As school gets back in session, students of all ages will be required to read classic literature. But what exactly makes a novel a "classic"? How old does a book have to be in order to be considered a timeless treasure? What topics influence a nation of readers, generation after generation? Which books do we love to reread to our children, and why?
Great books have a universal appeal to basic human strife. The 'classics' pull us together in a way that we can see how we are more similar than different. These properties make 'classics' a good source for many people to study from different angles. While there are sub-genres of classic, such as cult-classics and modern-classics, the Great American Classics all have an underlying theme and many highlight a moral code of ethics to weigh the main character's plight against.
We challenge you to read at least one of these American Classic Novels, and you can ship them right to your doorstep by clicking the links:
- The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales by Edgar Allan Poe (1833)
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
- The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1969)
- Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
What is your favorite "American Classic Novel" and why do you love it?
Here are some answers from the AuthorSource team:
"My favorite classic novel is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I didn't realize how much love I had for dystopian futures until I read Huxley's chilling portrayal of the World State city of London. Since the first time I eagerly flipped through the dog-eared pages of my school library copy in ninth grade, I've read many more dystopian novels with even more horrifying depictions of the future, but Huxley's will always hold a special place since it introduced me to the genre." - Beth
"I love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I couldn't help but fall in love with 11-year-old Francie Nolan, who loved reading as much as I did! I was both enchanted and disturbed by the descriptions of Francie's life in the tenement neighborhood of Brooklyn at the turn of the century. There are so many poignant words in this classic book, but these have stayed with me: 'Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory." - also Beth
"A Raisin in the Sun. This play, made into a classic novel, walks us through a time of hardship for an African American family during the early segregation of America. This novel tackles all levels of family drama from religious beliefs to the constant struggle for money. This book touches the hearts and soul of every member of your family." -Keaton
While the Great American classics are defined by American authors, there are some books that are so 'classic' that most of us growing up in the United States were introduced to them in early education. For me, Wuthering Heights was hands down a favorite classic read. So like Beth, I chose a classic novel from an English author. I remember listening to this as an audio book, and being surprised that a book so old could surprise and thrill me as much as it did. -Tiffany
Sylvia Plath bravely wrote a fictional account drawing from her own mental illness in The Bell Jar. The main character's struggles with depression ended in suicide, as did Plath's, in this 1963 page-turner about a young Bostonian woman interning at prominent New York magazine.
"To Kill a Mockingbird. I tend to enjoy novels with memorable characters, and To Kill a Mockingbird has them in spades. From the rigid but forthright lawyer Atticus Finch to the spectral recluse Boo Radley, Harper Lee was a master at crafting characters with a stern exterior who conceal an inner humanity." -Clay
No discourse on American Classic Novels would be complete without mentioning Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Written in 1851, readers have delighted in the story of a sailor's revenge against a whale, who ultimately, well, I won't spoil it for you. The book explores the division of class, right from wrong, good from evil, and the existence of God. "I love the the contest and conquest and of course the setting." -Simon