Author Topic: What is the greatest American novel?  (Read 3129 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Online mc ukrneal

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8136
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #20 on: June 05, 2017, 10:46:10 AM »
I don't think anyone's mentioned To Kill a Mockingbird, which would certainly get consideration if one has to choose only one. I think Faulkner is more satisfying for me personally, but his style is so unique, I'm not sure it really fits the title of the thread.
Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline Wendell_E

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 977
  • Location: Mobile, AL, USA
  • Currently Listening to:
    mostly opera and chamber music
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #21 on: June 05, 2017, 12:08:46 PM »
Why, you'll propose Stravinsky's Symphony in C as the Great American Symphony, next!  8) 0:)

I don't know about that, but I always propose The Rake's Progress as the Great American Opera.
"Twinkle, twinkle, little Czar, Putin put you where you are." — George Takei

Offline Christo

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2940
  • ... an opening of those magic casements ...
  • Location: Netherlands
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #22 on: June 05, 2017, 12:49:52 PM »
I think Stoner by John Williams - 'discovered' just a few years ago, when I read it - comes close. And much by Philip Roth.
… music is not only an `entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

Offline DaveF

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 513
  • Location: Abergavenny
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #23 on: June 05, 2017, 01:06:04 PM »
No mentions of Saul Bellow, or is he considered to be Canadian?
"Just because I like something, it doesn't mean it's any good."

Offline Ken B

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2575
  • The Age of the Wanker is upon us
    • kenBlogic
  • Location: Michigan
  • Currently Listening to:
    Canoes not battleships.
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #24 on: June 05, 2017, 03:25:17 PM »
A couple quasi-novels are worth mentioning

The Executioner's Song, Mailer
In Cold Blood, Capote

Give a man a fire and he is warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he is warm for life.

Offline Scarpia

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2333
  • Location: U.S.
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #25 on: June 05, 2017, 04:00:16 PM »
I suppose the answer depends on how much emphasis is on American vs Great, and whether the goal is to designate an novel which is an epitome of American Life or simply the best book written by an American. I will assume the former.

Faulkner is my literary god, but I think of his books as literary fantasy, like Tolkien. For works that show the essence of what it is to be an American, these come to mind:

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of the Seven Gables
Theodor Dreiser: Sister Carrie
Elizabeth Wharton: House of Mirth
John Steinbeck: In Dubious Battle
E.L. Doctorow: Ragtime
Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye
Philip Roth: The Human Stain

Offline Brian

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • *
  • Posts: 19615
    • Brian's blog
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #26 on: June 05, 2017, 04:24:09 PM »
If any novel is to upset the clear front-runner, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I should like it to be -

I think Stoner by John Williams - 'discovered' just a few years ago, when I read it - comes close. And much by Philip Roth.

Stoner is extraordinary, as are both of his other novels, Butcher's Crossing (a sort of proto-Blood Meridian meets Moby-Dick) and Augustus (which, however, is not very American except in its allegory of the corrupting dangers of power and celebrity).

Other novels I would like to see considered:

Infinite Jest
The Great Gatsby
Lolita
the collected novels of Raymond Chandler (someone else help me choose!)

(Aside: I'm reading through the complete Cather and soon plan to read The Caine Mutiny. Cather seems likely to make my shortlist at least once.)

Finally, some slightly lesser novels I'd like to mention here as favorites: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, McTeague, The Expendable Man, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, You Know Me Al

Offline Cato

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 7539
  • An American Hero!
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #27 on: June 05, 2017, 04:30:08 PM »
Not yet published are several candidates!  0:)
"Now who taught ye t' be playin' patty fingers in the holy water?"

- Barry Fitzgerald to John Wayne in  The Quiet Man.

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 43924
  • Et quid amabo nisi quod ænigma est?
    • Henningmusick
  • Location: Boston, Mass.
  • Currently Listening to:
    Shostakovich, Frescobaldi, Stravinsky, JS Bach, Liszt, Chopin, Haydn, Henning
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #28 on: June 05, 2017, 04:43:55 PM »


Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of the Seven Gables

Much as I like this, I think I like The Blithedale Romance one better.

Sent from my SM-G930V using Tapatalk

Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 43924
  • Et quid amabo nisi quod ænigma est?
    • Henningmusick
  • Location: Boston, Mass.
  • Currently Listening to:
    Shostakovich, Frescobaldi, Stravinsky, JS Bach, Liszt, Chopin, Haydn, Henning
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #29 on: June 05, 2017, 04:44:49 PM »
Not yet published are several candidates!  0:)
:)

Sent from my SM-G930V using Tapatalk

Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 43924
  • Et quid amabo nisi quod ænigma est?
    • Henningmusick
  • Location: Boston, Mass.
  • Currently Listening to:
    Shostakovich, Frescobaldi, Stravinsky, JS Bach, Liszt, Chopin, Haydn, Henning
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #30 on: June 05, 2017, 04:49:33 PM »


If any novel is to upset the clear front-runner, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Emoticon- and snark-free, why is this the clear front-runner rather than Moby-Dick? I've missed the clarity, and ask humbly for a diagram.

Sent from my SM-G930V using Tapatalk

Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline Brian

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • *
  • Posts: 19615
    • Brian's blog
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #31 on: June 05, 2017, 05:35:56 PM »
Emoticon- and snark-free, why is this the clear front-runner rather than Moby-Dick? I've missed the clarity, and ask humbly for a diagram.
Hmmm, a fair question! Perhaps it is not so clear!

Offline snyprrr

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 10697
  • SQs, PQs, PQTs, PTs, VSs, Berlioz-Xenakis/Aperghis
  • Currently Listening to:
    Things that are crisp and spritely vs. things that are thick and creamy
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #32 on: June 05, 2017, 05:39:35 PM »
Catch-22, the greatest of them all.

winner winner chicken dinner!!!!
Rat Poison is 99% Good Food, so Follow the Money

Haydn-Sikh

Online Jeffrey Smith

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 10343
    • Flickr photostream
  • Location: Florida
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #33 on: June 05, 2017, 06:23:49 PM »

Emoticon- and snark-free, why is this the clear front-runner rather than Moby-Dick? I've missed the clarity, and ask humbly for a diagram.

Sent from my SM-G930V using Tapatalk

I'll give my reason for not listing it among my nominees:  it reflects universal human experience, not specifically American experience.   Captain Ahab and his crew could have been from any seafaring country in the world.  Huck could only have his adventures here in the US.

The same logic applies to Hemingway, which is why I left out For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

If the criteria is simply one of the world's best novels, then both Hemingway novels would fit.  But I still would leave out Moby Dick: I think Billy Budd is a much better novel.

Offline bwv 1080

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 1755
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #34 on: June 05, 2017, 07:29:29 PM »
Moby Dick does not deal with race and slavery which is the core of America and Huck Finn - which makes it great.  You can't really call something the greatest American novel if it does not deal with the core issue of our culture.
Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum

Offline Scarpia

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2333
  • Location: U.S.
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #35 on: June 05, 2017, 09:54:24 PM »
I suppose the answer depends on how much emphasis is on American vs Great, and whether the goal is to designate an novel which is an epitome of American Life or simply the best book written by an American. I will assume the former.

Faulkner is my literary god, but I think of his books as literary fantasy, like Tolkien. For works that show the essence of what it is to be an American, these come to mind:

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of the Seven Gables
Theodor Dreiser: Sister Carrie
Elizabeth Wharton: House of Mirth
John Steinbeck: In Dubious Battle
E.L. Doctorow: Ragtime
Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye
Philip Roth: The Human Stain

To the list I would add

Carson McCullers: A Clock without Hands
Willa Cather: Death Comes for the Archbishop

Offline zamyrabyrd

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2901
  • selig sind
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #36 on: June 05, 2017, 10:10:57 PM »
I don't know about that, but I always propose The Rake's Progress as the Great American Opera.

I submit Porgy and Bess.
"I write to discover what I know."
 ― Flannery O'Connor

Offline Jo498

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3468
  • Location: Germany
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #37 on: June 05, 2017, 11:44:45 PM »
As a non-American who has read only a fraction of the nominees, I see Moby Dick as the strongest candidate so far. (I have not read any James (or at least nothing of novel length), Dreiser or Dos Passos or Pynchon. And I did not understand Faulkner, so I gave up on him for the time being but some of his must be strong candidates as well. I like Steinbeck but not sure if they are "great great".)

Of course it depends on what one means with "great" and "American". I think for the latter it is sufficient that the author is American. For "great" I think a novel usually needs a certain dimension to be considered a candidate. Something like "Old man and the sea" which is closer to a novella seems too short and not weighty enough. I mean, the "greatest novel" has to be somwhow up there with Ulysses, Zauberberg, War and Peace etc., so I guess for me great books like Lolita (regardless of the whether Nabokov is "American" and I always found that it gets weaker in the last third or so) or Great Gatsby seem a little "small". So does Huckleberry Finn and I think the silly ending (with Tom Sawyer showing up again) also disqualifies it for great. Of course, this is highly debatable and sheer length is certainly not the main point. And one could argue that a main contribution of American literature were shorter forms and therefore a rather shorter novel would be more quintessentially American.

I read "Butcher's Crossing" and "Augustus" in the last year or so and while very good, I don't think they are "one in a century great". I was bored by the Updike I read (and interestingly nobody has named any of his, I think) and of Roth's I have not read enough (mainly Portnoy's complaint which is not a contender, IMO).
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 43924
  • Et quid amabo nisi quod ænigma est?
    • Henningmusick
  • Location: Boston, Mass.
  • Currently Listening to:
    Shostakovich, Frescobaldi, Stravinsky, JS Bach, Liszt, Chopin, Haydn, Henning
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #38 on: June 06, 2017, 04:18:15 AM »
I'll give my reason for not listing it among my nominees:  it reflects universal human experience, not specifically American experience.   Captain Ahab and his crew could have been from any seafaring country in the world.  Huck could only have his adventures here in the US.

Thanks.
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 43924
  • Et quid amabo nisi quod ænigma est?
    • Henningmusick
  • Location: Boston, Mass.
  • Currently Listening to:
    Shostakovich, Frescobaldi, Stravinsky, JS Bach, Liszt, Chopin, Haydn, Henning
Re: What is the greatest American novel?
« Reply #39 on: June 06, 2017, 04:18:50 AM »
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Buying Music From Amazon?
Please consider using these links. A small percentage of every sale using these links is passed on to GMG and helps keep this forum online.
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK