The Paris Review Daily is inspiring its readers with a New Year’s resolution for 2014: to travel more, but within one’s own backyard. I know, there’s nothing quite as culturally exhilarating as wining and dining one’s way through continental Europe with the occasional literary lesson—I myself am no stranger to the way certain sensational and intellectual delights of the Old World tend to make an aspiring expat out of an American girl—but before you venture to the continental countryside to nurture your inner European, consider taking your desire for literary cultivation on a transcontinental journey through your very own United States.
When searching for American literature that exudes the sophistication of European classics, one often turns to the grand achievements of New York’s novelists, such as Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but can these works alone, even the great American novel, illustrate the entire landscape of America’s literary identity? American literature is as varied as the nation’s geographic regions, overflowing with distinctive tastes and treasures from the east coast to the west. On the other side of Fitzgerald’s paradise, we find the influences of Twain’s Midwestern humor and Steinbeck’s near-Biblical legends of California’s chronicled past: works of the American spirit, quilting together the nation’s prose in a seamless fashion.
As both readers and Americans, it is in our best interest to take the road less travelled, especially if that road is right outside our door. We so often get lost in the elegance of otherworldly literature, perceiving European culture as a foreign mysticism of unattainable glory. Instead of longing to awake in a Parisian hotel, enjoying a continental breakfast and A Moveable Feast, why not spend your morning savoring the transcontinental experience? This year, I plan to travel deep into the western plains with John Steinbeck, starting with his 1933 novel, To a God Unknown. This short read adds a healthy dose of American adventure to many a monotonous morning, as it paints the panorama of California’s homesteading past with Steinbeck’s sensitive attention to detail and graceful phrasing.
No longer should we see our land as a platform from which to view the world. The American experience may not have a long history, but it does have a long horizon with endless possibilities to explore. Do your American spirit a favor, and take a transcontinental journey, whether that journey begins with a novel or a train ticket.
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