Reading Journal Oct 3: Classics of American Lit/History Suggestions?

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If you follow me on Goodreads or if you’ve been keeping up with my comments on my reading, you’ll know that I’ve been interested in reading about American history, since that is the basic course of study I’m giving my kindergarten age son this year. For him, of course, I’m reading living books that expose him to the historic figures he should be familiar with, and that is essentially enough.

For me, though, I’m finding I’m incredibly interested in reading more about these eras. However, my favorite books have always been Victorian novels. I’m woefully unfamiliar with the classics of American literature, although I have read a good number of the obvious ones: Huck Finn, Scarlett Letter, Washington Irving, some of the Harlem Renaissance authors I discovered a few years ago, John Steinbeck, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to name a few.

For your information, here are some nonfiction (mostly) books I may tackle this year:

  • 1491 (already read)
  • Mayflower (already read)
  • Founding Brothers (in progress)
  • Those Who Love by Irving Stone (novel about John and Abigail Adams)
  • Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Godwin (Abe Lincoln)

If you have a year to read just a few (maybe 10) new-to-you works of American literature, which would you choose? Give me your “essentials” list and I’ll figure out which ones I’m missing.

I’m personally looking for books that may help me understand the era. Maybe Common Sense and the Federalist Papers? What else should be essential reading for an interested adult?

If I do take the plunge and read some of classics of American lit, which books do you think I should I take off of my Classics Club list? I don’t want to just add another handful of books. That list was intended to be a realistic portrayal of what I could accomplish in the coming five years, so I’d like it to stay at 50 classics. Ugh. So many books, so little time!! So much to learn, so little time!!

Reviewed on October 3, 2012

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • If you are looking for early American nonfiction, then be sure to include The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. If you want to include books from the 1800s too then Emerson’s essay “Nature” is a must and of course Thoreau’s Walden. Have fun!

  • Do you know for years in England our 15 year olds have been studying Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird because they have such inherant themes and morals to teach young children. Must say I never get tired of the latter but am pretty tired of marking essays on the former although I love Steinbeck’s descriptive writing. At unie I did a 20th century American Literature module and we did Fitzgerald Great Gatsby, nice short novel and lovely film with the lucious Robert Redford. We looked at Sophie’s Choice very harrowing and gripping but stomach churning especially if you have young children not sure Meryl Streep did this justice in the film. Our A Level students love studying Snow falling on cedars David Guterson and I loved reading the novel myself it was such a challenge and like To Kill a Mockingbird about community, interesting characters and their prejudices, plenty of suspense to draw you in. Not to forget the lovely poetry from your nation The Road Not Taken still puzzles me and Wallace Stevens and his huge metaphors. You have a great contingent of women’s writing Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist has been a favourite here and Margaret Attwood (I hope canadian authors count I find Attwood has such amazing links to nature and amazing metaphors in her writing). The Handmaid’s Tale is always a good discussion with A Level students and i found it quite disturbing but a great read i am always intrigued in novels that play with time with that gothic feel and atmosphere. Surfacing was again very intriguing. I would like to read more of her novels really. Annie Proux The Shipping News was gripping and an intriguing romance. My Mother’s generation loved Hemmingway and I have Farewell to Arms ready to read one fine day. I cannot remember what else I studied on my module at unie which is shameful really and am now inspired to go take a look in the attic.

    • Hazel Burkett » Thank you for the wonderful suggestions. I was intending to focus on the earlier America literature for right now but I’ll make sure to get to the new suggestions as well at some point. I LOVED The Shipping News when I read it ages ago!

  • Of course, you can’t overlook the tale of the March sisters, Little Women, if you haven’t already read it.

    Might I also suggest March by Geraldine Brooks which takes up the tale of Mr. March as he serves in the Civil War. The discrepancy between what really happens and what he writes home to his “little women” is fascinating.

  • Steinbeck is a beautiful writer, so maybe something by Steinbeck? And then definitely The Great Gatsby if you haven’t read it, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Those are my recommendations, bearing in mind that I am far more into British Victorian literature myself than I am into Americans of any era.

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