Monday, January 4, 2010

Not necessarily simpler times.

I keep starting to write about The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow and deleting everything. Too boring or book report-ish. I’m flummoxed by how good the book is. Anything I say will just muddle it up. So I’ll limit this to a few quick thoughts.

This book is a fascinating look at 1920s-1940s middle America. We idealize the past as Simpler Times but it’s more like different times. Life is not simple for Augie and his family and friends. The challenges they face are quite different than today (for example, they didn’t have the pleasure of the Magical Verizon Time Window, where you sit in your house and wait and wait and wait for a technician to come galloping over the horizon on a unicorn to fix all your tv, phone, and internet problems. But I digress.) The problems Augie and his family and friends face are no less complicated, though. Well, it is the Great Depression and all. Not really the most jolly, carefree time.

Augie doesn’t have a formal college education and holds about 10,000 jobs over the course of the book. (And some of them are crazy! He trains an eagle!) None of these jobs define him. You know when you meet someone for the first time and they ask, “So what do you do?” Augie would have this litany of things. I was struck by how many opportunities there were available to a person without a college education back then. Sadly, that is no longer the case.

Augie frustrates me sometimes because he doesn’t do what I think he should do. Sometimes he is presented with these choices where he would just make his life So.Much.Easier if he did the easy thing, but no. Instead he turns the easy decision down every time. I’m glad that I managed to like the book even though the main character got on my nerves a bit.

This book was absolutely worth reading and it’s one of those books I keep turning over and over in my head thinking about it. I don’t even want to start Adam Bede yet because I want to reflect a while on this one.

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