Saturday, March 20, 2010

let the great world spin

Occasionally on this blog I have recommended a book because of its relation to Merton’s writings, or because of its unique contemplative perspective.  I’ve got another one: “Let The Great World Spin” by Colum McCann.  It has nothing to do with Merton other than sharing a city.

At first glance, it might seem to have little to do with contemplativeness either.   Sirens are mentioned often.  On one hand it is a simple narrative of lives entwined in the early 1970’s. Most of it takes place on one day in New York in August 1974 when Phillipe Petit (unnamed in the book) makes his tightrope walk across the World Trade Center towers, a walk that was called “the artistic crime of the 20th century.”

Here is a description from Random House:

In the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Colum McCann’s stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.

... a dazzlingly rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s.

... A sweeping and radical social novel, Let the Great World Spin captures the spirit of America in a time of transition, extraordinary promise, and, in hindsight, heartbreaking innocence. Hailed as a “fiercely original talent” (San Francisco Chronicle), award-winning novelist McCann has delivered a triumphantly American masterpiece that awakens in us a sense of what the novel can achieve, confront, and even heal.

I don't want to say too much and spoil the discovery.  I feel more in love and more alive for having read this book. 


  1. I will take note of that book. Philippe Petit, the tightrope walker, is one of my heroes. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. You won't be sorry for having read it, Barbara. Since reading it I've watched a few You Tubes of Phillippe Petit, and an interview with Colbert - you're right, he's a hero. It all reminds me of the "acrobat" of Bob Lax's poetry - right there at the edge of life.

  3. Beth,
    Stumbled upon your blog and went to read this book. I had previously heard an interview with the author on NPR and it sounded like a book I would like. I was not disappointed. The book is wonderful - poetic. I rarely want to underline things in works of fiction but this is a book I will purchase, reread, and mark up.

    I lived in NY in the late 70's, fresh out of business school, so the images where memorable in several ways. I think Thomas Merton would have appreciated the humanity of the characters and the city as presented in this book. You were right to recommend it on this blog.

  4. Thanks, Joan. I thought it was a special book too.


The Stuff of Contemplation (Joan Chittister)

Thomas Merton, Trappist, died December 10, 1968 Thomas Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemane in Bardstown, Kentucky, at the age of twenty-s...