N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Whose American Classics? Mine or Yours?

Talking with Day on the way home from the gym she said to me, “Haven’t you ever had the urge to the American Classics?”

My answer was a smile, “No.”


Well, because I’ve read a few but have never much been into the style of writing that is considered an American Classic. What’s worse, I’ve never had the urge to read them. I’ve got too many things on my list I want to read now to force myself to plow though something that will not only take time but will not reward me when I am done. Ok, ok, I think it will not reward me I have no guarantee that is true.

It’s not that I don’t like classics. I really like Shakespeare; I’ve read quite a few of his plays (some more than once). I love Italo Calvino, and must re-read his books when I get them back from my mom and dad. I am a big fan of Louise Erdrich. I’m an even bigger fan of Anne McCaffery (seriously folks wrote about gay boys when being a gay boy was not fun nor cool). It’s just names like Hawthorne, Melville, Williams, and Fitzgerald make me yawn mentally.

I have no desire to read anymore than has already been forced upon me thanks to high school, college, and grad school. I’m not itching to pick up copies of titles I have not plowed through before, and when I see those names on the 10 cent shelf at the Library Book Sale I pass them by rather than snatching them up. They are books that can pass me by, movies I don’t need to see, and time (in some cases) I wish I had back. As a matter of fact, I remember a friend READING The Scarlet Letter to me, out loud on my balcony while we picnicked…it was still boring. Perhaps if we were playing paint ball at the time? Even then, I doubt it.

Then again names like Twain, Henry, Salinger, Vonnegut, and Miller make me salivate in anticipation. A combination of required and elective reading has made me happier for having spent time with these authors (although Mr. Miller has a better diary than novel in my eyes). Each name has wonderful memories attached to it for me, quite a few of them related to those wild days of college.

So perhaps a better answer to Day should have been, “I HAVE read the American Classics, just not the same ones you have.”

For instance, let’s look at what am I carrying around right now. Stone Butch Blues…an American classic, albeit a gay American classic.

It is a very good book. I am captivated by it. While there times I am thrown completely out of the story due to badly planned time jumps or awkward dialogue other times I am in heaven. When the author lets us be alone with the main character, just her and us, it is magic. It is a cadence I find song in, and it’s a song that sticks with me when I hit the rocks and convinces me to keep on paddling. See, rewarding me already. Punishing me as well, but seriously rewarding me for my devotion.

In the end I guess my classics and your classics don’t all have to be the same…As a matter of fact, I’m sure if I read the entire library of American classics the day I was done another “classic” would be published and pushed upon me.

So this is me saying…find your peace and live it, even if the landslide of classics never stops!



    4 comments already | Leave your own comment

  1. 8/21/2008 | 8:23 pm Permalink

    I’d be interested to know what, besides the Scarlett Letter, Day considers an American classic that you do not, since Twain and Vonnegut are the embodiment of American classics in my mind.

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  2. 9/2/2008 | 2:39 pm Permalink

    I shall let Day respond to this, but 2 books she brought up that I can remember: Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird.

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  3. 9/2/2008 | 9:49 pm Permalink

    Hiya April!
    Okay, I have to give her credit for the Twain, I just wish that people would get to read more than Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer. There is so much more that makes Twain….well, Twain (personal favourite being Twain’s criticism of Cooper and of course recognizing the brilliance in “A Connecticut Yankee…).

    Harper Lee – ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was a big one for me on the list of ‘American Classics’.

    Ken Kesey’s ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’

    Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

    John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men, or The Red Pony, or the Grapes of Wrath

    Arthur Miller (she was thinking of a different Miller) – Death of a Salesman or The Crucible

    Tennessee Williams – Streetcar Named Desire or The Glass Menagerie

    August Wilson – (although to be fair he is definitely a playwright and some MIGHT dispute his inclusion – I think he counts as probably the best Af-Am U.S. playwright)

    Thornton Wilder – Our Town

    Edgar Lee Masters – Spoon River Anthology (although that is more a collection of poetry – but WOW talk about an insight into small town America)

    Alex Haley – Roots (although I’m sure EVERYONE has seen the series)

    Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God

    Thoreau – Walden (although personally I had trouble connecting with that one).

    Although there are a LOT of classics we can agree on too. *grins* I think we tend to find ourselves together on some of the more science fiction/fantasy classics – Burroughs, Poe, Asimov, Clarke etc.

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  4. 9/2/2008 | 11:36 pm Permalink

    Oh! AND Ray Bradbury!

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