Help, please

Hidy-ho, all. I'm teaching a lit class in the summer, and I'm organizing it around works that look at "Americanness" in some way or another. If anyone has any suggestions (especially poetry, essays, stories, plays, or anything by women -- it's a very short class, and I think my long works are solid), I'd love to hear from you.

Current Ideas:

Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre (it won the Booker a year or two ago; it's supposed to be AWFUL, but I imagine it'd be fun to read a British novel mocking Americans).
Nowhere Man, Alex Hemon (has everyone read this yet?)
maybe some Alexie stories, DFWallace essays, & REllison essays?
Joan Didion essays?

(Trying to get ideas has been interesting: do many American female authors write about "American-ness" in, say, the way that someone like DeLillo or Wallace or Fitzgerald, etc., do?)

(I'm trying very very hard to avoid Cisneros)


Grendel said...

My students responded well to these, and they are all kinda Americany:

Kate Chopin "The Story of an Hour"
Ralph Ellison "Battle Royal"
Emily Dickinson - anything
"A Supermarket in California" (they HATED "Howl")
Richard Wright "The Man Who Was Almost a Man"
Oates "Where Are You Going..."
Updike "A&P"
Mason "Shiloh"

Grendel said...

You'll be sorry if you get Vampiro started on Vernon God Little.

bR said...

When I did the CW Studio class, I had students read a couple of the oral histories from Studs Terkel's "My American Century." It's basically a collection of essays/interviews about the nature of work in America. My students responded well to it, as I recall.

Pete said...

What you really should do is have them watch a bunch of Arnold movies. A list of suspiciously Austrian accented but otherwise redblooded American characters in dude's filmography:

-Gordy Brewer
-Howard "Howie" Langston
-Jack Slater
-John Kimble
-Douglas Quaid
-Ben Richards
-Mickey Haggarty

I mean, come on. Names that bleachy don't just happen; they have to be part of a larger archetype. (my favorite is the first name "nickname" last name school of action hero naming). How this archetype came to be better represented by Arnold than all his American counterparts (Bronson, Norris, Stallone) is kind of a fun thing to think about. Because it really was a development over time. You look at his filmography and the progression from acknowledged otherness to caricatured American is remarkably steady. The endgame? He runs for public office and wins.

If I can't be a novelist, I want to be an action movie historian.

El Gordo de Amore said...

Stephen Milhauser - Martin Dressler -- awesome short novel about a Horatio Alger-type hero that slowly goes bananas building a dream hotel.

And i found a list on the web.


El Gordo de Amore said...

Man -- I was just reading the essay I have to teach for tomorrow -- and, blog of the Devil, it's by Cisneros. They are going to hate it, and I'll just have to agree with them (which makes class awful short).

Can you base an entire literary career on mangoes?

Depressingly, it seems pretty clear that you can.

In the interest of shoes and a college fund for The Pooper, I am now including borscht in all of my stories.

I will be the Borscht Author of the World! My borscht will drive my enemies before me, and I will listen to the lamentations of their women!!!!


TLB said...

The forgotten, but clearly all-American novel Main Street by Sinclair Lewis should be required reading for all classes in Americanism.

Good luck!

Grendel said...

You mention essays -- I would imagine there is something suitably delicious from Dickens's scathing "American Notes," the Master's account of his first trip to America. You can check it out online at


dunkeys said...

That Dickens thing is great; I'll definitely use it. Thanks for the other suggestions, everyone -- Sinclair Lewis is a great idea, and that link is awesome, too: Dos Passos -- duh! And any chance to read Nathaniel West is a good one. Maybe I'll show Simpsons cartoons, too.

I wish some poets would give feedback. Nate. Chris. Chad.

(That action movie historian concept almost makes we want to reveal the coolest book ever that I'm going to write someday.)

TLB said...

Come on, Dunkeys, you can't tease us like that...

dunkeys said...

Can and will!

(Just give me about six years.)

Vampiro said...

Took an interesting philosophy class when I was an undergrad that was called Art & America. We studied Bob Dylan, Georgia O'Keefe, Walt Whitman, and Sam Peckinpaw. If only you could get some Peckinpaw into your lit class.

Did anyone mention Emerson? I know it's a gimme, but it's also a bit foundational. Self-Reliance?

Nowhere Man is pretty fantastic, except that I'd like to dropkick the last chapter. I'm not so sure, though, that it sheds a whole lot of light on American-ness. Maybe some, but not a lot. Great book, anyway.

I'll try to maintain my composure as I recommend you AWAY from Vernon God Little. I am an ammo dump with gasoline puddles, and you are a burning cigarette should you bring that book up again. Or the fucknard who wrote it.

Finally, Studs Terkel has another great book of short essays called Working. It's simply interviews with dozens of people about their jobs. And what's more American than working your ass off until you die?