Summer’s Here and the Time is Right…

…for arguing about literature. I don’t know about you, but we need a break from poltics. So, in anticipation of time at the beach, in the hammock or on the dock, we thought it would be fun to see what our readers consider to be the best American novels ever written.

So we’re going to have a poll. We’ve selected 21 contenders for the title of all-time best American novel. The list will no doubt provoke disagreement; it is, pretty much by definition, arbitrary and capricious. We tried to select candidates based on literary merit. Politics and sociology were ignored. Here is the list:

Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
Melville, Moby-Dick
Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
James, Portrait of a Lady
Twain, Huckleberry Finn
Cather, My Antonia
Wharton, The Age of Innocence
Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
Warren, All the King’s Men
Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March
Ellison, Invisible Man
Chandler, The Long Goodbye
Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Updike, Rabbit, Run
Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor
Heller, Catch-22
Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
Nabokov, Pale Fire
Roth, The Great American Novel

If you have objections to our list, feel free to email us. We won’t change the list, but we may reproduce especially creative invective.

The poll will go up later this afternoon on Power Line News, when Joe Malchow has an opportunity to create it [It’s up now.]. Each computer can vote once a day. We’ll probably run the poll for a week or so. Like all such surveys, it’s mostly for fun. But I do think it will also be interesting to see what a cross-section of (mostly) conservative readers consider to be America’s best books.

UPDATE: The poll hasn’t gone up yet (as of 2:30 central)[NOTE: It’s up now.], but commentary on the list is coming in. Our friend Joshua Sharf writes:

OK, in the spirit of Emmet The Unblinking Eye’s weekly list, The Grapes of Wrath needs to replace The Sot-Weed Factor, now, before the poll goes up, before you embarass yourselves further.

In order for a novel to be great, someone -preferably other than the author and editor – needs to have read it. For a novel to be one of the all-time greats, someone – preferably other than a desperate PhD candidate – needs to be reading it even now.

While almost all the other names on your list will be familiar to college students or even high schoolers who’ve had to learn to read novels, I doubt that even a substantial minority, say, 20%, could give you Barth’s first name (and tell you how they know it, beyond, “I dunno, it just sounds right”), and had even heard of the book.

Joshua, Joshua, Joshua. You’re fortunate that Denver has a fine public library. I’m sure they have The Sot-Weed Factor. It’s not too late to catch up with one of the most entertaining (albeit nihilistic) books ever written. But, beyond that–The Grapes of Wrath?? No socialist realism for us, thank you!

MORE CONTROVERSY: I want to say this gently, because I know I’m addressing some of our staunchest allies and most loyal readers. And I’m sure that the dozen or more emails we’ve already gotten are only the tip of the Ayn Rand-sized iceberg. But, to put it gently–Atlas Shrugged may or may not be great political philosophy, but it isn’t great literature. It just isn’t. Sorry!


Books to read from Power Line