Last week I went into one of the Facebook author/reader rooms, and the question had been posed-- "What 5 books would be at the top if your required reading list for students say by high school graduation?" There were many lists offered. Some surprised me but some are on typical lists such as this one that I found another place.
Because my most recent book had a heroine who was a professor teaching literature and English in 1905, it had a lot in it about what makes a book considered great. The heroine had written a lot of bestselling books-- dime novels, for which she herself had little respect and yet readers loved them. We have some of that today where some forms of literature (don't choke) are not given respect while others are considered so important that everyone should have read them.
You know, I consider myself a novelist who writes romance. I don't think of my books as only about romance even though the male/female sexual relationship is at their core. Although I like the idea of selling a lot of books, most important to me is that my books tell a story that I believe matters. They aren't just about falling in love but character and the consequences of our actions.
If I wanted to make a lot of money at writing, I would look at what does make money and try to duplicate it, putting my own touch to the stories. It's not my main goal (though money is nice *s*). My underlying goal is to write books that will be around fifty years and still have value.
When I got into being an indie writer, I knew what I wrote was not the norm out there. I thought (and still do) that someday it would be. That's my goal-- to get a story out there that lasts, with values that don't get old-- stories that will be there when people get past niche reading and go for stories without fear of what they are labeled.
The request for a list of five such classic books got me to thinking about a list that tell at least a part of the American story. Of course, we know they would not be agreed upon but still, it's kind of a challenging idea. What books help us see ourselves for who we are as a society? They would have to be about Americans and most likely written by those living in America who understand the American story.
I found it pretty easy when it was looking at ones that I grew up reading, well written books that revealed an important part of the American psyche (think anything by John Steinbeck). I had a harder time when I began to consider books written in the last twenty years.
Anyway I came up with my own list. I'd love it if readers here would give some thought to what would be their list. If you come from another country, think about it for your nation. What would be the classic books that define who you are as a people?
You know the irony of this is sometimes those books aren't truthful to what is reality but have created a mythology that becomes more powerful than historic truth. That can be good or bad.
My list isn't all best sellers or necessarily those that a critic would put on a list. They are books I have considered important to my understanding the lives of more than myself. I left off one of the most important to many people, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, because I think the book is a simplistic view of a time and life where the story was a lot more complicated. It might be how we'd like to think, but the book most recently published, Go Set a Watchman (the one she actually wrote first but the publishers knew what would be more popular), probably is more true to how heroes are and how what we see at one point in our life doesn't end up what is true.
My list is not in order and might change tomorrow as frankly I had to leave off a lot (The River Why or A Yellow Raft in Blue Water for instance) that I personally believe are important books.
1. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
3. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain