Thursday, September 7

The Great American Novel

Great baseball satire, almost too light to write about. I read it in such a herky-jerky manner that I might have missed some stuff, but I doubt it.

I give it three PLDS games out of five.


LTS said...

No criticism of you, Bryan, but I wonder if what seems light to us today seemed somewhat less light--and perhaps even a little subversive--in years past.

Or maybe not. It is, after all, mostly a book about baseball, and a wonderfully silly one at that.

Honestly, I don't remember the novel very well, and I'm certainly not suggesting you missed any of this in your reading, Bryan, but I do fret that my appreciation is necessarily stunted when it comes to anything pertaining to American history from World War II on through Vietnam and the Cold War, not having experienced those times first-hand. It's a bit of a cliche, but I sometimes think about how my own thinking, and especially my tendency for irrational fear, was changed by having lived through 9/11, as opposed to what it would have been like to merely read about it in a high school history textbook.

The year I was finally old enough to comprehend and fear nuclear annihilation was probably five years too late. And by the time I came to appreciate that people are capable of doing ethically and morally suspect things in the name of some ostensible cause, I think I understood that there is never anything special about the 'cause,' if the human capacity is universal.

What am I saying? I think I can be brief, but perhaps not very clear--maybe only that while it seems a book should be able to teach us about fascism, or communism, or vast political conspiracies, or the vague, omnipresent threat to human liberty wherever it might flicker, in reality, most books about such things actually presuppose or require that the reader already has a strong appreciation for them.

Yes, this is very obvious on some level, but on another, it raises a dual question about the value of such literature and the terrible ambivalence I have come to associate with 'living in extraordinary times.' I think I sneered at the person who first told me to read The Greatest Generation, but I have reconsidered that response in part because my own reactions (or lack thereof) to a book like Roth's.

Ben said...

Interesting comments, Louis. I had a very similar reaction to the book. My feeling is that perhaps if I knew more about HUAC, life during WWII, and baseball during WWII, I might have approached the humor a bit differently. Obviously Roth's brilliant portrayal of Hemingway is something that a scholarly sort of any age can identify with, and most of the baseball humor is light and frivolous. But yeah, there's biting humor throughout, some of which I can only assume was assigned to specific targets that rest outside of our generational radar. Either that or the communist tangent seems tacked on, a little sloppy and unncessary to readers of any age. This very well could be the case.

No matter, the wordplay and baseball related tomfoolery were enough to earn my admiration.

Bryan said...

"Light" is almost certainly the wrong word. I apologize. It's too satirical to write about - everything is on the surface and very funny, but it's on the surface, so what is there to say?

Ben said...

Yeah, what you say is probably why the book is not often considered amongst Roth's best.

LTS said...

You guys had it right all along--I was just taking my experience with the novel as a jumping off point for a little tacked-on tangent of my own (Ben, especially sharp stuff there, but even the Hemingway portrayal does not transcend what Bryan, I think, correctly identifies as the prevailing literary mode).

I'm only left wondering whether Roth's Plot Against America is in the same vein, since at a glance the two novels would seem to bear some similarities. Bryan, if you ever finish it, I hope you'll give us a rating for that one as well. (As I understand it, Roth has advanced to the PLCS and is on the verge of his first, but presumably not last, Book-Loop pennant!)

Also, speaking of 'modes,' satire is something we might make more of someday here at Book-Loop. I myself have been meaning to revisit Swift, but there is something about satire which makes the proposition of reading it seem especially daunting (even boring?), whereas satire on a conceptual level seems to make us all think of writing that is somehow 'light'--I certainly didn't object to your use of it, Bryan, but was wondering whether Roth would have agreed with our reactions to his book.

(I couldn't come up with a better word than 'modes,' so shoot me! Better yet, someone could be kind enough to correct me.)

LTS said...

PS: It's always funny to write about an author like Roth the way we have been. I know this fact escapes none of us, but the guy is freakin' good, no matter what scale and by what stringent standards we propose to measure him by! I think I added this in case Roth was ever considering joining the Book-Loop. Since there is a reasonably good chance of that, I wouldn't want him to be offended by anything he finds in the archives.

Bryan said...

He is ridiculous with words, and he weaves every old baseball legend into the story without a single one of them seeming forced. Yeah, he's good.

Bryan said...

Also, Louis, unless Roth earned the Wild Card, he has already won a Book-Loop Pennant. Gosh!

LTS said...

It's all complicated by the fact that the Patriot League did not itself comprise two leagues--along the lines of an AL and NL--and also because I can't and won't acknowledge 'division pennants,' not ever (if that's what you were implying, Bryan, by noting that, having advanced to a PLDS, he'd presumably already won one).

Anyway, you think we should just give him a pennant already? All right, he's got it!