Friday, June 17, 2011

We Pick a Winner! - Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Everyone likes to back a winner, so we here at the Reader were quite excited by the announcement of Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin as winner of the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary award. You may recall from our previous posts that McCann's book was one of Halifax Public Libraries' 3 nominees for the award this year.

Personally, I'm really pleased to hear that this book has won another award because it's a book that I really loved: tell-as-many-people-as-possible-and-beg-them-to-read-it kind of loved. We've talked about Let the Great World Spin previously on the Reader, so I don't want to do that again. Hopefully we've already convinced you to give it your time and if we haven't take a peek back at this post, or this one.

If you've already read McCann's newly minted prize winner, I'm hoping you liked it as much as I
did. If you did, you'll probably want to join us in extending congratulations to the author. And you might also be interested in finding some similar reads: so here are some to consider.

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. New York City itself is very much a character in Let the Great World Spin: readers who enjoyed that aspect may also enjoy the famous Wolfe novel of 1980s New York. As in Let the Great World Spin we see New York City in both it's shining glory and it's oppressive filth. Both feature extremes of poverty and wealth, sensational court cases and people making bad decisions in times of extreme anxiety. Flipping from the wealth of Manhattan to the poverty of the Bronx, the Publisher's Weekly review of The Bonfire of the Vanities called it "a totally credible tale of how the communities uneasily coexist and what happens when they collide", themes that McCann explores to great effect.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I will 100% accept if you don't agree with me that The Grapes of Wrath makes a compelling readalike for Let the Great World Spin—stylistically McCann's book feels too modern to be compared to a classic, but I hope you'll hear me out. A major element of Let the Great World Spin is its examination of life and chance: how we make who we are, but also how we are made by the events that happen to us, and that is where I think the Steinbeck comparison is apt. Plus both books depict extreme poverty with humanity, and both have short conceptual chapters interspersed among the longer chapters that drive the plot.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. In Novelist's reading group guide for the Imperfectionists, they make the connection to Let the Great World Spin, particularly through in the structure and style. The Imperfectionists works as a series of interconnected stories that tell the lives of the people invovled in a small newspaper. Though here the canvas is smaller than McCann's use of all of NYC, as one blogger put it in The Imperfectionists "an interconnected cast of characters populates the world of the novel, and the sequential stories adding up to a cohesive whole".

Underworld by Don Dellilo: In their review of Let the Great World Spin, Publisher's Weekly noted "McCann's dogged, DeLillo—like ambition to show American magic and dread", they didn't think McCann had achieved it but I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. Looking to DeLillo, his 1997 opus Underworld seems the obvious choice for comparison. Like Let the Great World Spin, Underworld is a novel of New York and America, Booklist said called it a "stylistically magnificent, many-voiced, and soulful novel" which is more than applicable to McCann's book.

Zoli by Colum McCann. Sometimes it feels like a cheat to name another book by an author as a good companion read for that author, but it's a point that here seems worth making. Let the Great World Spin is McCann's fifth novel, so there is a wealth of material for fans of this one to mine. Zoli follows the story of Roma poet named Zoli. Unlike Let the Great World Spin, this book covers a sweep of history, but like it, it is described as "a brilliantly written work that brings the culture and the time to life". (publisher's description) Zoli was a handy pick because it falls at the end of my alphabetical list, but really, any of McCann's other books could be considered.

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