Wednesday, March 27, 2013
March 27, 2013: National Big Read Recaps, Part 3
[This past Saturday, I chaired my NeMLA Roundtable on a National Big Read. Each of the six participants shared interesting and provocative perspectives on his or her chosen book or author, and so I wanted to follow up those presentations with some further thoughts. Not least so you can add your take on these and other books and authors that all Americans could read at the same time!]
The nominee that speaks to much of our contemporary moment—and a broad American audience.
The roundtable’s third presenter, Jeff Renye of Temple and La Salle Universities, nominated Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust. West’s tragically brief career produced (among a few other works) two particularly unique and striking novels, Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts; both have plenty to recommend them and deserve more of a place in our collective consciousness, but Jeff argued convincingly for a couple particularly significant and salient components to Locust.
For one thing, Locust remains, more than 70 years after its publication, perhaps the best and certainly one of the most complex and challenging representations of that defining American cultural presence and influence, Hollywood. West takes seriously the attractive as well as the destructive qualities to that place of dreams, and his depiction of it has yet to be surpassed. Yet as Jeff noted, West is fully aware of the even bigger dream—the American Dream—to which Hollywood, journeying to the West, and many other concurrent narratives can be connected, and there are likewise few novels that deal with the dark underbelly of the Dream (sometimes called the American Nightmare) better than Locust.
Jeff also discussed at length some of the more practical questions that underlie my Even Bigger Read concept, however, and so I want to make sure to mention that part of his presentation as well. To paraphrase his point: it’s all well and good for interested academic scholars to talk about what books we’d like everyone to read, but it’s quite another matter to think actively about how we connect to our fellow Americans, particularly those for whom reading—and even literacy—is far more of a complicated challenge than a job requirement. At the very least, we need to think about books that will speak to broad American audiences—and Jeff made a great case that West’s novel can and would do so.
Next nominee tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this nomination? Other nominees for an Even Bigger Read?