The Great American Novel

Every couple years somebody writes a book that gets called "the Great American Novel." So which actually is? Fitzgerald, Twain, Chabon, or somebody less obvious? (I'm hoping somebody less obvious. Maybe even a lady!) English majors and iconoclasts, let's argue.
A general american Literature list can be found here: http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/23...
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692 books · 1,052 voters · list created August 29th, 2008 by Imogen (votes) .
322 likes · 
Lists are re-scored approximately every 5 minutes.


Imogen 808 books
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Sarah 2634 books
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Susanna - Censored by GoodReads 3261 books
860 friends
Brian 519 books
34 friends
Nostromo 360 books
7 friends
Shauna 331 books
84 friends
Gina 1161 books
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Lindsay 700 books
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More voters…


Comments Showing 1-38 of 38 (38 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Imogen (new)

Imogen Oscar Wao: it's an immigrant story, it's sad, and it's referential (and reverant) toward science fiction and comic books, two of the most popular art forms of the last however goddam many years. It's also a sprawling miltigenerational family epic, and I think range is something you're supposed to shoot for in a Great American Novel, yeah? NOT TO MENTION all the spot-on dialect and vicious humor.

I know it's super recent, but I don't care. Fuck the canon.


message 2: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I'll go for a recent one as well, also a sprawling, multigenerational family epic that won the Pulitzer. Both books are the stories of immigrant families, which is the American experience, for all intents and purposes.

Both books feel almost more like memoirs than novels; the characters of the narrators seem like masks for the authors, which makes Eugenides' task more impressive. I think the Great American Novel needs an unforgettable protagonist; Oscar seems like a stock character to me. Diaz gets points for dialect, but loses on dialogue. I hated Oscar's stilted speech, which seemed straight out of the mouth of the Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons. I thought Eugenides did a better job of portraying characters of all genders. Diaz did all right with female characters, except when he tried to get in their heads; he was better off observing from the outside. The characters in Middlesex are more iconic and distinctive. Both books are wrapped in the history of their setting, but in Oscar Wao, Jersey seemed like a movie set, while the DR parts were filmed on location.

I appreciated both, but I give Middlesex the edge in tone, sprawl, character, and plot.


message 3: by Nostromo (new)

Nostromo The Great Gatsby is overrated. Thank goodness it was short - I couldn't wait to finish.


message 4: by Worth (last edited Mar 28, 2009 02:57PM) (new)

Worth Raintree County, now almost forgotten, IS the great American novel...after Huckleberry Finn. Something in this category isn't just popular, it's a picture of America that captures it all. And it's pure poetry.


message 5: by Tamora (new)

Tamora Pierce Has anyone here had the thought I've had, that the country's too big for us to really point to one book and say "this is THE American novel"? Different books can claim parts of the country, a particular social class (where I'd put GATSBY), or a particular time--I'd put HUCK FINN up as THE great Mississippi book--but I find it impossible to name one book for the whole country.


message 6: by Daisytuna (new)

Daisytuna It's Absalom, Absalom. In attempting to tell the epic, all-encompassing story of his homeland, Quentin instead creates a story reflecting his own obsessions and precarious mental state. Said story is wilfully misread by his audience anyway. It repudiates the concept of a Great American Novel, as it should be repudiated, but it also is the greatest proof we have that American novels are worthwhile.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship Tamora wrote: "Has anyone here had the thought I've had, that the country's too big for us to really point to one book and say "this is THE American novel"? Different books can claim parts of the country, a part..."

I do wonder where this obsession with "the Great American Novel" comes from. Is there one Great British Novel? The Great French Novel? The Great Chinese Novel? (maybe there is, as far as some critics are concerned--I don't pay much attention to critics) Seems like the only countries you could plausibly claim to have one definitive Great Novel are places that have a small population, little literary output, or both.

That said, no reason not to debate which works are the best--that's what Goodreads is for....


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I suspect that historically part of it comes from the American version of what Australians call "the cultural cringe."


message 9: by Corey (new)

Corey There's no such thing as "The Great American Novel." America is too vast for a single novel to cover the expansiveness of it all. If you were to ask me what is the "best" American novel, that might be a more do-able question, but one I'd have to think about for a very long time.


message 10: by Ronnie (last edited Jun 21, 2013 07:36AM) (new)

Ronnie An overwhelming majority of the great books I have read and loved most in my life so far, are American novels (disclosure: I'm Australian). And my all-time favourite authors (a Top 10 or Top 20)will be replete with American novelists, too. For an incredibly vast, genuinely varied and absolutely outstanding canon of great American novels, attempts to cite "The Great American Novel" strike me as both insincere and pretty pointless--not to speak of how devilishly daunting it is to actually vote on one. Since William Faulkner is arguably my favourite writer among all my other favourites, I'm inclined to choose something like 'As I Lay Dying' as my own pick for whatever this vote is worth.


message 11: by Stephen (new)

Stephen I took the liberty of deleting The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Power of One from this list. The first is by a British author about a British lad and takes place entirely in Britain. The second is the same for South Africa. Neither constitutes an American novel.


message 12: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey This is a most difficult decision as I would put the following close to each other.
AS I LAY DYING
THE GRAPES OF WRATH
GO TELL IT ON A MOUNTAIN
OF MICE AND MEN
SISTER CARRIE

I chose TG of W in the final cut, however.


message 13: by Mike (new)

Mike Nostromo wrote: "The Great Gatsby is overrated. Thank goodness it was short - I couldn't wait to finish."

I thought it was great. Haha.
It's my favorite book. The story, the characters, the setting......... I love it all, well... except for Daisy Fay.


message 14: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 14, 2014 08:11AM) (new)

No Moby Dick? No Knickerbocker History? No Killer Angels? No Cold Mountain? No The Known World?


message 15: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (last edited Jul 14, 2014 11:23AM) (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads You could add them. At the top of the list, at the tab next to "all votes."

ETA: Moby-Dick is #8.


message 16: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Deleted a bunch of plays, non-novels, nonfiction, and things by non-Americans.


message 17: by Daniel (last edited Oct 25, 2014 12:09PM) (new)

Daniel I find it pretty hilarious that Scarlet Letter sits at #20, when the guy who coined the term Great American Novel used it as an example of what the GAN shouldn't be, while his example of what it should be —Uncle Tom's Cabin— is nowhere to be found.

...No, wait a sec! It's there! #101. I guess that just proves my point.


message 18: by Roberto (new)

Roberto Ramirez Cats Cradle from Vonnegut totally awesome!


message 19: by Allie (new)

Allie Koli wrote: "No Moby Dick? No Knickerbocker History? No Killer Angels? No Cold Mountain? No The Known World?" Moby Dick is #8


message 20: by Bodhi (new)

Bodhi Once I hit Dune, I knew the list had lost any meaning it may have had for its top positions.


message 21: by Charles (new)

Charles Please be mindful of the topic: GREAT AMERICAN NOVELS. It is not GREAT LITERATURE. I deleted 10 entries: 3 PLAYS by William Shakespeare, a book of poetry, two collections of short stories, a book of Greek fables, two novels by BRITISH authors set in Victorian London and a book of political philosophy by an Italian philosopher. If you're going to add books, please learn what a novel is before doing so.


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

Infinite Jest, Infinite Jest, Infinite Jest.


message 23: by Sam (new)

Sam I like how Lolita is both on this list AND on the list of best Russian literature (#7):

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/1...


message 24: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Seems fair, really.


message 25: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl I think juvenile lit should not be on here. Charlotte's Web? Great book. Not Great American Novel.


message 26: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl What about books which are either author spam, or no reasonable person would ever call them a Great Novel? I mean, the list does have a specific title. It's not called "Throw Any Shit You Want On Here and We'll Pretend It's Great."


message 27: by Mike (new)

Mike Lobstergirl wrote: "Deleted a bunch of plays, non-novels, nonfiction, and things by non-Americans."

How do you delete items? Can you delete the 72nd book on this list, "The Watch" by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, which isn't even an American novel? If you click on the "14 people" who voted for it, all 14 are blank profiles that simply vote for this book on Goodreads lists. "Edna in the Desert" also seems to be from fake profiles.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads You need to be a librarian to delete books from lists, and you can't do it lightly.


message 29: by Lobstergirl (last edited Nov 15, 2015 04:34PM) (new)

Lobstergirl Mike wrote: "Can you delete the 72nd book on this list, "The Watch" by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, which isn't even an American novel? If you click on the "14 people" who voted for it, all 14 are blank profiles that simply vote for this book on Goodreads lists. "Edna in the Desert" also seems to be from fake profiles. "

I agree, "The Watch" is by a non-American author. However why don't you flag the list and specify these two books which you think have been voted on by sockpuppets. Because once "The Watch" gets deleted it can't be looked at to determine if sockpuppets (whose accounts will be deleted) voted for it.


message 30: by Neil (new)

Neil Cake The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is not an American novel.


message 31: by Megan (new)

Megan Someone put "Twilight" on this list? Oh my Lord...


message 32: by Stephen (last edited Feb 07, 2017 04:46AM) (new)

Stephen Megan wrote: "Someone put "Twilight" on this list? Oh my Lord..." In some ways that's apt. Considering that we now have a reality TV celeb in the White house and so many of our population alliterate (able to read but choose not to) It's probably a good indicator of the times.


message 33: by BookLovingLady (new)

BookLovingLady Charlotte Lennox (#643, The Female Quixote) is seen as British...


message 34: by Mike (new)

Mike Booklovinglady wrote: "Charlotte Lennox (#643, The Female Quixote) is seen as British..."

Thanks for the heads-up. I've deleted that, along with The Hound of the Baskervilles (also British) and The Miracle Worker (a play).


message 35: by Johanna (new)

Johanna Rekunen No. 326 Dickens´s Oliver Twist is hardly a Great American novel. It is a great novel, that is true, but not American...


message 36: by BookLovingLady (new)

BookLovingLady Johanna wrote: "No. 326 Dickens´s Oliver Twist is hardly a Great American novel. It is a great novel, that is true, but not American..."

Removed.


The rockabilly werewolf from Mars The Lottery (currently number 364) is one of my favourite books, but it isn't a novel.


message 38: by Mike (new)

Mike The rockabilly werewolf from Mars wrote: "The Lottery (currently number 364) is one of my favourite books, but it isn't a novel."

Thanks. I've removed it.


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