How do we define Great American Novels?
As we celebrate the 240th anniversary of the United States of America, it’s a question I’ve been pondering. Since I like to think on my own but not alone, I turned to The American Idea: The Best of the Atlantic Monthly—150 Years of Writers and Thinkers Who Shaped Our History.
Published in 2007 to mark the Atlantic Monthly’s 150th anniversary, the book isn’t about American novels but rather about the larger idea of America, as a state of mind and of being. The doorstop-sized collection includes great American writing that has appeared in the magazine’s pages over the last century and a half: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Ian Frazier’s “Stalin’s Chuckle.” Continue reading “The American Idea in 10 Great American Novels”
Saturday, May 21 is the second annual National Readathon Day, a nation-wide marathon reading session to promote and raise funds for literacy initiatives. You can click here find out more about it and how to participate.
In the meantime, for readers planning to participate, I thought I’d start a list of excellent reads suitable for reading in a single day. I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments as well! Continue reading “15 short books for National Readathon Day”
If you’ve spent time reading Edith Wharton, amiright?
Full disclosure: I haven’t read Wharton’s most well known novels, The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. I think I was assigned the former, at some point, and the latter, well, I’m guessing there’s little actual mirth involved.
My experience of Wharton is limited to Ethan Frome, Tales of Men and Ghosts, and the short story “Roman Fever.” Each is so shudder inducing in its own way that I’m a bit wary of tackling one of her longer works. Though her writing is so beautiful. I don’t know. I’m torn. Continue reading “3 ways reading Edith Wharton is like a dementor attack”
Years ago, I took a Victorian poetry class with a professor who looked like Satan dressed up as Colonel Sanders. He was elfishly tiny and wore an ecru linen suit, complete with black string tie. His neatly trimmed beard created a perfect “V” from his laugh lines to his chin. Among these distinctive features were two more: his southern drawl and his assertion that “There is no such thing as American literature.”
As it happens, I was, at that same time and university, enrolled in a course in post-Civil War American literature. While I didn’t exactly agree with Colonel Satan, I could see why one might wish to renounce American literature, at least of that period. My goodness, it’s an endless parade of horrors with no relief (as Dickens uses humor, for example): Maggie, a Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane, The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic, the dreadful McTeague by Frank Norris. Reading these resolutely hopeless novels made me wonder how American earned her reputation for optimism. I can’t see it having been through her literature. Continue reading ““I Felt Like I’d Never Be Cheerful Again,” Or: Reading “Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton”
One thing I don’t want to read about just in books is the four seasons. Experiencing them, one and all, is one of my favorite things about living in New England. Autumn is arguably the gaudiest, with our fabulous foliage. Still, I love winter too, even the snowstorms. It gives us a common experience to rally around, even if this does involve some grumbling from time to time. Plus, it makes me appreciate spring and summer that much more. Continue reading “7 Snowy Scenes in Books”