Top 5 American Novels



hello happy August it's been a while since I've done a top five video but I am back and very ready to do a top five American novels list America is great right America is this big interesting place and because of that it has this big interesting canon of literature I think for a book to be a capital a capital and the American novel it doesn't just have to be a book written by an American author or it's not just a book set in America but it's a book that says something about America it speaks to a particular period in history and it sort of challenges something maybe there's there's something about it that just goes that little bit further and I think that's what makes some of these novels so long-standing even though they were written quite a while ago so let us jump in no particular order okay number one is on the road by Jack Kerouac first published in 1957 this is a really ugly movie edition of the book on the road is a book that I've adored since the first time I picked it up it is quite hard to get through Kerouac has a very unique style it's mostly autobiographical about Kerouac still in life and it details his journey across America so America is there as a subject matter as a theme but it's also about spirituality and it's about the self I think in American writing particularly by the old white males talking about yourself and thinking about yourself and where you are is an important theme but also just like drugs sex alcohol that kind of thing and it's about finding something freedom in a skip and it's it's on the road and now when this book was first published it really spoke to young people who were stuck in a kind of post-war America and maybe didn't have jobs and felt very locked in other thinkers but continues to speak to people around my age here still figuring life out so good the next book is one that was published in 1868 it is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and this is a children's classic really low kind of vintage edition so this is usually thought of as a children's book and I appreciate that I first read it as a novel not a child but that's okay better late than never and it's about the four March sisters major Bethany EMA and they are growing up during the u.s Civil War so that's a very important historical setting but I just I just adored this book I really adored I adored the sisters it has themes of family and romance and sort of janitor behaviors that are obviously very fixed at that time and Hingis book is more often thought of as a book for girls than a book for America or an American novel but I think it's really important and I think it's really important to include a female author within that really early period of American writing next is the color purple by Alice Walker first published in 1982 I've talked about this book so many times it's one of my all-time favorites published in the 1980s but it's set in the 1930s in the southern States of America and this book is really important to me is an American novel because it gives voice to the experience of an african-american woman living in America at that time pre civil rights movements on the first page the main character Celia is 14 years old and she gets ripped by her father she then gets forced into a marriage with a man who's only ever known as mister and this book is about her life and her hope on her self-worth that's what sisterhood and it's about joy and it's about love it's so important Alice Walker is so important as a black queer author and Celia is so important to me as the characters who definitely read this if you haven't already returning to the white male author we have F scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby first published in 1925 and I have the classic cover this book is arguably the American novel set in the Roaring Twenties the Jazz Age it's about the American dream or challenging the American dream it's about luxury and decadence and excess and disillusion I suppose or it's a really sad love story if you're more into that kind of thing but this book is so important in speaking to America about America the final book I want to mention is a book that I do and what I can't find it so it looks like this it's called Native some written by Richard Wright and first published in 1940 this is another novel by a black writer who gives voice to an african-american 20 year old called bigger thomas bigger lives in Chicago and like complete poverty but ends up getting a job with a white family then he commits a really really really violent crime and the rest of the story is just about how the end is inevitable because of beggar and him being a product of his environment and his upbringing and so crime and punishment for him are sort of shaped by this racial impoverished life that he has led thus far I hope that sort of does justice to the story of date of son because I really do love that book it sparked a lot of controversy continues to Richard Wright was a really interesting character as a man and I've been meaning to read more of his stuff but it's a really shocking book and it's really shocking when you remember that it was written in 1940 so it's so much before what we think of is like the civil rights movement period so it presents a very unflattering but probably a very realistic portrayal of America so those are my top five American novels right now obviously I have a lot more books to read so it's not definitive and I did just finish a wonderful wonderful book called stoner by John Williams that I mentioned months the months ago that I've been made to read I finally did read it and they loved it links to all the books I mentioned will be in the description you can check them out or if you've already read them let me know let's have a little talk if you think of them as American novels or our futures think of them as novel novels anyway Sunday summer in the city if you're going to summer in the city in London there's a booktube panel at 1:00 p.m. on sunday and i will be there i'll be speaking on it I'll be around on Saturday and Sunday to talk to you about books for other things or nothing long ad I hope to see you there that would be cool I will see you very soon thank you for watching good bye check out my bravery t-shirt years for only ten vines I am finally ready to sit down and do one of my most requested videos from the past few months and let us talk about my dissertation

50 thoughts on “Top 5 American Novels

  1. You seem obsessed with identity. Shouldn't the aesthetic quality of a book matter more that the fact that the author was a white male?

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  3. I would agree with Gatsby but my list would look somewhat different. I would consider putting a little known novel like Stoner by John Williams or the better known East of Eden by Steinbeck. I'd seriously consider something by Ray Bradbury, maybe Dandelion Wine. His writing is often times pure poetry and pure Americana. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is one of the most impressive, if not equally infuriating, novels I've read. I might even put Warlock by Oakley Hall, which is a wonderful American western I believe is even better than McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, or the great novel by the aforementioned John Williams, Butcher's Crossing. For horror, I would likely put The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. It is a quiet masterpiece.
    I know most people would put To Kill a Mockingbird but, as good as it is, I don't feel it is one of the best.
    For war, I have to go with Michael Shaara's incredible novel The Killer Angels, about the Battle of Gettysburg. Compared to this, The Red Badge of Courage seems almost trite.
    For SF, nothing will top Earth Abides by George Stewart, a moving novel of an America ravaged by a plague that decimates all but a few. Many will find it much like Stephen King's The Stand, though I feel it is far superior and certainly more satisfying. King even acknowledged it did influence him.
    Anyways, thank you for your list and your video. Very well done!

  4. As an American: great job! You've picked some fantastic examples, and I think you're correct that great American novels are challenging in that they challenge aspects of society. I appreciate this. Would you be able to do this with Irish literature? (Perhaps you already have, I haven't poked through your whole channel.)

  5. I loved Stoner and Gatsby very much. If you want a few other suggestions for American books that left me feeling similarly: A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines (I wept, just wept).  Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, and Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote. All fairly short books by the way. And even though this next suggestion takes place mostly outside of U.S. I loved The Talented Mr. Ripley (so much better than the movie) by American author Patricia Highsmith (written in the 50's; such an amazing look into a shattered psychopath's mind).  

    Also, as for Gatsby, besides the themes of old money / new money, decadence, and the pre-depression American gluttony, I found something that made me go back and read it again, twice more in the same week.  Sorry hope this doesn't get too long, and maybe I'm not the first person to follow this path but I rarely see it mentioned, but when I got to the scene where Tom follows Mr. McKee in to the elevator lift, and then cut to him in McKee's room, and then in Penn Station… I thought 'what? what's going on here?'. That led me to a search on the internet trying to figure out what I was missing. Anyway for anyone who is interested, I found two papers written that helped explain this scene and a lot more about many of the characters and symbolism in The Great Gatsby. THIS kind of depth in a book is what really gets me excited.

    The Sexual Drama of Nick and Gatsby:
    https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/IFR/article/view/14120/15202

    Jordan Baker, Gender Dissent, and Homosexual Passing in The Great Gatsby:
    https://www.monmouth.edu/the_space_between/articles/MaggieFroehlick2010.pdf

  6. I totally agree with your choices, I absolutely love those books! Have you read "These is my words" and "The Things They Carried"? Those are also some of my favorites.

  7. I first read little women when I was about 10 and it really just resonated with me. It was the first book of that style which I had ever read (and still is one of the only books of that style which I've read) but I really appreciate it and the characters are wonderful and I just love it ^_^

  8. Your list is great! There are ones I would have swapped in/swapped out for a top five, but all of those are definitely worthy of being at the top tier of novels about the United States. If I were to include others, it would be The Grapes of Wrath, The Jungle, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Scarlet Letter, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I have also heard about the importance of Gone With the Wind (positively and negatively) and also Moby-Dick; yet, I haven't read them or studied them so I can't really say much of them.

    Most if not all of these are criticisms of the United States in some way. I would almost say that The Grapes of Wrath is a spiritual sequel to The Great Gatsby. The Great Gatsby is about glitz, glam, the high life, and the American Dream. The Grapes of Wrath is about how that brought us to the brink of despair, and how hard it is for anyone to ever again attain that American Dream, no matter how hard you fight for it. Both are really engaging for modern Americans, because both books may be set in the past, but they're more relevant than ever. The 1920s in Gatsby could easily be the 1980s, 90s, and the early 2000s. The Grapes of Wrath is relevant for anyone living in the US after 2008.

    The Scarlet Letter shows our less than desirable history, from a writer who himself is directly related to the tragedies. Huck Finn, Mockingbird, Tom's Cabin, and Caged Bird all deal with race relations. Uncle Tom's Cabin is typically seen as being one of the ten steps that led to the Civil War.

    The Jungle is a look at how the US treats immigrants, while also analyzing the awful nature of the meatpacking business of the time. Despite being pretty obvious Socialist propaganda, it has some really thrilling parts that really made an impact on the US.

  9. I think To Kill A Mockingbird should be in there somewhere. It is a wonderful book that I think does a very good job of representing America in that time.

  10. Have you read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? I think you may enjoy it. It is very American. It speaks a lot to finding yourself and spiritually. It is a book I find myself reading when I am feeling low and lost. ☺

  11. Good list! It would be interesting to have a list for each voice in America, because there are so many disparate ones. I've read a lot of novels on the immigrant experience, but not so many about Native Americans, for example. Any suggestions?

  12. We have the same ugly copy of On The Road! I also adore The Colour Purple. And ooh, I just read Wright's 'Black Boy' and I've been wanting to pick up Native Son ever since. I would definitely recommend Black Boy!

  13. I'm starting English Literature A Level in September, so over this holiday I'm reading To Kill A Mockingbird (I never got to do it for GCSE) and then I have three Virginia Woolf texts to read! I'm really excited

  14. I recently read Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides and it is one of my favorite books of all time, and was thinking "THIS is a great American novel."

  15. In my class we thought perhaps This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby were connected and that Gatsby was a sort of continuation of the protagonist in This Side of Paradise. They are written about a very similar outlook on life. I like the books that you chose, they do give a really interesting outlook on the US. Some of my favorite US books though are well researched historical fiction stories based in the New York society that was overwhelmed with the high immigration rate. I especially enjoy those that take place in the Yiddish neighborhoods post WW2. It just very interesting to really see from the perspective of an immigrant how the US was largely built on immigrants from numerous parts of the world.

  16. "Moby Dick" [Melville], "Naked Lunch" [Burroughs], "Gravity's Rainbow" [Pynchon], "Go Tell It on the Mountain" [Baldwin], "Franny and Zooey" [Salinger].

  17. I only got myself to read The Great Gatsby recently as a part of my university's summer class. I loved reading through the book and getting deep into the characters. I don't know if I'm in the minority, but I thought the title described Gatsby in a misleading way and that Nick wasn't such a great person compared to other characters either. Still, those thoughts didn't detract me one bit from losing myself in it. I wonder what kind of impression it would've made on me had I read it at an earlier age, but better late than never.

  18. To me, I find that The Great Gatsby is still really relevant and important to today's society and our view of the American dream

  19. A Favourite of mine has always been Truman Capote's 'Breakfast at Tiffanys'. It is a little darker than the film, and while not directly doing a head on examination of america, it does have its moments. The examination of Holly golightly as a hedonistic girl in a soceity that encourages these traits, is fascinating. It also looks at things like the nature of love and what that is, Isolation, Appearance vs Reality. Its a relatively easy read and probably wont have any profound affect on your life, but really worth a read if you have the time 🙂

  20. Do you ever read Wattpad stories or have you considered uploading anything to a story-sharing website like it? Sorry it's not about American literature:)

  21. The more of your videos I watch, the more it becomes apparent that we have quite different taste in books. I don't mind that Kerouac one, but it didn't think it was great and I hate Gatsby. Nevertheless I love listening to what you have to say. You've got that gift of being genuinely interesting x

  22. I've only read Gatsby and Little Women of those. The Colour Purple is in my house but I for some reason have never read it. I probably will now though! I also think, like most people here, that To Kill A Mockingbird should have been mentioned. A book I would have also included in this list is American Gods by Neil Gaiman; it's a really really really good book that you should definitely read if you haven't read it.

  23. I have such an emotional attachment to the great gatsby, I can read it and read it and never get bored. The writing is soooo romantic and the words sound so pretty on my tongue when I say them out loud. I became so familiar with the characters – I mean I hated them all .. Nearly but still! – and it's so close to my heart. I feel like I can't tell people it's one of my favourite books because I did it in school and it makes me come across as trying to sound smart by saying one of the only classics I've read! Need to read the color purple.

  24. I love The Great Gatsby. It's my favourite book of all time (I love it even more than I love Harry Potter :O  ) 
    When I turn 18 I'll get "boats against the current" and a little paper boat tattooed on my wrist. 🙂

  25. I finished On the Road on the plane today and completely agree, a great depiction of a certain type of american from the time…it also made me crave a road trip. The other books on this list are also fab, although I haven't read Native Son so will look into that. If you want my personal favourite american novel, I would recommend East of Eden by John Steinbeck as a great portrayal of the intricate personalities in families 🙂 love your videos!

  26. Little Women is one of my favourite books of all time. it reminds me of my childhood and growing up. We didn't have many books in my house so I just read this over and over again.

  27. Yaaay the Great Gatsy! I really wish I had more time to read. When I have time I'm definitely going to just refer to this list for inspiration 🙂

  28. Ok, here it is. These are the most representative of my favourites (or my favourites among the most representative):
    1) The Color Purple – as you said, and I said: really really important (and also Shug’s discourse towards the end of the book “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it” etc. is of a rare profoundness);
    2) The Grapes of Wrath – crucial in times of immigration, and so always relevant to the US (bonus point: one of the most beautiful endings I’ve ever read);
    3) Infinite Jest – ok this is contemporary but David Foster Wallace really put the American spirit into writing here. Mostly the negative aspects, but honestly those are the ones that I think about when I think about America: the consumerism, the race to be and have more, the capitalism (it’s set in the near future, where the years are sponsored so you’re not in, say, 2034, you’re in the Year of Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster). Definitely one of my favourite novels;
    4) To Kill a Mockingbird – if this isn’t American I don’t know what is;
    5) I’m going to put a children book as well, one of the ones I’ve read and reread many times: Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl. It talks of freedom, but the good kind of freedom, the freedom to be who you are and never mind the others. It was incredibly important to me growing up! 

    And can I mention Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges? It’s non-fiction, but goddammit it’s such a great analysis of how America (but really it goes for all the western countries) is manipulated and shaped by the media. It’s quite scary and revolting at some points (there’s a chapter on pornography that I couldn’t read I felt so sick), but it’s eye-opening.
    Well that was a long comment. If you haven't read some of the ones I mentioned, I heartily suggest them all! Good night dear xx

  29. I was wondering if anyone could help recommend a book on mental health for my coursework? I am already using one flew over the cuckoo's nest, but I need a good book to compare it to, thanks 🙂

  30. If you liked native son, you should read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. My first college english class covered this novel, and it's become one of my favorites. Ellison wrote this novel before the civil rights movement, and it highlights black culture and experience in the northern united states at the time. Often people think of the north as being heaven for people of color, and this novel rips that idea apart and shows how prejudiced people were everywhere. You should also read Black Boy by Richard Wright if you haven't already 🙂

  31. I really like your top five, unfortunately I haven't read The color Purple and Native Son yet, but I really love the others; I would have chosen To Kill a Mockingbird over Little women (I liked Little Women but don't consider it by no means a masterpiece)

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