The New Classics: 21 Writers Tell Us Which Books They’d Add to the Canon

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Meakin Armstrong

I’ve not read it in years, but a much quieter, less-lauded book impressed me much more back then, Sounder by William H. Armstrong. Before I’d read that book, African Americans as portrayed in literature seemed one-dimensional. I can’t say whether that book should be recommended (as I said, I’ve not read it in years), but it should be considered.

I’ve long had a theory that readers love Southern literature for its exoticism — it’s different from the more everyday North. That is, it was, until chain stores and malls, and everything took over and leeched the region of its uniqueness.

We now look to the world for that sense of the exotic (and as a professional book club coordinator once told me in an interview) we do it so book club members can prepare the foods from that country, wear the clothes, and feel well-traveled. It’s ersatz urbanity, a performance. We rarely read international literature in order to understand ourselves and how we interact with the world. To that end, I think all Americans need to read Takeshi Kaiko’s Into a Black Sun. It shows the war from a Japanese point of view. It’s not a novel filled with gore, but it still rips at the core of why America went to Vietnam — and why we were destined to lose it. And by extension, why America will lose every other war we go into, if it refuses to take into account other cultures.

Meakin Armstrong is a writer and Senior Editor-Fiction Editor at Guernica.