2019-07-06 20:58:45 UTC
I've recently made the acquaintance of an economics graduate student
at the university where I spend most of my time. He's from West
Bengal in India, but hopes to do what he's studying as a career, in
the US. Presumably because of this, he's started reading American
books: <The Great Gatsby>, and now he's reading <The Grapes of Wrath>.
Being who I am, I interpreted these statements as a request for
recommendations even though I knew better, and ploughed right in.
First I went for periods, in the "mainstream":
<Adventures of Huckleberry Finn>, 1885 (with the note that he might
want to read <The Adventures of Tom Sawyer>, 1876, first)
<Little Women>, 1868-1869 (but now sometimes published including
sequels dated 1871 and 1886, which I forgot but in any event don't
think he really needed to know)
The late twentieth century bothered me briefly, until I remembered,
um, something big and obvious:
<Native Son>, 1940 (oops as to date)
while allowing as how <The Color Purple>, 1982, which I haven't read,
would probably be a reasonable substitute. He mentioned at this
point that he *had* read <The Bluest Eye> by Toni Morrison (1970),
and intended to read her <Song of Solomon>, 1977, and her famous book,
whose title neither of us remembered at the time (<Beloved>, 1987).
I vaguely mentioned that he should probably try something by someone
like Hawthorne or Thoreau, but didn't think of <The Scarlet Letter>,
1850, and wouldn't have suggested <Moby-Dick>, 1851, if I *had*
thought of it. Back to this period below.
Because the reason I'm posting about this here (well, other than
garrulity) is that I then went on to genres. Now, my criteria here
were that the book had to be hugely famous and still read, *and*
should have some intrinsic American-ness to it. (So even if <Little,
Big> were that kind of famous, at some level it's too British to
qualify. The point of those criteria was that I thought each of his
first two choices served his American culture education in both these
ways - these are books Americans generally have heard of, and many
have read, *and* they say things about America - so anything I
suggested should do the same.)
So for science fiction I saw no alternative to Ray Bradbury,
specifically <The Martian Chronicles>, 1946-1950, first compiled as
such 1950, and <Fahrenheit 451>, 1953.
For fantasy, I was stumped a little while, but finally went with
another children's book, <The Wonderful Wizard of Oz>, 1900.
I tried for mystery, but came up only with two very tentative ideas:
John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee books (though they're hardly
household names), or Poe (a household name, but is Dupin, which I
haven't read, really "American" ?). I see now that I should've
thought of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, but I've read
neither, and am not sure <The Maltese Falcon>, let alone anything of
Chandler's, is really *that* famous.
Having failed on a genre I thought I sorta knew, I didn't try any
Any suggestions on that score, on yet other genres, or the on-topic
ones? I see this guy occasionally, and he's finding <The Grapes of
Wrath> kind of a slog, so there's time.
PS <The Stranger>, now Seattle's only alt-um-biweekly, publishes a
calendar of entertainment events, of course, and for some time now
the first page of that has been devoted to "THE BIG & THE OBVIOUS".
I have a complicated relationship with <The Stranger>, but I sure
like that title.
but they don't seem to use it in the online edition.
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>