The Book: E. L. Doctorow, RAGTIME. Bantam Books paperback reprint, 1976 (originally published 1975). Fair condition; spine is badly creased, book is slightly cocked, front and back cover show pocking that may actually be tooth marks (but I don’t want to speculate). An appointment date (“2/17, 11:15”) is written in pen on the first page.
First read: 1981
Owned since: 1983 (best guess)
Ragtime's a musical genre that's hard to define, although you'll recognize it when you hear it: its distinctive feature is a syncopated melody, set against a regular rhythm of bass notes. Rags can be cheerful or melancholy, but they make listeners want to dance or swing to the music -- hence the synonym "swing." Ragtime is the first genuinely American genre of music.
The brass quartet closed out McGill's convocation yesterday with a ragtime tune -- not "The Maple Leaf Rag," which would have been fitting, but another one that seemed just as good. Ragtime's all about taking a break to celebrate and strut, and we could not have been happier for Claire. Congratulations, and let the adventure begin.
Ragtime, the book, is about America at the turn of the last century, when the country shifted whether it wanted to or not. Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, JP Morgan and Emma Goldman have cameo roles here, but the main stories are about two families -- one black, one white -- that are eventually ripped apart by their respective efforts to do what they think is right. It's a gorgeous, dreamlike book, and I also like the movie and musical versions.
Next week's blog will try something new and exciting: a series of visits from guest bloggers, most of whom are author friends of mine with new books out or forthcoming. Please check back daily as the following give their own takes on books that made a difference to them. Here's the schedule:
Monday -- author-editor Laura Benedict, whose first novel, Isabella Moon came out in late September
Tuesday -- author Kevin Wignall, whose latest novel, Who is Conrad Hirst? will be published on that very day
Wednesday -- editor-author Jennifer Jordan, whose anthology Expletive Deleted comes out from Bleak House Books on November 20
Thursday -- author-journalist Tom Ehrenfeld, whose book The Startup Garden is still an essential tool for new entrepreneurs
Friday -- author-journalist Karen Olson, whose latest Annie Seymour mystery, Dead of the Day, was published this week by NAL
I'm excited to read these guest commentaries, and if things go well, I'll probably run another week of guest blog postings in February. If you're interested in participating in a future Guest Blog week, get in touch.