Kevin J. Hayes (author); A JOURNEY THROUGH AMERICAN LITERATURE; Oxford University Press (Nonfiction: Literary Criticism) $17.95 ISBN: 9780199862061
Byline: Karunesh Tuli
"Was there any?" was the response of a film historian when Tom Stempel, a professor of cinema, mentioned that he was researching writing in American television. Film and television screenplays usually do not appear on lists of great literature. Autobiograpies and travel accounts similarly get pushed aside by novels, poetry, and short stories. In A Journey Through American Literature, Kevin J. Hayes, a professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma, showcases fine American writing of many kinds, ranging from seventeenth-century promotional tracts -- written to attract Europeans to the New World -- to The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri's twenty-first-century novel about Indian immigrants in the United States. "Any piece of writing that approaches excellence can be considered literature regardless of genre," he explains. More literature is to be found in travel writing by William Bartram, Francis Parkman, and John Stephens, he believes, than "in any number of nineteenth-century novels."
Hayes discusses the work of dozens of authors, but reserves high praise for a mere handful. "Few could argue," he says "with the proposition that William Faulkner may be the greatest American novelist of the twentieth century." Yet Faulkner's novels are difficult to understand and can put off even serious readers. In an...