The Book Cook Look Club is a small Australian based book club combining three much-loved activities: reading, cooking and films. Declan, a member of the club, will be recapping his experience each month right here on The Nerd Daily!
BOOK | One person selects a book for everyone to read over the next month.
COOK | The book selector hosts a dinner party with a themed meal related to the book.
LOOK | We compare the film adaptation to its source material.
There are few topics so frequently explored in twentieth century American literature than the American Dream. It is an idea that evolved throughout history, but its peak came during the Great Depression when more Americans than usual were clinging to aspirations of wealth and liberty.
Perhaps this is why it has become such a popular setting for novels like ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ that deal with its existence. In this category we can also fit Saul Bellow’s ‘The Adventures of Augie March’ – a novel that garnered critical appraise in its time, but failed to receive as positive a response at this month’s Book Cook Look Club.
Alec’s choice of meal tonight was genuine Chicago-style hot dogs, garnished with mustard, raw onion, gherkin relish, pickle, chilli, tomato, and celery salt. Appropriately invented during the Great Depression with low-cost ingredients, it was a wonderfully American way to launch our discussion.
Alec’s decision to choose ‘The Adventures of Augie March’ was mostly driven by his admiration of Saul Bellow’s other works, particularly ‘Henderson, The Rain King’. For him, ‘Augie March’ didn’t quite measure up to his expectations set by Henderson – but before getting into personal opinions, we first got stuck into the narrative structure.
This isn’t something that can be brushed over, because ‘Augie March’ falls into a small sect of stories that reject the traditional three act structure and instead employs an episodic stream of consciousness. For what it’s worth, this is effective in what it is portraying – a protagonist who wanders through life, chases after an elusive vision of the American Dream, and never quite gets anywhere.
I made the point that in this way it isn’t unlike other novels with similar themes, such as ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. But where Holden Caulfield questions the American Dream and projects his angsty cynicism onto the world, Augie March takes a step into the backseat and lets life pull him in whatever directions it sees fit. In my mind, this is the key point that divides these two books.
Apple pie and ice cream was served up for the crux of our discussion, and usually the most controversial part – personal opinions.
The lack of introspection in ‘The Adventures of Augie March’ was a dealbreaker for me. Augie’s unwavering belief in the American Dream paired with his lack of drive is an incredibly frustrating combination of characteristics. Not only this, but the lack of introspection made for a tedious and exceedingly dense style of narration.
I was confronted over these views by a slightly offended Alec. He asked me how I could go against the National Book Foundation, Time magazine, and the Modern Library Board – all entities that have all critically acclaimed the book. But just because I didn’t enjoy the book on a personal level doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold value. I can appreciate its legacy, and I can certainly appreciate Saul Bellow’s intent behind it.
After all that, it turned out the rest of the club wasn’t all too thrilled with the book either anyway. In fact, I was the only one who got through it all.
Here’s the thing: when you’re reading a book or watching a movie that is considered a classic, you are allowed to not enjoy it. Opinions like these are the reason we have book clubs and discussions. But at least give it a chance, and understand the reasons why you don’t like it. Older novels might not hold up easily to today’s standards of popular fiction, but the real gems of the literary history were absolutely essential to the formation of the literary culture we have today.
Have you read The Adventures of Augie March? What did you think? Tell us in the comments below!