Reading List for Our Times
Topics Covered: Totalitarianism, Racism, Technology’s Grip
Presented in No Particular Order:
George Orwell, 1984
George Orwell, Animal Farm
George Orwell Essay, “Politics and the English Language”—showing how language can be distorted to mean something other than it does; i.e., “liquidated” or “terminated with extreme prejudice,” rather than “killed,” “exterminated.” Link:
William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Jack London, The Iron Heel
Georg Steiner, The Passage to San Cristobal of A.H.
Now, to the Americans, from early 18th Century. Please note that I have left out the more common writers (Emerson, Thoreau, Poe) and poets (Whitman), in favor of those who emphasize what I believe to be direct appeals to my above subject areas. And I skipped those whose approach is more diffuse, or difficult to pinpoint (Douglass), scattered as it is over the course of a book. Besides, many of these early writers are dull reading, by 21st-century standards.
Feel free to skim. As Bashevis Singer said, “Children make the best literary critics. A child will not read anything they do not enjoy.” I am the same way. I read several books at once, and refuse to read something that does not match my mood.
Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”—the Puritan View of Calvinism, Predestination, and a generally gloomy view of the Afterlife, signifying why government should interfere in people’s private lives, which accounts for the Right’s continuing interference in birth issues
Red Jacket, “Reply to the Missionary Jacob Cram”
Tecumseh, “Speech to the Osages”
—both of these are Native American protests against White encroachment on tribal lands, as well as pleas for the Red Man to receive treatment equal to the Whites; ironically, though, the Indians owned slaves.
Benjamin Franklin, “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America”—BF’s plea for granting equal rights to Native Americans, though how much stems from his own liberalism/Deism, and how much from a reading of Rousseau’s “Natural Man,” we will never know
Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl—compare this to Ann Frank, and decide which suffered more; in a Holocaust course, I would teach them together, as I used to show my 8th Grade Jewish students both a Holocaust movie and Hotel Rwanda
Mark Twain, “The War Prayer”—read also about the Filipino-American War of 1900-1902, one of our first Imperialist American Wars, and very little known
“The Great Controversy”—Booker T. Washington vs. Dr. W.E.B. DuBois (pronounced Doo-BOYCE)
Paul Laurence Dunbar—read about his life, and two of his short poems: “We Wear the Mask,” and “Sympathy”
Susan Glaspell, “Trifles” (a Play)
The Harlem Renaissance: short poems by:
Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels to be Colored Me” and “The Gilded Six-Bits” for its first mention of Black folk having a sexual life (1920s)
Langston Hughes (but then, he’s so nice; perhaps you could skip Langston, except, perhaps, “Theme for English B”)
Richard Wright—try to read his harsh, killing short stories—he has a great deal of anger; his autobiography is best
E.E. Cummings, “i sing of Olaf glad & big”
“next to of course god america i”
Ben Hecht, A Guide for the Bedevilled--the newspaperman, screenwriter, and curmudgeon on anti-semitism in particular, and racism in general
Randall Jarrell, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”—the Modern State wants to kill its young, and really doesn’t care about them
Later Black Poets & Writers:
Robert Hayden, “Middle Passage”
“Those Winter Sundays” –because it reminds me of my father, and many other fathers
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, “Battle Royal,” if you can’t read the entire book
James Baldwin—his essays are better than his fiction, except for Go Tell It on the Mountain, and the short story “Going to Meet the Man,” about a lynching
Toni Morrison—“Recitatif”—I have tried, will try, to read her longer work, but this story deals with two girls, one white, one black, raised in a shelter. They become friends. I can say nothing more.
Le Roi Jones/Amiri Baraka—I have not kept up with his more recent work. He is an Aged Lion. We have all grown old. He is still important; perhaps, more relevant than ever.
Louise Erdrich, “Fleur”
--I realize that I have left out most of the Native Americans, the Hispanic-American Writers, and will be happy for corrections, criticisms, and emendations. Please remember that, in one month, I cover from 1492 (Columbus’s arrival) to 1984 (Toni Morrison) and perhaps a Billy Collins poem; it is the nature of a career college.