Go now, and visit the list at the Books That Shaped America project at The Library of Congress. The exhibition opens June 25 on the 2nd floor of the Jefferson building. The list celebrates books by Americans that have shaped the American experience, from Amelia Simmon’s American Cookery (1796) to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) to the Boston Women’s Collective’s Our Bodies, Our Selves (1971). I was cheered to see old friends on this list, and compelled to read others.
I took the survey. The first question asked me to rate which three books I thought had been most influential – that was difficult. Should it be Leaves of Grass? Uncle Tom’s Cabin? On The Road? How the Other Half Lives? In the end, I chose The Jungle, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and The Double Helix by James Watson. A feeling of inadequacy came over me, as so many Some books shape social change, while other books offer messages that we consider in quiet, within ourselves. We absorb their content on a personal level, but books impact us as a community.
Just after I planned to write this post (thanks Mr. M, LoC staffer, for pointing out the project), The Takeaway on WNYC aired a segment on the project, asking their audience to suggest additional books to add to the list. The Library of Congress doesn’t intend this to be a one-time list, but to revise the list annually. If you have suggestions, take the survey at the Books That Shaped America website.
Read this summer. Be shaped by a book – if not one of the ones from this list, then another book that might join that list in the future. Walk into your public library, choose a shelf at random, and pick something, anything (get your library card renewed while you are at it). Enjoy American heritage – enjoy literacy.