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Great American Novel

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So I'm leaving for a two month  :motorhome road trip through the USA in a couple of weeks, and I'm thinking it would be awesome to read a Great American Novel on the way.

If you could pick one book, from any genre, MG, YA or adult, to call the 'Great American Novel', what would it be? I'm open to all kinds of suggestions and I'll probably have time to read more than one.

And... go!
#1 - September 14, 2011, 12:47 AM

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Here are some nice thick ones, most of them probably not on the official top 10 list, but these are my Big Fat Literary Beach Reads (American). Lotsa pages, compelling story, and unforgettable characters (and in a way America itself is a character in all of them). I've read some of them more than once: 

CALL IT SLEEP  Henry Roth

THEM Joyce Carol Oates

AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY Theodore Dreiser

THE GRAPES OF WRATH John Steinbeck

THE RIGHT STUFF Tom Wolfe (not sure if it's officially a novel--might be classed with books like IN COLD BLOOD, but it reads like a novel)

and don't forget GONE WITH THE WIND, although you've probably read it

#2 - September 14, 2011, 05:43 AM

mariannabaer

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I'd add:

SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, by Ken Kesey

CROSSING TO SAFETY, Wallace Stegner

#3 - September 14, 2011, 05:56 AM

jeffman

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MOBY DICK

THE GRAPES OF WRATH

V. by Thomas Pynchon

The entire RABBIT series (4 books, 2 Pulitzers) by John Updike

THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY by Michael Chabon
#4 - September 14, 2011, 06:10 AM

The Great Gatsby

Susan
#5 - September 14, 2011, 11:47 AM

updog

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What about "To Kill a Mockingbird"? I reread that a couple weeks ago and was blown away all over again.
#6 - September 14, 2011, 12:14 PM

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I always preferred Steinbeck's EAST OF EDEN over GRAPES OF WRATH.   :biggrin:

Agree with TKM, GWTW, IN COLD BLOOD.

#7 - September 14, 2011, 03:57 PM

jeffman

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I can't believe I left out

ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN

If you predate the PC movement, you've probably read it. Just covering the bases.
#8 - September 14, 2011, 04:02 PM

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I feel like I have to mention CATCHER IN THE RYE, and why not ON THE ROAD, since you'll be on a road trip.
#9 - September 14, 2011, 04:04 PM
DEFY THE DARK - HarperTeen June 2013
http://valeriekwrites.blogspot.com

blythe

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Traveling makes me think a road novel is in order...

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

or

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. If you haven't read a western, this is it. A total sock-knocker in every department: plot, characterization, and style.
#10 - September 14, 2011, 04:06 PM

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Yes!  Blythe!  Good call on Zen and the Art....

Also...

The Old Man and the Sea

To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf)

The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)

My Antonia (Willa Cather)

Just a few more ideas....
#11 - September 14, 2011, 04:10 PM

KenH

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THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS

THE GREAT GATSBY

OF MICE AND MEN

But, if you're looking for something more recent: PEACE LIKE A RIVER (by Leif Enger).
#12 - September 14, 2011, 04:14 PM

jeffman

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It's a thinner book, but McMurtry's THE LAST PICTURE still breaks my heart.

If Virginia Woolf is permitted, then Margaret Atwood's THE HANDMAID'S TALE should not be overlooked.
#13 - September 14, 2011, 04:16 PM

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If Virginia Woolf is permitted, then Margaret Atwood's THE HANDMAID'S TALE should not be overlooked.

Yes, indeed.
#14 - September 14, 2011, 04:22 PM

Saul Tanpepper

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Probably a bit far afield based on what I'm seeing here, but I'd welcome a chance to read Stephen King's THE STAND again. Actually, anything by King, pre-1985 or so. That's assuming you like horror, of course. ;o)
#15 - September 14, 2011, 06:33 PM

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Oh, Saul, one of my all-time favorites!  Thanks for giving it a mention!   :applause
#16 - September 14, 2011, 06:56 PM

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Wow! Thanks for all the great recs guys! I'm loading up the iPad as we speak.

And Saul, I totally love horror. I've been meaning to read The Stand, and this may be my opportunity!

I'm starting to get more excited about all the books I'm going to read than the things I'm going to see! :P

Keep 'em coming if you've got more.
#17 - September 14, 2011, 08:11 PM

Grady Hendrix

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Better late than never, but I wanted to say that more than any other American book, TRUE GRIT qualifies as The Great American Novel. Charles Portis wrote a lot of good books but he struck gold with this one. Every era gets the Great American Novel that it deserves and this one is the one for us, in my opinion.

Narrated by a 15 year-old girl, it's head and shoulders above the movie and really fantastic. It's basically about how the country gets settled in waves, and the first wave is the people with grit. The ones who get things done, kill the bad guys, have adventures, do the impossible. And then they pass, and they're supplanted by the people who pass laws, and make it safe to raise a family, and open things up for business and for everyday life. TRUE GRIT is a deeply funny and moving a farewell to all that Grit. I avoided reading it for years and finally had it forced on me and it really did change my life.

Portis is still alive but he seems to have stopped writing, unfortunately.
#18 - September 20, 2011, 07:01 PM

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Any recommendations for RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow? 

If you're interested in reading about the space program as a great American phenomenon, in addition to The Right Stuff I'd also recommend Andy Chaikin's A Man on the Moon.  Extremely readable.
#19 - September 20, 2011, 07:20 PM
The Leland Sisters series: Courtship and Curses, Bewitching Season, Betraying Season (Holt BYR/Macmillan)
www.marissadoyle.com
www.nineteenteen.com

Mike Jung

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THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY by Michael Chabon

YES! KAVALIER AND CLAY! A BOOK FOR THE AGES!

Err, sorry - in a similar vein as THE STAND, I'd put Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD right up there. In an entirely different vein, I'm a great admirer of Aimee Bender, and recommend both her latest novel THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE and her first novel AN INVISIBLE SIGN OF MY OWN. And I love THE RIGHT STUFF, but my favorite Tom Wolfe novel is definitely THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. And, AND, because I feel strongly that humor and kidlit both have places at the Great American Novel table, I gotta throw Lisa Yee's MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS out there, just on principle. :)
#20 - September 20, 2011, 08:13 PM

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WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP by John Irving

LONELY POLYGAMIST by Brady Udall  (newer - but definitely belongs in this category, imo)
#21 - September 20, 2011, 09:14 PM
twitter: @literaticat
ask the agent: http://literaticat.tumblr.com/ask

I'm a great admirer of Aimee Bender, and recommend both her latest novel THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE and her first novel AN INVISIBLE SIGN OF MY OWN.

Hey, Mike, I just finished The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (and you're right, she's very good; wonderful prose) are YOU the Mike Jung she thanked in her acknowledgments? If so, very cool.  :f_cupcake:


#22 - September 21, 2011, 03:41 PM
OPEN COURT, Knopf

Mike Jung

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Hey CC, yeah, that's me. :) Aimee's a friend of the family, she and my wife went to high school together.
#23 - September 21, 2011, 04:47 PM

I'm almost done with PARTICULAR SADNESS and I don't want to be finished. I love her writing.
#24 - September 21, 2011, 05:31 PM

The part where she tells her dad the story about the kid with blurry vision who got glasses made tears come to my eyes.
#25 - September 21, 2011, 05:33 PM

I really loved Lemon Cake too...

For books that feel both uniquely American and epic, how about Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose and Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove?
#26 - September 21, 2011, 05:36 PM

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Yes! LEMON CAKE! Had a very YA feel to it as well. It made the Alex Award list (YALSA's crossover to YA list).
#27 - September 21, 2011, 06:49 PM
BLACKOUT -- available now
DESERTED -- available now
SISTERS DON'T TELL -- available now
www.deenalipomi.com

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