Charles Petzold

Doctorow's March

January 2, 2006
Back in NYC

When driving between New York City and Deirdre's house in the Catskills, or to my mother's house in Jersey or Deirdre's mother's house in Utica, we listen to audiobooks — generally unabridged works of fiction. It's a nice way to read a book "together," and to share the experience.

On the way back from Roscoe yesterday, we finished E.L. Doctorow's recent novel The March read by Joe Morton (10 CDs), and really enjoyed it. The "march" of the title is Sherman's March in the last months of the Civil War, and Doctorow skillfully meshes the activities of a panorama of characters, including soldiers on both sides, newly freed slaves (we meet the parents of Ragtime's Coalhouse Walker), southern refugees, generals, and Abraham Lincoln. Highly recommended.

We generally listen to a mix of classic fiction and recent fiction, but 2005 was particularly good for the recent stuff. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (the Japanese-born British author of Remains of the Day) is a gentle first-person narrative by a 30-ish woman remembering her school days, except it soon becomes evident that the school she went to was very special.

In 2005 we also listened to Ian McEwan's Atonement. The entire first half of the novel takes place on a single day in 1935, when imagination and misunderstanding combine to create a tragedy that has repercussions over the rest of the century. As that day in 1935 ends, you have no idea where the novel is heading, and never expect to find yourself 5 years later in a vivid recreation of the fall of France. (After Atonement, I felt compelled to read three more of McEwan's recent novels.)

One of the classics we listened to in 2005 as Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, which then led to seeing Visconti's film, and an unsatisfying film of Benjamin Britten's opera by Tony Palmer, and then a wonderful production of Britten's opera at Glimmerglass.