America. The American Dream. Uncle Sam. Rapacious capitalism. An impossible yearning to own and know everything. The North/South divide. Slavery. Race. Oil. Music. Culture. Literature. The Beat Generation. Kerouac. Ginsberg. Steinbeck. Whitman. Hemingway. Twain. Are these just factions, individual, separate identities – or are they part of a greater whole? What that whole might be? Broadly, we might say they are elements of American culture – or, more specifically, of American Literature. But what exactly is American Literature? What is it about? Where is it? Who is it? How is it?
Of course, there is no single, simple answer here. But the suggestions and ideas and answers that we do have will inevitably be very different from within the United States and outside. Asking yourself how others see you, however, is a healthy exercise of any culture, and US books site Literary Hub has done precisely that. In order to celebrate American Independence Day, the site invited non-American authors to offer their thoughts and musings on American literature – and suggest what they saw as being the most quintessential American fiction titles.
From the responses they received – from almost 50 writers, editors, agents and publishers from over 30 countries – Literary Hub have compiled a list of 96 titles. It is a fascinating list, with the most cited writers being William Faulkner, Herman Melville, JD Salinger, F Scott Fitzgerald, and Mark Twain.
The subjects at the heart of these books, in theory, reflect how the rest of the world sees America and its Literature. They include the Vietnam War, the Great Depression, and the ‘Great American Road Trip’. They speak of “disillusionment” and “loneliness”; of “cheerful melancholy and demonic rage”, “Drugs”, “competitive sports”, “wild capitalism”, and “blood”.
Please do take a look at the full list to see all the suggested fiction titles.