Jess McHugh: Americanon
In her new book Americanon: An Unexpected U.S. History in Thirteen Bestselling Books, journalist Jess McHugh tells the true, fascinating, and remarkable history of thirteen books that defined a nation. Join us as McHugh reads from and discusses this “elegant, meticulously-researched and eminently readable history of the books that define us as Americans.” This program will be hosted online via Zoom, register for the program here.
More about Americanon:
Surprising and delightfully engrossing, Americanon explores the true history of thirteen of the nation’s most popular books. Overlooked for centuries, our simple dictionaries, spellers, almanacs, and how-to manuals are the unexamined touchstones for American cultures and customs. These books sold tens of millions of copies and set out specific archetypes for the ideal American, from the self-made entrepreneur to the humble farmer.
Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Emily Post’s Etiquette, Webster’s Dictionary, and more: Americanon looks at how these ubiquitous books have updated and reemphasized potent American ideals—about meritocracy, patriotism, or individualism—at crucial moments in history. Old favorites like the Old Farmer’s Almanac and Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book are seen in this new way—not just as popular books but as foundational texts that shaped our understanding of the American story.
Taken together, these books help us understand how their authors, most of them part of a powerful minority, attempted to construct meaning for the majority. Their beliefs and quirks—as well as personal interests, prejudices, and often strange personalities—informed the values and habits of millions of Americans, woven into our cultural DNA over generations of reading and dog-earing. Yet their influence remains uninvestigated. Until now.
What better way to understand a people than to look at the books they consumed most, the ones they returned to repeatedly, with questions about everything from spelling to social mobility to sex? This fresh and engaging book is American history as you’ve never encountered it before.
Praise for Americanon:
“Jess McHugh has written an elegant, meticulously-researched and eminently readable history of the books that define us as Americans. For history buffs and book-lovers alike, McHugh offers us a precious gift, a reminder that our many narratives are intertwined and that—despite it all—they still bind us together.”
—Jake Halpern, Pulitzer Prize Winner and New York Times Bestselling author
“With her usual eye for detail and knack for smart storytelling, Jess McHugh takes a savvy and sensitive look at the ‘secret origins’ of the books that made and defined us. As McHugh shows, much of our American canon has to do largely with axe-grinding, reputation, redemption, and, often, who is permitted to tell the story—and you won’t want to miss a one moment of it.”
—Brian Jay Jones, author of Becoming Dr. Seuss and the New York Times Bestselling Jim Henson
“What Jess McHugh has done with Americanon is draw a distinct, and necessary, line between our culture and our realities. The myths of what America is and what it means to be an American are strange, pernicious, and often inscrutable, but McHugh has managed a truly remarkable thing: finding actual and honest truth in the midst of it all.”
—Jared Yates Sexton, author of American Rule
JESS McHUGH is a writer and researcher whose work has appeared across a variety of national and international publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Nation, TIME, The Paris Review, The Guardian, The New Republic, New York Magazine’s The Cut, Fortune, Village Voice, The Believer, and Lapham’s Quarterly, among others. She has reported stories from four continents on a range of cultural and historical topics, from present-day Liverpool punks to the history of 1960s activists in Greenwich Village.