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Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann

Before I get to Let the Great World Spin, I just want to mention a couple of quick things:

  • First, the poll to select October’s book is up (to the right)! Voting will happen throughout August, with the selection being announced in early September.
  • August’s book is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
  • September’s book is Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh.
  • For an explanation of the new procedures, a link to the Reading Buddies Goodreads group, and an email reminder sign-up, head over to the Reading Buddies page!

Reading Buddies ButtonMoving on: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. As I did with the discussion post, I’ll start without major spoilers for those who haven’t read or who didn’t finish it but are curious about the book.

The novel is really a set of interconnected stories. It’s not until quite late in the book that all the stories click into place amongst the others, but it does eventually happen (for the most part). I was glad of it, as I had trouble figuring out the underlying structure when I started listening to the audiobook. I never got to the point of loving Let the Great World Spin, but I had no problem finishing it and thought it provided a lot to think about. I appreciated the huge range of perspectives McCann imagined while focusing on a central event, as well as the interplay between a personal event and a public spectacle. The first story, about the Irishman and his brother, was one of my least favorites, which seems to be a rather universal response. My favorites didn’t come until the second half of the book. The audio worked very well, with a different reader for each story, and I think it was a good match for the way McCann structured Let the Great World Spin.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (audiobook cover)I’m happy I looked at my paperback copy of Let the Great World Spin after I finished the audiobook, because if I hadn’t, I’d have missed the Reader’s Guide at the end. Colum McCann wrote a few pages about how his father walked out of one of the towers and all the way back to McCann’s apartment on 9/11 and how Let the Great World Spin is his attempt to heal after the tragedy. McCann still has the shoes his father was wearing the day the towers fell, covered in all the debris and memories from the day and representing a kind of hope. It’s amazing how the personal stories from which novels grow can add another level to a story; my whole perspective on the book shifted subtly when I read the significance behind the novel.

Now, just a few spoilers:

I think Gloria’s story was my favorite. I appreciated that McCann ended with the slightly more uplifting stories of Gloria and Jaslyn, which, while not exactly positive, allowed me to part from the book feeling a little less melancholy. I think they both represented a sort of healing process, a moving on without forgetting what came before.

Jenny mentioned a theme she and her book group discussed: “the way the characters lose the things that define them. Like the mothers who no longer have sons, and of course the city that no longer has its towers.” I like that. I think it fits, and in that way Jaslyn’s story, occurring as it does several years after 9/11, provides a kind of hope. Many thanks, Jenny, for sharing your groups insights!

*End of spoilers!*

If you read Let the Great World Spin, which story was your favorite? If you didn’t, do you think you will? And if you tried but set it aside, do you think you’ll pick it up again at some point?

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  • http://bookchatter.net Ti

    I loved LTGWS. I don’t recall having a favorite story since they all sort of intersected at one point, but I do recall reading the guide in the back and how subdued/calm I felt afterward. I was pensive for quite some time. It’s a very powerful book.

    • Erin

      You are so right — I finished the book several weeks ago but am still finding myself thinking about it. It’s funny, as I was listening to it, I didn’t feel it was particularly powerful, but it seems to me the overall effect is more than the sum of the individual stories somehow. I think hearing the author’s own story helped.

  • http://jennysbooks.wordpress.com Jenny

    I felt with Let the Great World Spin, that there was a lot I’d have missed if not for my book club. Like, someone at my book club pointed out that the fuzzy photograph is credited to one of the point of view characters — the graffiti kid, I think? I’d never EVER have noticed that.

    • Erin

      Oh, I didn’t realize that! That’s what I get for listening instead of reading. That would tie that graffiti kid in with the rest of the book. I’ll have to check my paperback copy now. I’m glad you read it with your book group, because you’re pointing out all sorts of helpful things to me!

  • http://Www.lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    I’m with you … I never really fell in LOVE with it but I didn’t have trouble reading it. There is something that just kept me from really getting into it and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe because it took me so long to figure out how the stories connected.

    I like the thoughts you shared from Jenny. That is an interesting way to look at things.

    I should write my review of this soon as the book is already fading in my mind!!

    • Erin

      I think it’s hard to get really connected, too, because of how many characters there are. I think the first story is the longest, but it’s also one most people dislike. The rest are shorter, which gives you less time to really get to know a character. I’m happy Jenny jumped in — her book group was very helpful to me in finding themes in this book!

  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I do want to read this at some point, but I will admit that my interest has dimmed a bit after reading some reviews that were mildly negative. The thing is, is that I think it takes an incredible amount of skill to be able to juggle this many stories into one cohesive book, and I am a little worried about how McCann will manage it all. I will probably read this at some point, it’s just not something that I will be picking up right now.

    • Erin

      Having now finished the book, I can say that, by the end, I was rather impressed by how well McCann kept all the plates spinning. It wasn’t until I had finished the book and was thinking back over it that it really came together for me, which is rather different. I’m used to loving or hating a novel by the end, but with this one, it almost felt like the end was only the beginning, somehow. It definitely provides much to think about! If you do get to it eventually, I hope you end up liking it.