Monday, July 4, 2011

76 American Books

I set myself to this task as a way to celebrate my country on its 235th birthday--as traditionally observed to the exclusion of the histories of its earlier inhabitants. For conciseness, I have limited myself to just one work per author. I have also limited myself to the books I have actually read, not just read about or wish I'd read. I gave myself 76 minutes to complete the task, but it took almost two hours.
    I have made no effort to make the list politically correct or canonical. I have welcomed and tolerated my idiosyncrasies in taste--and the limits of my memory. These are the works that shaped my concept of the United States of America, of American writing style, and of myself as an American. These are the American books I measure myself against.

    1. A Death in the Family by James Agee
    2. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
    3. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
    4. The Smallest People Alive by Keith Banner
    5. Snow White by Donald Barthelme
    6. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
    7. Little Big Man by Thomas Berger
    8. Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan
    9. The Wild Boys by William S. Burroughs
    10. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
    11. The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
    12. Bullet Park by John Cheever
    13. Closer by Dennis Cooper
    14. A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham
    15. God Is Dead by Ron Currie Jr.
    16. Apples and Pears and Other Stories by Guy Davenport
    17. An Autobiography by Angela Davis
    18. Underworld by Don DeLillo
    19. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
    20. Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
    21. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
    22. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
    23. American Tabloid by James Ellroy
    24. Light in August by William Faulkner
    25. The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney
    26. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    27. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
    28. Fat City by Leonard Gardner
    29. Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
    30. Second Skin by John Hawkes
    31. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    32. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    33. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
    34. Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran
    35. Dear Mr. President by Gabe Hudson
    36. The World According to Garp by John Irving
    37. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
    38. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    39. Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis
    40. The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
    41. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
    42. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
    43. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
    44. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
    45. Edwin Mullhouse by Steven Millhauser
    46. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    47. Becoming a Man by Paul Monette
    48. The Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody
    49. Beloved by Toni Morrison
    50. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
    51. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
    52. Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O'Hara
    53. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
    54. The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
    55. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
    56. True Grit by Charles Portis
    57. Gain by Richard Powers
    58. City of Night by John Rechy
    59. Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins
    60. Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth
    61. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
    62. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    63. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
    64. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
    65. After Dark, My Sweet by Jim Thompson
    66. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    67. Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal
    68. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
    69. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
    70. All the Kings' Men by Robert Penn Warren
    71. A Worn Path by Eudora Welty
    72. Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
    73. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
    74. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    75. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
    76. Close to the Knives by David Wojnarowicz


    1. Your list - so you take the lumps!(I have 46 of these titles on my shelves, so rest easy). Where is William Gaddis? And Richard Ford? Just asking.....Infinite Jest is my 'desert island book'.....and the subject of endless proseletysing( mostly fruitless) on my part.

    2. Gaddis I like, and probably The Recognitions made an early draft of this list--or perhaps Carpenter's Gothic. But, then, neither is a work that has come to define me or my tastes. Ford belongs to the list of authors I wish I had read (but have yet to bother to read). I made it through Infinite Jest once, so far--given the time, I will reread Proust, the complete 1001 Nights, and then get back to sad, hilarious, brilliant DFW ... someday, I hope.

    3. Please read Ford. "The Lay of the Land" is - effortless. I hate his facility.
      I got through IJ in surges of 40 pages at a time, interspersed with half-paragraphs( which in Proustian style could in fact have occupied 40+ pages) of a minute or so. It took me nigh on 14 months - which I attribute to a childlike refusal to allow the book to end. Proust took 3 years and then another year for the Kilmartin translation. I will return to DFW; Proust only for reference.I read the posthumous work with anger, awe and frustration.....knowing I would never see the riffs develop....
      I know the editor had a tuffy on his hands, but I want A.N. Other to redo "The Pale King". Please.

    4. He is now on my list, docmat. As I write this, Amazon is preparing a package for me containing Everyman's Library's omnibus of the Bascombe trilogy.

    5. I await your opinion with interest. A greater contrast to the Gaddis/DFW/Pynchon (BTW I accept your exclusion of the latter, who is, despite his raging genius, inconsistent) axis could not be imagined. Settle back into the warm water of intellectual middle America. You are safe with Mr. Ford. Or think you are.....



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