Babbit Sinclair Lewis novel cover

Contemporary Times and the 1920s

Undoubtedly, the most fascinating aspect of the 1920s for me has been how similar contemporary times and the 1920s are.

“What did this man want?” – Tagline from the cover of Babbitt

From everything I’ve been reading, it feels like the 1920s is where “American” society came from. All the extremes, the attitudes, the swings of the pendulum, the craziness… (Granted, when you look at other countries and their dictatorships and cults of personality, it isn’t really that crazy. But it’s crazy for a bunch of upstart Protestants from the wilds of England… Right?)

I really feel like most of our attitudes, the way our society thinks, feels, and reacts–they’ve all honed themselves from this one significant decade. It all seems so familiar now. Not just right now, but in everything that’s happened since the 1920s.

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Detail from Judith Mackrell's Flappers Courtesy of FSG Books

Insights Into the Twenties: Book Reviews

I am cocktailly. Very cocktailly.” – Eugen Boissevain
For more insights into the Twenties, I’ve started reading research books about flappers – which focus mainly on Zelda Fitzgerald, of course. As one of the reviews below points out, Zelda defined and encompassed the decade. Her escapades may have started in 1914 or 1915 in Alabama, but she came to New York in 1921 and made an impression on everyone she met, partied through Paris and the South of France, then crashed pretty much as soon as the market did.

I don’t know if I would have liked her very much, I can’t help but realize how important she was to both defining and being defined by the decade.

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I really have got to stop reading these end of the world books.

Another one from Ward and Brownlee. A “sequel”, they call it, to Rare Earth. I’m going to have to make these extinction books their own category. “How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day” should be its name.

Earth is a middle-aged woman, run ragged by her hundreds of children, asshole of a husband, and the fact that she’s taken up smoking. Humans are the cigarettes. I haven’t decided who the asshole husband is in my version of Ward and Brownlee’s analogy. They don’t provide one, but I’m sure there must be. There usually is. Could it be the Sun? It’s the one dying in the first place and apparently will get all grumpy about it and take it out on Earth. The Moon? That doesn’t seem right. The Moon has been quite the little helper/worker bee for the Earth since it first settled into orbit. Can’t hardly use it in the role of abusive jerk.

The Life and Death of Planet Earth by Ward and Brownlee book coverThis book uses phrases like “silicate-carbonate geochemical cycle,” which sounds like a good band name. And again, like Rare Earth, it points out all of the chance occurrences and lucky breaks that made conditions just right for life. If CO2 levels hadn’t dropped as significantly as they had, then no oxygen-breathing large animals. But this drop in CO2 wasn’t due just to the rise of vascular land plants and their insatiable appetite for the stuff. That wasn’t enough. It took a geological event. If the Indian tectonic plate hadn’t just happened to collide with Asia 100 million years ago, then the Himalayas never would have been created. No weathering of all that exposed rock means no “silicate-carbonate geochemical cycle” to make more limestone, which got rid of even more massive amounts of CO2.

But no more of this cool, interesting, “let’s create as much life as we possibly can” process. Now Earth is dying. The Cambrian Explosion was it. That was the heyday. Humans showed up just in time and developed just enough intelligence to use and abuse all of those years of carbon fuels and trees and animals.

And what’s so funny is that Ward and Brownlee get a bit indignant about humans screwing everything up worse than it already is.

Really?

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Reading The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker and suddenly I adore poetry.

It’s for a book club. The Radicals book club, I believe it’s called. I don’t know why it’s called that, except to possibly distinguish it from the other non-Radicals book club that the friend who invited me to join also has. (Wow. Was something dangling in that sentence or is it just me? OK. Honestly. Something’s really dangling in that sentence, because I’m certainly not. Dangling, that is. Sheesh. Never mind.)

June and The Anthologist will be my first time in a book club, and I don’t know that much about it. Will I be expected to have brilliant insights because I have an English degree? Can I just sit and listen my first time? Will I have to remember everything I learned about Wordsworth? Because I really wasn’t that good at Wordsworth. Ezra Pound and H.D. were more my style. There’s so much going on in those poems that even with my weak poetry skills I can find the symbolism.

But as I’m reading the book, I’m finding that I’m enjoying it so much that I don’t care any more. I don’t think it will matter because I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy talking about it. He’s just so funny. Paul, that is. Nicholson Baker could be funny as well. I’m sure he must be since his character has a decent sense of humor. I’ve just never met him, of course, and by now I feel like I’ve met Paul. He’s also genuine. But I like when he’s trying too hard and comes across as a teensy bit annoying. He catches himself and backpedals a little, so it makes him charming.

And all the poems he’s talking about? Naturally, I have to go find them and read them. (Sinead O’Connor singing “She Moved Through the Fair” not so much. Doesn’t everybody know that? Ha!) And that’s not such a bad thing.

Side note:  One of the reviews on Amazon says this is a very bad, naughty book because it’s not a good way to learn poetry. It made me laugh so hard. I certainly would have liked to have had this book in all of my poetry classes. Scansions and what not would have been so much simpler.

So my new favorite thing? Poem Hunter. Any reference will find the poem you’re looking for and bring it to you. Printer-friendly versions and lists of favorites and daily emails, oh my! Yet another thing I can spend part of my morning doing. Reading poetry! But from what I understand so far of The Anthologist, this is a very good thing.

Although it’s going to take me forever to get through this 250 page book if I continue on this way.