Sunday, January 26, 2014

Book Review: Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

ISBN: 0452279070
Published: May 1st, 1997 (first published 1975)
Publisher: Plume
Read from January 16th to 25th, 2014
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Published in 1975, Ragtime changed our very concept of what a novel could be. An extraordinary tapestry, Ragtime captures the spirit of America in the era between the turn of the century and the First World War. 
The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, New York, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. And almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family and other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler and a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.


I read this book for my American literature class. Although the book was published in the 70s, it is set during the time period that we're beginning to study, so our professor thought that Ragtime would be a good introduction to the time period.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect going into the book except what time period it was set in, and to be completely honest, I didn't really enjoy the book that much. There were bits and pieces of it I liked, and I can definitely see that it was merit in certain ways. I just didn't find it enjoyable to read.

It was cool to see so many historical characters, and it was interesting to see them interact with the fictional characters. The fictional characters not having real names got a bit annoying towards the end, but overall I could have handled that without caring much. A much more annoying aspect of the book for me was the dialogue not being in quotations as that made it a bit difficult to follow at times. The extremely long paragraphs that happened at times also made reading difficult at some parts.

Overall though, I could have enjoyed the book even with those aspects. I just wasn't interested in the story. When I read a book, I want to feel invested in either a plot or characters or (ideally) both. I didn't get either of that in Ragtime. There isn't really one overall plot so much as it's just following a large cast of characters around for a certain number of years, and because there are so many characters to keep track of, I never felt any particularly strong feelings (whether love or hate) for any of them, which made me a bit uncaring about what happened to them. I didn't think Ragtime was a bad book, but it lacked everything that I enjoy having in what I read.

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