An Oxford World’s Classics American literature reading list
There’s something about the frenzied vigor of snowflakes, shopping outings, and journeys back home, that make us want to take a break and curl up with a good book. The classics are always a perfect pick for a good read during the holiday season. We compiled some of the best books from American literature to read when you’re looking to escape into a story. Which is your favorite?
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
“Call me Ishmael.” And so begins one of the greatest books of American literature ever written. Melville masterfully weaves the threads of high-seas adventure, romanticism, and megalomania in one epic story. Is the white whale just a whale? Spend your holiday getting your sea legs and decide for yourself.
Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Gimlets, flappers, and a “Diamond as Big as the Ritz” make Fitzgerald’s eponymous collection of short stories an opulent time capsule of the roaring 20s. Included also is “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, the inspiration for the Academy Award winning film. Get dressed to the nines as the band strikes up and discover why these stories are still the bee’s knees.
The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Other Stories by Jack London
How thin is the veneer of civilization? Does the brutality of nature force us to find our better, stronger selves? Meditate on these themes through the lens of London’s famous dog stories located on the near mythic landscape of the Alaskan Klondike. You’ll never warm your hands by a fire, or look at man’s best friend and feel the same way again.
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Considered a masterpiece of Victorian realist literature, James takes you on a grand tour of metropolitan Europe through the eyes of a sensitive, modern woman on the edge of a crisis. Lose yourself in James’s breathtaking language, as you track the efforts of the book’s ambitious protagonist to navigate her socially claustrophobic environment.
The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Ancestral guilt, retribution, and atonement all brew together in a supernatural New England mansion. Hawthorne engrosses the reader in the history of the Pyncheon family; they are a clan haunted by murder, imprisonment, and witchcraft. Explore the skeletons of this aristocratic Salem family. An interesting fact: Hawthorne based his novel on an existing house that is now a historic landmark in Massachusetts.
The Yellow Wall-paper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A collection of stories from America’s leading feminist intellectual of the early 20th century. Explore the desperate psychological struggles of protagonists fighting against the maddening gender constructs of the time.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Considered by many to be one of the first examples of The Great American Novel, Twain’s seminal work remains celebrated and controversial to this day. With the Mississippi as a vehicle into the depths of the Antebellum South, and a cast of absurd regional caricatures as propellant, the reader confronts the brutality of racism through a boyhood adventure story.
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
A brilliant assault on the conformist values of middle America in the 1920s, Sinclair Lewis assembles a cast of characters that seem to live and breathe apart from the page. We follow the life of George F. Babbitt as he attempts to escape a world of booster clubs, sales figures, and dinner invitations in the novel that won Lewis the Nobel Prize.
Looking to catch-up on the best literary classics? We’re giving away one of our Great American Classics Oxford World’s Classics sets. Contest is only open to US residents, and you must be at least 18 years old to enter.
For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
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Image credits: (1) Illustration of the final chase of Moby-Dick. By I. W. Taber 1902. Moby Dick – edition: Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Illustration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables from an edition published in 1875 by James R. Osgood and Company. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.