Happy Fourth of July! I hope your day is filled with sunshine, grilled food, and books. Mine will be.
Speaking of books, there are a couple that are so ingrained in American culture that the book would hardly exist without it. These are books that drip with Americana and, while they may not necessarily make you proud of the old U S of A, you recognize them with the familiarity that signals home. Here are some of mine:
Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
Having graduated from college and gone through my own quarter-life crisis not so long ago, this book is almost like a spiritual guide for me. And what's more Americana than young privileged kids having existential crises because they've become disillusioned with facade, selfishness, and general inauthenticity?
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
There are few things more American than the immigrant experience and anyone who begs to differ should reconsider their definition of Americana. Plus, this book is pretty ubiquitous in this country---it's read everywhere from inner-city public schools to university classrooms and everywhere in between. The House on Mango Street reads like poetry and tells a story we'd all do well to hear: the American Dream told through the eyes of a family who worried the Dream was out of their reach. And though the Dream might look different, the Dream belongs to everyone.
Jazz by Toni Morrison
How Toni Morrison packs SO much into such short books, I'll never know. This book reads like Toni herself is whispering it in your ear. Jazz music is an American invention and this book being titled Jazz is an apt choice. Like the music, the words flow like notes on an unforgettable melody. Not going to lie, this book is so beautiful and complex I find it hard to describe what it's about, so here's a little help from Goodreads: "Jazz is the story of a triangle of passion, jealousy, murder, and redemption, of sex and spirituality, of slavery and liberation, of country and city, of being male and female, African American, and above all of being human." If that's not American, I don't know what is.
Crapalachia: A Biography of a Place by Scott McClanahan
I couldn't help but notice that my previous three Americana picks were set in big cities, which really only tells part of the story since over half the country is rural. Crapalachia is set in the mountains of West Virginia, coal mining country, and follows the author as he goes to live with his charismatic yet goofy Grandma Ruby and his Uncle Nathan. If you have family in the country, you can imagine the shenanigans that ensue. Between the grandma's fixation on death, Nathan's fixation on beer and women, and the rotating cast of charmingly strange characters, this, too, is America.
And a bonus...
The Girls by Emma Cline
I didn't just pick this one because the cover just so happens to be red, white, and blue. Since I just started this one yesterday I can't quite say if it'll keep the Americana feel going, but I certainly feel it thus far. From the magazines telling girls to wash their hair in egg yolks and do avocado face masks to prepare for the first day of school to how the teenage girls go about trying to capture the attention of (repulsive) boys, I sense that desperate nature of being judged, passing judgment, and simultaneously wanting to be invisible yet noticed. Plus the book is based on the Manson Family, which, like it or not, is one of the cultural phenomenons that has defined America.
What books shout Americana for you? Share them in the comments below!