You can judge a person by her choice of books, but can you judge a nation by its literature? What is the most American fiction? Literary Hub decided to mark Independence Day by asking non-American authors what they consider to be quintessentially American literature. Almost 50 writers, editors and publishers from around the world were each asked to choose three books. The resulting list of 96 titles includes many of the usual suspects: Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, and Light in August. But there are some surprising choices: Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.
The oldest book is Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography (1791); the newest is George Saunders’ Tenth of December (2013). In fact, quite a few of the books chosen are relatively recent. 19 of the books are by women. The most cited author is William Faulkner, whose As I Lay Dying is praised by one contributor as “grotesque and sublime, selfish and unfathomably generous … the most American history I have ever read.” Some other comments, any of which could be blurbs on the back of novels: “A lyrical and allusive journey to the very beginnings of the American nation.” – A Mercy by Toni Morrison. “A celebration of life, friendship, jazz, and that most American experience: driving your car.” – On the Road by Jack Kerouac. “The most extraordinary novel about the failure of the American Dream.” – American Pastoral by Philip Roth.