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Subject: The Greatest "American" Novel? rss

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David Dixon
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Which novel does everyone feel best describes America and the American experience? What novel encapsulates the US, and all the good and bad that comes with it? What novels are the most "American"?

I'm nominating East of Eden by John Steinbeck. To me it is an absolutely incredible novel about humanity as a whole, but his characters' travel across the Continent, their individualism, and the way he makes the American West, the newest part of the New World, a second Garden of Eden, with man's fall and redemption, makes it a uniquely American experience.

I'll not be talked down easily, and I haven't read everything, after all, but I'm interested in other nominations.

Diis
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I'm currently reading East of Eden, and it's a worthy nominee. I would put forth Huckleberry Finn as the Greatest American Novel - since it's a penetrating look at the American South, written in the vernacular of that region. Some of the cultural references, at our point in time, are a bit obscure. Overall, its sharp satire of our culture has stood the test of time.
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LORD OF THE FLIES....A country split along philosophical divides of "hunters" and "littluns" of adult pre-adolescents plunging the country deeper and deeper into the abyss, with no grownups to smack our ass and tell us, cut it out..
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Diis wrote:
Which novel does everyone feel best describes America and the American experience? What novel encapsulates the US, and all the good and bad that comes with it? What novels are the most "American"?

I'm nominating East of Eden by John Steinbeck. To me it is an absolutely incredible novel about humanity as a whole, but his characters' travel across the Continent, their individualism, and the way he makes the American West, the newest part of the New World, a second Garden of Eden, with man's fall and redemption, makes it a uniquely American experience.

I'll not be talked down easily, and I haven't read everything, after all, but I'm interested in other nominations.

Diis


I disagree somewhat although I love East of Eden. I will, however, stick with the author and say The Grapes of Wrath. I am, however, beginning to think that maybe Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy would be a better choice.

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I'd have to go with Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller as best overall novel of the 20th Century with an "Americana"-type theme.
Runners-up would be two by Kerouac...either Dr. Sax or The Town and The City.
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I'll second Blood Meridian.

Although Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture truly defined my generation.

EDIT: I know he's Canadian.
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David Dixon
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Drew1365 wrote:
Gut response: Huckleberry Finn. While certainly a product of time and place, the subjects of Twain's satire are timeless. Furthermore, it stands above many satirical novels in that it's not entirely a comic novel. (Although portions are definitely comic.) So many novels that are satirical are also written for comedy. Huckleberry Finn has some rather dark moments that are not exactly comic either.

Okay, so that's 19th Century.

Here are a couple others:

The Yearling -- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. While considered a kid's novel today, it really is much more than that, and I dare any kid to really be able to read and grasp it. It's far more complex than just a boy and his deer story. The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize, after all -- not the Newbery.

To Kill a Mockingbird -- Harper Lee. Anyone not read this? Okay, then do so right away.


Read them all--Huckleberry Finn is a strong contender, I'll grant you... To Kill a Mockingbird, while I loved the book, especially being from the South, I'm not ready to say that it rises to the level of greatness that is East of Eden.

The Yearling I read as a young boy--based on your recommendation, I figure I ought to go back and re-read it.

Diis
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Diis wrote:
Which novel does everyone feel best describes America and the American experience? What novel encapsulates the US, and all the good and bad that comes with it?

Uncle Tom's Cabin
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Teacher Fletcher
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Diis wrote:
Which novel does everyone feel best describes America and the American experience? What novel encapsulates the US, and all the good and bad that comes with it?


Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
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Amy Wiles
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Tough question.

Huckleberry Finn
The Grapes of Wrath
To Kill a Mockingbird

Are all very worthy, and it's hard for me to decide amongst these. These three are great novels and really show American at its finest and at its worst. In general, I don't care for American lit.

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The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck in my opinion is better than most everything out there. The creating of a town with no name that could easily be yours is occupied by the Germans...but wait are they really Germans? Their leader is never named, nor is their country. Excellent writing, great way to get people involved in the resistance without actually having to name anything, translated its a book for the ages because it can apply to anyone being occupied by force. It could still apply today in many countries in Asia and the Middle East.
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Almost by definition, it has to be Phillip Roth's The Great American Novel . . .

But comedy value aside, the story of the shunned third Baseball league, the Patriot League of which the world no longer speaks, shows the ideals that America strives for, and the ugly reality that often intrudes.

I'll stop talking now, lest referencing baseball and American ideals in the same post gets us transported to RSP . . .
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Huckleberry Finn was the first thing I thought of. To Kill a Mockingbird is also a worthy contender. Interesting that they both have racism at their heart, but you could probably argue that no book could be called the seminal American novel unless it did deal with racism. That's rather sad, but other nations have their own problem areas, so it's not like the U.S. is unique.
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amwiles wrote:

Tough question.

Huckleberry Finn
The Grapes of Wrath (Ok get rid of all the interwhatchamacallum symbolic chapters and I might have liked it better0
To Kill a Mockingbird

Are all very worthy, and it's hard for me to decide amongst these. These three are great novels and really show American at its finest and at its worst. In general, I don't care for American lit.



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Paul Szilagyi
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Here's a few not-so-mainstream choices:

1984
or perhaps
Fahrenheit 451

On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed
The Great Gatsby
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Diis wrote:
Which novel does everyone feel best describes America and the American experience? What novel encapsulates the US, and all the good and bad that comes with it? What novels are the most "American"?


I would lean toward How the West Was Won by Louis L'Amour. It follows several families through several generations from just after the Revolution almost up to WW1. Some of the families cross each other's path, a few of the descendants end up as criminals, but mostly it's about people who are looking for a place they can put down roots and raise their family the way they see fit. I think this book encapsulates the ruggedness, the sense of adventure, and the wondering about what's over the horizon that characterized America during the 19th century, and what made our country the way it was. L'Amour was a stickler for accuracy, so you are far better off reading the book than watching the movie -- like LotR, much of the flavor was cut out to bring it to the big screen.

There is also Gone With the Wind, which was considered the Great American Novel for several decades. I believe it was Winston Churchill who said "You cannot understand America until you understand the Civil War" (paraphrased).
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Drew1365 wrote:
Gut response: Huckleberry Finn. While certainly a product of time and place, the subjects of Twain's satire are timeless. Furthermore, it stands above many satirical novels in that it's not entirely a comic novel. (Although portions are definitely comic.) So many novels that are satirical are also written for comedy. Huckleberry Finn has some rather dark moments that are not exactly comic either.

Okay, so that's 19th Century.

Here are a couple others:

The Yearling -- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. While considered a kid's novel today, it really is much more than that, and I dare any kid to really be able to read and grasp it. It's far more complex than just a boy and his deer story. The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize, after all -- not the Newbery.

To Kill a Mockingbird -- Harper Lee. Anyone not read this? Okay, then do so right away.


+1 - Spot on Drew!! Any of those 3 would work for me although I'd probably place Mockingbird AFTER the other 2!

F. Scott Fitzgerald is OK to meh for me, but certainly NOT great.

I'm sorry guys, but to me, Steinbeck and Hemingway are barely readable--and I can and have read just about everything!!

I read and enjoyed Theodore Drieser's An American Tragedy and The Financier.

For non-fiction works I LOVED:
Death be not Proud by John Gunther
and
I Never Promised you a Rose Garden by Hannah Greene/Joanne Greenberg
 
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I'll throw in an odd choice.

Rifles for Waite by Harold Keith. I thought it does a wonderful job at showing both sides of the Civil War.
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Drew1365 wrote:
...you know that everyone's a phony, and you're the only person who really sees the truth about the world.

A cynic might say that is a very American outlook.
Then again, I'm a cynic, and I never read Catcher.

I'll vote for Huckleberry Finn, though almost any Twain has underlying themes that carry through it that are 'American'. Life on the Mississippi for the main character's observations. 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court' for the over-the-top entrepreneur, who reminds me of Ben Franklin.

For that matter, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Most of it is made up, and the entire book is really a self-advertisement. He built himself a statue, out of words. Is that American enough?

It probably depends on which America you're looking for. America of the 1900's has a different flavor than that of the 1950's, for example. Jack Kerouac's On the Road?
(I didn't read that one either, but I've heard good things).

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TomVasel wrote:
I'll throw in an odd choice.

Rifles for Waite by Harold Keith. I thought it does a wonderful job at showing both sides of the Civil War.


I read that book growing up, its a good one.
 
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