It pains me to point it out, but the end of summer is drawing near. What could be better than a rewarding way to avoid thinking about your syllabi, your coursework, your onrushing deadlines?
I am hoping you might be interested in leisurely reading a US Intellectual History-relevant novel along with me during August and September. We would select the novel together (I’ve drawn up a shortlist below), then I’ll break it up into reasonably-sized segments and each week I will post some thoughts, questions, and contextualizations to kick off discussion.
We are, of course, spoiled for choice as far as novels that either track the private and public existence of the US “intellectual as a social type” or that deal with some major theme familiar to US intellectual historiography. I am sure that some of us (myself included) have even drifted into history from a prior passionate engagement with literature; certainly I still feel that our historical work can be made richer by picking up a novel every once in a while.
In the list below, I have left off the most familiar names—Bellow, Roth, Pynchon, DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, et al.—and stayed away from what Nicholas Dames has called the “theory generation” because, well, who wants to be obvious? Instead, I have tried to make a list that both captures some of the excitement of very contemporary fiction in the US and that includes some underread classics from the broad middle of the 20th century. All, I hope, should be considered novels of ideas, novels, in the words of Mary McCarthy, that have “the ambition to get everything in, to make this book the Book.”
McCarthy is a sort of tutelary spirit here—and I put her most famous novel The Group on the list, though of course any would have done. I’ll collect these posts under the heading “Company to Keep,” after her debut novel.
At any rate, here’s the list: I have linked each book to its Amazon page—not to patronize Amazon but because often Amazon has the most complete information about the book. Please take a look around, and vote in the comments. No need to use your real name if you want to read along anonymously, but please vote once only!
- Zia Haider Rahman, In the Light of What We Know
- Tiphanie Yanique, Land of Love and Drowning
- Bill Morris, Motor City Burning
- Lily King, Euphoria
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
- Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being
- A. M. Homes, May We Be Forgiven
- Norman Rush, Mortals