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Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town

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Broadway, the main street that runs through Robert Pinsky’s home town of Long Branch, New Jersey, was once like thousands of other main streets in small towns across the country. But for Pinsky, one of America’s most admired poets and its former Poet Laureate, this Broadway is the point of departure for a lively journey through the small towns of the American imagi Broadway, the main street that runs through Robert Pinsky’s home town of Long Branch, New Jersey, was once like thousands of other main streets in small towns across the country. But for Pinsky, one of America’s most admired poets and its former Poet Laureate, this Broadway is the point of departure for a lively journey through the small towns of the American imagination. Thousands of Broadways explores the dreams and nightmares of such small towns—their welcoming yet suffocating, warm yet prejudicial character during their heyday, from the early nineteenth century through World War II. The citizens of quintessential small towns know one another extensively and even intimately, but fail to recognize the geniuses and criminal minds in their midst. Bringing the works of such figures as Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Alfred Hitchcock, Thornton Wilder, Willa Cather, and Preston Sturges to bear on this paradox, as well as reflections on his own time growing up in a small town, Pinsky explores how such imperfect knowledge shields communities from the anonymity and alienation of modern life. Along the way, he also considers how small towns can be small minded—in some cases viciously judgmental and oppressively provincial. Ultimately, Pinsky examines the uneasy regard that creative talents like him often have toward the small towns that either nurtured or thwarted their artistic impulses. Of living in a small town, Sherwood Anderson once wrote that "the sensation is one never to be forgotten. On all sides are ghosts, not of the dead, but of living people." Passionate, lyrical, and intensely moving, Thousands of Broadways is a rich exploration of this crucial theme in American literature by one of its most distinguished figures.


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Broadway, the main street that runs through Robert Pinsky’s home town of Long Branch, New Jersey, was once like thousands of other main streets in small towns across the country. But for Pinsky, one of America’s most admired poets and its former Poet Laureate, this Broadway is the point of departure for a lively journey through the small towns of the American imagi Broadway, the main street that runs through Robert Pinsky’s home town of Long Branch, New Jersey, was once like thousands of other main streets in small towns across the country. But for Pinsky, one of America’s most admired poets and its former Poet Laureate, this Broadway is the point of departure for a lively journey through the small towns of the American imagination. Thousands of Broadways explores the dreams and nightmares of such small towns—their welcoming yet suffocating, warm yet prejudicial character during their heyday, from the early nineteenth century through World War II. The citizens of quintessential small towns know one another extensively and even intimately, but fail to recognize the geniuses and criminal minds in their midst. Bringing the works of such figures as Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Alfred Hitchcock, Thornton Wilder, Willa Cather, and Preston Sturges to bear on this paradox, as well as reflections on his own time growing up in a small town, Pinsky explores how such imperfect knowledge shields communities from the anonymity and alienation of modern life. Along the way, he also considers how small towns can be small minded—in some cases viciously judgmental and oppressively provincial. Ultimately, Pinsky examines the uneasy regard that creative talents like him often have toward the small towns that either nurtured or thwarted their artistic impulses. Of living in a small town, Sherwood Anderson once wrote that "the sensation is one never to be forgotten. On all sides are ghosts, not of the dead, but of living people." Passionate, lyrical, and intensely moving, Thousands of Broadways is a rich exploration of this crucial theme in American literature by one of its most distinguished figures.

33 review for Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    The most interesting thing about this book is the selection of vignettes of American small town life that former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky has gathered from classic American literature, a trio of black and white movies from the 1940s, and personal and family memories of his own birthplace, Long Branch, New Jersey. Dawson's Landing (Mark Twain's Puddn'head Wilson), Frenchman's Bend (William Faulkner's The Hamlet), Grover's Corners (Thornton Wilder's Our Town), Spoon River (Edgar Lee Master' The most interesting thing about this book is the selection of vignettes of American small town life that former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky has gathered from classic American literature, a trio of black and white movies from the 1940s, and personal and family memories of his own birthplace, Long Branch, New Jersey. Dawson's Landing (Mark Twain's Puddn'head Wilson), Frenchman's Bend (William Faulkner's The Hamlet), Grover's Corners (Thornton Wilder's Our Town), Spoon River (Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology), and Moonstone (Willa Cather's The Song of the Lark) all provide Pinsky with illustrations of small town life during its era of central importance from the early 19th century through World War II. These are supplemented with scenes from Alfred Hitchkock's Shadow of a Doubt and Preston Sturges' Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. If there's a thesis to this collection of essays originally delivered as the inaugural Campbell Lectures at Rice University, it might be that creative souls may discover their 'dreams' in their small town childhoods, but they'll need to escape the provincial towns to avoid the 'nightmares' of empty adult lives lived in those same communities. One of his epigrams is from Sherwood Anderson: "On all sides are ghosts, not of the dead, but of the living." Darkest of the vignettes is a horrific essay that focuses on a review by Kenneth Tynan of a 1957 play based on Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun, in which he has the Stage Manager from Wilder's Our Town describe Faulkner's town:Well, folks, reckon that's about it. End of another day in the City of Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. Nothin' much happened. Couple of people got raped, couple more got their teeth kicked in, but way up there those far-away old stars are still doing their old cosmic criss-cross, and there ain't a thing we can do about it. It's pretty quiet now. Folks hereabouts get to bed early, those that can still walk. Down behind the morgue a few of the young people are roastin' a [n-word; my substitution ~ Bill] over an open fire, but I guess ever town has its night-owls, and afore long they'll be tucked up asleep like anybody else.Although his own and his family's memories of Long Branch, woven throughout the essays, hum from personal experience and are often charming, a dark shadow is cast by a huge tri-state KKK rally marching past the Broadway business at which his father worked. This isn't a necessary read, but if you are familiar with some of the books and movies cited and/or are interested in American small towns, you might find it interesting. I did.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lis Carey

    This is a collection of lectures Robert Pinsky delivered at Rice University in 2009, discussing the ways in which American small towns, symbolized by their main streets named Main Street or Broadway, have been represented in literature and the movies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Mark Twain, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, and movie directors Preston Sturges and Alfred Hitchcock are discussed. Pinsky gives us a clear and thoughtful exposition of the ways in which the authors' perspec This is a collection of lectures Robert Pinsky delivered at Rice University in 2009, discussing the ways in which American small towns, symbolized by their main streets named Main Street or Broadway, have been represented in literature and the movies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Mark Twain, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, and movie directors Preston Sturges and Alfred Hitchcock are discussed. Pinsky gives us a clear and thoughtful exposition of the ways in which the authors' perspectives on and attitude to the small towns where most of them grew up differs, as well as the perhaps surprising complexities of those small towns and life within them. It's often a surprisingly dark view that's found in their stories, showcasing the ability of American small towns to be stiflingly repressive of anything even mildly outside the mainstream, insular, conformist, banal, upholding the status quo simply because it is the status quo. Yet alongside those tendencies resides a sense of fair play, and protectiveness towards "their own." Willa Cather's Thea Kronberg can't fulfill her musical ambitions in her hometown of Moonstone, but it's in Moonstone that, child and young woman, she gets the education and training that enables her to take her first steps along that path. It's an interesting and multi-layered look at the American small town in American literature, both the good and the bad. Recommended. I received this book free as part of the University of Chicago's "one free ebook a month" program.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I have heard Pinsky read his poetry and fell in love with some of his poems (esp. "Samurai Song" and his translation of Dante's Inferno). When I saw this book at a local bookstore last week, I did not hesitate to pick it up. Pinsky looks at small town America as primarily a place of nostalgia. Many of the thousands of small towns existed primarily to serve the agricultural hinterland which has in recent years become automated and corporately owned. Pinsky himself hails from Long Branch, New Jers I have heard Pinsky read his poetry and fell in love with some of his poems (esp. "Samurai Song" and his translation of Dante's Inferno). When I saw this book at a local bookstore last week, I did not hesitate to pick it up. Pinsky looks at small town America as primarily a place of nostalgia. Many of the thousands of small towns existed primarily to serve the agricultural hinterland which has in recent years become automated and corporately owned. Pinsky himself hails from Long Branch, New Jersey. Some of the best parts of this short book -- which was actually delivered as a Campbell Lecture at Rice University -- related to his own small-town childhood. He looks at Willa Cather's origins as exemplified in "Moonbloom" in her book The Song of the Lark; Mark Twain's Dawson's Landing from Puddn'head Wilson; Grover's Corners from Thornton Wilder's Our Town; William Faulkner's Frenchmans Bend from The Hamlet; Alfred Hitchcock's Santa Rosa from his film Shadow of a Doubt; and finally the small towns in Preston Sturges's films Miracle at Morgan's Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero. I was rather surprised that Pinsky left out the work of that small town Homer Irvin S. Cobb whose John Ford films (Judge Priest, The Sun Shines Bright, and Steamboat Round the Bend) form a trilogy that shows the best and worst of American small town life.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    "The English critic William Empson's insight into pastoral is that the need to invent untroubled perfection always springs from anxiety: from suppressed loathing or dread. The dream of ease may be a denial of the nightmare, and therefore by implication a shadowy acknowledgment of it." "Forgetting demonstrates the passage and immensity of time, in a way tradition cannot." "This equivalence of the cosmopolitan and the provincial is, in a way, the ultimate disillusionment: there is no reliable contex "The English critic William Empson's insight into pastoral is that the need to invent untroubled perfection always springs from anxiety: from suppressed loathing or dread. The dream of ease may be a denial of the nightmare, and therefore by implication a shadowy acknowledgment of it." "Forgetting demonstrates the passage and immensity of time, in a way tradition cannot." "This equivalence of the cosmopolitan and the provincial is, in a way, the ultimate disillusionment: there is no reliable context for the artist, no assizes in the world, great or small, commensurate with art itself." "Proximity in time is like a province of its own."

  5. 4 out of 5

    A.J.

    A series of lectures about small-town America, turned into book. A very dry, academic book. It might have helped my comprehension of the text if I'd actually read or seen any of the books, plays and films that Pinsky mentions. As it was, my overwhelming feeling was that this topic could have been much more interesting than it ended up being. A series of lectures about small-town America, turned into book. A very dry, academic book. It might have helped my comprehension of the text if I'd actually read or seen any of the books, plays and films that Pinsky mentions. As it was, my overwhelming feeling was that this topic could have been much more interesting than it ended up being.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Du

    I might go 2.5, if I could. This really didn't do too much for me. It was a quick read and it was simple, but other than that, it had very little impression. I might go 2.5, if I could. This really didn't do too much for me. It was a quick read and it was simple, but other than that, it had very little impression.

  7. 5 out of 5

    ACRL

    Read by ACRL Member of the Week John M. Jackson. Learn more about John on the ACRL Insider blog. Read by ACRL Member of the Week John M. Jackson. Learn more about John on the ACRL Insider blog.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Garret

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Mooney

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bobby

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eli

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alicia Adams

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steve

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dv219

  15. 4 out of 5

    Scott Ryalls

  16. 4 out of 5

    Meril

  17. 5 out of 5

    Staci Magnolia

  18. 5 out of 5

    Julie

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jocelyn

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mck

  21. 5 out of 5

    Poets.org from the Academy of American Poets

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joni

  23. 4 out of 5

    Maya

  24. 5 out of 5

    George

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Mouttaki

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gary

  27. 4 out of 5

    University of Chicago Press

  28. 5 out of 5

    Carlotta

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rory

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pete

  31. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Wilson

  32. 5 out of 5

    Susan

  33. 4 out of 5

    Sessily

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