Lists of Great Literature usually disappoint me. The temptation to add “important” books, in spite of their obtuseness, drives me nuts. You will not find Ulysses or The Fountainhead on any “Great” list I create. If a book is not enjoyable as a novel, as a Good Read, don’t try to convince me that it is Great. Some books may be notable and significant, but they belong on a different list. Also, if I have not read a book, I have not listed it.
I can’t imagine naming only one single Great American Novel. How can one book encompass our entire history—the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the experience of African-Americans, the experience of Latinos, Baseball, New England, the Deep South, the West? Impossible. So, I have created an utterly subjective list of books I would nominate as the Greatest American Novels. Only one novel per author is listed.
Hemingway is not on the list because his novels take place in Spain, France and Cuba. Other than a bit of being persnickety in my criteria, I would have chosen The Old Man and the Sea.
- A Prayer for Owen Meany—John Irving
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—Betty Smith
- All the King’s Men—Robert Penn Warren
- Bang the Drum Slowly—Mark Harris
- Death Comes for the Archbishop—Willa Cather
- Deliverance—James Dickey
- Fahrenheit 451—Ray Bradbury
- Gone with the Wind—Margaret Mitchell
- Jayber Crow—Wendell Berry
- Lonesome Dove—Larry McMurtry
- Moby Dick—Herman Melville
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—Mark Twain
- The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman—Ernest J. Gaines
- The Call of the Wild—Jack London
- The Chosen—Chaim Potok
- The Color Purple—Alice Walker
- The Grapes of Wrath—John Steinbeck
- The Great Gatsby—F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Jungle—Upton Sinclair
- The Last of the Mohicans—James Fenimore Cooper
- The Red Badge of Courage—Stephen Crane
- The Reivers—William Faulkner
- The Road—Cormac McCarthy
- The Scarlet Letter—Nathaniel Hawthorne
- The Stand—Stephen King
- The Yearling—Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
- Their Eyes Were Watching God—Zora Neale Hurston
- To Kill a Mockingbird—Harper Lee
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin—Harriett Beecher Stowe
What have I omitted that ought to be on the list, in your opinion?