Authoring America

Aug 22 2012 @ 8:37pm

 NPR reports on a new exhibition at the Library of Congress, "Books That Shaped America." It "features 88 books — from Thomas Paine's Common Sense to Dr. Seuss' The Cat In The Hat — that have influenced national identity." Among the books that made the list? The Bible, American-style:

"The Bible is represented only in an American fashion. Since we were limiting ourselves to American authors and American books, we lost many of the traditional important books in the history of civilization. But we included the Curious Hieroglyphick Bible because it's an American attempt to incorporate imagery in teaching children the Bible.

"The Book of Mormon was certainly discussed and I think is a very legitimate inclusion on the list. It just didn't make it in the final outcome."

Unsurprisingly, reaction to the list has been mixed. Michael Dirda praises it for ignoring "the familiar high-culture shibboleths" and being open to what "one might call the classics of upset and troublemaking":

Here are the impassioned works that made us look behind the curtain, into the bedroom and closet and boardroom, at what we were afraid of and at what we covered up. Just skimming through the titles of “The Books That Shaped America” underscores that in this country anything can be questioned,nothing is set in stone, everything can be changed. We are, after all, a nation founded and grounded in revolution.

Tim Cavanaugh, however, is less than impressed. He believes the list gives the impression "that two-thirds of America's cultural history took place in only the last 112 years":

That at least is the evidence from the publication dates, just 27 of which are from before the twentieth century. Only 20 predate the Civil War. Suck on that, Francis Hopkinson, Susanna Rowson and Charles Brockden Brown! Phyllis Wheatley, you did your people great honor, but you just didn't shape America.

Peruse the entire list here.