As we head towards the 237th birthday of the United States of America, last week’s news cycle and various political discussions have given us a whole new set of reasons to ponder the many contradictions that make our country the great and beautiful mess that it is. From high unemployment numbers to rampant violence to politicians arguing over our personal freedoms, there is more than enough to remind us how strange of a place America can be. While the jury is still out over whether the Great American Novel has been written or will be written, there are plenty of other books that can help us attempt to navigate through the weirdness that is America.
Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
Less than a hundred years after Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and friends all signed their John Hancocks to the Declaration of Independence, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick pretty much set the bar in terms of American books that tackle themes like race, class, religion, and social status in the young country. Even though Melville’s masterwork was largely unappreciated in his own lifetime, you can point to Moby-Dick as one of the finest and earliest examples of literature that shines a light on some of America’s complexities that we struggle with to this very day.