Books You Should Have Read By Now (in American Literature)

Last Taught Fall 2016

Course Description:
This class is for those people who should have read some of the best books around, but haven’t managed to yet—books you should have read by now. We will ask ourselves how classics of American literature help us to confront competing visions of America’s identity in ways that teach us about the American culture we experience today. We will consider Henry David Thoreau’s challenges to industrial society in Walden, examine the nature of violence in Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, and learn how families experience economic difficulty in Tillie Olsen’s Yonnondio. We will explore the racial conflicts of 1920s Harlem in Toni Morrison’s Jazz, take part in Jack Kerouac’s search for authentic experiences in On The Road, and speculate about what it means to be human after the collapse of civilization in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Along the way, we will use the idea that literature is equipment for living, to help us understand ourselves and others, the past and the present, and the experiences that inform how we view our cultures and our world

Partial List of Readings:
Henry David Thoreau, Walden. 1854.
Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest. 1927.
Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio. 1930s.
Jack Kerouac, On The Road. 1957.
Toni Morrison, Jazz. 1992.
Cormac McCarthy, The Road. 2006.