The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Summer Reading Log, pt. 3

Finished Thomas Bell's OUT OF THIS FURNACE this week. It's a generational saga—three generations of Slovak immigrants working in the Carnegie steel mills in Braddock, PA (up the Mon river from Pittsburgh about 15 miles). Bell was the son of a Slovak millworker and did his time in the mills before moving to NYC and becoming a writer. It's not a great book, by any means, but for its time it's quite good. Comparing it to the other popular sagas of the time (GONE WITH THE WIND, ANTHONY ADVERSE) it's got a lot more discipline. Bell's got a workingman's kneejerk hatred of "the bosses," but presents a nuanced portrait of the family and a fairly sophisticated, ahead of its time analysis of the collusion of the government, steel companies, and media in their efforts to forestall the unionization of the steel industry. Bell doesn't give the AFL a pass, either.

I was happy to see that the book taught well, too. I might just have a good class this summer (all preliminary indications to the contrary, this has been a very good group) but we had a great 2-hour discussion on the novel. I have trouble getting 2 hours out of discussing Pynchon novels with graduate students, so this was a surprise to me. It helps that I've got a student who's far better versed in Pittsburgh history than I am.

Still working my way through THE BETROTHED/I PROMESSI SPOSI. It's not what I expected—it's like CANDIDE plus DON QUIXOTE plus ROMEO AND JULIET. Two poor lovers in 17th century Italy, the girl catches the eye of the cruel despotic local lord, the lovers must flee, the lovers are separated and run into endless difficulties and obstacles at the hands of victimizing powerful folk. I'm halfway through.


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