28 episodes

Few literary terms are more hotly debated, discounted, or derided than the "Great American Novel." But while critics routinely dismiss the phrase as at best hype and as at worst exclusionary, the belief that a national literature commensurate with both the scope and the contradictions of being American persists. In this podcast Scott Yarbrough and Kirk Curnutt examine totemic works such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and Toni Morrison's Beloved that have been labeled GANs, exploring their themes, forms, and reception histories, asking why, when, and how they entered the literary canon. Readers beware: there be spoilers here, and other hijinks ensue...

Great American Novel Scott Yarbrough and Kirk Curnutt

    • Arts
    • 5.0 • 66 Ratings

Few literary terms are more hotly debated, discounted, or derided than the "Great American Novel." But while critics routinely dismiss the phrase as at best hype and as at worst exclusionary, the belief that a national literature commensurate with both the scope and the contradictions of being American persists. In this podcast Scott Yarbrough and Kirk Curnutt examine totemic works such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and Toni Morrison's Beloved that have been labeled GANs, exploring their themes, forms, and reception histories, asking why, when, and how they entered the literary canon. Readers beware: there be spoilers here, and other hijinks ensue...

    Episode 28: Falling off the Cliff with The Catcher in the Rye

    Episode 28: Falling off the Cliff with The Catcher in the Rye

    The Great American Novel Podcast episode 28 considers JD Salinger’s landmark 1951 classic, The Catcher in the Rye. Your hosts discuss Salinger’s famous reclusiveness, the book’s continuing appeal, and its influence on both the genre of so-called “young adult literature” and post-breakdown lit. We examine the novel in its role of the creation of the American teenager as a marketing sector and artistic project. We don’t dodge the thorny issues of Salinger’s life while separati...

    • 1 hr 24 min
    Episode 27: Filtering the Static in Don DeLillo's WHITE NOISE

    Episode 27: Filtering the Static in Don DeLillo's WHITE NOISE

    Often hailed as the quintessential exemplum of Reagan-era postmodernism, Don DeLillo's eighth novel, White Noise (1985), is part academic satire, part media excoriation, and part exploration of the "simulacrum" or simulated feel of everyday life. With its absurdist asides on the iconicity of both Elvis and Hitler, the unrelenting stress of consumer choices (the supermarket is the site of modern neuroses), and the pharmacopic management of anxiety, the novel can sometimes feel a little smirky,...

    • 1 hr 14 min
    Episode 26: Seekers of the Lonely Heart: Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

    Episode 26: Seekers of the Lonely Heart: Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

    The 26th episode of the Great American Novel Podcast delves into Carson McCullers’ 1940 debut novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Published when the author was only 23, the novel tells the tale of a variety of misfits who don’t seem to belong in their small milltown in depression-era, 1930s Georgia. Tackling race, disability, sexuality, classism, socialism, the novel catapulted McCullers to fame. It’s been an Oprah book and it’s been adapted to film. The Modern Library chose...

    • 1 hr 3 min
    Episode 25: Surmising the Motives in Henry James's THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY

    Episode 25: Surmising the Motives in Henry James's THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY

    Published in 1881, The Portrait of a Lady was Henry James's seventh novel and marked his transition away from the novel of manners that only three years earlier had made his novella Daisy Miller a succès de scandale toward the more meticulous, inward study of individual perception, or what would come to be known as psychological realism. The story of an independence-minded young woman named Isabelle Archer who visits distant relatives in England, the novel broadens James's trademark theme of ...

    • 1 hr 8 min
    Episode 24: Speeding Down the Highway with PLAY IT AS IT LAYS by Joan Didion

    Episode 24: Speeding Down the Highway with PLAY IT AS IT LAYS by Joan Didion

    Great American Novel Podcast 24 considers Joan Didion’s 1970 novel Play It as It Lays, which shut the door on the 60s and sped down the freeway into the 70s, eyes on the rearview mirror all the while. In a wide-ranging discussion which touches not only upon Didion and her screenwriter husband but also John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway, the Manson cult, the Mamas and the Papas and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, we drive down the interstate with Didion and her Corvette as we consider Hollywood...

    • 1 hr 16 min
    Episode 23: Hearing Voices in William Faulkner's AS I LAY DYING

    Episode 23: Hearing Voices in William Faulkner's AS I LAY DYING

    William Faulkner's fifth published novel, As I Lay Dying (1930), is a self-described tour de force that the author cranked out in roughly two months while working as the night manager at the University of Mississippi power plant in his hometown of Oxford. This dark tragicomedy about a family on a quest to bury its matriarch helped win the author his early reputation for sadistically heaping woe and misfortune upon his Southern grotesques but has more recently come to be seen as a complex arti...

    • 1 hr 25 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
66 Ratings

66 Ratings

1988pens ,

Excellent analysis

Excellent analysis. Able to discuss difficult topics without being preachy. Can tell they are good teachers. Shout out to the big homie Scott Yarbrough.

jjjackyd ,

Like taking a semester long course for free

Incredibly insightful and makes me want to read along. Feels like a college course but no homework and no debt! Especially enjoyed the episode about hard boiled fiction. Great stuff!

TuckerC! ,

Incredible podcast

Just finished bingeing this entire series - these guys are exceedingly intelligent, articulate, funny, warm, and accessible. They’re a pleasure to listen to because you can tell they really respect each other and their audience. Whether you’ve already read and studied these novels multiple times or are just getting into reading classics, you will love this podcast. Great work and need more eps!!

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