Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America by Jay Parini

For the holiday, here is a book about the evolution of our national character.

If you are like me, and you probably are, you have not read all of the historically important books. You may find lists of such books interesting and resolve to read them all. If so, you will appreciate Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America by Jay Parini. Thirteen books is such a reasonable number to contemplate reading. Also, Parini's reports on the books may tell you all you want to know and relieve you from the self-imposed obligation to read them.

I found that I had read five of Parini's thirteen:

  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • Walden
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • On the Road

It has been years since I read any of these, except Twain's book about Huck Finn. I enjoyed rediscovering the stories and learning what impact they have had on literature, politics, and society.

Of the other eight, I did not even know of The Promised Land by Mary Antin. According to Parini, this 1912 memoir was widely read at a time when many immigrants from Eastern Europe were struggling to fit into an American society that was not so accommodating as they had been led to believe it would be. Reading Parini's summary is enough for now. I learned much about the willpower that made many immigrants succeed.

I also will not plan to read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Dr. Benjamin Spock, or The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, for I think I have read plenty of the titles they spawned.

I have read portions of Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, The Federalist Papers, and The Journals of Lewis and Clark. Reading only selections is recommended for all of these.

That leaves The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches by W.E.B. Du Bois. It sounds like it might be a very interesting read.

If you want more than thirteen books, Parini does add a list of 100 more in the appendix. Happy reading.

Parini, Jay. Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America. Doubleday, 2008. 385p. ISBN 9780385522762.

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