Twenty-Five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identityby Thomas C. Foster
Thomas C. Foster, acclaimed author of the phenomenal bestseller How to Read Literature Like a Professor, returns with a hugely entertaining appreciation of twenty-five works of literature that have greatly influenced the American identity. In a delightfully informative, often wry manner, Twenty-Five Books that Shaped America looks closely at/em>/em>… See more details below
Thomas C. Foster, acclaimed author of the phenomenal bestseller How to Read Literature Like a Professor, returns with a hugely entertaining appreciation of twenty-five works of literature that have greatly influenced the American identity. In a delightfully informative, often wry manner, Twenty-Five Books that Shaped America looks closely at important literary classics that are true national treasures. From The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, and Huckleberry Finn through Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, Twenty-Five Books that Shaped America examines masterpieces of the written word that have greatly influence what we are as a people and a nation.
A genial guide to American literature from the bestselling author ofHow to Read Literature Like a Professor(2003) andHow to Read Novels Like a Professor(2008).
Call this oneHow to Read the American Myth Like a Professor. For his 25 selections, Foster (English/Univ. of Michigan, Flint) gravitates toward texts that bolster the folksier conception of Americans: rough-hewn, individualistic, fun-loving but concerned about family, full of prejudices but generally assimilating. Those familiar themes are underscored by the familiar books included here:The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,Leaves of Grass,The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn andThe Adventures of Augie Marchare sacred texts of freewheeling independence;WaldenandMy Antoniaare praise songs to nature and the heartland;Go Down, Moses, On the Road andThe Crying of Lot 49showcase the wildness of American experimentalism. Foster doesn't mean to simplify these texts: In the better essays, he reveals Melville's complicated moral territory and the politics that pushed John Dos Passos' epic U.S.A. trilogy out of favor. When the author dedicates himself to close reading, as he does in chapters on Faulkner and Robert Frost, he unlocks plenty of insights. But with roughly 10 pages devoted to each classic, Foster is forced to generalize about the importance of each, making for bromides and upbeat interpretations. For instance, when he says a key message ofThe Grapes of Wrathis that "people can be generous and supportive and decent and even civic-minded when the profit motive is absent," he's not wrong, but he's softening a novel that throws hard elbows at the profit motive. Many readers will wish they had a high-school English teacher as cheery and engaged as Foster, but that doesn't make his choices feel any less outdated. He includesThe Last of the Mohicanseven though he admits that it's a slog, and the most recent book on the list, Louise Erdrich'sLove Medicine, was published more than 25 yeas ago.
A too-polite American Lit 101 primer.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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