The Library of Congress launched a multi-year Celebration of the Book on June 25 with its exhibition of Books That Shaped America. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, explains:
This list of ‘Books That Shaped America’ is a starting point. It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books–although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not.
Sf and fantasy books making the cut are:
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
- Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Popular works dominate the list. The mandatory Melville, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald novels are outnumbered by bestsellers from writers like Ayn Rand, Harper Lee, Dr. Seuss, J. D. Salinger and even Dr. Benjamin Spock.
If the list is meant to spark discussion, surely one of those conversations must be about the way confining it to American works prevents the list from fully representing its theme. For example, if a 19th-century American family owned any book, it was likely the King James Bible or The Works of Shakespeare, neither of which qualify for inclusion. I’m confident Abraham Lincoln would have had both on his list of the “Books That Shaped America.”
[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh for the story.]