Books on the Nightstand discussion

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American Books for a New Zealand Bound Library

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message 1: by Michael (last edited Aug 19, 2009 06:22AM) (new)

Michael (mkindness) | 537 comments Mod
In podcast episode 40, I tell you about my friend April who moved to New Zealand a few years ago and is coming back to the states this fall to pack up all of her remaining possessions, including her books. She wants to make sure she has a good "American" component to her library.

So, which books do you think are quintessentially American? They can be any genre (fiction, non-fiction, cooking, history, etc.)


message 2: by Shona (new)

Shona (anovelobsession) | 178 comments I would definitely classify East of Eden or Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck as an "American" novel. Also, if she likes history, Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose about Lewis and Clark's expedition..I found it very informative and easy to read.


message 3: by Melissa (new)

Melissa | 279 comments To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Collected poems of Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost
Collection of short stories by Sarah Orne Jewett
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris
D-Day by Stephen Ambrose
American Prometheus: The triumph and tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Can you tell that I've taught American Literature?


message 4: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 1 comments Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
John Adams by David McCullough
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn



message 5: by Debbie (new)

Debbie (sardonicprincessofcheerfulness) Ummmmmm.....we already have all of those titles readily available in NZ.......no need to ship them over at huge expense!


message 6: by Pam (new)

Pam | 19 comments A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

Any or all of Ina Garten's cookbooks.

Stephen King's Dark Tower series, The Stand...plus many more of his books, if not all of them.

Pat Conroy...Prince of Tides, Beach Music, anything he has written has been wonderful.

Cormac McCarthy...all of his books.

Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower.

Barabara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees, etc.

Roots by Alex Haley.




message 7: by Ann (new)

Ann (akingman) | 2097 comments Mod
Over on our Facebook group, Matthew Dicks pointed out that Dan Brown, John Grisham or Stephen King should be included, as the request was "books that would be in most American households". I'd add Danielle Steel and Jodi Picoult to that.


message 8: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa | 330 comments Does she want what most Americans read tho or quintessential American literature? I know that if I were in a new country with a suitcase of Danielle Steel and John Grisham I'd.....be looking for a new hobby to replace reading : )

I would suggest a book or two about baseball just because-for me-it conjures such quintessential Americana and it might not be a topic too popular in NZ.

I sympathize with this post because I was an Arabic major in college and spent time in Syria a few years ago where I longed for things American in a way I can't communicate. To the point that on one day when I felt particurly homesick I stole my napping roommate's mp3 player and sat and bawled while listening to Whitney Houston's rendition of the National Anthem on repeat(this isn't a knock on Syria, btw. Great country and extremely friendly residents.) You don't realize how much you'll miss American-ness until you don't have it enveloping you.


message 9: by Rita (new)

Rita | 147 comments Ann you mentioned one of my favorites, Gone With the Wind.

I'd like to add the book 1865 as well.


message 10: by Debbie (new)

Debbie (sardonicprincessofcheerfulness) If it is a New Zealand kitchen, I hope you have the Edmonds Cookbook1 ;-)


message 11: by Debbie (new)

Debbie (sardonicprincessofcheerfulness) Where abouts in NZ is your kitchen?


message 12: by Toni (new)

Toni (tonivanb) | 115 comments I'm not sure how you feel about some of the darker examples of American literature, but I think "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote could be classified as quintessentially American.


message 13: by Scott (new)

Scott (libraryscoots) | 8 comments I would add a Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and Call of the Wild by Jack London.


message 14: by Helen (new)

Helen | 25 comments Scott, I so agree with your choices of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and the Call of the Wild by Jack London. Classics both of them!!


message 15: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (mkowalewski) | 46 comments I would include Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck in there too...


message 16: by Linda (last edited Sep 05, 2009 12:53PM) (new)

Linda | 2751 comments Mod
oooo, I'm reading that one (Grapes of Wrath) right now. Hopefully, I'll finish it tomorrow. Seems so appropriate for right now, too.


message 17: by Ann (new)

Ann (akingman) | 2097 comments Mod
Grapes of Wrath was the first book that popped into my mind when I read April's original email. Not my favorite book ever, but certainly representative of both a time and a place, and of course written by an icon of American letters.


message 18: by Danelle (new)

Danelle (aladynamedd) | 33 comments Ann wrote: "Grapes of Wrath was the first book that popped into my mind when I read April's original email. Not my favorite book ever, but certainly representative of both a time and a place, and of course wri..."

I Hated that book. I had to read it for AP English when i was a junior in highschool.

But I think Catcher in the Rye, Native Son, Even Anne Rice's Vampire books. Most of them take place in New Orleans.



message 19: by Tara (last edited Sep 23, 2009 04:41PM) (new)

Tara (booksexyreview) | 33 comments What about Faulkner's Collected Stories - he won the Nobel Prize and it's up for The Best of the National Book Awards. :-)

I also think in cookbooks you should include The Moosewood Cookbook by Molly Katzen. It's vegetarian, one of my favorites and so quintessentially American. (Wow! can you believe that's how you spell "quintessential"?!)

Definitely Huck Finn and Moby Dick. I think Grapes of Wrath is the obvious choice - but I actually prefer Travels with Charlie (just to avoid being stereotypical).

And for current authors I'd suggest Michael Chabon - Cavalier & Clay would be his best. And probably something by E.L. Doctorow.

Do you want to include more genre? or Graphic Novels? I'd add Shirley Jackson and Stephen King (The Shining if you are limiting yourself to one King book).



message 20: by Deb (last edited Nov 13, 2009 08:34PM) (new)

Deb | 7 comments I would include -- even though some might consider them minor writers -- West's Miss Lonelyhearts and Day of the Locust. Also, Raymond Chandler really captures California. No one but an American could have written Winesburg, Ohio so I would include that, as well as Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology. Also Willa Cather -- Death for the Archbishop, My Antonia, and The Professor's House. I'd also include John Cheever's short stories. If there is a better story than "The Swimmer" I haven't read it. Also Eudora Welty whom I think of as America's Chekhov. And Flannery O'Connor's short stories (and maybe Wise Blood as well). And since I don't think it is really possible to understand America today without some understanding of the Civil War I will put in a plug here for Edmund Wilson's Patriotic Gore (a survey of the literature of the American Civil War) and Crane's Red Badge of Courage. And for fun? James Thurber. And I'd second the votes above for Kate Chopin, Sarah Orne Jewett and Shirley Jackson.

As far as living writers, i'd have to go with Doctorow (probably his Sweetland Stories) and Roth (American Pastoral or I Married a Communist). Roth is not a great stylist but his passions and preoccupations seem peculiarly American to me.

I'll stop now but what a fun question this was to think about and respond to.


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