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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:

  • Published in 1975, Ragtime was listed #86 on the Modern Library’s Top 100 novels of the 20th Century, in addition to appearing on the Time list.
  • The novel was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel and won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1975. In 1976, it won the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award.
  • Ragtime was adapted into a 1981 movie starring James Cagney and Pat O Brien.
  • It was also adapted into a broadway musical in 1998 and received 13 Tony Award nominations. The musical ran for 834 performances until it closed in 2000, but then reappeared on Broadway for several months in 2009.
  • Doctorow has written several wildly popular novels, including Ragtime, World’s Fair, The Book of Daniel, Billy Bathgate, and The March.
  • Doctorow got his start working as a book editor—where he worked with and helped publish novels by Ian Fleming, Ayn Rand, James Baldwin and Norman Mailer.
  • Currently 82, Doctorow is on staff at New York University where he is the Lewis and Loretta Glucksman Professor in American Letters. That sounds pretty official.

How would you like to go to a class with E.L. Doctorow as your English professor. Wow. That would make college interesting.

So before I dive into Ragtime and Doctorow in the coming weeks, any overall thoughts on this novel or its author?

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. I started this book and became very, very bored (yes, two verys is about right). My 50 page rule was invoked and I set it aside. I guess I didn’t buy into the concept of Houdini driving down the road and bumping into this story. Just too contrived.

    If Doctorow’s class is anything like my experience of his writing, I’d probably skip his lectures.


    April 18, 2013
    • I’m not really digging it in the early pages. We might agree on this one.


      April 18, 2013
      • Connie #

        Page numbering changes from version to version but in my edition page 50 ends with “great fillamened spurts of jism that traced the air like bullets and settled…like falling ticker tape.”

        Call me sick but I’d say thats worth another 25 pages at least…


        April 19, 2013
  2. I read Ragtime for a class, and while I didn’t necessarily find it boring, it isn’t my favorite book. However, I appreciated the historical aspects and it was the first time I was introduced to Emma Goldman.

    Liked by 1 person

    April 18, 2013
  3. Doctorow is one of my favorite novelists. “Ragtime” is such a gorgeous, sprawling novel. Doctorow’s “Billy Bathgate” and “The Book of Daniel” are also wonderful. I’m a fan of how he incorporates real historical figures into his stories though many find that device to be irksome. “Ragtime” – very much worth reading and Doctorow – worth exploring further. My two cents.


    April 18, 2013
  4. I really enjoyed this book, especially Doctorow’s style of quick-sketching all the important details. Not sure if your opinion of it has changed any since you first started reading. Guess we’ll have to wait for the updates. 🙂

    “He would have been able to tell her what the truth was. He would have made a joke out of it. That was his way.” – E.L. Doctorow


    April 18, 2013
  5. My husband and I were given tickets to Ragtime for our honeymoon in NYC 14 years ago. I had never heard of it. Just reading the name of the book in your post title brought back a flood of memories and music. What a powerful story. I was engrossed from scene 1 and song 1. Now I need to read the book. Maybe for our anniversary in July. Thanks for your post!


    June 15, 2013

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  1. Rest In Peace, E.L. Doctorow | 101 Books

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