So, them Americans are turning… 234! Holy molly they’s old.
Anyway, in celebration of July 4 (yes, it’s July 5 here in New Zealand, but we’re future forward) I thought I’d mention some of my favourite American authors.
Now I really haven’t read a lot of the older American writers – except for Edgar Allen Poe and, let’s face it, dude was possibly a little weird and had some issues. But at his best he was creepier than a cat stalking (The Fall of the House of Usher). I’ve tried to read The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper but it turned out to be not quite so appealing without large pictures of Daniel Day-Lewis… oh, I’m a bad literary student.
However my opinions pick up when we start getting into the later 19th century. For instance – Walt Whitman. A poet whose mere existence has been the catalyst for two of the greatest moments of my generation:
- “Oh captain, my captain” – Dead Poet’s Society. Maudlin, mawkish, crappy, watchable, love it.
- “Damn you, Walt Whitman! I-hate-you-Walt-freaking-Whitman! “Leaves of Grass”, my ass!” – Homer Simpson. Best. Simpsons Line. Ever.
Oh, and his poetry was lyrical and blew a lot of poetical conventions out of the water.
Turning into the 20th century there’s Edith Wharton, a fantastic writer whose understated but devastating portraits of snooty Noo Yawk biarches of the early 20th century are far more enjoyable than she gets credit for. And Willa Cather who wrote similarly readable portraits of craggy inhabitants of the Midwest and Great Plains. Moving further on we get Fitzgerald – I’ve read and enjoyed The Great Gatsby, Steinbeck – have read Of Mice and Men and would really like to read The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, and Nathanael West – if you haven’t read The Day of the Locusts, why ever not?
Don’t mention Hemingway or, especially, Faulkner to me.
One of my most favourite favourites? Henry Miller. Yes, alright, he’s overblown and probably over-rated by some and he can be totally rude, but meh to that. Tropic of Cancer is brilliant. That brings us to The Beats – Ginsberg, yes. Kerouac, no. Burroughs, yes. Especially Junky, Naked Lunch and Cities of the Red Night.
More poetry – Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. I was an angsty literary teenage girl, you know. Short stories – J.D. Salinger. One of the best novels ever written anywhere – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Yes, he’s Russian, and yes, it’s American.
Then we get into the 1970′s (and I’m almost making my appearance in the world) and one of the greatest American writers and probably the craziest. The best are the craziest, though, so perhaps that’s superfluous to say. Thomas Pynchon. He’s the most amazing writer – who’s read Mason & Dixon? I have and I understood about 50% of it (it’s written in 18th century syntax, grammar and spelling) but I loved 100% of it. It’s a wild tale, an entertainment and it’s historically accurate.
I also have to mention Richard Yates who I only started reading last year – The Easter Parade, Revolutionary Road, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness… he’s superb.
Michael Chabon, Bret Easton Ellis… wait, where are the women? Is it just me or is there a distinct lack of women in American lit? Joyce Carol Oates – prolific and who can keep up? Joan Didion, though she writes almost as much (if not more) non-fiction. Why can’t I think of more women?
Okay, so this has been a bit of a rambling opinion piece – I ‘d love to hear your suggestions? And I know I must have missed who knows how many great writers that I’m going to be terribly embarrassed about having forgotten!