When it comes to stocking your (or your kids’) library with quintessential American classics, these books should be on your shelf stat. Read them again and again — and share them with loved ones!
1. On the Road
by Jack Kerouac
Written on a single scroll of paper, Jack Kerouac’s most celebrated work is a dizzying snapshot of the Beat Generation that revolutionized the literature and arts scene in America in the late ’50s. Take a trip with Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty as they hitchhike their way around the country in search of adventure and themselves.
2. Gone with the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell
You’ve likely seen the film, but have you read the book? There are many complex layers to this classic coming-of-age story, which is exactly what makes it a great American novel. Set in Georgia during the American Civil War, Mitchell sheds light on a turbulent time in American history through her protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara.
3. Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison
First published in 1952, this must-read classic left its imprint on American history not only because of its incredible story, but because of it’s daring, jazz-inspired style. A commentary on labels, stereotypes, and ideologies, Ellison shook up the political and social landscape of the time with Invisible Man.
4. The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most censored novels in American history, banned in libraries and schools across the country from the ’60s through the ’80s. Controversy aside, it is one of the most taught novels now because of its important themes of identity and growing up.
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
Sail down the Mississippi with Huck Finn, where trouble lurks around every turn and adventure is always calling. Another frequently banned book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and its themes and characters have been debated about by scholars for decades.
6. The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Often called “the great American novel,” this entertaining read by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a timeless tale of unrequited love and the pursuit of the American Dream. Originally published in 1925, the novel did not receive the critical acclaim it deserved until after World War II, when it gained popularity and was added to high school curriculums.
7. The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hester Prynne, the fierce protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s celebrated classic, is arguably the first true heroine in American literature. Set in a Puritan community of Boston, The Scarlet Letter illustrates the struggle between self and the constructed standards of society.
8. The Color Purple
by Alice Walker
A modern addition to our list of American Classics, The Color Purple chronicles the life of Celie, a poor black woman, through letters. Published in 1982, it earned both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1983. Shortly after, in 1985, the book was adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.
9. The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway
The quintessential novel of The Lost Generation, Hemingway’s book emerged next to The Great Gatsby as one of the most significant works of literature from the 1920s. Dive into this novel that will challenge your stereotypical views of love and romance in literature.
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