Books That Shaped America at The Library Congress

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.

Photo: Wikipedia

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.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.

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