Tuesday, May 21, 2013
May 21, 2013: American Studies Beach Reads Redux, Part Two
[Last year, I helped celebrate summer with a series on American Studies Beach Reads. It was a lot of fun, so I thought I’d do the same this year; I’m doing so a good bit earlier this time to give you some good options for your Memorial Day Weekend reading. Please share your nominees for a crowd-sourced weekend post that’ll kick off its shoes and settle into the hammock!]
On the ginormous historical novel that’s well worth your (substantial) time.
If you’re like me, I probably don’t need to convince you to read John Sayles’ 955-page A Moment in the Sun (2011). Which is to say, if you share my belief that Sayles has directed some of the best American films of the last half-century, and moreover share my sense that it’s both his novelistic style and form and his willingness to engage with the complexities of history that make those films as compelling and successful as they are, then I bet all I have to say is that Moment traces the lives and experiences of more than a dozen compelling American characters in a perfectly realized late 19th and early 20th century world—that it’s like a great Sayles film on the page, ready for you to dive into and immerse yourself in at your leisure—and you’ll be picking up a copy.
But if you’re somehow not on the Sayles bandwagon already, would I still recommend Moment for your beach reading list? Hell yes I would, and I’m glad you asked. Like all the great historical fiction, Sayles’ novel really takes you there—to the frozen wasteland of the Yukon Gold Rush, to the sweltering jungles of the Filipino insurrection, to the terrifying streets of the Wilmington massacre, and to numerous other historical settings and moments that comprise, in each case but even more so collectively, under-remembered and potent American histories. You’ll look up at the sand dunes and have to remind yourself that you’re not actually climbing those frozen stairs with all your belongings on your back, desperately hoping that you’ll find a hot meal and perhaps a traveling companion you can trust at the top—and what can fiction do that’s better than such total immersion?
Not much; but when a novel can be that compelling and immersive and yet at the same time feel profoundly salient to our own moment and issues, can take you far away from our world and yet at the same time leave you feeling as if you better understand where we are, well that’s an even more worthwhile read. And Sayles’ novel does that—not in the somewhat pedantic manner that sometimes characterizes his second-tier films, but simply by telling these American stories and creating these human characters, fictional experiences and identities that resonate with our own histories and lives and give us a chance to consider the worst and best of what America has been and continues to be. Believe me, I know what I’m asking—but bring this doorstopper to the beach. You won’t be disappointed.
Next beach read tomorrow,
PS. Nominations for AmericanStudies beach reads? Share ‘em please!