Books, you say?
Yes, books. Amidst the self-inflicted drudgery I experience when thumbing through my Facebook news feed, I’ve found myself starting and ending more of my days with a good ole book. And while I do enjoy the convenience of downloading and reading via the Kindle app on my iPad and phone (not to mention never losing my place), the experience of sitting down with a thick chunk of paper and glued binding is sometimes exactly what I need to disconnect and refresh, notification free.
In celebration of our America issue, we selected a handful of our favorite classic pieces of American literature for your enjoyment. Choosing between the paper or digital version is up to you.
“Travels with Charley: in Search of America” by John Steinbeck
“I’ve lost the flavor and taste and sound of it. I’m going to learn about my own country.”
That’s John Steinbeck himself, describing the impetus for his trip across America with his loyal dog Charley and trailer Rocinante, which went on to be cataloged and published as Travels with Charley. In his travels through almost 40 states, Steinbeck witnesses much that troubles him. And much that is beautiful. He waxes from the profound awe he experiences in the beauty of the landscape to bitterness at his old age and the state of racial turmoil in the union.
Ultimately, Travels with Charley is about rediscovery. About going on a journey, experiencing the diversity of the world, asking questions, and learning to embrace life. We could all do with a little more of that.
“The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson” by Emily Dickinson
By “collected”, the publisher means “everything”. This volume contains every one of the Dickinson’s 1,775 poems – available in their original form with no editorial revisions (some editors have taken it upon themselves to “fix” some of Dickinson’s curious capitalization and punctuation, which is not the case in this volume).
If you’re not familiar with Dickinson’s poems, they offer musicality and elegance and a certain kind of darkness. While Dickinson didn’t write for publication (only 11 pieces were published during her lifetime), her work has met wondrous postmortem praise from literary critics and laymen alike. Explore. Read. Enjoy.
“Walden & Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau
As Thoreau’s most well known and influential writings, both Walden and Civil Disobedience are thoughtful commentaries on American life. Walden leans into simplicity, learning, human nature in response to “America’s growing commercialism and industrialism”. Civil Disobedience, on the other hand, is a progressive tract on the state of the American government, written because of Thoreau’s objection to paying tax to the American government which, at the time, was involved in slave trade, westward expansion, and the displacement of the indigenous population.
Both writings are supremely influential, wonderfully unique, and absolutely worth your time.
“Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman
Influenced heavily by Transcendentalism, Walt Whitman’s explosive style of free verse was innovative and influential for its time. 150 years later, it may not be as scandalous as it was in 1855, but it’s certainly just as beautiful.
Even if you’re not a regular poetry reader (read: most of us), Leaves of Grass is wonderfully accessible. Start or stop anywhere and enjoy delightfully crafted poems on subjects ranging from nature to sex to the horrors of war.
“The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway
There’s a reason Hemingway is the name of an online service that helps unclutter your writing. The adjective-free style of the famous American author reads unlike any other author of his time: simple, clear, poetic, and memorable. The Sun Also Rises is one of Hemingway’s most-loved masterpieces.
If you haven’t read Hemingway before (or haven’t done so since high school), start here. This is an American classic that really does live up to its reputation.