Kerouac, On the Road
Published in 1957, Kerouac's masterpiece captured the voice of America's 'Beat Generation', an iconoclastic2
group of writers that sprung up in the post-war US as a reaction against mainstream3
social values:materialism, capitalist accumulation, passive acceptance of religious and ethical4
codes. On the Road describes the whistle-stop travels of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. The story is enriched by the clarity of Kerouac's spontaneous prose, yet has resounded5
with young readers to this day for its underlying6
values of exploration, experimentalism, and the (ultimately fruitless) search for true value in life.
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath7
Arguably Nobel Prize-winning American writer John Steinbeck's greatest work, The Grapes of Wrath follows the fortunes of the Joads, a family of Oklahoman farmers forced to flee their Dust Bowl home during the Great Depression. On the road to California, they encounter hunger, poverty, abandonment, and exploitation, yet also great generosity8
, sacrifice, maturity9
, and finally rebirth. Upon publication, the novel's accessible prose and sensitivity to the plight10
of America's labouring poor both resonated with the country's working classes and aroused the ire of some of Steinbeck's contemporaries. A true paean11
to the power of the human spirit, it is studied in high school English classrooms to this day.
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
a thrilling piece of travel literature and a philosophical13 treatise14
, Robert M. Pirsig's 1974 novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance traces the author's bike trip from Minnesota to California. Interspersed15
with vivid sweeps of the American prairies, each chapter also chronicles a series of philosophical discussions as a father recovering from electroconvulsive therapy gradually tries to reconcile his own worldviews with those of the people around him and liberation from a materialist16
spiritual vacuum. Drawing on both the Western and Eastern philosophical canon, this challenging read ultimately serves as a platform for Pirsig to introduce his own Metaphysics of Quality.
Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning epistolary novel The Color Purple won huge acclaim17
for its sensitive exploration of the lives of African-American women in America's Deep South during the 1930s. Set in rural Georgia, Celie, the novel's protagonist18
, suffers immense abuse and victimisation as a black girl growing up in a racially segregated19
community. Later, her meeting with Shug Avery, a glitzy singer and magic-maker, helps Celie push back against the repressive society around her and take charge of her own destiny.
Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle
A novel of diffuse20
influences and phenomenal imaginative power, Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle challenged the foundations of American exceptionalism. Dick postulates21
an alternate ending to the Second World War, one which witnessed the defeat of the Allies, the conquest of the American continent by the Japanese Empire and Nazi22
Germany, and the subsequent Cold War 'fought' between the two new Axis23
with East Asian philosophy, and featuring passages written in stunning25
Japanese-English creole, the book explores the veracity26
of the reality we live in, how we negotiate 'true' or 'fake' identities in the face of persecution27
, and how much true 'value' can be derived28
from any sense of national pride.