Finding New York Fiction: Let the Great World Spin

| December 8, 2011

I discovered that we had the novel Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, when a student checked it out.  The student said s/he was doing a project on New York novels and was, at the time,  also checking out three other fantastic novels.  It got me thinking about what other New York novels we might have  in the collection.

How might you find other books like this?  One way is to do a subject search by entering in the terms you think best describe the book you want and seeing which terms come up, and narrow from there. You can also find a book you know and search for similar books.  If you go into any record and click “full record” you will see a list of subject headings the Library of Congress has assigned to the book.  These subject headings link to other books described the same way. In this case, If you do a subject search for “New York (N.Y.)–Fiction” you will get 28 results, including:

Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory
J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye
Daniel Menaker’s The Treatment
and New York Stories (an anthology of stories that looks excellent, judging by the author list).

You could search for many aspects of fiction, including “Haiti–fiction” (in the case of Danticat), “psychotherapist and patient–fiction” in the case of Menaker, or “runaway teenagers–fiction,” in the case of Catcher in the Rye.  Because it’s fairly difficult to predict these varieties of fiction, you might also want to do an advanced search and enter fiction in one search box with New York in the other, connected by the boolean AND.  This will yield more results than using the authorized term New York (N.Y.)–fiction, but sometimes that’s useful.

Back to Let the Great World Spin. This book is fantastic.  It’s Colum McCann’s fifth novel and won the National Book Award in 2009. The plot follows a group of characters in New York City, all connected by a single event: Philipe Petit’s historic walk across a wire strung between the twin towers in 1974.  The characters’ lives prove richer and more fascinating than the event that binds them; McCann’s has described the novel as an attempt to process his grief over 9/11, but even the connection to 9/11 remains muted, beneath the surface. McCann’s gift as a storyteller (in my opinion) is that he lets his characters be human. Compared to, for instance, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, which is technically savvy and very smartly written (including, in my opinion, a perfect first chapter), McCann tells a story from varied viewpoints in a way that feels organic–it feels, when reading it, that the story needed to be told this way in the service of his characters. McCann is generous to his characters; I never felt that he was writing to impress me with his skill, but rather, that he was trying to impress his characters with his honesty.  Unfortunately, artistic integrity is not a subject heading!  It’s a beautiful book– consider checking it out.

Here at the Library:

Pr 6063 C335 L47 2010 (right now it’s on reserve)


McCann’s Website

From the Publisher:

“Elegantly weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann’s powerful allegory comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the city’s people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the “artistic crime of the century.” 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.”