Book Group Toolbox #81: Promised Land
Posted by: Kaite Stover
A book group looking for some serious scholarly conversation should consult Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America by Jay Parini.
Parini is one of those renaissance writers who moves fluidly from one literary province to the next. He is a novelist, poet, essayist, reviewer, critic, and biographer. Reading Parini feels like a warm and leisurely conversation with one of your smartest, most erudite, friends who is completely unsmug about his brain power.
Promised Land explores a fascinating premise, there are thirteen books that had indelible impact on the way America thinks and lives. Parini was inspired by a lecture he attended in London, “Twelve Books that Changed the World.” Further musing led him to choose thirteen books that were watershed titles.
All the titles should sound familiar to students who have taken Western Civ 101. Parini breaks up each book’s chapter in four parts, discussing the book’s place in its time and American culture overall, a detailed description of the book with thought provoking analysis, and finally, concluding with the book’s enduring appeal to American readers.
The expected fiction classics make the list: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, On the Road, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But so do some nonfiction classics: The Federalist Papers, The Feminine Mystique, Walden, and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Imagine the chat, however, if the selection were How to Win Friends and Influence People or The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.
Facilitators of discussion groups demanding a little more meat to the conversation will find lively and stimulating talking points in Promised Land. Certainly there will be at least two or three books the more serious book group hasn’t yet discussed.