Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Greatest American Novel?

The Greatest American Novel? 

I'm not sure what it is. I've read most of the books that people would put up for that title, and I've read a lot of novels no one would put up for that title. I've been a reader all my life and have read pretty much everything from Henry James' Ambassadors to Ernie Kovacs Zoomar, but I hate making statements about how this is the best record or the best movie or the best waffle iron.

Different people look for different things in a novel, and my greatest is not necessarily your greatest. I think I saw this earlier this week and then invited people to send me their lists. What we saw I think is that although there was some overlap, most people's lists were pretty much shaped to their needs, loves, questions. I know mine was.

But what if I were pressed to list the greatest American novel, told that if I didn't answer immediately I'd have all the books I love taken away from me, the whole personal library amassed over 50 years of reading?

I guess if that happened, I would probably have to say Moby Dick. Or maybe Henry James' Portrait of a Lady, but only chapters 42 and 44. Or maybe John Dos Passos's USA Trilogy, but only the non-narrative chapters. 

Anyway, here's an article about 9 literary critics disagreeing about which is the greatest American novel.  Just click here and let me know what you think.

1 comment:

Sara said...

You're right, John. It's a silly question. It assumes too much: that all novels have been read, that there is some sort of objective criteria for evaluating them... Yes, apples and oranges, my friend. Apples and oranges.