Cinda contemplated what constitutes great American literature. Not being a professional writer, or a devout classicist, my literary consumption has been mostly popular stuff. Anne Perry, Robert Ludlum, Lois McMaster Bujold, Patrick O'Brian. I have read a couple of her recommendations, especially To Kill a Mockingbird.
No two people being the same, of course I paused to consider what I would recommend, if offering American literature to a foreigner. Something which paints a picture of life in America. How we, as Americans see our self-identity as Americans. Murder mysteries are all well and good, but does one paint a picture of America that is uniquely American? Love stories are popular, but does one demonstrate our idea of romance? Do we even have a monopoly on one flavor of love?
L.A. Confidential is an amazing picture of Los Angeles in 1952. All the glories of Hollywood, police and political corruption, the image that American was trying to give itself after the end of the war. The language used is uniquely American and uniquely 1950s. People don't speak like that any more. Removing the rose colored glasses of the Leave It to Beaver Era.
The Autobiography of Malcom X is a rather interesting picture of a very interesting man. The American dream of going from a nobody in poverty to being important; embracing freedom of religion and then embracing religion in freedom; and, of course, getting killed for bucking the system. A picture of the civil rights movement more likely to make whites uncomfortable than King's.
Atlas Shrugged yields the quintessential self-perception of American Capitalism. This is, of course, not how we practice that economic theory - but it is how Americans idealize it.** The Marlboro Man of Business - this is why Republicans idealize capitalism with utterly no governmental regulation - they think they're Hank Rearden or they're monumentally ignorant and think they're Jimmy Taggart. I read this while in high school & loved it without realizing it was an economic philosophy treatise. [Even at 15 I realized the personal relationship choices of the heroine really left something to be desired.]
Laura Ingall-Wilder's stories surrounding Little House on the Prairie paint a little idylic image of American Imperialist Expansionism in the 19th Century. Being almost-contemporary and written from personal experience, it might be rose-colored, but at least provides a very personal image of how White Euro-Americans look at the westward expansion into the prairies. Leave-It-To-Beaver of the 19th Century. This should be required hand-in-hand with:
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee is non-fiction, so it doesn't qualify as a novel; however, there aren't too many novels written from the point of view of the Indians. This is simply offered as a tool to better appreicate how Wilder's novels reflect the American view at the time which, for the most part, continues today.
** since writing this, the government has totally fucked us, and, boy, I mean fucked us ... and we've screamed for more more more more ...in our socialist economic love-fest. Or that could be our communist love-fest, depending on how in love you are with government buy-outs. What fucktards are running our government? Oh, that's right, the same assholes who are benefiting from all this dumb-ass money distribution (upwards re-distribution, that is) ... but don't let me sound too bitter.
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