Friday, June 22, 2012

88 Books You Haven't Read All Of

Here are the Library of Congress’s list of 88 “Books That Shaped America,” and I like the fact that they didn't feel compelled to add 12 more or to cut 13 in order to hit a round number.

So how many have you read? And I'd count "read" to include (as in the case of Dr. Spock or the cookbooks), using the book but perhaps not reading it cover to cover, but not (as in the case of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"), having seen the movie or (as in the case of "Atlas Shrugged" or "Uncle Tom's Cabin") having heard so much about them that you feel like you might as well have read them. But I'd count a play you've seen ("Streetcar" or "Our Town").

I'd have a higher score if I'd majored in American Lit or even English. And a much higher score if I counted the ones I fully intended to read, including some sitting on my shelf as I write this.

I had 28 (31.8%).

“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (Mark Twain, 1884)
“Alcoholics Anonymous” (anonymous, 1939)
“American Cookery” (Amelia Simmons, 1796)
“The American Woman’s Home” (Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1869)
“And the Band Played On” (Randy Shilts, 1987)
“Atlas Shrugged” (Ayn Rand, 1957)
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (Malcolm X and Alex Haley, 1965)
“Beloved” (Toni Morrison, 1987)
“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” (Dee Brown, 1970)
“The Call of the Wild” (Jack London, 1903)
“The Cat in the Hat” (Dr. Seuss, 1957)
“Catch-22” (Joseph Heller, 1961)
“The Catcher in the Rye” (J.D. Salinger, 1951)
“Charlotte’s Web” (E.B. White, 1952)
“Common Sense” (Thomas Paine, 1776)
“The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” (Benjamin Spock, 1946)
“Cosmos” (Carl Sagan, 1980)
“A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible” (anonymous, 1788)
“The Double Helix” (James D. Watson, 1968)
“The Education of Henry Adams” (Henry Adams, 1907)
“Experiments and Observations on Electricity” (Benjamin Franklin, 1751)
“Fahrenheit 451” (Ray Bradbury, 1953)
“Family Limitation” (Margaret Sanger, 1914)
“The Federalist” (anonymous, 1787)
“The Feminine Mystique” (Betty Friedan, 1963)
“The Fire Next Time” (James Baldwin, 1963)
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” (Ernest Hemingway, 1940)
“Gone With the Wind” (Margaret Mitchell, 1936)
“Goodnight Moon” (Margaret Wise Brown, 1947)
“A Grammatical Institute of the English Language” (Noah Webster, 1783)
“The Grapes of Wrath” (John Steinbeck, 1939)
“The Great Gatsby” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925)
“Harriet, the Moses of Her People” (Sarah H. Bradford, 1901)
“The History of Standard Oil” (Ida Tarbell, 1904)
“History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and Clark” (Meriwether Lewis, 1814)
“How the Other Half Lives” (Jacob Riis, 1890)
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” (Dale Carnegie, 1936)
“Howl” (Allen Ginsberg, 1956)
“The Iceman Cometh” (Eugene O’Neill, 1946)
“Idaho: A Guide in Word and Pictures” (Federal Writers’ Project, 1937)
“In Cold Blood” (Truman Capote, 1966)
“Invisible Man” (Ralph Ellison, 1952)
“Joy of Cooking” (Irma Rombauer, 1931)
“The Jungle” (Upton Sinclair, 1906)
“Leaves of Grass” (Walt Whitman, 1855)
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (Washington Irving, 1820)
“Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy” (Louisa May Alcott, 1868)
“Mark, the Match Boy” (Horatio Alger Jr., 1869)
“McGuffey’s Newly Revised Eclectic Primer” (William Holmes McGuffey, 1836)
“Moby-Dick; or the Whale” (Herman Melville, 1851)
“The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” (Frederick Douglass, 1845)
“Native Son” (Richard Wright, 1940)
“New England Primer” (anonymous, 1803)
“New Hampshire” (Robert Frost, 1923)
“On the Road” (Jack Kerouac,1957)
“Our Bodies, Ourselves” (Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, 1971)
“Our Town: A Play” (Thornton Wilder, 1938)
“Peter Parley’s Universal History” (Samuel Goodrich, 1837)
“Poems” (Emily Dickinson, 1890)
“Poor Richard Improved and the Way to Wealth” (Benjamin Franklin, 1758)
“Pragmatism” (William James, 1907)
“The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D.” (Benjamin Franklin, 1793)
“The Red Badge of Courage” (Stephen Crane, 1895)
“Red Harvest” (Dashiell Hammett, 1929)
“Riders of the Purple Sage” (Zane Grey, 1912)
“The Scarlet Letter” (Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850)
“Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” (Alfred C. Kinsey, 1948)
“Silent Spring” (Rachel Carson, 1962)
“The Snowy Day” (Ezra Jack Keats, 1962)
“The Souls of Black Folk” (W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903)
“The Sound and the Fury” (William Faulkner, 1929)
“Spring and All” (William Carlos Williams, 1923)
“Stranger in a Strange Land” (Robert E. Heinlein, 1961)
“A Street in Bronzeville” (Gwendolyn Brooks, 1945)
“A Streetcar Named Desire” (Tennessee Williams, 1947)
“A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America” (Christopher Colles, 1789)
“Tarzan of the Apes” (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1914)
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” (Zora Neale Hurston, 1937)
“To Kill a Mockingbird” (Harper Lee, 1960)
“A Treasury of American Folklore” (Benjamin A. Botkin, 1944)
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (Betty Smith, 1943)
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)
“Unsafe at Any Speed” (Ralph Nader, 1965)
“Walden, or Life in the Woods” (Henry David Thoreau, 1854)
“The Weary Blues” (Langston Hughes, 1925)
“Where the Wild Things Are” (Maurice Sendak, 1963)
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (L. Frank Baum, 1900)

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Friday, June 01, 2012

No looking in the corner for this one

(This column originally appeared August 4, 1989, in the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, NY)

    When I was in college, one of the interesting things about our old campus was the strange little bits of sculpture and artwork tucked away in odd corners.
    In the Administration Building, there was a set of murals of the life and times of Christopher Columbus.
    One painting showed Columbus and these weeping Indians in a cell and was entitled "Bobadilla betrays Columbus."
    We didn't know who Bobadilla was, but he must have been a cad.
    Near the art building, there was a six-foot sculpture of a man, made of reinforcing rods.
    The rods approximated musculature, and the man's head was thrown back in a scream of inarticulate angst, while his hands tore open his stomach. Inside were gears and suchlike, with a little, tiny man in the very center .
    Oddest of all, though, was the mural in the Huddle. Wrapped around the end of the booths in the snack bar was a really ugly painting of grotesque football players hitting each other, while referees blew whistles and threw flags. As undergraduate artwork goes, this was really a wonder.
    I thought of all this awe-striking artwork the other day when I was over on the Plattsburgh State campus and saw the new giant head that is rising up between the library and the science building. I don't know much about sculpture, mind you. but I know what is big, and this is big.
    It isn't a record for macrocephalic sculpture, of course. Mount Rushmore is larger, but that is, strictly speaking, a statue of four giant heads, not four giant sculptures of heads.
    The heads of Easter Island are more separate, but still can hardly be classed as individual opera.  
    But the giant head of Ferdinand Marcos, overlooking a golf course in the Phillipines, is clearly the world-class giant head of all time.
    Still, for Plattsburgh, this is one big head, and that is important. Campus art these days has few restrictions, but it is supposed to be really, really big.
    Look at those two gingerbread men shaking hands: now. that's big! That's really big, really good campus art.
    Giant art is important in the high-pressure world of the modern undergraduate facility.
    When we were students, we didn't care about our futures and we weren't under the same pressures to get high grades.
    If we wanted to go wandering around campus, hunting up unusual things to look at and ponder, we could take an hour or two and go do it. If the dinky little lifesize heads and bodies we were offered were tucked away in a quiet grotto or down amid the crab apple trees somewhere, we had nothing better to do than go down and have a look anyway.
    Today, students need to be able to get at that art quickly. They are busy people and they need to just look across campus and there it is: A giant head. Two men shaking hands. Whatever.
    You look, and you see it. No time wasted, no one late to class.
    This is very American, you know, this efficient artwork. It started with the Statue of Liberty.
    We'd bring in all the wretched refuse yearning to be free, and, as their boats steamed into the harbor, we'd say, "Hey, there's Lady Liberty over there. We made her real big, so you wouldn't have to get off the boat and go have a close-up look. You can see her just fine from here. Now, go get your shots and find a job."
    I don't know what this really big head is going to actually look like when it is done. Right now, it looks like a giant-but-kind-of-flimsy jungle gym, but they wouldn't dare leave it like that unless they are going to really, really crack down on campus drinking.
    I haven't talked to the artist about all this.
    But my senior year, they decided to renovate the Huddle, and they covered over the grotesque mural of ugly football players that had been there for 15 years, and some enterprising campus reporter thought to call up the guy who painted it and ask him what he thought about having his artistic tribute to Notre Dame football destroyed.
    "I hated football,'' he replied. "I thought it was incredibly grotesque."
    Which doesn't have much to do with giant heads, except that it was nice to run into a campus artist who didn't have one.

(Note: This provoked an angry letter from the curator that may have provoked more laughter than the original column.)