Tuesday, June 26, 2012

List of the Day: Books That Shaped America

The Library of Congress, as part of the National Book Festival (Sept. 22-23 on the National Mall), has released a list of Books That Shaped America. This is a much more interesting list than standard "best" lists because it's based on national influence rather than literary quality or enduring popularity. There are books on the list that I've never even heard of and others that I've never seen on lists before.

From their site --
“This list is a starting point,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books – although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not.”
We hope you will view the list, nominate other titles, and most importantly, choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting America’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage, which the Library of Congress makes available to the world.
Click on the link above to take their survey on which of the 88 books on the list you think have shaped America and to suggest additions to the list.

How many of the books have you read? (20 for me)
What would you add to their list? (immediately I would add O, Pioneers or My Antonia by Willa Cather)
Are there any of these books that you feel you NEED to read? (I should start with something from Benjamin Franklin. I've actually never read any of his own writings.)
What do my non-American readers think about the books on this list?

Thinking about books in a new way,


  1. I went and had a look out of interest and this non-American (from a Commonwealth country, meaning our schooling is more influenced by the UK than the US) has read 9. Or possibly 10 as I can't remember if I've read Uncle Tom's Cabin or not. I tried to read Gone with the Wind once and got totally bogged down by it. I don't think I got very far.

    As for commenting on the list, I just don't think I can. I have no idea how to judge if something influenced America or not. I did recognise a lot (but certainly not all) of the titles as things that I have always assumed are seen as "American Classics" but that doesn't mean I've actually read them.

    Is that of any help or interest at all?

  2. I was proud that I knew two of them by heart (Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are). I thought it was a great list, but some key authors were missing for me -- where was Vonnegut, for example?

  3. Oh … what an eclectic list! I love it! I loved the diversity and the mix of the types of books. Very inspiring to see this list -- they did a good job. I read about 18 or so and plan to read more!

  4. Kerry - I always forget that there are many books that we Americans take for granted as school-age reads that just aren't read as regularly outside the US. I think I was wondering exactly what you stated at the end, that you do see many of the books as "American classics". Sometimes it's hard to judge that sort of thing from the inside.

    Col - Yes, there was no Cather, no Vonnegut -- both authors that I believe were influential to their readers and to future writers and both are distinctly American.

    Jenners - I really liked it too. I liked seeing so many non-standard "list" books. I'll be going through it and adding to my future TBR list.