By TIME Staff
June 30, 2016

As vacationers pack their bags with summer reading, we asked 12 writers to answer the question: “What book by an American author should everyone read?”

The list they gave us spans classics and brand-new releases, poetry and fiction, canon writers and up-and-comers.

See more of TIME’s Reasons to Celebrate America Right Now here

Sherman Alexie

Love Medicine By Louise Erdrich
Harpers Collins Publishing

Love Medicine
By Louise Erdrich

Because she writes so powerfully about indigenous and immigrant lives in the United States, and because she will eventually win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Alexie’s most recent book is Thunder Boy Jr.

Julian Barnes

Birds of America By Lorrie Moore
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Birds of America
By Lorrie Moore

The best book (so far) by your greatest living short-story writer.

Barnes’ most recent novel is The Noise of Time.

Teju Cole

Geography III By Elizabeth Bishop
Macmillan Publishers

Geography III
By Elizabeth Bishop

This slim, difficult book of poems, Bishop’s last, seems to me a compressed masterpiece of irony, patience and wisdom, all virtues that can either console or help us today.

Cole’s forthcoming book is Known and Strange Things.

Anne Korkeakivi

A Lesson Before Dying By Ernest J. Gaines
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

A Lesson Before Dying
By Ernest J. Gaines

This story of a young black man awaiting execution for a crime he didn’t commit bears a fundamental message: no one can take away the freedom to conduct oneself with love and dignity.

Korkeakivi’s forthcoming novel is Shining Sea.

Amitava Kumar

Open City By Teju Cole
Penguin Random House

Open City
By Teju Cole

For its sense of the tragic, not least when he describes, at the novel’s end, the fate of the migrating birds as they fly past the Statue of Liberty at night.

Kumar’s most recent book is Lunch With a Bigot.

Karan Mahajan

Humboldt’s Gift By Saul Bellow
Viking Press

Humboldt’s Gift
By Saul Bellow

Bellow’s comic megaphone of a novel amplifies the life and early death of a half-mad poet into a meditation on the “big operation” of American life.

Mahajan’s most recent novel is The Association of Small Bombs.

Jay McInerney

Penguin Random House

The Day of the Locust
By Nathanael West

Every American should read this fierce, apocalyptic novel about Hollywood and the American Dream that seems newly relevant in this era of an angry and volatile electorate.

McInerney’s forthcoming novel is Bright, Precious Days.

Jon Meacham


All the King’s Men
By Robert Penn Warren

This is the ultimate novel of power and its discontents in American life and politics—a sprawling, knowing journey into the human heart.

Meacham’s most recent book is Destiny and Power.

Ann Patchett

Mulholland Books

Underground Airlines
By Ben Winters

As a bookseller, I like to promote books that are brand-new. This one kept me up at night and changed the way I saw the world once I was finished.

Patchett’s forthcoming novel is Commonwealth.

Curtis Sittenfeld

St. Martin's Press

Make Your Home Among Strangers
By Jennine Capó Crucet

A recent debut novel, it is funny and painful and wise, and vividly shows how the immigrant experience and the American experience are one and the same.

Sittenfeld’s most recent novel is Eligible.

Jesmyn Ward

Grand Central Publishing

Parable of the Sower
By Octavia E. Butler

Right now we seem dangerously close to Butler’s ruined, near future society, to residing in an America fractured along class, racial, ethnic and ideological lines.

Ward is the editor of the forthcoming book The Fire This Time.

Joby Warrick


The Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck

Set against an environmental disaster and weaving together soulless banks, corporate con men and immigrant bashers, Steinbeck’s searing portrait of an American family in ruin feels remarkably relevant just now.

Warrick’s most recent book is Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS.


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