Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Books That Shaped America

Unruly Reader examined this Library of Congress list in her latest post.  When I saw that we felt the same about some books, I was delighted.  When I saw our differences, I wondered if it's because Bybee is Bybee and Unruly is Unruly, or because I'm in the homesick segment of that never-ending cycle known as culture shock and I'm seeing everything through a nostalgic haze.  Anyway, like Unruly, I'm a list fiend, and that's the best reason to take this one on.  I wish we could have Siskel-and-Eberted this.  Maybe another time.  Also like Unruly, if I have read the book, I put the title, author, year and my impressions in boldfaced type.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
I love Mark Twain so much, but the later Tom Sawyer chapters in this novel made me want to crack him upside his lovely white head with Aunt Sally's thimble. Next time I read it, I'll catapult from the "All right, I'll go to Hell" section to the last chapter and see how it reads. I predict it'll flow like the mighty Mississippi.

Alcoholics Anonymous by anonymous (1939)
I don't have any reason to read this book since I'm not really a drinker, but enough of it has permeated our culture to make me aware of the twelve steps.

American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796)
Was this our first cookbook?  I'd love to read it. Which recipes have survived to the present day?  I enjoy the way cookbooks were written before Fannie Farmer took them in hand and got all rigid and precise with measurements. Wow, it's available for free at Amazon. Click! Kindle time!!!

The American Woman's Home by Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1869)
Post- Civil War household hints, a genre that is my guilty pleasure,  no matter what era.  Also free on Amazon.  I click again, and feel so powerful, sitting here in my slovenly apartment.

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts (1987)
Yes, I need to read this book.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)
Back in 2005, I had the feeling that I couldn't be complete as a bookworm unless I read this novel. I got a few chapters in and realized that I was wrong. After glaring at my abandoned copy for several days, I finally threw it out the window. I'm not sorry. In fact, I wish Ayn Rand were still alive so I could call her up and yell at her.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965)
I've got to read this, but I keep shying away from it.  I don't know why.

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
There's so much power in Morrison's Pulitzer prizewinning novel, but it's a little too Faulknerian for me to like it very much.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (1970)
I've had a couple of copies of this book, and I can't seem to make any headway into it. I noticed that Unruly has similar problems with it.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
I read this in one hungry gulp back in 2000. I'm very fond of Jack London's work.

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (1957)
This book scared the shit out of me when I was in first grade. I was so worried that the mother was going to come home while the house was still in disorder and beat the kids for letting the Cat come in while she was gone. There's even a picture of her foot inside the door and the place is still a wreck.  I could hardly be persuaded to turn the page and see that everything turned out OK.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
I've tried and tried with this book.  Really, I have.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)
In retrospect, I might have been trying too hard to be Edgy Mom when I introduced this book to my son the summer he was 14. It's remained one of his favorites. As for me, Holden seems less cool and more pathetically vulnerable as time goes on, but I still laugh myself silly at his scathing review of the movie he goes to with Sally Hayes.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (1952)
It's Some Book.  Terrific, too, and also Radiant.  I could read this with the same amount of regularity that Templeton visits Wilbur's trough and never get tired of it.

Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)
Thomas Paine wrote so persuasively about why and how we should separate from England that he nearly put his neck in a noose.  Oh good!  This one is also free on Amazon!

The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock (1946)
I tried to read and memorize this whole book in the months before my son was born.  I thought I should. Finally, my mother pointed out to me that it was meant to be a reference book.

Cosmos by Carl Sagan (1980)
Science left me cold when I was younger, but I wouldn't mind giving this book a try now.

A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible by anonymous (1788)
Oh, it's a Bible with rebuses made from wood engravings!  A part of early American Children's Literature I was unaware of. Squeee!

The Double Helix by James D. Watson (1968)
I thought this was a science book, but it's more of a memoir, which makes it definitely OK with me!

The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams (1907)
This autobiography looks like hard work, but damn! What a family tree!

Experiments and Observations on Electricity by Benjamin Franklin (1751)
Probably not going to read it, but I like to imagine farmers and townsfolk reading it by candlelight and puzzling over Franklin's experiments and observations.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury  (1953)
I've got this and have come close to reading it several times, but something always distracts me.

Family Limitation by Margaret Sanger (1914)
Birth-control pioneer. I remember reading that was really fired her up on this lifelong cause was her mother being pregnant about 20 times and dying at a relatively early age because of female trouble.

The Federalist by anonymous/ thought to be Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1787)
I think I had to read this in a Government class a long time ago.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)
I've never read this.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (1963)
Is this about civil rights?  It's interesting that there are three writers on this list that gave up on America and spent the rest of their lives as expatriates.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940)
Although this book is set in Spain, it seems the most American of Hemingway's books because Robert Jordan is a man on a mission.  He falls in love, but never loses sight of the job he must do.  He's the prototype of the lone cowboy.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell  (1936)
There's so much to love about this book including the Becky Sharp-ish heroine and the antihero whose dialogue and cool wisecracks made him resemble a Hammett character.  There's also the beguiling open ending, but what really resonated for those first readers was that Reconstruction = The Great Depression.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (1947)
I prefer The Runaway Bunny, myself.

A Grammatical Institute of the English Language by Noah Webster (1783)
I like to imagine Noah Webster being such a crochety SOB who hates the English so bad that he doesn't want to sound or even spell like them.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
This isn't my favorite Steinbeck novel, but it definitely belongs on this shelf.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
This goes beautifully with the Horatio Alger choice.

Harriet, the Moses of Her People by Sarah H. Bradford (1901)
I'm so pleased that I'm becoming acquainted with so many free books. Tubman is a fascinating person.

The History of Standard Oil by Ida Tarbell  (1904)
If memory serves, this is an expose. Wasn't Tarbell a muckraker?

History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis (1814)
So THAT'S why Lewis' name always comes first!

How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis (1890)
I'm drawing a blank: The other half of what?

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)
I don't mind the 'win friends' part, but the 'influence people' part of the title has always put me off of reading this book.  It feels like so much slick salesmanship to me.

Howl by Allen Ginsberg (1956)
What I want is to have already read it without actually having to read it. I wish I could just hold out my arm and get a literary transfusion.

The Iceman Cometh by  Eugene O'Neill (1946)
I went through a stage when I was really attracted to Eugene O'Neill's writing, thanks to one of my high school classmates, but I haven't read this one.

Idaho: A Guide in Word and Pictures by Federal Writers' Project (1937)
I am sure that this was done with great quality and taste. That being said, I can only think of the B-52s: "You're living in your own private Idaho; underground like a wild potato -- don't go on the patio...get out of that state! Get out of that state you're in..."

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
This book will always give me a shiver, partly because of the horror and waste and partly because of the unsettling combination of the gritty material and Truman Capote's beautiful, delicate writing.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)
This stares at me reproachfully from my TBR shelf.

Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer (1931)
I really want to read this cookbook, too. I wonder if my mom has ever read it?  She'll tear through a cookbook the way the rest of us tear through a novel.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)
I took American History one summer in high school, and the teacher assured the class that some of the descriptions were stomach-turning.  I found a copy at the library and was enjoyably grossed-out and eager to read aloud to my friends.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855)
I haven't read much Whitman, but I like him because he seems so jolly and inclusive.  I also like his quote about baseball.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820)
This choice reflects our strong Dutch/German heritage, our love of ghost stories, of love triangles, of a well-played prank and our impudence about pedagogues, since the goat is Ichabod Crane, the hapless schoolmaster.

Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
I love Little Women so much, it's almost primal. I try not to think of those horrid sequels, nor the 1949 version of the movie.

Mark, the Match Boy by Horatio Alger Jr. (1869)
It really wouldn't take long for me to plug this gap in the wall of my American Literature knowledge.  I'm glad to see so much Children's Literature represented on this list.

McGuffey's Newly Revised Eclectic Primer by William Holmes McGuffey (1836)
Laura and Mary studied at home with Ma out of a McGuffey's Primer!  I'd love to get my hands on one.

Moby-Dick; or The Whale by Herman Melville (1851)
It took even longer than it took Ahab to find the white whale for me to finally appreciate this book, but now I love it.

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (1845)
 Whoops! I almost forgot to turn on the wireless and let all the free Kindle books download.

Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)
This novel was so harsh, so searing. It was like having my face forced close to a roaring fire.

New England Primer by anonymous (1803)
I'd like to see a copy of this as well.  It's the teacher in me.

New Hampshire
by Robert Frost (1923) 
I'm assuming that this one has all the greatest hits.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
What attracts people to this book? Kerouac portrays Dean Moriarty like he's some kind of moron.

Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women's Health Book Collective (1971)
I usually shy away from books like this, but I do appreciate sharp, intelligent, informative writing.

Our Town: A Play by Thornton Wilder (1938)
I had a minor part in this play when I was in high school, and I still have a copy of my script that's underlined and annotated with stage directions.

Peter Parley's Universal History by Samuel Goodrich (1837)
 Oh cool! More Children's Lit!

Poems by Emily Dickinson (1890) 
The great thing about Emily Dickinson is that her poems can be sung to different tunes and they fit the meter perfectly.  This makes for some fun drunken English major outings.

Poor Richard Improved and The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin (1758)
This is the quintessential Ben.

Pragmatism by William James (1907)

The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D. by Benjamin Franklin (1793)
Someone at the LOC is a big Franklin fan.

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)
Considering that Crane was never on a battlefield, this is a remarkable book.

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
This novel reminded me of the plot of so many modern action movies, complete with the high body count.  As far as Hammett goes, I prefer The Maltese Falcon.

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey (1912)
I found this book confusing, because of the presence of villainous Mormons. Didn't make sense. Then I read Under The Banner of Heaven.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
Arthur Dimmesdale is such a weak, annoying character that it's hard to believe that he ever had the drive to knock boots with Hester Prynne.

Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred C. Kinsey (1948)
I saw the movie with Liam Neeson.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
I need to read this.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)
A wise choice.  A tip of the hat to African-American and Children's Literature.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois (1903)
I wonder if Richard Wright was influenced by Du Bois.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929)
I know it's terrible, but if I had to choose between reading Faulkner and being a non-reader, well...it would be a hard call.

Spring and All by William Carlos Williams (1923)
I didn't realize William Carlos Williams was writing back in the 1920s. His work seems so modern in its minimalism.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert E. Heinlein (1961)
Never got past the first sentence.

A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks (1945)
The only poem I'm familiar with by Brooks is "We Real Cool", but I think she wrote it after this collection came out.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (1947)
If there is ever a list of definitive clothing in literature, Stanley Kowalski's undershirt would have to be at the top of that list.

A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America by Christopher Colles (1789)
I'm gathering that this is a fairly short book.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1914)
I'm wondering why this book is on the list.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
Tribute had to be paid to Hurston, who was also a great ethnographer.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

A Treasury of American Folklore by Benjamin A. Botkin (1944)
I'm kind of curious about this one.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)
I'll never forget Francie's mother's advice about how to handle groping perverts on the subway.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
History and literature meet up here, but I'm not sure I could read this book. I have an impression that it's dated and full of cliched stock characters.

Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader (1965)
I'm old enough to remember some of these cars from my early childhood.

Walden; or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
Simplify, simplify, simplify!

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes (1925)
I'm fond of Hughes' poetry and happy to see him on this list.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)
More Children's Lit!  Is the LOC deliberately trying to maintain our image as a young country? Let the wild rumpus start!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)
I read this book when I was in elementary school.  I enjoyed it, but didn't really feel like continuing with the sequels. It definitely belongs on this list.

The Words of Cesar Chavez by Cesar Chavez (2002)
Cesar Chavez is an immensely important figure, but this selection feels a little forced.  It feels like a token nod to Hispanics, a counterbalance to The Grapes of Wrath and a concerted effort to get something from the 21st century onto the list.


Jeane said...

Love Jack London, too. Your assessment of Cat in the Hat made me laugh. When me kid was younger, she just giggled at it. Now that she's older she always points out to me all the things the cat does wrong, and especially that the kids let him in the house at all! I never made much headway with Catch-22 either. I've tried twice. Love Catcher in the Rye. You really should try Farenheit 451 again, it's great. I read the Feminine Mystique once, but don't think I ever will again. Lots of food for thought there, though. I prefer the Runaway Bunny, too, although Goodnight Moon is one of my toddler's current favorites. I couldn't read In Cold Blood. Just couldn't. The Jungle enthralled and horrified me. I never read Red Badge of Courage yet but my sister tells me it's good. Silent Spring is great, but some of the incidents she described still give me the shivers to think about. Babies playing on the floor after cleaners were used, dead the next day. Along with the family dog. My dad loves Faulkner, but I can't make head or tails of his writing. Get so lost. Stranger in a Strange Land was a tough one. I don't think I'll read that again. I loved Tree Grows in Brooklyn but don't recall that bit of advice. And I've read it three or four times. You make me want to read it once again just to search for that line! Some of the Oz sequels were fun, but none as good as the first. I read about half a dozen of them.

Don't know why I felt compelled to respond so to this list, and I didn't even remark on half the books I've read, but that was fun!

Kathleen said...

Great list! Please do read And the Band Played On. I just recently checked it out of the library for a reread. It's a riveting account of how the AIDs epidemic began and was ignored. A brilliant book that I hope you will like too!

Carrie K said...

Our Bodies, Our Selves. I remember being really, really squicked out by this book.

Poor William James! Less prose-y than his brother, at least.

Anonymous said...

The Dale Carnegie book is mentioned in my current read (Quiet). I'm holding Carnegie personally responsible for the rise in the importance of Personality and being an extrovert (the author gives him a lot of blame, too). So he's on my shit list.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

What an incredible list! I'm so glad you shared this. Now I want to read them all.

Unruly Reader said...

Hi Bybee! I confess I'm most fascinated by the titles where we disagree...

Your comments on Ayn Rand and Zane Grey made me bust up laughing. The annotations are most Blue-Hearted, thank goodness.