I’ve heard the term the “Great American Novel” a million times, but I’ve never really thought about it. It was an accepted fact that at some point in your life a person of creative spirit should put to pen and give a go at writing the next “Great American Novel.” And judging by the fair amount of writer hopefuls that fill my Facebook timeline you would accept the fact that this does happen.

This term is very old, even if it is still in effect today, almost as old as America itself. It was born of patriotism and American nationalism, in our hopeful view that people would love to read about our American experience. Now it is seen as a goal. As an achievement. A goal given to a college-age English major, or a high school student interested in creative writing. One day you shall write the Great American Novel. A book that will capture the attention of every member of this country, old and young. It’s quite a goal. And one I hope more people share.

From lists on wiki and Huffington, only a few novels have achieved the status of being a Great American Novel…these are my top ten:

Great American Novels
  1. The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane

Often the short novel by Crane is forgotten on lists, an afterthought, drowning under names like Hemingway and Steinbeck, but the poignant Civil War recount of a character from his limited perspective is one of my favorites.

“So it came to pass that as he trudged from the place of blood and wrath his soul changed.”

2. “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” by Edgar Allan Poe

Again not a top choice for Great American Novels, Poe himself wasn’t a fan of his only full-length novel, but the strange and brutal adventure is a top pick. Poe’s disjointed and dark descriptions are second on my list of Great American Novels.

3. “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

A feel good story, again set in the Civil War. As inspiring as it was entertaining, I recently gave “Little Women” to by eight-year-old and was touched when she told me that her favorite character was Jo also.

4. “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London

So much more than a boy and his dog novel, this is one of the books that I turned the last page and then flipped back to the beginning of the novel and began again.

Great American Novels

5. “Adventures of Huckleberry Finnby Mark Twain

Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is a staple in our family. Being set in the South and Mark Twain a hero of New Orleans makes this even more of an important novel to read for our family. And I’m also of the mind that the tone and story of the book is meaningful, even though every now and again you run into someone that freaks out about the vernacular. They usually didn’t get very far into the novel or have a grasp of satire.

“That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it.”


6. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The first sordid tale that I had the pleasure to read as a teen. The Great Gatsby introduced me to the Jazz Age which I fell in love with, but also taught me to love the written word. Fitzgerald not only told an immense story, but he also spun it in a way, using all the faculties that a great novelists can use. 3. “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

A feel good story, again set in the Civil War. As inspiring as it was entertaining, I recently gave “Little Women” to by eight-year-old and was touched when she told me that her favorite character was Jo also.

7. “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville

If you’re into books and that sort of thing, you’re supposed to read “Moby Dick.” If only to snicker when people reference great first lines and say “Call me Ishmael.” Knowing the truth. The Whale might be hard at first to wade through, but once you let the narrator in…you’ll realize why it’s one of the best.

Great American Novels

8. “Slaughterhouse-Fiveby Kurt Vonnegut

I initially picked this up as my choice for summer reads because it said “aliens” in the blurb. I won’t lie, I’m a sucker for science fiction. I quickly had to look up what “absurdist” meant and then keep the dictionary close at hand. It was one of my fondest book reading memories, as absurd as it was.

“Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is.”

9. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

I threw a fit when “forced” to read “To Kill a Mockingbird.” That reading followed “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou (my teacher must have been on a bird kick) which thoroughly broke me. Call it heresy, but me and the caged bird did not mesh well. Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” redeemed the birds though.

10. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov

This one never made any of my school lists, even in college. I did attend all girl’s Catholic schools though and the nuns didn’t want to give us any ideas. I felt like a rebel reading “Lolita” and honestly, it was a springboard into more rebellious reading, like “gasp” Anne Rice. But, nothing compared to the feeling of when I picked up this book. I keep saying I need to reread this one, as an adult and not a scandalized and sheltered teen.

What Great American Novel do you love the most?


  1. Stephanie Hartley

    I have to see that Gatsby definitely deserves a place on this list – it’s my favourite comfort read that I can come back to time and time again (I think I’ve read it five times now?!). Lolita was on my course list at uni, but I never got around to it, and now I really want to read it within the next year. It’s currently sat on my bookcase staring at me hatefully because I left it behind haha.

    Steph – http://www.nourishmeblog.co.uk

    • Parajunkee

      I hope you enjoy it. I have to pick it up again, most of these I read as a teen or in college, so it would be interesting to “reassess” as an adult.

  2. Jennifer @ The Book Nympho

    UGH, I’m being forced to read To Kill A Mockingbird for the second time in my college career and I don’t like it anymore this time than I did 14 years ago. I’m also being forced to read The Great Gatsby this summer for the same, Flim as Literature course. I’ve not started it yet so I can’t say if I like it or not.

    • Parajunkee

      LOL poor thing 😛