July good month to read U.S.A. trilogy

Tammy Marshall, "Novel Thoughts"

Between 1930 and 1933, John Dos Passos published his three-part novel called “U.S.A.,” which is often referred to as the U.S.A. trilogy.

In order, the three books are “The 42nd Parallel,” “1919” and “The Big Money.” Together, they tell the story of our country from 1900 until about 1928, but they tell it in a truly unique way.

Often, I believe, readers skip forewords and introductions, seeing them as unnecessary to the enjoyment of the story to follow. I think this is especially true in works of fiction as opposed to non-fiction pieces where readers may make the time to read introductions to glean extra bits of information about the topic. In reading this trilogy, however, it is wise to read the accompanying introductory passages.

While the trilogy is a work of fiction, it also contains much that could be called non-fiction, and it is written and arranged in such a way that the more prepared you are to understand its structure, the more you will get from reading the three novels.

Essentially, Dos Passos used four styles of writing in these books. In two of my copies (which are Mariner Books), E.L. Doctorow provides a handy foreword that best explains how to read the trilogy. In the other copy (a Signet Classic), Alfred Kazin icludes a lengthy introduction that adds depth to a reader’s understanding of the trilogy.

In the three books, you will find Newsreels that contain snippets from actual news pieces of the years. They are presented in a chronological fashion through the three novels.

The second type of writing in each is something Dos Passos called “The Camera Eye,” and those pieces are fragmented memories that Dos Passos, himself, had during the timeframes covered.

As Doctorow explains, “A third mode is the minute biography, the periodic insertion into the text of highly editorialized brief lives of some of the paramount figures of each of the decades he covers.”

I actually enjoyed these mini biographies the best because I learned a lot about important people in the history of this nation in short, easy to digest, bursts of reading. For example, I found it especially interesting that John (Jack) Reed, a war correspondent who wrote “Ten Days that Shook the World,” is only one of three Americans who are buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Moscow.

The bulk of the books are fictionalized narratives of characters who represent the type of people who lived in the U.S.A. from 1900-1928. Some of their stories do intertwine, not only with each other’s stories but also with the stories of the real historical figures of the era. Their stories also crisscross the three books that comprise the U.S.A. trilogy.

This trilogy is certainly not a light summer vacation read, but with July being our country’s independence month, it is a worthy read for the season.

John Dos Passos was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction. He also wrote plays and poetry, so even if you don’t want to tackle his U.S.A. trilogy like I did, there is certainly something among his writings that you could read to sample this largely unknown (or, perhaps, forgotten) and underappreciated American author.

* * *

Contact Marshall at tamreader@gmail.com.

Next month’s reading selection is “The Professor and the Madman” by Simon Winchester.


In other news

Holiday traditions are a major part of many families’ Christmas celebrations. They embody the very idea of Christmas cheer. A fun game has become a part of my family’s holiday gathering. It involves the passing of a Saran Wrap ball around a circle of my family members.

Holidays are a great time for families to spend time together. Christmas is usually the first holiday that comes to mind when people start talking about traditions during the holidays. Most families have some sort of tradition around Christmas time. Some traditions in my family include decor…

My family has many special traditions, especially around the holidays. Like most families, we put up decorations, exchange gifts, have some big spectacular feasts, and visit family. However, we also have a few traditions that are a bit out of the norm. This, somehow, makes them more special.

Later today you’ll need to visit your nearest grocery outlet and purchase as many frozen French fries as they currently have in their freezer case. Trust me. In February these frozen spuds will be worth their frozen weight in gold.

Like many people, I’ve long known of Henry David Thoreau and his famous stay at Walden Pond, but until recently, I only knew the most famous quotes from Walden – the ones that have made appearances in movies or been used in other pieces of writing.

December brings new visual and performing arts experiences to the Norfolk Arts Center (NAC), and opportunities to buy or make craft and arts items to give as gifts.

Before we get started, I should probably preface this by reminding everyone that Nebraska played a terrible, terrible team in Maryland. The Terrapins have been hit by the injury bug for several years now and, along with coaching changes, they just can’t get over the hump. The weird thing is,…

Jimmy Johns