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Book #56: Ragtime

Meh.

I didn’t really like Ragtime. I didn’t really hate Ragtime.

The novel was a little like a plain, dry biscuit without much seasoning. It might nourish you a little bit, but you’ll probably have forgotten about it by the time you take the last bite, or close the back cover—if you get that far.

I don’t know that I ever really got Ragtime. Maybe it’s the historical fiction angle. Like, why do I care to read about people like Harry Houdini and J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford and Booker T. Washington (all of whom are characters in the novel) if the story is just that—a made-up story.

If I’m going to read about Booker T. Washington or J.P. Morgan, then I want to know what really happened in their lives, not a concocted, fictional account. But that’s just my view of historical fiction. And that’s definitely what I’m left thinking after having read Ragtime.

In full disclosure, the above historical figures aren’t main characters or protagonists, but they appear enough to be a distraction to the main plot, at least in this amateur reviewer’s opinion.

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Wealthy, Old, Constipated Guys From Ragtime

Even though I’m not a huge fan of Ragtime, the book does have its fair share of funny passages. I shared one with you on Tuesday. Here’s another one.

This passage describes a meeting between JP Morgan and several other famous wealthy businessmen from that era.

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Grandpa Breaks His Pelvis

Ragtime has a dark sense of humor.

The storytelling is dry, even slightly boring at times. There is no dialogue in the traditional sense—no quotes set apart from the rest of the narrative.

Doctorow’s style is unique. And while I can’t say that I’m crazy about the book, I must say I loved the following passage that illustrates his dark humor.

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Ragtime On Broadway

In 1998, Ragtime premiered as a musical on Broadway.

The lavish production cost around $11 million and included fireworks and a working Model T car. Though the musical received mixed reviews, it received 13 Tony nominations.

Ragtime won the Tony for Best Book of A Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Audra McDonald), and Best Orchestrations. It lost out on the Best Musical Award to The Lion King.

Ragtime ran for 834 performances, finally closing on Broadway in January 2ooo. The musical then appeared on West End in London for several months, and it reappeared on Broadway in 2009, running for a couple of months.

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The Doctorow-Dreiser Connection

As I was reading some of the early pages of Ragtime, I began to notice similarities between E.L. Doctorow’s style and that of Theodore Dreiser (who you may remember as the author of An American Tragedy).

Doctorow’s writing is much better than Dreiser, who has been called one of the “worst best writers of the 20th Century,” but their style of writing–the tone, the structure of their stories, their “voice”– seemed very similar to me. Literally, a few minutes after I thought that, I read this passage in the book…

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Next Up: Ragtime

Yet again I walk into the unknown.

I’ve never read Ragtime, and I’m quite unfamiliar with E.L. Doctorow, other than simply knowing the name.

So Ragtime, my 56th book from the Time list, will be a journey into unknown territory–although the book should be familiar in that it covers the time period from the turn of the 20th century to the beginning of World War I. This era seems to have produced a lot of novels on the list.

Ragtime is historical fiction that tells the story of a white, upper-class family in New York who have to step out of their comfort zone to deal with issues of race and class. The story includes a wide array of historical figures, including Harry Houdini, JP Morgan, Henry Ford, Sigmund Freud, and many others.

Anyway, a little bit about Ragtime and its author, E.L. Doctorow:

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And The Next Five Novels Are…

Finally, the next five books. A fresh start. A few new authors. This is one of my favorite parts of this project–deciding on which books to read next.

As always, it’s a mix between short and long novels. My strategy is to not leave myself weighted down by a bunch of the thicker novels at the end. So I always try and have a good mix of the long stuff and the short stuff.

So here’s the next five, in no particular order.

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