Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Classics Spin/Tuesday Intro: An American Tragedy

Dusk--of a summer night. 
And the tall walls of the commercial heart of an American city of perhaps 400,000 inhabitants--such walls as in time may linger as a mere fable.
And up the broad street, now comparably hushed, a little band of six,--a man of about fifty, short, stout, with bushy hair protruding from under a black felt hat, a mostly unimportant-looking person, who carried a small portable organ such as is customarily used by street preachers and singers.  And with him a woman perhaps five years his junior, taller, not so broad, but solid of frame and vigorous, very plain in face and dress, and yet not homely, leading with one hand a small boy of seven and in the other carrying a Bible and several hymn books. With these three, but walking independently behind, was a girl of fifteen, a boy of twelve and another girl of nine, all following obediently, but not too enthusiastically, in the wake of the others.
An AmericanTragedy
by Theodore Dreiser

The most recent Classics Club Spin has dealt me An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, a book I have wanted to read for decades. Published in 1925 and based on an actual (and fairly local) 1910 murder, this 800+ page novel is both a character study and portrait of early 20th century life. Here's the goodreads summary:
A tremendous bestseller when it was published in 1925, "An American Tragedy" is the culmination of Theodore Dreiser's elementally powerful fictional art. Taking as his point of departure a notorious murder case of 1910, Dreiser immersed himself in the social background of the crime to produce a book that is both a remarkable work of reportage and a monumental study of character. Few novels have undertaken to track so relentlessly the process by which an ordinary young man becomes capable of committing a ruthless murder, and the further process by which social and political forces come into play after his arrest.
In Clyde Griffiths, the impoverished, restless offspring of a family of street preachers, Dreiser created an unforgettable portrait of a man whose circumstances and dreams of self-betterment conspire to pull him toward an act of unforgivable violence. Around Clyde, Dreiser builds an extraordinarily detailed fictional portrait of early twentieth-century America, its religious and sexual hypocrisies, its economic pressures, its political corruption. The sheer prophetic amplitude of his bitter truth-telling, in idiosyncratic prose of uncanny expressive power, continues to mark Dreiser as a crucially important American writer. "An American Tragedy," the great achievement of his later years, is a work of mythic force, at once brutal and heartbreaking.
As with many classics this length, I'll approach An American Tragedy as a read/listen combination. The ebook has been downloaded to my kindle and I've used an audible credit for the 34-hour audiobook narrated by Dan John Miller. The first couple of chapters, like the opening paragraphs, are very descriptive. I have high hopes for the story and think I can manage the October 6 deadline.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?


Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

51 comments:

  1. The author's name is familiar, but I've not read any of his books. This sounds like a very powerful story! though maybe not an easy one to read. The intro you posted and the synopsis have definitely made me curious to know more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa - Dreiser may be best known for Sister Carrie, but I wanted to read this one first because of the local connection.

      Delete
  2. I've seen the title on lists but never took the time to figure out what it was about. I love that it's based off a true crime. I'll have to add it to my list to read someday. I got a little request happy on NetGalley so I don't see myself starting any serious chunks until that gets sorted out! I can't wait to see what you think of it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katherine - It's taken a lot of willpower, but I've managed to avoid Netgalley for the past month or so. I'm very tempted to see what's new, but if I do that I'll be doomed ;-)

      Delete
  3. I've always wanted to read An American Tragedy, or Sister Carrie. He's an author on my some day list.

    My Tuesday post: http://www.bookclublibrarian.com/2014/08/first-chapter-first-paragraph-71-and.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Catherine - Dreiser never won a Pulitzer or other major prize, but he still seems worth reading to me.

      Delete
  4. Oh, wow, this one sounds like a must-read, a book you can curl up and savor. Thanks for sharing! And thanks for visiting my blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Laurel-Rain Snow - Many people say this book could have been much shorter, but the story is good. I like it so far!

      Delete
  5. the opening paragraph didn't grab me but the book description did. I'd read on. Enjoy your book. kelley—the road goes ever ever on

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kelley - It's not an opening that really grabs your attention, that's for sure. I like the way he describes the family... the 12 yr old boy will become the main character.

      Delete
  6. Good luck! It's a good idea to combine it with an audiobook, then you can make a dent in it during times when you aren't able to pick up the actual book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sam - I call that my total immersion method! ;-)

      Delete
  7. I hope you enjoy this one! I tried reading another of this author's books years ago and couldn't get into it, and so never tried another of his. This one sounds interesting though and I might have to give it a try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Literary Feline - I hope this story draws me in. I'm on chapter 5 and like it so far.

      Delete
  8. I didn't love the intro, but did love the synopsis! I love true crime. This sounds like a 1925 version of In Cold Blood...as much about the surrounding area as the people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah - The synopsis is more appealing than the intro for me, too, but I'm enjoying it so far. Wonder if it will turn out to be a 1925 In Cold Blood...

      Delete
  9. It sounds like a long one! I've just read a couple of long books. What a good idea to read part of it and listen to part of it. Great strategy. I had to get the ebook version of The Odyssey in order to get through it. I just had to trick my brain into thinking that it wasn't that long. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heidi - I was tempted to buy the paperback, but the book is just too big! The listen and read method has worked really well for me for several classics - North and South, Vanity Fair, Bleak House. I call it total immersion!

      Delete
  10. I have heard of this title, but never bothered to read the blurb for it anywhere. Even with its hefty size, I am drawn to mysteries and true crime alike, especially in different settings, this one being a century ago and based on a real event. I would definitely keep reading. I don't have it yet, so maybe I will wait until you review it, skim it to avoid spoilers and then decide, so thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rita - I first heard of this back in high school when and English Teacher I respected thought I would like it....now after 35 years, I'm finally getting around to it!

      Delete
  11. I read this one a long, long time ago in American Lit. I keep telling myself I should reread it now that I'm older. I'd probably get more out of it.

    Today I'm featuring Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
    http://mytime2read.blogspot.com/2014/08/tuesday-memes-sisterland.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kim - I'm impressed that you'd even consider rereading a book this long!

      Delete
    2. Haha....I'd forgotten that it was long....maybe I can find an abridge version? LOL!

      Delete
  12. I only ever read Sister Carrie, and that was in high school. Honestly, the title of this book has always made not even consider putting it on my list, and this from someone who reads Thomas Hardy! Hope it's good--actually I like the opening, and am eager to hear how you end up liking it.

    I think this type of book lends itself well to audio/visual format. Good way to tackle a long classic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JaneGS - After reading Tess last year, I'd say Hardy is growing on me! I really like the picture Dreiser paints of this family... on chapter 5 now and there is a good mix of description and plot. The common complaint is that he could have used an editor and cut a couple hundred pages.

      I do much better with these really long books when I combine reading and listening. This is even a narrator I've enjoyed before.

      Delete
  13. This is high on my must read list, so I can't wait to hear what you think of it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melissa - I like the first 5 chapters... hope that continues!

      Delete
  14. I'm not familiar with this. I look forward to your review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Holly - My high school English teacher recommended it to me ages ago... we'll see how it goes.

      Delete
  15. I read Sister Carrie in college, but I have never read An American Tragedy -- I've always felt like I should. :-) I love the use of descriptive language in the paragraphs you posted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Irene - I'm curious about Sister Carrie, too, but chose this one for my Classics Club list because of the local connection. You can really see that family after reading the first chapter. I'm enjoying the book so far!

      Delete
  16. I've never heard of this book but was caught by the title alone and really like the sound of it. Will be interesting to see what you think when you are done but have put it on my to read list. Emma

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Emma - I don't think it's an especially well-known classic, but I definitely like the first 5 chapters!

      Delete
  17. I haven't heard about this one but it sounds interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yvonne - So far it really is... fingers crossed it continues.

      Delete
  18. JoAnn,
    How often I've heard about this title--and its length. I think that's what's keeping me from it. I will be extremely interested in learning about your experience with it. The historical tale is fascinating, and I wonder what Dreiser makes of it. Please share!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Judith - I definitely will. The overwhelming criticism is that Dreiser could have easily cut a could hundred pages, but 5 chapters in I'm enjoying the story and am involved with the characters. Hope it continues!

      Delete
  19. I'd keep reading. Dreiser's style of writing in the intro is different and almost reads like an old newspaper story. The synopsis sounds interesting. I'll be looking forward to seeing what you think in your review. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Monica - Interesting observation, but I can see that. It may take me a while to get through this one!

      Delete
  20. This is one classic I haven't even come close to. The first paragraph, however, appeals to me. 34 hours? That's a big commitment. Hope you enjoy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Margot - I'm hoping that by combining the print with audio, neither will seem quite as long. We'll see.

      Delete
  21. Hmm, I don't know. It does sound compelling, but the 800+ pages would be a big undertaking for me! I like your idea of switching between the paper book and audio.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diana - 800 pages is definitely daunting, but I'm hoping the read/listen combo will make it seem shorter.

      Delete
  22. I like the intro a lot, and it's a book I've meant to read for years. Will look forward to your review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diane - I've been meaning to read this since high school. Glad the spin has pushed me to pick it up!

      Delete
  23. You know, I hadn't heard about this book, but sounds like a very good read. A commitment. Peggy @ The Pegster Reads

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Peggy - I am pleasantly surprised so far, but it's definitely a commitment!

      Delete
  24. Joann, Love the sound of this one. Hope you enjoy. Here's Mine

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Paulita - So far I really like this book!

      Delete
  25. I'm glad somebody is reading this for me. ;) Of course I've heard of it, but have never feel motivated to read it, albeit quite curious to know what the tragedy is. So, good, looking forward to your review, JoAnn. On another note, I've been listening to some audiobooks lately, like binge listening, one after the other. Most impressive is Elizabeth McGovern reading The Chaperone. Though not a great story, EM's superb audio performance is most appealing, making the story much more interesting than it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Arti - This book has been on my list for a long, long time and am pleasantly surprised by how readable it is so far!

      I am probably the only person in the world who didn't love Elizabeth McGovern's narration in The Chaperone. Can you believe it? I did like the book though.

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails