There are three assigned books — The Grapes of Wrath, Waiting for Nothing, and A Cool Million — all available online and the NYU bookstore. There are also several articles and excerpts from books, all available as pdf documents (on this page).

Written work

Posts: There are 12 reading assignments, and for each one, a required blog post. The posts should be about 600 words. The post can be a personal response to what you’ve read or a more academic analysis.  You might quote something from the reading and work your comment around it, or you might link to a relevant source and report on the information it has to offer.  Avoid posts that simply summarize the reading or that give opinionated reviews (I liked it, or didn’t). Rather, engage with the reading through analysis and interpretation, or bring in outside material that can help with interpretation.

Comments: For each post assignment, write a comment on someone else’s post. These comments should be about 100 words each. Think about the kind of comment you’d find helpful. Compliments are nice, but it might be more useful to offer a contrasting view, or further illustration of the writer’s point, or a suggestion for further reading.

Due dates: Each week’s posts are due on Monday and Thursday night, and we’ll discuss them in class on Friday.  It’s important that you post both assignments before class on Friday.  The comments on other people’s posts should be done within a day or two of the original post, while the readings and discussion are fresh in your mind.

Schedule of Assignments

Mon., Oct. 31
1. Writers on the Road (1)

Read the following selections, then post a response that deals with the material as it relates to the travel theme. There’s more than enough to write about here, so don’t digress to discuss tangentially related topics. You can write about one of the selections, or a recurring theme in several.

Sherwood Anderson, Puzzled America: Introduction and “Revolt in South Dakota
Nathan Asch, The Road: Forward and chapter 1
Erskine Caldwell, Some American people, selected chapters
Louis Adamic, My America, “Girl on the Road”

Thurs., Nov. 3
2. Writers on the Road (2)

Read the following selections, then post a response that deals with the material as it relates to the travel theme.

James Rorty, Where Life Is Better, Preface, ch 1, ch 3 [If you’d like to read more (optional), the whole book is here.]

Ernie Pyle, Home Country
Lauren Gilfillan, I Went to Pit College, “No Comrade”

Mon., Nov. 7
3. Waiting for Nothing

Read Tom Kromer’s Waiting for Nothing. The book is available at the NYU bookstore, and it is also available online: Waiting for Nothing. Also, please read “Pity the Poor Panhandler,” “Autobiography” and the Afterword. (Another online version is here.) Remember, as always, to write a comment on someone else’s blog.

For further reading (optional):

“Kromer’s Waiting for Nothing” (a brief explication)

On the Fritz: Tom Kromer’s Imaging of the Machine
Politics and Rhetoric in the Novel in the 1930s

Thurs., Nov. 10
4. Travel novels

Read the following selections, then post about a recurring theme or focus on one or two of the readings.

Nelson Algren, Somebody in Boots

Sister of the Road: The Aubobiography of Boxcar Bertha
Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory

Mon., Nov. 14
5. A Cool Million (1)

Read the entire novel and post about it.  Assume your reader has read the book, so don’t feel like you have to introduce the book and summarize the plot.  Go right to the point you want to make about the book.  The book is available at the NYU bookstore, and an online version is here.

Thurs., Nov. 17
6. A Cool Million (2)

Read an article or two on the bibliography of online articles about A Cool Million, and write a second post about the novel using the article(s) as a springboard. As always, remember to comment on someone else’s blog.

Mon., Nov. 28
7. Grapes of Wrath (1)

Read The Grapes of Wrath, chapters 1 – 21. That’s a lot of reading, so you may need to skim some chapters. Here’s a chapter-by-chapter summary of the novel to help you get the whole picture and to decide which chapters you want to focus on. The book is available at the NYU bookstore, and there’s an online version here.

You might take a look at one of the many scholarly articles on the book, such as those listed in the Optional section, or bring something else into the discussion.  There’s more than enough to write about, so avoid digressing and try to focus on a significant travel theme or something related to previous class discussions.  Whatever you do, do not write about the turtle.

Remember to make a text link to any outside sources you use. As always, in addition to your own post, write a short comment on someone else’s post.


Steinbeck, Harvest Gypsies, ch 1 – 3
Samantha Baskind.  The “True” Story: Life Magazine, Horace Bristol, and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
William Howarth.  The Mother of Literature: Journalism and The Grapes of Wrath
Michael J. Meyer, The Harvest Gypsies
Rick Marshall. Steinbeck’s Cognitive Landscapes in “The Grapes of Wrath”: The Highway as Commentary on 1930s Industrialization
Reloy Garcia.  The Rocky Road to Eldorado: The Journey Motif in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
Jason Spengler. We’re on a road to nowhere: Steinbeck, Kerouac, and the legacy of the great depression
Nicholas Visser: Aaudience and Closure in the Grapes of Wrath
John R. Smith.  Making the cut: Documentary work in John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath
Ken Eckert. Exodus Inverted: A New Look at the Grapes of Wrath

Thurs., Dec. 1
8. Grapes of Wrath (2).

Read The Grapes of Wrath, chapters 22 – end. That may be a lot to read, so feel free to skim some chapters and focus on others. For the post, you can write about anything related to the book, but try to take a different approach from your previous post on the novel, and see the optional readings.

Mon., Dec. 5
9. Words & Images

Read the following selections, and for the post, please try not to digress too much — engage in a discussion of these photo-text books and the issues they raise. You might find it helpful to focus on a comment from one of the articles about the photo-text books.

Lange and Taylor, American Exodus
 (some images here)
Caldwell & Bourke-White,You Have Seen Their Faces (some images here)
Wright and Rosskam – 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United State (some images and text here)
Ilf and Petrov’s Great American Road Trip


Morris, Errol. “The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock.” New York Times
Raban, Jonathan. “American Pastoral.” New York Review of Books
Goodwin, James: The depression era in black and white: Four American photo-texts (read the first few pages, then skip to the section on Lange and Bourke-White and the last section on Evans.)
Cooney, Balancing Acts, ch 6 (note pages 173-182)

Thurs., Dec. 8
10. Agee-Evans

Read and post on the twose excerpts from Agee and Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: (1) intro, etc., and (2) this section from later in the book.

An online version of the entire book without the photos is here. The photos for the book can be seen here; for a more comprehensive look at Evans’ work on this project, follow the links on this page.


Video, The Hungry Eye
Trilling, Lionel. “Greatness with One Fault in It,” Kenyon Review.
Sante, Luc. “The Eye of Walker Evans.” New York Review of Books
Allen, Henry. “The Great Voyeur.” New York Review of Books
Quinn, Jeanne. “The Work of Art: Irony and Identification in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Crank, Jame. “A piece of the body torn out by the roots”: failure and fragmentation in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Rabinowitz, Paula. “Voyeurism and Class Consciousness: James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Mon., Dec. 12
11. Tourism in the 30s

Berkowitz, A “New Deal” for Leisure-Making Mass Tourism during the Great Depression
Agee, The American Roadside
Wild, Double-Crossing America, intro
Lorena Hickok, One Third of a Nation
Optional: Jakle, Automobile Travel Between the Wars, from The Tourist

Thurs., Dec. 15
12. WPA guides

Read Andrew Gross’s “The American Guide Series: Patriotism as Brand-Name Identification” and also a selection of the online editions of a WPA travel guide.  Many of them are available through the Internet Archive.  Post about the article as it relates to what you find in the guide.  As always, remember to comment on someone else’s blog.

The Depressing Food of the Depression, in ‘A Square Meal’
‘America Eats’: A Hidden Archive from the 1930s (NPR)
Kurlansky, The Food of a Younger Land