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AmericanLiteratureIt wasn’t the Great American Novel, or even a very popular American novel, but “The Power of Sympathy” by William Hill Brown was the first American novel, published by Isaiah Thomas in Boston on January 21, 1789, making today


With a subtitle like “A Triumph of Nature Founded in Truth, In Two Volumes,” “The Power of Sympathy” didn’t capture many hearts and minds, but it did open the floodgates for thousands of homegrown authors to try their best to write the Great American Novel. We were the ones to reap the rewards when William Hill Brown’s spiritual descendants got busy: Mark Twain, Herman Melville, John Updike, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Willa  Cather, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, John Irving, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Eugene O’Neill, Joseph Heller, Edith Wharton, James Fenimore Cooper, Jack London, Jack Karouac, May Angelou, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Robert Heinlein, Larry McMurtry and hundreds of others who deserve inclusion here. The best novels transport us into their stories and interweave their characters’ lives with our own, sublime exercises of wordcraft and human insight. Finishing such a book is elevating, but sad. We miss the fictional people who made something real for us, explained some elusive truth, or were just a blast to have around. Read ’em if you got ’em!

•Suggested Activities: Prowling your local Used Books Emporium

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