The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books

Inspired by a young Iranian man who believed Americans don't--or rather, can't--truly care about books, Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) considers if the privileges Americans enjoy insulate them from the world's great literature, particularly their own. Must one be a revolutionary to appreciate radical books and lyrical prose? As literature is deemphasized in favor of STEM education and career readiness in schools, how can readers protect their own sacred territory, the Republic of Imagination?

Nafisi explores this "republic" and its connection to American identity through close readings of three classics. She begins with Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, tracing Huck's evolution from a runaway boy into a true outsider, a young man who chooses to live outside the rules of his society when they run counter to his conscience. Nafisi next examines Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt. Published in 1922, its portrait of consumer society rings disturbingly true today, and Nafisi cautions against the "standardization of thought" portrayed in the novel, pointing to the troubling aspects of the current Common Core standards as an example. In the last section, she compares the life of Carson McCullers, a perpetual outsider, with the misfit characters who populate her novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Throughout this book, Nafisi weaves in anecdotes from her own life as an outsider, including the day she took the oath to become a U.S. citizen. In elegant, insightful prose, she blends literary criticism, personal history and social commentary to create an enticing invitation to inhabit the Republic of Imagination. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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