Book Club Discussion: Young Lonigan by James T. Farrell

I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. Prior to reading it, I went on Goodreads to check out what others had thought of it and was surprised that the average rating was 3.5 stars. Uh oh, I thought, and sighed. This is going to be another book that the Modern Library misjudged in putting on their Top 100 list.

Young LoniganYoung Lonigan is the first book in the Studs Lonigan Trilogy and is about a 14 year old boy growing up in an Irish-American neighborhood in 1916 Chicago. Studs Lonigan graduates eighth-grade and then spends the rest of the summer hanging out with friends, crooning over female crushes and deciding how he wants to spend his future. For a 14-year-old, these decisions range from the immediate problem of going to high school to the long-term problem of what he wants to do with his life — become a priest like his mother wants him to or working for his father.

I had grown up listening to stories of my father growing up in an Italian neighborhood in the 1940-50’s Newark, New Jersey. And reading this was like listening to those stories all over again, except this time they took place 50 years prior and in an Irish neighborhood. Farrell’s writing is simple and concise and yet very descriptive. I could picture every moment of Lonigan’s life as it is described from him standing in the bathroom trying get the smoke out as his sister bangs on the door to him standing on street corner with a gang of kids. I could picture his father sitting on the porch, smoking a cigar as he reflected on his life.

Farrell is known for his American realism and giving a voice to the inarticulate. I can agree with those references. Given that my father was going through the same type of things in the 50’s, I would say Farrell was on to something.

I read the book for enjoyment rather trying to analyze every little facet of what Farrell was trying to say and for me it was enjoyable. However I was in the minority.

There were about 10 of us who showed up to discuss Young Lonigan and besides me, there were only 2 other people who really enjoyed the book. The rest of the group, primarily older males, were rather critical of it. Though they said it wasn’t a bad book, they did understand why it was so high on the list. For them, it was going to back to their own childhood, an experience, they said, they would rather not relive. They didn’t get anything out of the book.

Some were critical of the language in the book, saying that it made it drag. Others noted how there wasn’t a substantial plot, though I argue that Young Lonigan is the shortest of the three books in the trilogy (Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan and Judgment Day). Farrell is just getting started with his young character. There are more than 500 pages with books 2 and 3 so there is a whole lot more about Studs we just don’t know. Anything could happen. Though, since I read the introduction to my edition, I already know what is going to happen.

We have decided that when it comes to the trilogies that are on the list, if the majority of the group doesn’t like the first one, we won’t go on to read the rest. I think the majority have spoken on this one. I might check out the other two but it’s not high on my priority list.


Another challenge: 50 classics to read by 2023

So today, while searching for more book bloggers to follow, primarily ones who focus on classics, I stumbled upon the Classics Club. After reading what they were about, I was intrigued and decided to give it a go. (Like I need yet another challenge).

So what is it about? In short:

The Classics Club is a club created to inspire people to read and blog about classic books. There’s no time limit to join and you’re most welcome, as long as you’re willing to sign up to read and write on your blog about 50+ classic books in at most five years.  To learn more, visit them here.

Since I am already part of the Modern Library Top 100 Book Club, a local book club in Albany NY reading the books off the Modern Library’s Top 100 list, I figured that this “challenge” would keep me motivated to read those books while looking at others. So this list is a combination of future book club reads and books that I have piled on a whole bookshelf in my house. Most of them, I have never read, but there may be one or two I read so long ago or never finished that I decided to give it another go.

So here is the list I plan to read by July 2023:

  1. The Golden Bowl, Henry James
  2. The Old Wives Tale, Arnold Bennett
  3. The Rainbow, D.H. Lawrence
  4. The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder
  5. Madam Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  6. Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
  7. The Jungle Books, Rudyard Kipling
  8. Light in August, William Faulkner
  9. A Room with a View, E.M. Forster
  10. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
  11. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  12. Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
  13. My Antonia, Willa Cather
  14. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  15. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  16. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
  17. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
  18. An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser
  19. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
  20. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
  21. Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens
  22. Watership Down, Richard Adams
  23. The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
  24. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
  25. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  26. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
  27. The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
  28. White Fang, Jack London
  29. The Call of the Wild, Jack London
  30. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  31. Parade’s End, Ford Madox Ford
  32. Appointment in Samarra, John O’Hara
  33. The Death of the Heart, Elizabeth Bowen
  34. Finnegan’s Wake, James Joyce
  35. Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
  36. The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
  37. From Here to Eternity, James Jones
  38. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
  39. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
  40. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
  41. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
  42. The 42nd Parallel, (USA trilogy #1) , John Dos Passos
  43. Young Lonigan (The Studs Lonigan Trilogy #1), James T. Farrell
  44. A Question of Upbringing (A Dance to the Music  of Time #1), Anthony Powell
  45. Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood
  46. Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
  47. Shirley, Charlotte Bronte
  48. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  49. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  50. Crime and Punishment, Fyoder Dostoevsky