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Monday, July 5, 2010

Monday Discussion: Patriotic Books

The BPL is closed today, but the Monday Discussion stops for no one.

Since we all spent the holiday weekend thinking about the founding of our country, I thought I'd ask everyone what books, movies, or music, we find "American."

What I like about this question is that the answer could be just about anything; it is a personal feeling that would make you choose something, not anything you could search in a card catalog. So what stories make you think of this country, our freedom, and ours lives, for better or worse?

For me, this is a no brainer. I was an American Studies major in college, and I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the documentaries of Ken Burns. To me his movies, the books he compiles to go with them, and the soundtracks scream America to me. He has been quoted thousand of times saying that he uses all of his films to tell the same story-- that of America and its people. If I had to pick one film though, it is The Civil War. Even after having spent an entire year of my life watching it over and over, it is still a moving story of our country's struggle to stay together.

In terms of more traditional nonfiction, David McCullough makes American History come alive for me in his narrative nonfiction. Of course most of you will be familiar with John Adams, but I would also suggest The Johnstown Flood and, my favorite, The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. I have a drawing of the Brooklyn Bridge over my television because of that book. McCullough turned the bridge and the people who built it into symbols of American ingenuity, and the book (and the film Ken Burns made based on the book) still inspire me.

In fiction, Independence Day by Richard Ford captures the American family in turmoil. Frank Bascombe takes his troubled son on an ill-fated Independence Day weekend trip and much of what it means to be a father, a son, and an American family is explored in this Pulitzer Prize winning book. Independence Day is the 2nd book in the Bascombe trilogy.

Finally, when I think of American literature, Mark Twain always comes to mind. Twain captured what it meant to be American and the contradictions between what we say and how we live.  He was never afraid to satirize our country and probe deeply into serious issues at a time when this attitude was not as common place as it is today. If you ever come by the BPL RA desk, we have his bust watching over our staff as we help readers. I like to think he would be proud of us.

Now it is your turn. What books, movies, or music do you find the most patriotic?

Remember, you can follow also previous Monday Discussions by clicking here.


Verna- BPL Reference said...

I'd have to go with The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Because it's a story of striving to become and attempting to attain your dreams.

JohnBPL said...

Perhaps my idea of "patriotism" is different than most readers, but at the risk of courting controversy I will say that my favorite patriotic book is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. Part biography and part documentary, it relates a personal quest by the author to journey to the heart of "the American dream". After loading his car down with drugs, liquor, weapons and his "lawyer", his search takes him to the cultural vortex of Las Vegas in the early 1970s under the guise of reporting on a motorcycle race. Once in Vegas, a powerful reckoning takes place that ignores the concepts of time and reality. The author and the reader are forced to confront their conceptions (and misconceptions) about what the American Dream really means and about the meaning of such a dream for the future. Like America itself, the book begins as a pilgrimage and ends as a question mark. It appears, to all the world, as dangerous and foolish yet achieves something impossible. I know of nothing more American than that.

Becky said...

Here are some SF and FSY Americana options too: http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2010/07/04/essay-12-science-fiction-and-fantasy-novels-and-stories-of-americana/

Kathy, BPL RA said...

I don't think I can beat John's answer but I will still give my two cents. "Judgment Days" by Nick Kotz is non-fiction about how the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act came to be. Mostly it focuses on the relationship between Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. and what each of them sacrificed in order to get the law passed. The story is uniquely American and also teaches the reader a lot about how our government works and how laws come to be.
I also would suggest reading Studs Terkel who spent his life chronicling the working class, the poor, the disenfranchised, the average Joe - in other words the people who truly make up America but are rarely heard.