Quick Hit: OBOS on Jay Parini's List of Influential Books

By Christine Cupaiuolo — December 1, 2008

Middlebury College professor, poet and author Jay Parini has a new book out — “Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America.”

I caught Heller McAlpin’s short review in the San Francisco Chronicle and was delighted to see that “Our Bodies, Ourselves” made Parini’s “bonus list” of 100 additional influential books.

Parisi cautions that he did not set out to list “the ‘greatest’ American books,” but rather “an exploration of national myths” and “books that played a role in shaping the nation’s idea of itself.”

These are the main titles featured, in chronological order of publication: “Of Plymouth Plantation,” William Bradford; “The Federalist Papers,” Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay; “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin“; “The Journals of Lewis and Clark,” Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; “Walden,” Henry David Thoreau; “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Harriet Beecher Stowe; “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain; “The Souls of Black Folk,” W.E.B. Du Bois; “The Promised Land,” Nicholas Lemann; “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie; “The Common Sense Book on Baby and Child Care,” Dr. Benjamin Spock; “On the Road,” Jack Kerouac; “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan.

I’m interested in reading why Parini chose this baker’s dozen. Dr. Spock’s book is an interesting pick considering all the political titles, though it does remain incredibly popular and is credited with changing attitudes about raising children. Of course it would have been nice to see more texts by women.

Referring to the bonus list, McAlpin writes:

You might do a double take at the inclusion of the Sears, Roebuck Catalog (1902) and “Jane Fonda’s Workout Book” (1981), wonder about Caroline Kirkland’s “A New Home – Who’ll Follow?” (1839) or question the absence of David Riesman’s “The Lonely Crowd,” “The Merck Manual” or “The Great Gatsby.” Or you might head to your bookshelf, bookstore or library to start reading.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan discusses the choices on “Fresh Air,” which also features an excerpt.

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