My Antonia by Willa Cather
A beautiful story of immigrants in Nebraska in the late 19th century – Norwegians, Austrians, Russians, and Bohemians. One of America’s greatest, most sensitive writers of a profoundly American story with some human relevance today.
Cider House Rules by John Irving (recommended by Donald, Consular Section)
The novel is about a boy growing up in an orphanage in rural Maine and then living on an apple orchard. The engaging coming-of-age story intertwines several adult themes including mentoring, rural medicine, sexual relations, abortion, gender roles, and racial tensions and was made into a movie in 1999. I particularly like the book as it was set in the area where I grew up in New England.
All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (recommended by Claire, Political-Economic Section)
Loosely based on the career of real-life politician Huey Long, Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer-winning novel charts the rise and fall of populist politician Willie Stark through the eyes of his press manager Jack Burden, an aimless journalist struggling to make sense of Stark’s journey and Burden’s own past. Though set in vividly detailed 1930s Louisiana, the novel’s lyrical meditations on history, honor, the legacy of past sins, and the corruptibility of man are timeless.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (recommended by Persia, Vice Consul)
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (recommended by Andrew, Political-Economic Officer)
This is the prime example of the Great American Novel. A story about universal issues (racism) in small town America, in a style that can be enjoyed by both children and adults. Boo Radley, Atticus Fitch and other characters in this story are now part of the tapestry of American culture.
House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (recommended by Kath, Political-Economic Section)
Every US schoolkid reads “Ethan Frome” which is atypical of her work (and causes you to hate her) – her work is much more about people, especially women, trapped by what society expects them to do. The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton, is the story of Lily Bart, a well-born, but penniless woman of the high society of New York City, who was raised and educated to become the wife to a rich man.
USA by John Dos Passos (recommended by Joseph, Political-Military Affairs Unit)
The U.S.A. trilogy is a major work of American writer John Dos Passos, comprising the novels The 42nd Parallel (1930); 1919, (1932); and The Big Money (1936). The trilogy covers the historical development of American society during the first three decades of the 20th century.
“Great book! It characterizes the Depression and pre-Depression years in the United States.”
Of Mice & Men by John Steinbeck (recommended by Dylan, age 15)
Published in 1937, it tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in California in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression in the United States. Required reading in many schools, Of Mice and Men has been a frequent target of censors for vulgarity and what some consider offensive and racist language; consequently, it appears on the American Library Association’s list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century.