Saturday, October 31, 2009

Review of Floyd Orr's "Timeline of America"

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Timeline of America is an engaging journey through America's history, as the subtitle states, in "sound bytes." In reading it I became aware of how much recent history, from the fifties, sixties, and seventies, I had forgotten. I recalled songs, movies, and books that at the time seemed timeless, but nonetheless were lost to memory.

Mr. Orr does a valuable service with this book in bringing back those memories that will be especially evocative to baby-boomers and of interest to younger generations who have perhaps heard some of the names, records, movies, etc. enumerated herein. Except for one or two minor lapses, such as putting one city in the wrong state, the book appears to be very accurate and quite comprehensive.

This is not a book to sit down and absorb, because it is mostly a categorization of facts, not a treatise on American culture. It is, instead, a book to ponder over, reminisce over, and re-visit from time to time to catch a glimpse of a bygone America and its triumphs and failures. It is a book to keep and one that will give pleasure and inform for a lifetime. I recommend the book to anyone interested in popular history, especially of the late twentieth century.

You can get the book here:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review of E.L. Doctorow's "Homer and Langley"

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This novel, based on the true story of the Collyer brothers, found dead in their Harlem brownstone amid tons of debris in 1947, is an exceptional achievement by one of the finest writers of our age. This story of two brothers from a prominent New York family, each dealing with his own profound impairment, is a not so subtle metaphor for human existence and its ultimate conclusions.

Doctorow changes the time frame of their lives, and fills in the sketchy story with his own elaborations. After the two experience profound tragedy early in life, the narrative takes them through most of the century with its wars, fads, and foibles. They meet and interact with a parade of characters, while leading an increasingly cloistered life in the inherited Fifth Avenue manse. The slow deterioration of the house roughly coincides with that of the brothers' physical and mental states. Each is increasingly closed in, both physically and psychologically.

The book is immensely engrossing and subtly moving. For lovers of good literature this is that rare breed of novel that is both literate and captivating. While moving the reader through the highs and lows of the brothers' lives, it takes one on an intellectual journey that is both edifying as well as frightening. The final paragraph is one of the most chilling I have ever read.

This relatively short novel is indeed well worth one's time.