1001 Books Round-Up May 2022
This months winners and losers
Underworld by Don DeLillo – Quarterly Read – What GR says: While Eisenstein documented the forces of totalitarianism and Stalinism upon the faces of the Russian peoples, DeLillo offers a stunning, at times overwhelming, document of the twin forces of the Cold War and American culture, compelling that “swerve from evenness” in which he finds events and people both wondrous and horrifying.
Underworld opens with a breathlessly graceful prologue set during the final game of the Giants-Dodgers pennant race in 1951. Written in what DeLillo calls “super-omniscience” the sentences sweep from young Cotter Martin as he jumps the gate to the press box, soars over the radio waves, runs out to the diamond, slides in on a fast ball, pops into the stands where J. Edgar Hoover is sitting with a drunken Jackie Gleason and a splenetic Frank Sinatra, and learns of the Soviet Union’s second detonation of a nuclear bomb. It’s an absolutely thrilling literary moment. When Bobby Thomson hits Branca’s pitch into the outstretched hand of Cotter—the “shot heard around the world”—and Jackie Gleason pukes on Sinatra’s shoes, the events of the next few decades are set in motion, all threaded together by the baseball as it passes from hand to hand. (not if you don’t care about baseball)
“It’s all falling indelibly into the past,” writes DeLillo, a past that he carefully recalls and reconstructs with acute grace. Jump from Giants Stadium to the Nevada desert in 1992, where Nick Shay, who now owns the baseball, reunites with the artist Kara Sax. They had been brief and unlikely lovers 40 years before, and it is largely through the events, spinoffs, and coincidental encounters of their pasts that DeLillo filters the Cold War experience. He believes that “global events may alter how we live in the smallest ways,” and as the book steps back in time to 1951, over the following 800-odd pages, we see just how those events alter lives. This reverse narrative allows the author to strip away the detritus of history and pop culture until we get to the story’s pure elements: the bomb, the baseball, and the Bronx. In an epilogue as breathless and stunning as the prologue, DeLillo fast-forwards to a near future in which ruthless capitalism, the Internet, and a new, hushed faith have replaced the Cold War’s blend of dread and euphoria.
Through fragments and interlaced stories—including those of highway killers, artists, celebrities, conspiracists, gangsters, nuns, and sundry others—DeLillo creates a fragile web of connected experience, a communal Zeitgeist that encompasses the messy whole of five decades of American life, wonderfully distilled (Don’t forget the baseball)
My Thoughts: This is an unpopular opinion within the 1001 group but I have to say I found the whole section on baseball unbelievably boring, when we finally escaped from baseball we had a tour of American culture via in depth descriptions of condom varieties, graffiti tags, waste disposal and a hunt for the baseball. If you stripped this unnecessary detail away you actually have a pretty decent story.
I enjoyed the reverse narrative and finding out how things had ended up as they were the further your read, I also enjoyed some of the sections (Truman Capote’s party, Cuban missile crisis, nuclear testing) but these felt short in comparison with the dreaded baseball sections.
3 Stars – This is 827 pages if you have no interest in baseball I would wait until you are really bored with life and use this as a guide to realise there are more boring things you could be doing. If you like baseball you will probably love this so ignore me totally.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Tackle the TBR – What GR says: Generations of readers young and old, male and female, have fallen in love with the March sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s most popular and enduring novel, Little Women. Here are talented tomboy and author-to-be Jo, tragically frail Beth, beautiful Meg, and romantic, spoiled Amy, united in their devotion to each other and their struggles to survive in New England during the Civil War.
It is no secret that Alcott based Little Women on her own early life. While her father, the freethinking reformer and abolitionist Bronson Alcott, hobnobbed with such eminent male authors as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, Louisa supported herself and her sisters with “woman’s work,” including sewing, doing laundry, and acting as a domestic servant. But she soon discovered she could make more money writing. Little Women brought her lasting fame and fortune, and far from being the “girl’s book” her publisher requested, it explores such timeless themes as love and death, war and peace, the conflict between personal ambition and family responsibilities, and the clash of cultures between Europe and America. It is all this but at its heart it really is an Aga Saga.
My Thoughts: I can’t believe I am today’s years old before reading this classic American novel not sure why it took me so long to get to it as I did enjoy the story. I listened to the Audible full cast narration and this was a great way to distract myself from the chores I was doing while listening.
While I enjoyed the story of the March sisters there were some points where to a modern reader at least the girls seem too good to be true, the odd events that were sappy beyond belief and while Marmee is a wonderful mother she did have her moments of preachiness, all this is to be expected given the time and place the story is written it just very occasionally got on the nerves of this reader. That said it didn’t detract much from my overall enjoyment.
4 Stars – Read this if you want to spend time in a simpler and in many cases happier world that the one we live in right now.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren – BOTM#2 – What GR Says: Tommy and his sister Annika have a new neighbor, and her name is Pippi Longstocking. She has crazy red pigtails, no parents to tell her what to do, a horse that lives on her porch, and a flair for the outrageous that seems to lead to one adventure after another! All true
My Thoughts: As an adult I am glad I never had to teach Pippi or to entertain her at a tea party as a child I would have loved to be her friend.
Unfortunately I really am the wrong age to be reading this for the first time because I think as a child this would have been a great book as an adult I found myself annoyed by some of her behaviour. That aside I really enjoyed the episode with the burglars and how Pippi handles them, Pippi’s unique take on cooking, the way she should up for the bullied boy and the way the story shows that girls can be anything they want.
3 Stars – A very quick read to get your list under control
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis – BOTM #2 – What GR says: Main Street, the story of an idealistic young woman’s attempts to reform her small town, brought Lewis immediate acclaim when it was published in 1920. It remains one of the essential texts of the American scene. Lewis Mumford observed: “In Main Street an American had at last written of our life with something of the intellectual rigor and critical detachment that had seemed so cruel and unjustified [in Charles Dickens and Matthew Arnold]. Young people had grown up in this environment, suffocated, stultified, helpless, but unable to find any reason for their spiritual discomfort. Mr. Lewis released them.” Young woman – check, idealism – check, small town – check.
My Thoughts: I was surprised to find myself actually enjoying this book I was expecting another male take on the female view and to end with her realising that all she really wanted was a husband and a baby but this book does manage to avoid the stereotype.
Carol is not your typical small town woman indeed she has left behind her city life wanting the chance to improve a small town and the best way to do this was marry a small town man. Despite her marriage Carol is not held back by her marriage instead it becomes something else to rebel against.
It was interesting watching Carol as she tries to fit in with the town before deciding this is not actually what she wants and running away before finally returning and finding her own place.
3 Stars – An interesting look at small town America definitely worth a read.
Have you read any of these? Let us know what you thought
I loved Little Women when I was a kid; now, not so much. I agree with your comments; times and society have undergone radical changes.
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I loved Little Women as a child, but I have no desire to revisit it as an adult. I absolutely loved Pippi Longstocking as a child! She was marvelous! I probably should read it as an adult. I hope I would be able to recapture my child-self’s delight.
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Great article just loved it ! Great way to express your thoughts.