The United States is responsible for some of the greatest novels ever written. So in this blog post, I will celebrate fifty novels. Without further talk (cause this blog post is going to be long!), let’s begin!
Book: Train Whistle Guitar by Albert Murray
What It’s About: Scooter is growing up in 1920’s Alabama, and is learning about life from a train hopping musician
Why It’s Worth Reading: Published in 1999, Train Whistle Guitar is a poignant, musical and exhilarating novel with fantastic characters. Murray offers insight and wisdom with his subject matter, and creates a novel that is sure to be treasured from years on.
Book: Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer
What It’s About: In this non-fiction book, we follow Christopher McCandless, a traveller who makes his way to Alaska.
Why It’s Worth Reading: With fascinating themes about ‘finding yourself’ and acceptance, Into The Wild is both tragic and informative. A great novel to read in your 20s, because Krakauer interrogates many perceptions people have regarding the world around them.
Check out the 2007 film after you read this book!
Book: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
What It’s About: A techno-thriller novel that documents the outbreak of a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism in Arizona.
Why It’s Worth Reading: Crichton is a genius in the sci-fi genre, and it is for a good reason. The Andromeda Strain is a fascinating beast of a novel, with suspense and a terrifying plausible nature.
Book: The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks by Donald Harington
What It’s About: Following the six generations of “Stay Morons”, this novel is about individuals who travel from Tennessee to Arkansas.
Why It’s Worth Reading: A sprawling epic of domestic fiction, Harington has a knack for vivid descriptions and beautiful language. More than that, he immerses you within the Arkansas setting in a way that few authors can.
Book: East of Eden by John Steinbeck
What It’s About: The interwoven stories of the Trasks and the Hamilton families
Why It’s Worth Reading: Often considered to be Steinbeck’s magnum opus, East of Eden is a gorgeous, detailed book that explores guilt, freedom and self-destruction. With a wonderful setting of the Salinas Valley, East of Eden captures the reader and refuses to let go.
An absolutely stunning masterpiece of American literature.
Book: Plainsong by Kent Haruf
What It’s About: Set in a fictional town called Holt, Plainsong is about the relationships of its inhabitants.
Why It’s Worth Reading: It’s stunning yet delicate with its literary language, as well as being an exalting experience. The characters are well crafted, and the novel is elegant. It is deserving of all the praise it has gotten.
Book: The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
What It’s About: Joanna Eberhart, a young woman with a passion for photography, begins to realize the dark underbelly in her idyllic neighbourhood.
Why It’s Worth Reading: It’s a sarcastic, brilliant look at gender that does not hold back. Not only that, but The Stepford Wives is darkly funny, insightful and work of science fiction genius.
Book: Unspoken Fear by Colleen Faulkner
What It’s About: A romantic suspense, Unspoken Fear is about a woman who is reunited with her husband after an imprisonment. However, things are off and people are dying…
Why It’s Worth Reading: Fusing romance with suspense, Unspoken Fear reveals the real, tangible fears individuals have towards their loved ones. This novel also explores topics such as recovery, violence, and the things that shake us to our core.
Book: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
What It’s About: A ten year old girl, India Opal Buloni befriends Winn-Dixie, a dog.
Why It’s Worth Reading: A triumph of children’s literature, Because of Winn-Dixie is a soft novel, with plenty of wisdom for its child readership. DiCamillo is also talented at portraying sorrow and the sadness that exists within each individual.
If you read this book with an open mind, you will find plenty of things to be delighted by.
Book: Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
What It’s About: The young Scarlett O’Hara is struggling admist the backdrop of rebellion and an approaching war.
Why It’s Worth Reading: Gone With The Wind is a classic! It’s absolutely crucial in understanding American popular culture and perceptions. It’s also an iconic novel in many ways, with Scarlett O’Hara remaining one of the strongest personalities in literature.
It’s a long novel, but worth reading- even if you are just curious about what all the fuss is about!
Book: Under The Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury
What It’s About: An Japanese-American boy called Tomi experiences the fallout of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Why It’s Worth Reading: Not only does this novel tackle huge themes, it’s a young adult story that is unafraid to comment on heritage, family and racism itself. A wonderful pleasant surprise!
Book: All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki
What It’s About: The daughter of a Japanese-American farmer returns home to care for her parents, but is caught up in a controversy about genetically modified food.
Why It’s Worth Reading: Published in 2002, All Over Creation is written with themes such as youth culture and globalization. It’s a politically abrupt novel, yet if that suits you, there is plenty to enjoy about All Over Creation, and Ozeki’s ability to comment on the issues that matter.
Book: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
What It’s About: A non-fiction novel that traces the World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, 1893. Also making an appearance is H.H Holmes, who is often credited as the first ‘modern’ serial killer.
Why It’s Worth Reading: With its long title and jaw-dropping historical setting, Larson writes with flair and style. Perfect for those who enjoy Martin Scorsese movies, and those who like crime alongside their history.
Book: A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter
What It’s About: The life of Elnora Comstock, who lives around the Limberlost Swamp and the traumas she deals with.
Why It’s Worth Reading: Seen as a classic of literature from Indiana, Elnora Comstock is a freshing heroine, with brilliant character growth. As well as that, the northern Indiana setting suits Gene Stratton-Porter’s prose.
A breathtaking novel that has plenty to say.
Book: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
What It’s About: An account of the memories and legacy of John Ames, as he shares his story with his son.
Why It’s Worth Reading: Gilead was acclaimed in its release in 2004. It’s easy to see why: the characters are all well-drawn, the themes of Calvinism are compelling, and the religious imagery never feels cheap. It’s a complete success of a novel, and has been adored by readers and critics alike.
Book: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
What It’s About: The murder of four family members in Holcomb, Kansas.
Why It’s Worth Reading: Capote is not just a legend in the true crime genre, but also a master storyteller. His attention to detail is immaculate: he talkes about the murderers, the victims and the people tangled up within the crime.
In Cold Blood is Capote’s best known work, and is worth investigating for yourself.
Book: The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis
What It’s About: A humanoid alien comes to earth, seeking shelter.
Why It’s Worth Reading: A remarkable entry into the science fiction genre, Tevis explores philosophy in The Man Who Fell To Earth. Painfully imaginative and intelligent, this novel is a spectacular commentary on love, humanity and life that exists beyond the stars.
Book: A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
What It’s About: Loosely based on the true story of Willie Francis, Gaines’ novel is about justice, racism, life lessons and capital punishment.
Why You Should Read It: It’s an important novel that refuses to hide or water down its commentary. Not only that, but the book forces us to think about the lessons we teach others and get taught ourselves.
It’s a difficult read, but A Lesson Before Dying is a sophisticated novel.
Book: It by Stephen King
What It’s About: The terrifying, cosmic shapeshifter Pennywise enjoys two things. The first being a clown who dances. The second is feasting on humans, particularly young children. In Stephen King’s best known work, a plucky group of outsiders try to defeat the evil that lurks in Derry, and the horror that exists within them.
Why You Should Read It: Stephen King struck gold when crafting Pennywise- “It” is utterly terrifying, as the creature gets under the skins of the beloved characters. But more than that, It is a story about childhood horors and trauma as well as friendship. Often, we are just as fearful as little Georgie, going down the sewer and meeting a grisly end.
Book: The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth
What It’s About: Set partially in London and the other in colonial Maryland, The Sot-Weed Factor is about a poet who tries to preserve his innocence.
Why You Should Read It: A biting satire with plenty of grit, this novel, at its core, is about an author entering American literary postmodernism. Epic in its scope, Barth’s novel may not be for everyone. Still, it is a fascinating critique of colonialism, innocence, and even Maryland itself.
Book: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
What It’s About: The four March sisters grow up.
Why You Should Read It: Not only does Little Women contain the magnetic and wonderful Jo March, but it is a story that is touching, kind, and yes, a bit moralistic. However, Little Women invites the reader to celebrate the triumphs of the March sisters, and to mourn their losses.
A standout novel, and deserving of its classic status.
Book: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
What It’s About: The lives and deaths of five sisters, in 1970s Michigan.
Why You Should Read It: As we follow the troubled viewpoints of young boys, Eugenides offers insight into the American suburbs, and how it can be a place of oppression and suicide. Those who relate to the sisters fated to die will find The Virgin Sucicides to be a powerful experience that speaks to the horror of being a teenage girl.
Book: In The Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien
What It’s About: John Wade, who is dealing with a failed campaign for the USA senate, moves to Minnesota. However, he discovers that his wife- Kathy is missing.
Why You Should Read It: Tim O’Brien is well known for his themes about the Vietnam War, and he expresses them well here. Not only that, In the Lake of the Woods is not a novel that gives easy answers. It’s a challenging, yet rewarding read.
Well worth your time.
Book: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
What It’s About: The death of Addie Bundren, and the motivations by her family to bury her in Jefferson, Mississippi.
Why You Should Read It: As I Lay Dying is a highlight of the southern gothic genre, but it’s also a touching story that explores the good and bad motivations we can have to other humans. It’s modernist in nature and has inklings of black comedy. Either way- it’s a fantastic book to read.
Book: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
What It’s About: A newspaper journalist returns home to report on murders.
Why You Should Read It: Flynn’s status of being a master of domestic, thriller fiction is only growing. In Sharp Objects, everyone is hiding something and nothing is what it seems. A prime example of modern gothic fiction.
Book: English Creek by Ivan Doig
What It’s About: Set before World War II, we follow the McCaskill family’s struggle within itself.
Why You Should Read It: A wonderful book that explores land, home, family, coming-of-age admist an American summer. Alot of attention deserves to put towards Doig’s ability to craft a compelling family like the McCaskill’s.
Book: A Lantern In Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich
What It’s About: A bride struggles with hardship and poverty, as she and her husband raise a family in Nebraska
Why You Should Read It: This is a novel of courage, resistance and strength. It’s also piercingly beautiful, touching and will cause some inner reflection. A fantastic novel, particularly for younger readers, who want to read a classic about courage.
Book: Sweet Promised Land by Robert Laxalt
What It’s About: An immigrant turned sheepherder in the Nevada desert, vows to return to his ‘sweet promised land,’ a pastoral mountain village in France.
Why You Should Read It: It’s a classic in Western American literature, beloved by the Basque-American community and is an all-round terrific novel. Laxalt is quite the storyteller, commenting on the changes we make as life progresses.
Book: The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis
What It’s About: Told from the points of view of three spoiled college students who find themselves stuck in a love story.
Why You Should Read It: If you are looking for a black comedy, you are in luck! The Rules of Attraction is funny, with plenty of unlikeable characters Ellis’ style is not for everyone, but if you enjoy any of his other works, then maybe The Rules of Attraction is for you.
Book: American Pastoral by Philip Roth
What It’s About: A successful Jewish American businessman’s life is ruined by the social and political turmoil of Lyndon B. Johnson’s election.
Why You Should Read It: In won the American Pulitizer Prize in 1998, and offers historical insight into many events that shaped the 60’s and 70’s in America. Roth himself is a great author, and if you enjoyed The Plot Against America, you’ll enjoy American Pastoral.
Book: Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy
What It’s About: The third novel in McCarthy’s ‘Border’ trilogy, we follow John and Billy, who run a cattle ranch in New Mexico.
Why You Should Read It: Well, it’s Cormac McCarthy! Not only is he an excellent, melancholic writer but he is in fine form in Cities of the Plain. It’s a violent book with sometimes arcane language, but ultimately, Cities of the Plain is a fantastic read.
Book: Watchmen by Alan Moore
What It’s About: Someone is murdering the Watchmen, and the dreaded Rorschach is determined to find out who.
Why You Should Read It: Watchmen is such a classic New York story, that I included the acclaimed graphic novel. It’s so terrific: the characters are well-drawn, the political commentary is sharp, the drama and mystery are tense. Watchmen, it seems, never runs out of interesting things to say.
Book: I Am One Of You Forever by Fred Chappell
What It’s About: Ten year old Jess, is growing up in North Carolina in the years around World War II.
Why You Should Read It: Chappell celebrates the joys of the adult world, whilst acknowledging the downsides and horrors. Witty and wise, this North Carolina set story reminds us of the sadness at the heart of all things.
Book: The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
What It’s About: The murder of a farm family haunts the small town of Pluto, generations on. An ambitious girl, Evelina Harp, and her grandfather make up the novel’s narrators, alongside a judge.
Why You Should Read It: An unforgettable story that interrogates perceptions about race and justice, The Plague of Doves is a landmark in literary fiction. Ultimately, this is a novel that confronts the histories we create and the messages we pass onto generations.
Book: Beloved by Toni Morrison
What It’s About: A mother and a daughter escape from slavery, and try to make sense of their new lives in Ohio.
Why You Should Read It: Beloved is a daunting, tragic look at slavery that will confront any reader. It’s a novel that addresses manhood, mothers and daughters as well as the psychological impacts of slavery. Fusing magical realism with historical drama, Morrison writes with flair and with dignity.
Book: The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham
What It’s About: A non-fiction story about Ronald Williamson, who was wrongly convicted in 1988 of the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter. Williamson was also put on death row.
Why You Should Read It: It’s a powerful story, and Grisham gives it the seriousness it deserves. Sadly, it reminds us of the unfairness and corruption that exists in our own world.
Book: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
What It’s About: A recently admitted patient into a psychiatric hospital creates friends with his trickster antics and likeable personality. However, the tyrannical Nurse Ratched’s hold over the hospital remains strong…
Why You Should Read It: You may have seen the 1975 film version, or any of the plays. Yet One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is worth reading- it’s smart, inspiring, tragic and flirts between sanity and madness. There are very few books like Kesey’s masterpiece.
Book: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
What It’s About: An ambitious young girl called Mattie Cook has business aspirations. However, the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 is creating more victims.
Why You Should Read It: In this young adult novel, the characters are fun to follow and the historical backdrop (whilst inaccurate in parts) will engage younger readers. It’s an easy and enjoyable read, that has dark twists and turns.
Book: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft
What It’s About: Charles Dexter Ward becomes obsessed with his distant ancestor, a wizard with dark secrets.
Why You Should Read It: This is a short novel, that is well under the 60,000 word mark. However, what’s great about anything Lovecraft is that its punchy and direct. Despite what the author himself may say about The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (hint: he’s not a fan), this is a fine book to read.
Book: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
What It’s About: A 14 year old girl struggles with her abusive father, and the distant memories of her mother being killed.
Why You Should Read It: Focusing on faith, self-acceptance and freedom, The Secret Life of Bees has a likeable lead who is on a courageous search for a mother. It’s the sort of novel that breaks and warms your heart. Worth a read!
Book: The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
What It’s About: Set in the Southeast Dakota Territory during a severe winter, we follow Laura’s life.
Why You Should Read It: A historical fiction novel that is perfect for children, The Long Winter is the sixth entry in the ‘Little House‘ books. What’s impressive about Wilder is her attention to historical accuracy. Sure, some minor details are changed but whilst reading this, I felt I was really in a long winter. Fantastic!
Book: A Death in the Family by James Agee
What It’s About: Based on the events that happened to Agee in 1915.
Why You Should Read It: This autobiographical story is well told, and tragic. As well as that, it’s a mediation on how loss impacts on us, and shapes who we are.
Book: Texas by James A. Michener
What It’s About: Based on the history of the lone star state, Michener fuses history with the fictional. Detailing the lives of explorers, ranchers, oil men, aristocrats and Spanish colonists, Texas is a novel about the people who make the state what it is today.
Why You Should Read It: Although this is not a perfect novel, it is hard to not admire the amount of historical research that was put into it. Completely ambitious in its scope, it is inspiring to any writer who wants to create historical fiction. It’s difficult to not admire Michener, and the risks he took writing this novel.
Book: Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
What It’s About: An iconic work of nature and environmentalist writing, Desert Solitaire is an autobiography about a seasonal ranger.
Why You Should Read It: Crucial in understanding the development of nature writing, Desert Solitaire also discusses how deserts can impact on the individual. What I like about this book is that it offers a unique perspective, that will be valued by readers who may not be familiar with deserts in general.
Book: The Secret History by Donna Tartt
What It’s About: A closely knit group of six friends go to an elite college, and years later, one of them recounts the circumstances that led to a murder.
Why You Should Read It: The references to classical literature are enjoyable, and it’s essentially a murder mystery in reverse. Tartt also knows how to tell a story that is brimming with beauty and God-like power.
Book: Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
What It’s About: Two bullied children create a magical forest called Terabithia.
Why You Should Read It: Who said children’s books couldn’t break your heart? Well, they clearly have not read Paterson’s beloved book. It’s imaginative, it’s special and it’s wonderful. Quite possibly the finest depiction of friendship and the imagination of children that I have ever seen.
Book: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
What It’s About: Set in an alternative history version of Seattle, Boneshaker fuses zombies with steampunk energy.
Why You Should Read It: Your imagination will go wild with the imagery Priest conjures. It’s a fun book, with cool Victorian threads and great world-building. It’s not a typical zombie shlock, either!
Book: The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb
What It’s About: Harry Powell has just been released from prison, and has murder and money on his mind. Posing as a reverand, he attempts to scam a family into giving away their money.
Why You Should Read It: It’s a cracker of a book, with a terrifying villain. Yet what draws me to the Night of the Hunter is the depiction of the South during the Great Depression. The tropes of the southern gothic genre can also be enjoyed here, and the commentary on social corruption and instability make for a great, relevant story.
Book: The Heavenly Tenants by William Maxwell
What It’s About: A family is visited by the Zodiac signs, as the constellations disappear from the sky.
Why You Should Read It: The concept is great (and check out the illustrations, if you can) and it’s just a pleasant, magical experience. Perfect for children and adults alike.
Book: Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx
What It’s About: A collection of short stories, including ‘Brokeback Mountain.’
Why You Should Read It: Proulx isn’t someone who writes exclusively about Wyoming, but when she does, it is great. Through the collection of short stories, there is sure to be one that delights you.
Made it to the end? Well done! I hope you have found some awesome books to read. Comment below what American books you like, and what states they are in!
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