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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Meeting #1: Bell Curve Book Group

While still writing my book journal entry about Colum McCann's 2009 novel "Let the Great World Spin", I put his latest ("Transatlantic" - 2013), in my mental queue. No need to add the second book to any list. "Let the Great World Spin" is so exceptional there is zero doubt I'll be returning to this gifted author.

When you read a novel describing actual events from your lifetime, what effect does it have on you? McCann uses Philippe Petit's 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers to frame about a dozen stories, each in a unique voice. Those stories expertly depict the madcap diversity of NYC with wealth & despair alongside grit & influence while faith & grief & wonder hover nearby. Penthouse on Park Avenue, phone booth on Wall Street (remember - it's 1974), projects in the South Bronx. There are judges, hookers, support groups, priests, hackers, Irish & French & Guatemalan immigrants. And, in the short passages featuring Petit opening the first three sections, I found myself wandering around my young adult years, trying to recall how his feat of daring registered with me at the time.

My journey to the past was brief; I was too involved with the book. This is a perfect storm of a novel - immediately and thoroughly engaging, unquestionably literary, over too fast. If one of my book clubs does not select it soon, it's time to start my own group. Come to think of it, if you've read McCann's masterpiece, let's get started right now. Which of the voices in this book spoke loudest to you?

3 comments:

  1. I never read this book. However, what speaks loudest about your entry is unfathomable diversity and complexity of the human story. It is amazing that we survive as a nation at all. As imperfect, unjust, and often-cruel as our American democracy may be it is a miracle that it exists at all. That our nation even survives its "madcap diversity" from one decade to the next is itself difficult to fathom. Given the many social and environmental challenges facing this nation and the rest of the world, I often wonder what kind of draconian future awaits, what kind of "hard rain is gonna fall." If this is so, all that is described in novels like these might well live on a testament to a golden era; a time where free speech and protest was permitted.

    Given the relativity of all things social I wonder if we Americans appreciate, on average, the freedoms they we have. It often seems that too much noise is generated by the imperfections, aided and abetted by a media culture seeking to magnify each injustice for its own gain, to keep its own apparatus in the spotlight. Have we become a nation of whiners in these "best of times"? Is the glass half-full or half-empty? This seems to depend on where you sit.

    Do you feel grateful or do you grate your teeth over the injustices? On a clean floor a solitary crumb may be seen as a major offender.

    A few months ago I sat next to a man originally from India on a plane. He was returning from his mother's funeral back home. He lives in Princeton NJ where he and his wife are raising their two sons. He spoke of his successful career and the many opportunities afforded him and his family here. There was no note of rancor about having to make it here as an outsider. Instead, he said that America was still the land of opportunity.

    How many who were born and raised here appreciate this? How many want to tear the system down?

    The latter might do well to think about the words of this foreign born man.

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  2. Anonymous; You may have set a new record for 1.) closest in time comment to published post and... 2.) most comprehensive comment since a different reader responded to a Beatles post I wrote back in April, 2011. Thanks for all the time and obvious thought you put into this. I've several times started a post related to the Bill Cosby mess that touches on a few themes you raised here (self-serving media, the "glass half full way" of looking at things, etc.) Your comment supplied me with the perfect title for that post - Dylan's song title. If/when I do publish it, I'll be mentioning your comment here as direct inspiration. Thanks for reading.

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  3. The brothers, Corrigan and Ciaran, spoke loudest. One feeling the need to care for his brother, the other not feeling the need to be cared for because he was so selflessly caring for others. The distance between them and at the same time the indisputable closeness. The love and pain that was the result of loving. Agree 100% - it's time for you to start your own book club!

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