I teach a course at Marian University called “Modern America,” which basically allows me to teach different themes in post-1932 United States History. Besides trying to find interesting and suitable monographs on this period–a challenge that changes every time I teach the course–I also like to have the students read at least one novel. In the past, I have had them read a volume from John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. Trilogy, but this time around I am thinking about using a volume from another trilogy, American Pastoral from Philip Roth’s Newark Trilogy. As many readers of the blog probably already now, Michael Kimmage has an impressive book on this series entitled, In History’s Grip: Philip Roth’s Newark Trilogy.
I am interested in what other folks assign by way of fiction in courses on modern America. And certainly I am interested in how people who have taught Philip Roth think of using one of his novels in a history course. In the past I have used everything from Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick, to Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison. Almost always, my students groan at first about having to read a novel and then end up having more to say about it than any other text–especially since I try to pair the novel with related monographs.
So what novels do other people assign in modern America history courses?