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Teaching American Literature: Favorite Novels

Updated on January 14, 2017


I have taught English for the last seven years. Over those years I have had the privilege to teach some excellent novels that have led to quality discussions with students. This list provides the novels I used in class that I consider my favorites. Some novels, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, are I consider classics, but they will not be on this list. They were novels that I did not teach to this class; instead, they were taught to younger students. This list will not contain plot details, but my reasoning for using the novels and the level of discussion they provoked.

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the greatest American novels I have read. It is a novel of elegance and excess. Using this novel in my classroom was a no-brainer. This novel provoked great discussions on adultery, excess, wealth, etc. The great part of this book was that it is simple, short, and very easy to read. Overall it is a novel that I would continue to teach because it is genuinely timeless in its tale.

The Great Gatsby

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy is a true masterpiece. This timeless tale of violence and justice (or lack thereof) was a constant hit with my students. It was a true Biblical tale of bloodshed, hitmen, and the old sheriff tasked with solving a messy, messy crime. It was truly fantastic one year to listen to my students hold a 45 minute discussion on whether or not it was moral for Moss to take the briefcase of money. This is another absolute classic of American Literature.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is a beautiful novel that has the potential to connect with every teenage reader. This was a novel that one year was read, loved, and cherished by one class. The next class that read the novel thought that it was too profane and inappropriate for them as high school students. It is truly amazing just how a group of students that don't like reading can pick up this novel and love it. Then the next year a group of students, mixed on reading, despised it. They let me know their disapproval throughout the discussion. It is a novel that should absolutely be read!

Final Thoughts

Those are the three big novels I taught that provoked and prompted excellent discussions with my American Literature kids. I also taught Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, that is a fantastic novel, but it was one that never prompted much discussion with my kids.


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      mactavers 12 months ago

      Interesting. I was thinking about the requirements in the 1960s. The Great Gatsby was one, along with The Scarlet Letter, The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Moby Dick.