January 1, 2016
I never believed I’d fall so in love with a book as I once did with Harry Potter. I craved that feeling of exhilaration, captivation, obsession, passion, clarity. That feeling you get when you become so lost in an endeavor that the world stops spinning around you, when you become hushed with amazement. But I figured discovering such a story would be tinged with a degree of cheating on my favorite story of all time. July 25, 2007—five days after the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—was supposed to be the day I remembered forever as the apex of reader’s delight.
But on December 26, 2015, I finished Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, and in the six days since, its words and story have kept my mind spinning.
I’m remarkably fascinated by words and stories. They simultaneously have the delicacy to make a nation cry, the power to motivate a stadium to call its rally cry, the craft to change every mind in this perpetually spinning world. They’re the result of humanity’s unique ability for complex language, a fact that baffles me if I let myself think too deeply about it. What is religion, entertainment, or relationship without stories and the necessary words to describe them? Everybody has a story, and these stories interconnect more than we could ever believe. McCann’s prose captures this magical truth about stories indelibly, and that’s why I can’t stop obsessing over this masterpiece.
I don’t want to write too much in fear of spoilers. Yes, I know it’s unlikely that everyone will read it (and probably likely that very few at all will), but I think everyone needs to read Let the Great World Spin if possible. It’s a story full of smaller stories, all twisted together by the cable stretched across the Twin Towers by an anonymous man who walks across this tightrope to find this same sense of peace and clarity that McCann seems to find when he writes the beautiful pages that weave this often tragic, eternally hopeful collection of tales together so flawlessly into one collision point.
Quotes are the greatest reminder of the immense power of words. The words that stick with us so long beyond their original utterance or scripture and manage to continually influence our actions by nesting themselves so snuggly in our minds—such quotes invoke emotions otherwise buried too deep to find. The great trove of quotes in Let the Great World Spin is one of the main reasons I find myself so connected to this novel. From the first sentence of the book—“Those who saw him hushed”— to the bottom of its final page—“The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough.”—every word is so carefully chosen. For 349 pages, McCann shorted his readers of nothing and gifted us an incomparable collection of words and sentences capable of changing a person’s life direction. There are so many quotes from this book I would like to fill this post with, quotes I’m tempted to interrupt my own words with at random because they’re so much more powerful than anything I’ve ever written. Instead, I’ll temper myself until the end, although I’ll put more than the typical one closing quote.
I want to write so much more about this book, but I refuse to spoil it so I don’t ruin that incredible experience of finishing a story so wonderful and illuminating that it moves you to tears on some pages, laughter on others, and some marvelous combination of excitement, joy, hope, and a hint of dread that you’ll never feel this way about a book ever again, even though you know that some day you most certainly will, because the world keeps on spinning and words keep on accumulating and things never totally fall apart.
To sum up the wonder of this book, I must resort to the inadequate cop-out that my words fail to grasp McCann’s in their full and raw beauty. The details he describes are too real, creating pain too stabbing, discoveries too profound, laughter too uncontrollable. Disappointment reveals itself over and over, but never quite enough to destroy hope in something greater. Words: they’re pretty great. Let the Great World Spin mastered them; its words left me lost for more.
“What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of the everyday. The comfort he got from the hard, cold truth—the filth, the war, the poverty,—was that life could be capable of small beauties..” – Let the Great World Spin, page 20
“The core reason for it all was beauty. Walking was a divine delight. Everything was rewritten when he was up in the air. New things were possible with the human form. It went beyond equilibrium.” – Let the Great World Spin, page 164
“Sometimes thinking back on things is a mistake arising out of pride, but I guess you live inside a moment for years, move with it and feel it grow, and it sends out roots until it touches everything in sight.” – Let the Great World Spin, page 285
“A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building. One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories. We wait for the explosion but it never occurs. The plane passes, the tightrope walker gets to the end of the wire. Things don’t fall apart.” – Let the Great World Spin, page 325
“Literature can remind us that not all life is already written down: there are still so many stories to be told.” – Colum McCann, Author’s Note