22 October 2013

How would you sum up your country in 10 books?

That's right, those are amber waves of grain.
On the most recent episode of The Readers podcast Simon Savidge and I each came up with a list that we thought summed up our respective countries. He made a list of the ten novels which he felt represented Great Britain and I came up with a list of ten novels which I felt represented the U.S. Rather than try and sum up our countries by theme or national characteristics, we decided to represent our countries geographically. (Not surprisingly, doing so did indeed illuminate a national or regional characteristic or two along the way.)

Given the incredibly vast size of the USA I had quite a difficult time narrowing it down to just ten titles. But, since this was my personal list based on my own reading history, I eventually got over the notion that I would even come close to doing AmLit any justice. The other thing that was paramount in my mind as I selected my list, is that I did not want to choose anything too obvious, and I specifically tried to stay away from those grand classics of American literature that every Tom, Dick, and Harry might rattle off the top of their heads. I also made a conscious effort to include "newer" things. A quick glance at my list will show that I didn't do too well on this front. I think only two of them were written this century.

If you want to here more about why I selected the books I did, you will have to listen to the podcast. But my question to you is: If you had to come up with ten books that you think best represent your country, what would they be?

New York - Tepper Isn't Going Out by Calvin Trillin
Photo credit Stuck In a Book
New York - Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

New England - The Magnificent Spinster by May Sarton

Washington, DC - Echo House by Ward Just

The South - Deliverance by James Dickey

Chicago - Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

Midwest - Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Southwest - The Professor's House by Willa Cather

Southern California - A Way of Life, Like Any Other by Darcy O'Brien

Northern California - Tales of the City by Armisted Maupin


  1. I've actually read one! (The Baldwin) I made myself a long library list listening to the podcast. Now I'm going to go see which books I would put on a list. They definitely won't be "recent."

  2. The only one I've read is Tepper (I though "Oh, that's like the photo I took" - then realised it was!) but I plan on reading the May Sarton soon. I think I will give this a go for US and UK, but (as mentioned) it certainly won't be geographical within those countries, cos I'm too ignorant!

  3. Just a note to say how much I am enjoying the podcasts, Thomas! Thanks to Simon and his enthusiasm for Kate Atkinson's 'Life After Life' I've been ignoring all sorts of domestic duties and my husband....this book is excellent!

  4. Had better put some of these on my TBR pile! In the meantime, I have been musing on my ten UK books... Here's what I came up with: http://readingshoesblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/10-books-that-sum-up-britain/

  5. this is a great list re: America. I had forgotten all about Main Street. When I think of America I think of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Maggie Smith as it is a great story of the early immigrant to New York experience. I will save this list as I would love to revisit the ones I have not read on it yet. Great list. Oh, I said that!!

  6. hummmm.... great list, but I think I will have to do a list for the South. We're almost like our own country down here (we still have a fair amount of "south will rise again" sillies, too).

  7. I love your list--I have so many "new" books to read now. \o/

    I definitely would have included Toni Morrison on my list.

  8. Back to say that I've learned a lot about myself trying to come up with an American list - e.g. I appear to never have really read much Am Lit. I thought that was a recent thing, but not according to the records (going back 25+ years!). I'll look forward to seeing Amanda's list of Southern books since I agree with her assessment that we are sort of like our own country down here. ;) I would include The Help on my very short list - not sure about Anne Tyler or Fannie Flagg? The other thing I learned about myself is how many books that I've read that I remember *nothing* about! (hanging head in shame)
    I also am really enjoying the podcasts - kudos to you and Simon.

  9. I've only read The Magnificent Spinster and part of Tales of The City. I don't read much AmLit, but whenever I think of it, I think of John Steinbeck. Not that I've read much of him, too.

  10. I would have to include To Kill a Mockingbird in my southern list, and maybe The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty...But all of my books would not be for adults. I read and admire a lot of children's books.

  11. What an interesting list. I adore Tepper - and must read more of Calvin Trillin. The one that most attracted me was the Darcy O'Brien - I must get a copy of that. Thanks.

  12. Haven't listened to the most recent podcast, but it's obvious I have some reading to do...

  13. Susan: We should have mentioned on the podcast that we would post the lists. Must have been annoying to do all that scribbling.

    Simon: Besides the Sarton I think you might enjoy Main Street and The Professor's House.

    Darlene: I'm not sure how I feel about reading Life After Life.

    Layla: So glad that you joined the fun.

    Pam: I too think of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but my version is by Betty Smith not Dame Maggie. :)

    Amanda: It is a foreign country, one that often makes me a little uncomfortable.

    Heather: I've enjoyed some Morrison but others I have found a little too post-modern for my liking.

    Susan: I started blogging about books because I needed more than just list of titles and authors to remind me of what I had read.

    Michelle: I'm glad that your limited exposure included some May Sarton.

    Kristi: I have read and enjoyed both of those and they both make great candidates to represent the south.

    Gaskella: I think you will love the O'Brien.

    JoAnn: So do I. I haven't read any of Simon's books.

  14. Not everyone in the South is ignorant, and we have a wealth of great literature from which to choose: Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, William Styron, Kate Chopin, Thomas Wolfe, Robert Penn Warren, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, Harper Lee, Truman Capote...too many to name.

  15. Amy: You are absolutely right. On the podcast I talk about the more august writers and books from the south that I didn't choose. But I also think that James Dickey wrote a very smart book. Faulkner is actually too smart for me. I don't have the mind for his books.

  16. Thanks! I'll try to get time to listen. Try Faulkner again; take your time. He's not for everyone, but I love him. I don't think it's an intelligence issue as much as just a matter of taste. I haven't read or seen Deliverance. The premise scares me! Is the book disturbing?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.