What is the Great American Novel? (VOTE)

Gabe Habash -- March 7th, 2013


It’s time to cast your lot: what is The Great American Novel? Cather or Fitzgerald? Lee or Bellow? Stephen King?

To help make this impossible question less impossible, we’ve decided to limit each great writer to one book apiece–that means if you’re looking for As I Lay Dying, you won’t find it, but you will find The Sound and the Fury. You only get one vote, so make it count. We’ve tried to include as many deserving books as we could, but if your vote is for a book not included, let us know in the comments. If you fill in your pick through the “Other” field, we’ll be sure to update the books we see there, below the poll.

Books receiving votes through the “Other” field: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand; It by Stephen King; The World According to Garp by John Irving; The Cider House Rules by John Irving; Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey; The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen; Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty; Plainsong by Kent Haruf; Call it Sleep by Henry Roth; Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis; American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson; The Octopus by Frank Norris; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith; East of Eden by John Steinbeck; American Gods by Neil Gaiman; Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner; The Help by Kathryn Stockett; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer; True Grit by Charles Portis; The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck; Bel Canto by Ann Patchett; Dune by Frank Herbert; Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe; The Origin of the Brunists by Robert Coover; From Here to Eternity by James Jones; Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson; Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller; So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell; Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen; The Godfather by Mario Puzo; The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings; Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein; A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley; JR by William Gaddis; The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor; The History of Love by Nicole Krauss; Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany;


33 thoughts on “What is the Great American Novel? (VOTE)

  1. Carol Johnson

    I had selected TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD before I skimmed through the list to be sure, then realized I couldn’t find another one that has this story’s power for readers from eight to eighty, as well as from various backgrounds, interests, and perspectives. I had read it when it was first published and recently read it again, fifty years later. What a wonderful, terrible novel.

  2. Eddie G

    A great novel must embody a great theme, distinct characters and a profound story. So my choice was simple: “To Kill A Mockingbird”. A story of innocence, racism, nobility, community and the most perfect depiction of the love between a father & daughter.

  3. Brian

    Had to go with ‘Moby-Dick’ as all-round greatest American novel for its depth. I love ‘The Moviegoer’ and am sorry it only got 4 votes. I was tempted to vote for it just to support it.

  4. Steve P.

    Hint for choosing: I narrowed the selection down by looking only at the books I had actually read, not those I knew only through movies/TV (like To Kill a Mockingbird), then looked at those I read more than once AND would read again. Of those, I finally voted for “Catch 22″.

  5. Sam

    One of the most controversial questions in American literature is deciding on the Great American Novel. We all agree that the novel should contain quintessential American themes, but we all disagree on what these themes actually are. This disparity is mainly caused by the diversity within the American people. Should the novel be a scathing critique of capitalism, like The Great Gatsby, or a post-apocalyptic condemnation of materialism, like Infinite Jest? Or do both of these novels completely ignore the diversity that makes America so special, making a novel like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird a better choice? There is no “American experience”, therefore there cannot be an American novel. While I appreciate all attempts to pick a singular novel, I believe that this list is a better representation of what American literature is all about.

  6. lisha cauthen

    Too many excellent choices, but I settled on Call of the Wild, as American means adventure, individualism, pushing onward, never looking back. And the lore is, Jack London never revised.

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