On this day 241 years ago, the United States of America declared its independence from the Crown of England with the signing of…well, the Declaration of Independence. As the years have passed, America has grown into a global power, and it has seen and experienced times of great prosperity as well as devastating lows. And today, we acknowledge and honor America’s history and look forward to a bright future.
While you’re grilling out and waiting for the fireworks to start, you can lay out in a lawn chair and enjoy some of these American classics and contemporary stories navigating the American identity.
1776 by David McCullough
This one is for the history buffs. American writer and historian David McCullough tells the story of the American revolution, rooted heavily in extensive research in both American and British archives. While the details are based in academia, McCullough tells an immensely human story of the year 1776 on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Anything by William Faulkner is considered an American classic, and while a lot of people have read the crazy antics in As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury is classic Faulkner as well. We follow the high-class Compson family and explore the themes of puritanical morals, greed, racism, and violence as they ruin the Compson clan. This novel navigates the intricacies of Southern morality and uses an experimental style that is uniquely Faulkner.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatbsy is an American literary staple that nearly everyone has read at some point in their education. I know what you’re thinking, how can an ex-patriot write one of the most important American novels in history? The merit lies in the content. Gatsby is the most iconic and lasting portrait of the post-World War I era, the era of excess, loss, and the American Dream. It is a necessary and sobering reminder than even the “rags to riches” story is not the root of happiness.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
This American novel has stood the test of time, garnering literary merit upon its release and maintaining it for centuries. Ernest Hemingway asserted that “all modern American literature stems from this one book,” and T.S. Eliot praises Huck as a permanent figure in fiction with characters like Don Quixote and Hamlet. This praise alone is reason enough to pick up this novel for the first or twentieth time. This boyhood trip down the Mississippi with adventure and unforgettable characters is sure to spark the curiosity of your inner child.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Ever wonder where the idealized American idea of traveling the entire country, untethered and completely free, came from? Look no further than the Beat Generation’s own Jack Kerouac. Follow a story inspired by Kerouac’s cross-country hitchhiking adventures with Neal Cassady that established the freewheeling American youth that today’s popular culture emulates. Legendary musician Bob Dylan said the novel changed his life, as it changed everyone else’s. Embrace the first novel that answered the question, “Road trip?”
Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte
Four friends meet up in San Francisco after graduating from Stanford, each with their own life, stories, and crazy hidden anxieties. Imagine picking up the diaries of each of these characters: that’s the style you get with this novel. Intense inner monologues spare no details and border on the absurd. Dubbed the “first great millennial novel” by , Private Citizens is edgy, satirical, absurd, inclusive, and surprisingly genuine. It’s a snapshot of millennial America.
So, while you’re getting some sun or staying cool inside, be sure to pick one of these titles up and celebrate America’s rich history!