Please recommend some American Classics for me!

(27 Posts)
CSLewis Sun 18-Nov-12 17:33:01

I love reading, studied English Language and Literature at University, but have somehow managed to escape almost the entire American literary canon. Not interested in anything post-1950 (at the moment), but would really appreciate some recommendations, and brief synopses if possible, of your favourite American classic novels, 19th century onwards.
Thanks in advance smile

UptoapointLordCopper Sun 18-Nov-12 17:37:56

The Maltese Falcon. Top novel. And classic.

TheMysteryCat Sun 18-Nov-12 17:38:18

Anything by f Scott Fitzgerald or John Steinbeck. Both were experts in observing the human condition; very lyrical writing and gritty stories, that all have wArm yet flawed characters.

NotInMyDay Sun 18-Nov-12 17:39:07

Catch 22 is my all time favourite book!

ClareMarriott Sun 18-Nov-12 19:13:47

The grapes of wrath by John Steinbeck

Agree re anything by John Steinbeck. GoW and Winter of Discontent are my favourites.

iseenodust Mon 19-Nov-12 11:59:16

YY to Grapes of Wrath and also the less well known To A God Unknown.
Not fond of Fitzgerald.
To kill a mockingbird.
Bend your own rule and read One flew over the cuckoos nest.

donnie Mon 19-Nov-12 12:02:20

East of Eden and the Grapes of Wrath are books you need to read before you die IMO (both Steinbeck).

Anything by Toni Morrison but especially Jazz, Paradise and Beloved.

I like Don de Lillo but he's not for everyone. Underworld is amazing.

Waspie Mon 19-Nov-12 12:04:17

The Great Gatsby & Tender is the Night

To Kill a mockingbird - Harrper Lee

not canon but "Gone with the Wind" is an american classic, as is anything by Hemingway (although not my cup of tea)

Catch 22 is my favourite book too NotInMyDay, it's a brilliant novel.

For poetry don't forget Emily Dickinson.

Once you get post 50's OP, Toni Morrison is fantastic grin

Poledra Mon 19-Nov-12 12:05:59

Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

mimbleandlittlemy Mon 19-Nov-12 17:42:00

You should definitely look at Edith Wharton - The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome. There's also plenty of Henry James, with whom I have a mixed relationship but there's masses of 'em - The Ambassadors, The Bostonians, Washington Square, What Maisie Knew, Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl, Wings of A Dove etc, etc.

F Scott Fitzgerald definitely, early Ernest Hemingway. William Maxwell just creeps over your 1950 limit but there's a beautiful book of his called The Chateau (written in 1961) which it's worth slightly pushing out your time frame for.

Poledra Mon 19-Nov-12 22:16:10

Oops, just realised that you said you didn't want anything post-1950s. I read it as that was exactly what you wanted blush

<sets self 100 lines 'I must read the OP properly'>

dabdab Mon 19-Nov-12 22:19:38

Yes to Grapes of Wrath. Also, although it is often classed as a book for children, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a good read. Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Don't forget Last of the Mohicans.

BikeRunSki Mon 19-Nov-12 22:28:49

The Catcher in the Rye, if you can stretch your cut off buns few years.

Kate Chopin, The Awakening. Written & set in the late 19th century, the story of Edna Pontellier's journey to self-awareness. (I love this)
On a similar theme, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper. Again late 19thC precursor to feminist literature.
Both are Novellas so a good way to sample their work.

I think someone already mentioned Edith Wharton - Ethan Frome or The Age of Innocence for openers.

The Great Gatsby. (love this too, less keen on Tender is the Night.

The Sound And The Fury by William Faulkner. Takes time to get into first person stream of consciousness at first but worth persevering with.

Have to admit I quite enjoyed Moby Dick, but never really got into the leatherstocking tales by Fenimore Cooper.

Edgar Allen Poe is v readable and great, and another gothic tale to try alongside would be Henry James TheTurn Of The Screw.

For 20th century, John Dos Passos USA Trilogy, and Jack Kerouac On THe Road just about fits your pre-50's.
Others have mentioned Steinbeck - my personal favourite wouls be East Of Eden.

Plays - most things by Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill.

Zora Neale Hurston ; Their Eyes Were Watching God. Excellent, and interesting alongside the more recent Beloved and Jazz by Tony Morrison for a different womens lit perspective to that of chopin and gilman.

There are loads and loads more but they are a few 19th and early 20thC off the top of my head - hope that helps.

Highly tempted to go and rummage through my bookcase now when I should be going to sleep grin

kdiddy Mon 19-Nov-12 23:58:25

Nathaniel Hawthorne - The Scarlet Letter. Love love love this book. Wanted Hester on our baby girl list but DH vetoed it.

... And James M Cain- The Postman Always Rings Twice or Mildred Pie
rce

DalekInAFestiveJumper Tue 20-Nov-12 00:15:21

Red Badge of Courage
Many votes for To Kill a Mockingbird, it's just terrific.
My Antonia
The Scarlet Letter

elkiedee Tue 20-Nov-12 00:37:31

Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie
Nella Larsen, Quicksand and Passing (often available together in one volume)

elkiedee Tue 20-Nov-12 00:38:04

Willa Cather - My Antonia is her most famous one, I also enjoyed Song of the Lark.

kaxter Tue 20-Nov-12 15:33:01

I second My Antonia by Willa Cather - so beautiful. It was my fathers favourite book - he is 91 this year and I have his copy that he bought in 1954.

Also: The Big Sky by AB Guthrie which is a pioneering type classic.
And: Their Eyes Were Watching God - by Hurston. I think she was one of the first African American women to be published. I just read it a couple of months ago, it was great.

So many great suggestions so far. Let us know what you start with, enjoy!

CSLewis Wed 21-Nov-12 08:57:29

Thanks very much, everybody! Reading your lists has reminded me of a few that I have read, like some Steinbeck, James, Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams, whom I've also studied, so now I feel marginally less ignorant.

Willa Cather sounds interesting; I've never heard of her. Could someone give me an idea as to subject matter?

I'll probably print this thread and take it with me to the library and find a random selection. I'll let you know how I get on - thanks again smile

claraschu Wed 21-Nov-12 09:05:25

If you like short stories too, read Thurber. I think he is unique and brilliant. Try "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", "The Night The Ghost Got In" "The Catbird Seat", and others from My Life and Hard Times.

Huckleberry Finn is mentioned above, and I think it is absolutely wonderful.

Don't forget plays. No one has mentioned Arthur Miller yet; maybe he's too obvious?

If you are interested in American Literature pre 1950, then I recommend:

Raymond Chandler, The big sleep, The lady in the lake etc
James Cain: Mildred Pierce, The postman always rings twice
Dorothy Parker
Henry James, of course
Richard Yates, the easter parade, revolutionary road (1950/60s)

I also love Truman capote'sIn cold blood, but it was written in 1966

BoerWarKids Wed 21-Nov-12 09:42:55

Richard Wright Native Son

James Baldwin Go Tell It On the Mountain

Portofino Wed 21-Nov-12 10:03:38

I have just had an Ira Levin fest - The Stepford Wives, A Kiss Before Dying and Rosemary's Baby.

musicalendorphins Wed 21-Nov-12 10:30:49

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