Read Like An American

Read like an American – remembering your grandparents’ living rooms wherever those were, rooms where you were not in charge, where cooking smells captured you– still attach to them car horns, wind, the paper rattling, a radio playing the  barn dance or TV ball games flat in black and white – E.L. Doctorow, Toni Morrison, Sue Miller, Anne Petry, William Faulkner

Read about the crackling corn in fields, standing cliff top at Starved Rock, water slapping lake shores as Ojibwe paddled after wild rice – the vibration of a Piper cub lifting off, the “Watermelooooone” vender calling in the alley off Polk Street

Fourth of July sparkling overhead or booming, wind across acres of open land, dunes rising above you to blue sky, catching fireflies at dusk, river canoeing, standing on shore waiting for the catch during a smelt run, woods walking next to Lake

Winnibigoshish, sailing on Lake Geneva for one sun-splashed afternoon – Willa Cather, Jim Harrison, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings , William H. Armstrong, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Mildred Taylor, Marie Sandoz, Jimmy Santiago Baca

Read like an American arguing with the past or present – about land, rights and losses, the noise of conquest, about watching change…knowing it feels inevitable and it’s hazardous…often never good for some of us, making fun of us to wake us up, tracking currents of complication and diversity sweeping us along – Sherman Alexie, Barbara Kingsolver, Theodore Dreiser, Adrienne Rich, Marianne Wiggins, Marilynne Robinson, Louise Erdrich, Sinclair Lewis, Linda Hogan

Read like an American, celebrations of places and people you know on the streets you walk, the shore you live next to, in the shadows of pine woods, kitchens you recognize, the summer nights of crickets, frozen mornings of snow or sleet, sharp fall orange-glowing trees, sandblown mountains, lazy flowing  rivers or rushing rapids – Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Sherwood Anderson, Rockwell Kent, Sarah Orne Jewett, Ivan Doig, Amy Tan

Read like an American about cities noisy, demanding, dirty, alive, distinctive – Gloria Naylor, Betty Smith, Upton Sinclair, James Baldwin, J.D. Salinger, Gwendolyn Brooks, Anzia Yezierska, Edith Wharton

Read like an American for healing yourself, our disagreements over land, the misunderstanding of heritages mixed and varied, after wars, the divides fed by religion, political and economic upheaval – Walt Whitman, John Steinbeck, Tillie Olsen, Julia Alvarez, Langston Hughes, Kevin Powers, Rita Dove, Tim O’Brien, Leslie Marmon Silko, Emily Dickinson, Stephen Crane, Bobbie Ann Mason, Maxine Hong Kingston, Brian Turner

Read like an American – arguing for authors who belong in another category or more than one, shouting out the names of favorites and laughing outright at other choices

Read like an American with your unique perspective, pick up books telling stories you could never imagine, exploits you never had but want to know about – quest on in America’s tradition – looking forward, moving out…seeing what there is to learn

Read like an American – eyes and ears open to catch glimpses of life as we know it, as we imagine it, as we want to change it, to absorb its variety, the strength that comes from differences, to savor rich layers of cultures and language that make us unique in the world

Read making up your own mind….but read


Karen Arnold, literary gypsy, was Poet-in-Residence at Montpelier Cultural Arts Center, Laurel, MD; creates and moderates reading and discussion groups in Literature and Medicine and with Veterans sponsored by Maryland Humanities, Baltimore libraries and hospitals; has taught at the University of Maryland, the United States Naval Academy, and the University of Lund in Lund, Sweden; teaches creative writing workshops. The Midwest gave her wide skies and openness, the
roots of her love of Atlantic shores.