth’s American Pastoral. This led to a series of conversations, both on Amazon and here, about which books were deserving of the title. So now it’s time for me to get better acquainted with some of these books…let the Great American Novel Quest begin!

Great American Novel Quest

Over the next year and probably beyond that, I propose to read a contender once a month or so. Of course, life might intervene as it has a habit of doing, so this will be a fairly flexible target. During various conversations, I’ve built up a little list of recommendations (see below). I’m hoping blog readers will join in by adding to the list of contenders or telling me why the books already on the list shouldn’t be on it after all.

But the first question is – What qualities must a book possess to make it a Great American Novel?

Wikipedia says:

The “Great American Novel” is the concept of a novel that is distinguished in both craft and theme as being the most accurate representation of the spirit of the age in the United States at the time of its writing or in the time it is set. It is presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common American citizen. The author uses the literary work to identify and exhibit the language used by the American people of the time and to capture the unique American experience, especially as it is perceived for the time. In historical terms, it is sometimes equated as being the American response to the national epic.

Hmm! I like some of that – the representative theme, the American author – but dislike some. I wouldn’t want to restrict it to exclude books written in standard American English, or even in British English for that matter. And I don’t feel it should necessarily be epic in scope. Also, America is such a huge concept with so many different parts that I feel that to ask one book to capture the ‘American experience’ might be too much.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary says:

any novel that is regarded as having successfully represented an important time in US history or one that tells a story that is typical of America.

Again hmm! That seems pretty broad to me…too broad.

An article by Kevin Hayes in the Huffington Post gives the background to the creation of the phrase as an advertising slogan. Hayes suggests that a GAN should be a ‘national epic in prose’ that would ‘encapsulate the nation’. Hayes adds another requirement:

The Great American Novel should not only be diverse in terms of its subject but also in terms of its aesthetics. A truly great novel requires daring. To write The Great American Novel an author faces a double challenge. He or she must not only tell a story that encapsulates the nation but also tell it in a new way, inventing a mode and method of storytelling different from what other novelists have done before. Novelists with the ambition, talent, and daring to accept this challenge come along only once or twice a century.

No hmm! this time. I entirely disagree with this statement. I find innovative storytelling methods usually lead to books that last for a season rather than eternity, and for me any novel that aspires to greatness must be both timeless and a pleasure to read. (Ulysses, for example, uses innovative language – but is also reputed to be the book that is most often abandoned unfinished.) Vernacular if appropriate, beauty in the use of language certainly, but otherwise stick to the tried and tested. Let the insight be the thing that takes precedence.

So here are the criteria I’ll be judging the books against – each one achieved will gain the book 1 GAN star:-

  1. Must be written by an American author or, since the US continues to be a hub of immigration, an author who has lived long enough in the country to have assimilated its culture.
  2. The theme must shed light on a specific and important aspect of American culture and society of the time of its writing – therefore, it might be set in a historical (or even futuristic) timeframe but must still say something about the contemporary American experience.
  3. It must be innovative and original in theme – difficult to define originality in words but I suspect we all know it when we come across it. No derivations, no ‘school of’, no banality.
  4. Must be superbly written – I don’t care how insightful it might be; if it’s dull or badly-written, it’s out.
  5. For the elusive fifth star, it must capture the entire ‘American experience’. That is to say, it must seek to include all the various very different aspects of culture that make up the American whole. I suspect this will be an almost impossible challenge, but I hope to be proved wrong.

 

What do you think? Do you agree or do you think I’m starting off on the wrong track? Are there criteria you would add – or remove?

Here are the books that are currently on my list. The first 4 I already own, so they’ll be being read first. After that, the list is subject to change – I’m hoping you’ll help by telling me which books you think should be added and which you think don’t deserve to be considered…

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald – starting off easily with a re-read of a book I already know and love. ‘A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author’s generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology.’

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates‘Like F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, this novel conveys, with brilliant erudition, the poverty at the soul of many wealthy Americans and the exacting cost of chasing the American Dream.’

The Road by Cormac McCarthy‘The Road is an unflinching exploration of human behavior – from ultimate destructiveness to extreme tenderness.’

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain‘All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn, It’s the best book we’ve had.’ –Ernest Hemingway

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford‘In his third Frank Bascombe novel Richard Ford contemplates the human character with wry precision. Graceful, expansive, filled with pathos but irresistibly funny, The Lay of the Land is a modern American masterpiece.’

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon‘Complete with golems and magic and miraculous escapes and evil nemeses and even hand-to-hand Antarctic battle, it pursues the most important questions of love and war, dreams and art, across pages brimming with longing and hope.’

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson ‘In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames’s life, he begins a letter to his young son, a kind of last testament to his remarkable forebears.’

A Hemingway novel – any suggestions for which one, bearing in mind the American theme? Should Hemingway be included at all?

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck‘A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America.’

Empire Falls by Richard Russo‘In Empire Falls Richard Russo delves deep into the blue-collar heart of America in a work that overflows with hilarity, heartache, and grace.’

American Pastoral by Philip Roth – this will be another re-read. ‘In American Pastoral, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all the twentieth century’s promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss.’

(All blurb extracts are from Amazon.)

* * * * * * * * *

Thanks in particular to Roger Brunyate and Matt Geyer for most of these recommendations. Both Roger and Matt review on Amazon US and I always enjoy our bookie discussions there. (Matt also comments here occasionally, and is the author of his own book, Strays – you can see my review here and, before your quite natural cynicism kicks in, the review was written before Matt and I became online friends.)

63 thoughts on “Great American Novel Quest

  1. FictionFan – Oh, what an interesting challenge! I wonder which novel will best ‘do it’ for you. And more than that, I wonder what your other readers will think. Perspectives on a country and its culture(s) can vary and are so interesting to me. I’m eager to see your posts on this – I really am.

    • Yes, I think it’s a bit rich of me to set myself up as a judge of American literature! But I’ll enjoy it, and I’m hoping thorugh the blog to get a lot of insight and input from the Americans out there in the blogosphere. It’s great for getting rid of insularity, isn’t it?

  2. Oh, I love a list! In fact, I’ve been working on a similar topic for my posts soon . . . and have
    leapt into your challenge for the great American novel. I think my criteria might differ a little.
    I would want a “seasoned” book that’s been around for a while. And I think I would want a list
    of books representing a wide swath of time and place. (impossible) By the way, I find your choices interesting and list Gilead as one of my favorite all time books, but I can’t slip it into the 10 best
    quite yet. I thought Empire Falls a little weak. Haven’t read the two “roads”, Kavalier & Klay on
    book club list soon, admire Roth, but haven’t read Am Pastoral.

    So, my list (!) I’ll post, with credit toward your challenge on my new post. Thanks!

    • Ooh, I’m glad you’re leaping in! Yes, I know what you mean about ‘seasoned’. The original discussions were really about modern novels which is why my list is a bit skewed. I’m expecting to add more of the older contenders as I go along. ‘Gilead’ is one I wouldn’t ever have tried from the blurb, but a couple of people strongly recommended it, so I suspect the blurb doesn’t do it justice. I loved Chabon’s ‘Telegraph Avenue’ so have high hopes for ‘Kavalier & Clay’. And Roth I have a love/hate relationship with – but ‘American Pastoral’ definitely fell more into the ‘love’ category.

      I’ll check out your list and I’m sure will be adding to my own on the basis of it. 😀

  3. Hoo…………fabulous (squared, triplicated, whatever you fancy) Glad to see Grapes of Wrath in, and Gatsby I may ( or may not, make some suggestions). This needs thinking about – particularly as I fell at the first stumbling block – I never quite got hooked by Twain.

    I’ll get me coat.

    • ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is a challenge – I’m not a fan of Steinbeck but it’s years (decades) since I tried any. Perhaps with age comes wisdom…(though perhaps not!) Gatsby’s an obvious contender, but I’ll be looking for my brand new criteria this time around. Twain didn’t do much for me when I was younger, but I loved Tom Sawyer when I re-read it recently, so we’ll see with Huck Finn. And I forgot ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ which will definitely be added whenever I do a list update…

      I look forward to your suggestions, if they be forthcoming… 😀

  4. This sounds like a good project, and I wish you luck. As an English major many years ago, I can say that you can fudge your definitions and categories a great deal: you can call something old canon or new canon, for example. And there are so many big ambitious American novels you can be choosy.

    So here are my thoughts: Huck Finn is one if my favorites, Moby Dick is great if you want to tackle something huge, and I really liked Their Eyes Were Watching God.

    • Hmm… Moby Dick…I’ve had problems with Melville since being forced to read Billy Budd at Uni. But that was a long (long, long) time ago, so probably time for me to get over it. ‘Moby Dick’ will make the next list. I’ve never heard of ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ – I shall investigate. Thanks for the recommendations!

      What’s the difference between old canon and new canon? is it simply based on the age of the novel or is there more to it than that?

      • I think I meant “new canon” for more multicultural books that started being assigned in the late-twentieth century, a la Zora Neale Hurston, and “old canon” for most of the dead white writers.

    • Ah yes – that makes a lot of sense. And now you mention it, my list is almost entirely made of white men, dead or alive. So Hurston will get on, and perhaps Toni Morrison’s Beloved (I tried to listen to it on audio once but the narration, done by Morrison herself, drove me crazy). It occurs to me though that there must presumably be some authors of Latin-American descent writing great stuff these days too…

  5. Interesting choices, most of which I have not read – I’ll await your reviews with interest. I would add Moby Dick (I know we disagree on Melville); the Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne); My name is Asher Lev (Potok); Catch 22(Heller). As far as Hemingway is concerned, I read him quite extensively in my teens, but have no desire to re-read. Also, I wouldn’t exclude children’s books – what about Katy or Little Women, etc? The requirement for the book to be a “novel” cuts out some of the best American C.20 writers who chose to work in crime and, particularly, fantasy.
    This one will run and run!

    • Yes, I feel Moby Dick will have to be added, so many people have mentioned it. I’ll just have to grit my teeth. I’ve been meaning to read The Scarlet Letter for yonks – thanks for the reminder. I have read Catch 22 in the past, and while I enjoyed it wouldn’t really have called it a GAN, but perhaps a re-read is in order. I’ve never heard of the Potok – shall investigate. Oddly, I tried to re-read Katy not long ago and found it too simplistic for words and couldn’t finish. Little Women did occur to me…and I wouldn’t personally rule out crime. I thought about adding in The Maltese Falcon fr’instance. But honestly, not much crime is brilliantly written…or is it? Fantasy…well, I’d need to be convinced… 😉

      Thanks for the reccs – some of them will appear the next time the list is updated!

      • And what about Catcher in the Rye, which didn’t do it for me (I read it at the same time as the Go-between, which I felt beat it hands down), but it appears on a lot of lists. If you have trouble getting the Potok (Chaim), I can lend.

        • Yes, I knew somebody would mention Catcher – I was hoping to get away with it! Teenage angst in an American dialect, I believe? Yeuch! Still, needs must! The Go-Between is a fantastic book – haven’t read it in years. Maybe I should do a Great British Quest too…but not this week!

          Thanks – it’ll be ages before I get to the Potok, but I’ll bear that in mind.

    • Thanks – so do I, but it’s hard to imagine a book that could really take in the whole scope of American culture somehow. And The Innocents Abroad is still creeping its way up the TBR, so along with HF, I think that’s enough Twain for a few months!!

  6. Have you taken a look at the wordpress blogger, 101Books?http://101books.net/author/robthebruce76/
    He’s reading and reviewing the 100 books from Time magazine’s 100 best plus Ulysses. Are you interested in reading Faulkner? My two favorites of his are Absalom!Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury. Neither are what you would call tremendous accessible. But I read them each three times during a lit class. I think Absalom!Absalom! is my favorite of the two. A true picture of the Southern Experience in the U.S. I do think you need to read it more than once to get a real understanding of what’s going on. My lit prof was a Faulkner scholar, so perhaps I was lucky to have his guidance.

    • Thanks for the link – it’s an interesting list, though there’s loads of non-Americans on it too. I admire his tenacity – I think I’ll be stopping well short of 100…and certainly before Ulysses!

      Yes, Faulkner should definitely be on there. The original discussions were about modern novels (post-war really) so my starting list is a bit skewed, but I’d like to add some of the earlier stuff as I go along. So thanks for the reccs – I’ll have a look at both and see which one is shorter…er…I mean…more interesting! 😉 I’ll be doing this quite unacademically, so a book will have to be able to pull me in without me knowing much about it. My brief University days went a good way towards destroying Dickens and did destroy Melville for me by over-analysis – I’m afraid I’m just a casual reader in the end, not at all academically inclined.

      • Oh, yes, I only meant for you to pick through the ones written by Americans.

        Light in August is considered one of Faulkner’s more “accessible” novels but I haven’t read it! Sanctuary is a page turner, but I wouldn’t call it the GAN. Oh, maybe As I Lay Dying….

        I’ll bet Norman Mailer is on your list? Toni Morrison? I don’t really care for Hemingway. Just don’t like his style.

        I understand what you’re saying about over analysis. But I was pulled in by the wake of my professor’s enthusiasm. The same thing happened with my prof for The Classics. She made us dramatize her favorite parts and told stories about getting drunk in Greece and being given a life size Trojan horse as present from her colleagues. The class was smitten, and so we read the Iliad and the Odyssey while on the edge of our seats. 😀

        • Booksand buttons mentioned Light in August in her list too, so I’ll have a look at that one too. In the first tranch (which may take the next ten years!) each author is only getting on the list once. Toni Morrison should have been on the list and Beloved will appear when I update it. No, you’re the first to mention Mailer – he crossed my mind earlier today. Again I’ve never read anything by him – would you recommend one in particular? I’m glad nobody’s touting Hemingway very strongly so far – I’d quite like to continue my lifelong effort to avoid him!

          I had some inspirational school teachers, which was why I picked English Lit for Uni – but whether it was the Uni or me I don’t know, (a bit of both, I think – the Uni was pretty elitist and old-fashioned…and I wasn’t) but I just found it was gradually sucking the pleasure out of reading for me. It took me a couple of years to really get back into books after leaving (dropping out). I’ve always been hesitant about reading too much lit-crit ever since – I do occasionally, but tentatively…

          • I’ve avoided Mailer because, just like Hemingway, he reeks of machismo. With that said, The Executioner’s Song is supposed to be his best book, for which he won a Pulitzer.

            I wonder if you, like Francine Prose (writer and book critic for NYT), were alienated by the new criticism where the beauty of the written word was not celebrated as much as politicized. As she puts it in her book, Reading Like a Writer, she became disillusioned and stopped pursuing her PhD when “literary academia split into warring camps of deconstructionists, Marxists, feminists, and so forth, all battling for the right to tell students that they were reading ‘texts’ in which ideas and politics trumped what the writer had actually written.” So she became a writer, instead. 😀

            My profs didn’t care about camps, they were in love with the writing. Anyway, just speculation on my part.

            • On thinking about it, I suspect it was to do with changes in education policy. Britain had a much more elitist view of tertiary education than the US when I was a kid – only 2 to 5% of people went. But in my teens, the government began the process of expansion and by the time I went to Uni, there were thousands more students than a few years earlier. I suspect the lecturers and tutors felt their ivory towers had been invaded by a bunch of working-class louts (which was true – except for the louts part). There was much sneering about anything that coudl be considered ‘popular’ literature, and much pressure to ‘like’ stuff rather than learning how to explain why one perhaps could appreciate it without liking it. I find it significant that the two eldest in my family really enjoyed Uni in different ways, whereas my brother and myself, a few years younger, both felt it didn’t add much to either our education or our life…

            • A very interesting perspective, indeed! Amazing how “the culture” of an organization/institution can be changed–or resist change, until it is overrun by the change itself.

  7. Like the list! You’ll have your work cut out for you. I’m not that knowledgeable about this sort of books to be honest. I personally did love Lonesome Dove though, you might perhaps want to check that one out?
    Good luck!

    • I’m not knowledgeable about them either, but I think I’ll probably enjoy getting to know them a bit better – hope so, anyway. Lonesome Dove – good recommendation! I’ll add that when the list gets updated. Thanks! 🙂

      • It’s a big one (like 900 pages) but i loved every page of it, and though it’s often described as a Western, it is thematically, but it doesn’t fit the idea i would have had of a western novel. I don’t know whether the experts would put it as a Great American Novel, but it is a great novel and it’s pretty American :))

        • I’ve never been one for paying much heed to what ‘experts’ tell me…I reckon every reader is an expert in what he or she likes! I think the Western aspect is a fundamental part of the ‘American experience’ and more importantly I suspect it’s a book I’ll enjoy. 🙂

  8. A grand project, indeed. I like the list of contenders you have already (which I suppose is to be expected). As for Hemingway, I pick up The Sun Also Rises whenever I get the Hemingway urge; but I’m not expert on his oeuvre, and that urge comes far less often than the one for Gatsby (or even Tender is the Night), or Huck (or Connecticut Yankee), or Lay of the Land (or The Sportswriter).

    What I find of real interest, and a truly valuable contribution, is the five-point list of factors that constitute a GAN. On Factor the First: I’m currently reading a remarkable novel by an immigrant to the US, who’s written a book that could easily be the Great Peruvian Novel (At Night We Walk In Circles, by Daniel Alarcon). I suppose someone like this could write the GAN, though I think he or she would have to live here quite a long time (and he’s young, so it could happen). So I’m not at all averse to that notion. What’s very clear is that the author need not still be living here. After all, when one finally makes one’s way to that tumbledown cottage in Dorset or Kerry, one still wants to be in the running.)

    On Factor the Fifth: I agree the GAN must capture the entire ‘American experience’. But I wouldn’t want the requirement to treat all aspects of its culture to be seen as an obligation to include, directly in the narrative, all segments of American society. Huck might be said to do this, but Gatsby doesn’t seem to in any significant way. The point is, the book can’t capture the American experience without dealing with several of the many segments of society; and even that doesn’t have to be all that directly. Grapes is a real contender, and not any less because it deals largely with a specific sub-segment of the broad underclass in a particular point in time. In focusing on a small section of the poorest Americans back when, it sheds much light on the experience of many others, then and now; just as Gatsby, in dealing with the paramour and others who live in the vale of ashes between the Eggs and the City, sheds light on the overall American experience of economic disparity to this day, and it’s one that’s very different, I fancy, than the English or French or Peruvian experience of all that.

    Finally, I want to say that the Five Factors show us this much about our quest: Not all novels need apply. The GAN is not just a really great novel. It’s a novel that very much tries to be the GAN, by going for all the factors you’ve listed. There’s nothing wrong with writing a book that’s intended as an entry in the sweepstakes. Patrick Flannery did just that with Fallen Land, and that’s a good thing. It’s astonishing that one would even try this with just a second novel, but he’s a writer who knows he has the chops to do it. So bravo to that, and not just for the effort. I gave that book four stars and not five, which I’ve since upgraded to four-and-a-half because the book still haunts me; but I dare say apropos of the present topic, it’s not just a four-star novel. It’s a four-star GAN. That’s almost shocking to ponder, really.

    • I couldn’t find a Hemingway that seems to have an American theme, but again that may be down to misleading blurbs. I shall put ‘The Sun Also Rises’ on the list – but fairly low down, I think! 😉

      I agree no.1 shouldn’t exclude people no longer living in the US. But must understand it from the inside. I’ve often wondered if our slightly different responses to Fallen Land might be because he’s lived outside the US for a long time, parlty in London, and perhaps his view of the US is coloured by the British view. Perhaps that’s why I felt he was spot on whereas you felt he was slightly off-target. I don’t think adding a layer of external viewpoint is necessarily a bad thing, but the author should be well enough grounded in the ‘American experience’ to be aware of when s/he’s doing it perhaps…

      No 5 is definitely the most difficult to determine and I suspect will have to be pretty subjective in the end. Earlier books could possibly include the major aspects, but as America continues to become ever more complex, I think that would be an impossible task for contemporary writers. Or perhaps it’s just that things seem more straightforward when we’re looking back. As you say, I don’t see that a writer should or could refer to every separate piece of the culture without making the book unreadable – but I’d want it to show how diverse the culture is and maybe give an idea of the tensions and divides. One of the most unique things about the US is how it holds together despite its extreme diversity, and I doubt if a modern book could be a GAN without addressing that in some way or another. In that sense, Gatsby would be in (phew!) and so, to a degree, would Mockingbird. (I love having the ability to make up my own criteria to ensure that my faves get in!) I’m suspecting I’ll find lots of 5-star books that are 4-star GANs, but I’m hoping a few might make the full 5-star thing.

      I started re-reading Gatsby last night. Only had time to read the first chapter, but it’s a perfect first chapter. So much introduced – we know the major people, we’re understanding the place, we’re getting a feel for the post-war society and the impact it’s had on the young, and we’ve caught a glimpse of Gatsby’s vulnerability…and all in just a few pages. Masterful! Who needs 900 pages when it’s possible to show so much with such beautiful economy?

      • I myself wouldn’t put The Sun Also Rises on the list. I don’t think it’s about America, so much as it’s about as American or two. Like Gatsby, it’s one of the greatest novels written by an American; unlike Gatsby, it’s not a GAN.

        Oh, those first few pages of Gatsby. And those last few pages of Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current . . .” Enjoy.

  9. Oh boy this is a tough one when you look at all the boxes that need to be ticked. Gatsby would fall at the first hurdle for me because I don’t think it is brilliantly written (I know I am in a minority on that score however).
    How about Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence (won the Pulitzer) – depicts the morals of 1870s New York. Henry James has to be in there somewhere doesn’t he?

    • It is a tough ask, but I reckon that even if I never find THE Great American Novel, I’ll get to read loads of great novels, so win-win! I love Gatsby (just finished the re-read) but I’m not sure it has the scope to be The GAN. Certainly A GAN though, imo…

      Ah, now – Edith Wharton would certainly help with the under representation of women so I’ll add that next time I update the list – thanks! And funnily enough my sister mentioned Henry James the other night and I realised his name hadn’t come up in any previous GAN discussions – is there a particular book of his that you would recommend?

    • You have no idea how happy I am that no-one is recommending Hemingway! 😉

      Thanks – and good to hear from you Paula. I was worried that you had disappeared from the blogosphere…

  10. I won’t be writing in defence of Hemingway either.

    However I would urge you not to rule out crime fiction as a genre, but take individual examples on merit. Dashiell Hammett is a fine, and very well regarded writer. I’ve never read any Edgar Allan Poe, but he’s another worth considering.

    • Hurrah!

      Yes, I think I’ll add The Maltese Falcon to the list. Funnily enough, I’ve been reading Poe’s short stories recently and admiring his writing a good deal. But (excuse ignorance) did he write novels? I can’t bring one to mind…

      • Good question. I didn’t know either, but consulted trusty Wikipedia, which says he apparently completed one novel called ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’. I know nothing about it, but it looks like the sort of thing that may interest you.

  11. I was always told that, inspired by the Mayflower, the Great American novel was about a journey, and was essentially a search for lost innocence and freedom. The American experience is about that search.

    The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn are three novels that kind of fit this definition. The Grapes of Wrath too.

    I wonder how many others you’ll read will fit that interpretation?

    • Now that’s very interesting – I’d never really thought of the GAN in that way. I’ll bear that interpretation in mind when reading. Certainly the ‘immigrant experience’ can hardly be separated from the ‘American experience’ I’d think, not to mention the great journeys of the early settlers, made as much to find a way of life as for land. And of course, America is one of very few countries that decided what it wanted to be like, politically and culturally, rather than just gradually evolving, which I think leads it to be quite introspective – constantly checking if it’s staying in line with the founders’ ideals…

      Thanks – that comment made me think! 😀

  12. First, I LOVE this project. 🙂 Have you thought about The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton? Only a suggestion. Also, you might consider (for a different project one day) exploring American literature beyond the novel: essays (Emerson & Thoreau), poetry (Leaves of Grass.) I haven’t explored all that either yet, but I do think that in America we tended toward non-fiction at first, and then moved into novels later. However, this quest is awesome. 🙂 Cheers!

    • Thanks, Corinne, and thanks for popping by and commenting! 😀

      Needless to say, I haven’t managed one a month – more like every two months – but the ones I’ve read have mostly been some of the best books I’ve read in the last year. The Edith Wharton one isn’t on my list – at least, it wasn’t, but it is now! I did read her Ethan Frome last year and loved it, so great recommendation – thank you! I’m not so good with essays – it’s a form I’ve never really taken to much, but I think I will need to tackle some at some point. But still loads of great novels to go… 😉

      • Sure! I guess I just wanted to nudge you for “one day,” if you’re curious about American literature beyond the novels. 🙂 But the novel project is a big bite in itself, and makes me smile. I’ve never taken on a specific project in quest of the American novel. I love your parameters.

        The House of Mirth is absolutely exquisite and touches upon early twentieth century America as seen through the eyes of a woman. I find it superior to The Age of Innocence, but I think a lot of people prefer The Age of Innocence. I guess it depends on what lens you hope to look through. The Age of Innocence is also beautiful. Ethan Frome is on my list, but I haven’t read it yet. 🙂

        • I don’t normally do quests or challenges but this one appealed – as a Brit I get ashamed about how insular we are about litearture (amongst many other things) and kinda dismissive of American culture. But for sure, I’m now convinced that in the late twentieth century at least the quality of stuff coming out of the US was far superior to Brit stuff of the same period. But I’ll still defend Dickens over Twain with my life… 😉

          I loved Ethan Frome and think I’ll probably work my way through several of her books in time. It was her style I liked – more than the story itself perhaps. The atmosphere she built up…

  13. Hi there, am just reviewing “Middlesex” and thought of you, as some websites refer to this book as a serious contender for the GAN, which reminded me of this post you wrote last year. Have you read it? Do you think this IS a candidate for the title? Thanks so much, would be very happy to have your thoughts on this, Nicola

    • I haven’t read it, I’m afraid – partly the reason for the quest is that I’m so woefully under-read in American fiction. However, I was just thinking coincidentally that I’ve nearly finished this first batch and should be putting together the next ten – I’ll add Middlesex to that – thanks for the rec! I look forward to reading your review and hearing what you thought of it.

      • Ok – will likewise look forward to seeing what you choose next. I like your strategy of choosing 10 at a time – am contemplating adding the Classics challenge to the in tray, but a bit fearful that adding a list of 50 is going to sting a bit – although you do have 5 years to complete the task so maybe that makes it a bit less scary! x

        • I often look at the Classics challenge too, but I’m rotten at sticking to a plan – though I love making them! Even this batch of ten has taken me nearly twice as long as I originally intended. If only I didn’t have such a butterfly mind – always distracted by the newest shiny thing… 😉

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