The Great American Novel: The Contenders

Jeff O'Neal

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Jeff O'Neal is the executive editor of Book Riot and Panels. He also co-hosts The Book Riot Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @thejeffoneal.

This recent re-reading of The Great Gatsby has got me thinking, again, about its popularity and its status. It’s not only widely-read, but it’s also critically acclaimed. In fact, on a graph where one axis is popularity and one axis is acclaim, Gatsby probably covers more surface area than any other American novel. But does that make it “The Great American Novel”? I’m not sure, but it got me thinking–what novels do you need to have read to be equipped to answer the question “What is the Great American Novel?” Surely Gatsby is one, but there are others that, while you might not consider them the greatest, at least deserve the honor of your informed dismissal. The Great American Novel might not even be on this list, if it exists at all, but these are the champs it would have to knock out to take the crown.