Twenty-Five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identity

Twenty-Five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identity

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by Thomas C. Foster
     
 

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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 atSee more details below

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Works of imaginative literature from American writers are Foster's choice for his "Great Books" list. Despite stilted language, Foster says, Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans makes the cut because Cooper shows us what a real, sprung-from-the-soil American hero looks like, and because it gave us the first mixed-race buddy story—a notable achievement in a racist time. Foster (How to Read Literature Like a Professor) doesn't much like The Scarlet Letter, but includes it because of Hawthorne's discerning eye for folly, hypocrisy, redemption, and our capacity for error. Walden's importance is about being that still point in the turning world; with Moby-Dick, Melville proves himself America's avatar of complex, even mad narrative; and The Great Gatsby is the most devastating portrait of capitalism run wild in Roaring 20s New York. Among the titles rounding out the list are Leaves of Grass, Huck Finn, My Antonia, The Cat in the Hat, On the Road, Song of Solomon, and Love Medicine. Foster tries to balance the list with women and African-American and Latino writers, though the classic canon and much of the list is predictable. But Foster is a witty, quirkily provocative and perceptive literary critic. (June)
Janice A. Radway
“Funny, challenging, clear, and always insightful, this intriguing book will make you think again about what it means to be an American.”
Library Journal
Foster (English, Univ. of Michigan, Flint: How To Read Literature like a Professor) is quick to admit that selecting just 25 books to discuss how they helped shape and define a nation is "obviously insane," but he writes that these 25 are simply to be illustrative, not definitive. If you can get past how arbitrary this all seems, Foster's actual writing—breezy, smart, and funny—is a pleasure if a bit too cute. For example, he admits that he would prefer to write about The House of the Seven Gables ("it has a character named Hepzibah, and how often does one of those come along?") over The Scarlet Letter, but "all the world thinks otherwise," so discusses the latter. Nonetheless, Foster's chapters, which include overviews of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Little Women, My Antonia, The Crying of Lot 49, and Song of Solomon, may make you want to read, or reread, the books themselves. Foster concludes by briefly mentioning 15 additional books. VERDICT The book is a delight to read, but the author is not brave in his choices and doesn't take any stands. Not for scholars, but entertaining enough that people familiar with the titles may well enjoy it as much as readers new to many of the books covered.—William D. Walsh, Georgia State Univ., Atlanta
Kirkus Reviews

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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061834400
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
05/24/2011
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
403,599
Product dimensions:
7.84(w) x 5.38(h) x 0.84(d)

What People are saying about this

Janice A. Radway

“Funny, challenging, clear, and always insightful, this intriguing book will make you think again about what it means to be an American.”

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