#251 ~ Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin by Column McCann

Published by: Random House Publishing

Published on: June, 2009

Page Count: 368

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Reading Format: Purchased hardcover copy with Christmas money from Powells.com – Thank you, Santa!

Available Formats: hardcover, paperback, eBook, and audio book

tlc-logo-resizedToday it is my great pleasure to be Colum McCann’s host on his TLC Book Tour for his novel, Let the Great World Spin.

I have a lot of fun working as a tour host for TLC Book Tours.  They always have great books and authors on tour.  Check out their website for more information on this tour and the others that they are hosting.

My Review

August 7, 1974.  Life is as usual in New York City until people start to notice something strange in the sky between the Twin Towers.  It takes a moment to sink in, but sure enough, there is a man walking a tight rope between the top of the buildings.  Not only is he walking across the rope, he’s performing acrobatics as well.  It is his act of recklessness and bravery that acts as a bookmark for the lives of many New Yorkers that day.  It is from this point that Colum McCann tells the stories of an Irish Roman Catholic monk and his less devote brother, a third generation African American prostitute, a Park Avenue judge and his wife, mothers who have lost sons to Vietnam, and a Latino single mother.  The characters and their experiences are as diverse as the landscape and just as rich.  As a reader you find yourself holding your breath not only for the funambulist but for hopes, dreams, and lives of all those gracing the pages of Let the Great World Spin.

Even two months after finishing the novel, there is so much I want to say about it.  I wish I could say it all eloquently, but I will never finish this review if I tried.  Here are the highlights:

  • Corrigan, whose character was inspired by Father Daniel Berrigan, is the embodiment of Catholicism for me.  He was not perfect, but was perfectly humble in his faith.  His love for God was poured out in his love and care for those less fortunate than himself.  He became a living example of Jesus among the sick, the poor, and the sinners.  While there is every reason these days to turn one’s back on the Roman Catholic Church, it is people like him who make me proud to be Catholic.  They are true heros to me.
  • The chapter narrated by Tillie was so beautiful and heart breaking that I had to keep wiping away the tears.  On top of the emotional impact of her voice and her story, I was reminded over and over again of Molly Bloom’s chapter in James Joyce’s Ulysses.  Tillie and her voice will be something I’ll never forget.  Just as with Molly Bloom’s chapter, Tillie’s will be something I read over and over again by itself.
  • The chapter between the computer nerds and the pay phones was a pure delight.  I know people who would have fit most of those characters.
  • I am afraid of heights.  I haven’t always been.  It started sometime in my mid to late 20s.  I don’t like to drive over gorges especially for some reason.  I am well aware of this, yet I had no real concept of how scared I truly am or how fabulous an author Column McCann is until I read the beginning of this novel.  Although I was laying down at the time, I kept groping around me to make sure that I was on something solid.  My heart was racing and my anxiety level was high.  As irrational as those feelings were, they felt very real. I knew then that this was going to be a wonderful book.  It was.

Ever since hearing about the concept of this book, which follows several New Yorkers on the day that Philippe Petit walked between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on a tight rope, I’ve wanted to read it.  Until reading the early reviews of Let the Great World Spin, I had no idea anyone had ever done that.  I’ve never been to New York City, so my only views of the Towers or Ground Zero have come from television.  I have seen the Sears Tower in person, so I have at least a vague notion of how far  above ground Petit was when he made that walk.  How could I not be fascinated?  How could this not be something I would jump at to buy with my Christmas money? While Colum McCann’s novel isn’t as focused on this death defying feat as I had anticipated, it was so much more than I ever hoped.  If Let the Great World Spin isn’t one of the top three novels I read this year, 2010 will have proven to be one hell of a monumental reading year for me.


Although I won’t be heading to the BEA or Book Blogger’s Convention in NYC this month, this review does qualify for Jill from Fizzy Thought’s New York Challenge!

Colum McCann’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, May 3rd:  Stephanie’s Written Word

Tuesday, May 4th:  S. Krishna’s Blog

Thursday, May 6th:  Savvy Verse and Wit

Friday, May 7th:  Luxury Reading

Monday, May 10th:  She is Too Fond of Books

Tuesday, May 11th:  My Friend Amy

Wednesday, May 12th: The Brain Lair

Thursday, May 13th:  Diary of an Eccentric

Friday, May 14th:  Lit and Life

Monday, May 17th:  Book Club Classics

Tuesday, May 18th:  Beth Fish Reads

Wednesday, May 19th:  Book Chatter

Thursday, May 20th:  Evening All Afternoon

Friday, May 21st:  Brunette on a Budget

Monday, May 24th:  Ready When You Are, CB

Tuesday, May 25th:  The New Dork Review of Books

Wednesday, May 26th:  Life and Times of a “New” New  Yorker

Thursday, May 27th:  Nonsuch Book

Friday, May 28th:  Caribousmom


  • At 2010.05.05 08:09, Sandy said:

    With every one of these reviews, I’m going to be peeking through my fingers and hoping that the book was loved. Because I loved it with all my heart. What you said about Corrigan made me cry. He was the embodiment of Jesus. And girl, you should have heard the section on Tillie on audio! Oh it was a thing to behold. I gave the book a 6 out of 5, that is how much I loved it. Up there with the best of the best.

    I would recommend you watch the documentary Man on Wire, about this same event. It is probably one of the best documentaries I’ve seen.

    • At 2010.05.05 08:17, Meghan said:

      I so want to read this! You’ve made it sound amazing, Jennifer. I am eagerly looking forward to the day that I can get a copy for myself.

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          • At 2010.05.05 09:46, Lisa Munley said:

            Great review. I’m blown away by how much this book affected you. I have to get my hands on this book now. You’ve pushed me off the fence, hard!!

            I knew that the walk took place but never knew much about it. I’m really looking forward to picking this one up.

            Thanks so much for being on the tour, and I’m so sorry about the little glitch on my end (I’ve fixed it).

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            • At 2010.05.05 11:01, Valerie said:

              This must be well-done if it makes you feel like you are actually up there — I’m with you on the fear of heights!

              I keep seeing this book on display in the book section of our local grocery store, I’ll definitely pick it up the next time I need to make a stop (it’s closer than all my local bookstores)!

              • At 2010.05.05 12:53, Jen-Girls Gone Reading said:

                This book is getting so many great reviews! Now I can’t wait to read it! Thanks for the insight.

                • At 2010.05.05 14:54, Jen - Devourer of Books said:

                  If Let the Great World Spin isn’t one of the top three novels I read this year, 2010 will have proven to be one hell of a monumental reading year for me.

                  Argh! Must! Read! This! Book! I even have a copy , I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Need to remedy that.

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                  • At 2010.05.05 17:06, Kathleen said:

                    I’m so glad that I already have this on my shelf at home, ready to read. The reviews have all been so positive that I know I will enjoy it when I get around to it.

                    • At 2010.05.05 17:22, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

                      Wow! You’ve made me very excited about this book!

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                      • At 2010.05.05 17:46, S. Krishna said:

                        I thought this book was great as well.

                        I’m so sorry you weren’t able to come to the dinner last night, we really missed you! I hope we get to see each other soon.

                        • At 2010.05.05 22:05, softdrink said:

                          I hate heights, too! My palms get all sweaty when I watch movies where people stand on cliffs or ledges.

                          I’m so torn about whether or not to read this book. Your review makes me think “oooh, must read,” then other times I read the synopsis and think “meh.” So it’s on the maybe someday list right now.

                          • At 2010.05.06 00:46, Florinda said:

                            I have a thing about heights, too, particularly if they’re exposed or unprotected. That high-wire walk would totally freak me out! But I have this book in TBR and am looking forward to reading it.

                            Glad to know there’s someone else NOT going to BEA :-).

                            • At 2010.05.06 23:19, Lisa said:

                              I’m reviewing this next week and haven’t gotten to it yet 🙁 I’m so looking forward to it!

                              • At 2010.05.07 19:32, Julie Brichta said:

                                This book was amazing. It’s one I want to read again for sure. We had a great book club discussion about it as well. I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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                                  • At 2010.05.14 10:52, Anna said:

                                    I was blown away by this book. I had a couple of minor issues with it, but overall, I thought it was great.

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                                      • At 2010.05.17 13:45, Ti said:

                                        My review of this one posts on Wednesday but I was blown away by McCann’s writing.

                                        I downloaded this book as a free e-book when Oprah offered it to her viewers (that was over a year ago) but didn’t get to actually read it until this tour. I feel like such a putz for putting it off for so long. I knew it was going to be wonderful but I had no idea how much.

                                        Didn’t Tillie’s chapter rip you up? That is what it did to me. It ripped me into pieces.

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                                        • At 2010.05.26 16:57, Frances said:

                                          Like your point about how the actual Petit event is not the focus most would expect in the novel but something peripheral that briefly draws all together. Also think that a lot of the emotional weight here comes from the reality of it all. The grief that unites all. Just love this book!

                                          • At 2010.05.31 11:24, Amanda said:

                                            I agree that it was a pretty amazing book. While reading about your awe over Tillie’s voice…don’t you think it was pretty cool how he could write in so many different voices/genders/social statuses/etc so very well?

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