Twenty-five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identity
Thomas C. Foster
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
From the author of the New York Times bestselling How to Read Literature Like a Professor comes a highly entertaining and informative new book on the twenty-five works of literature that have most shaped the American character. Foster applies his much-loved combination of wit, know-how, and analysis to explain how each work has shaped our very existence as readers, students, teachers, and Americans.
Foster illuminates how books such as The Last of the Mohicans, Moby-Dick, My Ántonia, The Great Gatsby, The Maltese Falcon, Their Eyes Were Watching God, On the Road, The Crying of Lot 49, and others captured an American moment, how they influenced our perception of nationhood and citizenship, and what about them endures in the American character. Twenty-five Books That Shaped America is a fun and enriching guide to America through its literature.
Ántonia remains poor, although in doing so she is carrying on a family tradition. From the time the family arrives in Nebraska, Mr. Shimerda is lost and demoralized, so his early death comes as little surprise. It therefore falls to his wife to keep the family together and to put it to work taming their property. She accomplishes her task not with an iron fist but with optimism and fondness, traits her elder daughter inherits. When we meet the Cuzak clan, Anton, the father, is away, leaving
with “a big voice” in things. They run off to Eatonville, along the way marrying without benefit of divorce, and soon he sets up as mayor, postmaster, store owner, and landlord. Good work if you can get it. One might suppose that the marriage of two people dreaming big would work out, but Jody’s dreams preclude her having any of her own, and she finds herself in a slightly higher form of servitude than in marriage one. Worse, in some ways, is that he forbids her from consorting with friends who
manly conduct in a shattered world, the postlapsarian South—he has his great ideas. For there is no doubt that Bellow is, first and foremost, a novelist of ideas. He seeks to animate those ideas, to stand them up and have them walk around in fancy dress, to set them in motion and put them on collision courses with each other and with the harsh realities of life in the middle of the twentieth century. Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize address that there remains only one real source of anxiety,
considerably less colorful than his prior traveling companions, and they decide to move to San Francisco. Dean declares that he will come to get them, and he does—five and a half weeks too early. The man who arrives is a shadow of his former self, speaking in broken sentences and seeming broken in some more essential way, as well. His behavior suggests that something, most likely amphetamine overuse or withdrawal, has accelerated his downward trajectory. The impression is reinforced by his taking
itself, and as old as human storytelling. A stranger comes to town and creates mayhem. He could be the rightful but unrecognized heir to the throne or Beowulf arriving to give the Geats a hand with their monster problem, or the Man-With-No-Name or the Magnificent Seven coming to the village to upend the local thugs. In this case, the unrequested stranger is a Cat with curious taste in clothes promising fun on a sodden day. What he needs, apparently, is an audience. This particular stranger is in