An Independence Day reading list from Oxford World’s Classics
By Penny Freedman
For this month’s Oxford World’s Classics reading list, we picked some of our favorite American classics in honor of Independence Day. There’s no better holiday to celebrate America’s iconic writers, and their great works, than the Fourth of July. Whether you were assigned to read these books in class, or keep meaning to pick up a few of those classics you missed out on, we have something for everyone on the list.
What’s your favorite American novel? Let us know.
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
By now, everyone is familiar with The Great Gatsby, thanks in part to the recent release of the movie this spring, which re-invented the story for the big screen. But, have you read Fitzgerald’s first novel? Loosely based on events of the author’s days at Princeton, This Side of Paradise tells the story of Amory Blaine’s pampered life. As he makes his way through Princeton, and falls in and out of love with a series of beautiful women, the realities of life beyond his youth give way to discontent. This novel swiftly launched Fitzgerald into success.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Pegged as one of the Great American novels, Moby Dick is the well-known story of a whaling journey full of adventure. Along with Captain Ahab, sailor Ishmael and the crew of the Pequod set off on a doomed voyage that they soon realize serves Ahab’s desire to seek revenge on Moby Dick, the large sperm whale that crippled him. This edition also includes passages from Melville’s correspondence with Nathaniel Hawthorne, another influential author of the time.
The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
You probably remember reading The Scarlet Letter in school, but The House of the Seven Gables is a book you may have missed out on. A Gothic tale of guilt and atonement, the story takes place in a haunted New England mansion in Salem. The house itself is based on Hawthorne’s cousin’s actual home. When a young woman comes to stay she breathes new life and romance into the home, setting a series of events in motion. Similar to The Scarlet Letter, the novel deals with the theme of human guilt, but this tale also weaves in a layer of fantasy.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Long before there was Lean In, there was Little Women, the classic story of strong-minded, independent women with the desire to craft their own destiny. Set in Alcott’s own family home in Massachusetts, this popular American novel follows the lives of the March sisters during the Civil War. A highly biographical story, the struggles that Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy endure give a look into Alcott’s own life. This edition also includes an introduction by Valerie Anderson that sheds more light onto the Alcott family.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Famously banned for Twain’s use of language, this classic American novel gives us a closer look at the rambunctious, lovable best friend of Tom Sawyer. Narrated in the illiterate voice of Huck Finn, the story follows the escape from his violent father to the endearing friendship formed during his travels down the Mississippi River with escaped slave Jim. An influential story before its time, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn deals with issues of prejudice, class, and age in America’s Deep South before the Civil War.
Penny Freedman works on Oxford World’s Classics in Oxford University Press’s New York office.
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Image credit: Detroit Publishing Co. From United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID det.4a24964. Via Wikimedia Commons.