Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Books That Shaped America

by Kathleen Ernst

I had the honor and pleasure of participating in the 2012 National Book Festival in Washington DC in September. One of the highlights was a visit to the magnificent Library of Congress, where I got to see the exhibition called “Books That Shaped America.”
According to James Billington, Librarian of Congress, “This list is a starting point. It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books--although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not.”

So, what made the list? Here’s a sampling:

Benjamin Franklin, “Experiments and Observations on Electricity,” 1751.  (Franklin was named twice.)
Amelia Simmons, “American Cookery,” 1796.

Frederick Douglass, “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” 1845.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” 1852.
Henry David Thoreau, “Walden;” or, “Life in the Woods,” 1854.

L. Frank Baum, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” 1900.
Upton Sinclair, “The Jungle,” 1906.

Zane Grey, “Riders of the Purple Sage,” 1912.ba0043_enlarge
Erma Rombauer, “Joy of Cooking,” 1931.

Margaret Mitchell, “Gone With the Wind,” 1936.

Margaret Wise Brown, “Goodnight Moon,” 1947.

Dee Brown, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” 1970.

Mr. Billington added, “We hope people will view the list and then nominate other titles. Finally, we hope people will choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting our nation’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage, which the Library of Congress makes available to the world.”

As a participating author, I was asked to name books I thought had shaped my life, the nation, and the world. My life was easy—I named a couple of classics that truly did start me down the reading/writing path I’m on today (Laura Ingalls Wilder, Marguerite Henry.) But after that, I froze like a wet fish. How to choose, how to choose?

If you have any thoughts on books that shaped your life, or books you feel have shaped our nation and perhaps our planet, I’d love to hear them!


Shannon Baker said...

What an interesting event! I won't tell you just how it influenced my life, (this being a terribly vitriolic political climate and all) but I will tell you Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand was a book that inspired a lot of thought.

Beth Groundwater said...

It's interesting that when I thought about books that influenced my early life, I kept coming up with books by British authors. Then I thought of an author--Mark Twain. Why isn't Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer on the list? I think those books truly defined the American spirit of humor, determination and exploration. Then there is John Steinbeck's (winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature) Grapes of Wrath.