Let the Great World Spin a novel by Colum McCann NY: Random House, 2009 349 pages
Take a careful look at the top of the book cover above and you'll see a wire walker, balancing pole in hand, pencil-thin atop a spreading megalopolis. It is 1974, and the wire walker is Philippe Petit, poised between the twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center. Let the Great World Spin is not really a novel about Philippe Petit, but it uses his "artistic crime of the 20th century" and August 7, 1974 as the centerpiece for a soaring tale that dissects not just New York City, but the divide between human aspiration and the muck and mire of everyday existence, between all that pulls us up to the heavens and all that yanks us down, down, down. Or as Oscar Wilde once famously put it, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
Although Petit is just one of many characters in the book, all the action is refracted through the lens of his walk and arrest. Mc Cann conjures a tapestry of interlocking stories, shifting from 3rd-person to 1st-person narrative, getting into the heads of a broad swath of New Yorkers. The NY Times book review said it much better than I can: "Like a great pitcher in his prime, McCann is constantly changing speeds, adopting different voices, tones and narrative styles as he shifts between story lines... McCann just keeps rolling out new people, deftly linking each to the next, as his story moves toward its surprising and deeply affecting conclusion."
All in all, a deeply felt tale, a feat of superior storytelling, and certainly one of the best novels I've read in recent years. I am not at all surprised that it won the National Book Award and was named Amazon's Book of the Year, amongst other honors. A damn good read, and if you're not in the habit of devouring serious contemporary fiction (hey, what's up with that?), this would be a great place to start. And you can get the paperback on Amazon for a mere $7.50 — the price of a beer in many a New York bar.
Update (Sept. 7, 2011):
The NY Times has started a new online book discussion group, Big City Book Club, and their first selection is none other than Let the Great World Spin. The host (Gina Bellafante) poses some questions and readers share their views but, unlike your typical comments section, the host joins in the dialogue on a regular basis. Check it out here.
...that you can click on any blog image to see it full size?
[So this is what I wrote six years ago; more or less true!]
Ring around a rosie, a pocket full of posies Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down
Welcome to the All Fall Down blog, an exploration of all aspects of physical comedy, from the historical to the latest work in the field, from the one-man show to the digital composite, from the conceptual to the nuts & bolts how-to. Be prepared for a broad definition of physical comedy (mine!) and a wide variety of approaches. Physical comedy is a visual art form, so there’ll be tons of pictures and videos, but also some substantial writing and research, including scripts and probably even some books.
This blog is a result of me wanting to follow through on lots of unfinished research from the past 25 years. It’s made possible by a full-year sabbatical leave from Bloomfield College that will take me through August 2010. It’s also made more practical by the ease of Web 2.0 tools for managing and distributing content. I had envisioned a web site similar to this blog more than a decade ago, but never got too far with it because it was simply a lot more work. Now, no more excuses!
Just as this blog will be sharing lots of goodies with you free of charge, I hope you will share your knowledge and ideas with me. Feel free to comment on any of it, or to write me directly with your suggestions. Admittedly I don’t see this as a free-for-all forum on the subject of physical comedy. It’s my blog, I’m the filter, and it won’t be all things to all people. That being said, I hope it will bring together insights, information, and people, and encourage others to make their own singular contributions to the field.
I hope to be adding substantial and varied material to the blog on a regular basis, so check back often and be sure to check out previous posts. And finally, a thanks to all of you, past present, and future whose work contributes to our knowledge — and our fun. We are truly standing on the shoulders of giants.
— John Towsen New York CIty May, 2009
My Physical Comedy Qualifications
So if you don’t blink, you can see me doing a pratfall on the original 1957 CBS production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella(starring Julie Andrews, directed by Ralph Nelson, stage managed by Joseph Papp).
If that doesn't say it all, then click here for the full bio.
My Favorite Posts Okay, there are literally thousands of physical comedy blogs out there, but only one physical comedy blogopedia. Why list my favorite posts? Because I want to draw attention to my best research and writing, to posts that make the strongest connections between old and new, between theory and practice, between ha-ha funny and broader global issues. If I die tomorrow, which is impossible because it's already the day after tomorrow in Australia, these are the ones I would like read aloud at my funeral, with high-rez projection of all videos. (Is it bad luck to write that?) Also, please mention that I never voted for a Republican. —jt
Here are some useful and fun blogs and web sites that touch on the whole field of physical comedy, rather than just sites by performers about themselves (not that there's anything wrong with that). Click away!
For the latest posts from these blogs, see below. (Blogs only; not web sites.) These are automatically sequenced by Google in order of most current posts. The blog at the top of the list is the blog with the most recent post. Since the whole idea is to keep you (and me) up to date on current posts in the field, blogs that have not been posting regularly have been dropped from the list; if you've been dropped but are now posting regularly, just let me know.
Here's a list of complete books available for free as pdf documents right here on this here blogopedia, arranged in chronological order; dates are publication in the original language. Clickhere for a Tech Note on these books. Click on the book title to go to that post. More books coming!