Saturday, September 19, 2009

Reading Only Yesterday

After finishing the Given Day, set as it is in 1919, I was inspired to pick up Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Twenties. I had read somewhere that the book, written in the early 30s as a reflection on recently past times, would be interesting reading in light of our current economic situation.

So far, I am finding the book amazingly current, in terms of style, attitude and approach. It reads as if it was written this decade. Reading it, I settled into a familiarity zone from which the odd anomaly jarred me. In a piece about the import of radio in the decade, Allen muses whether the day of the first radio broadcast would soon be a date of study in school. Another one made me wonder how much people will remember the supposedly unforgettable OJ murder case. Allen refers to the crime of the 20s, the murders of Reverend Edward Wheeler Hall and Mrs. James Mills through a series of key images from the case.

It was an illiterate American who did not shortly become acquainted with DeRussey's Lane, the crab-apple tree, the pig woman and her mule, the precise mental condition of Willie Stevens, and the gossip of the choir members.

It calms me to think that early 20th century Americans were just as prone to follow murder cases as latter 20th century Americans. Also the Pig Woman and her Mule should either be an album title or a band.


Citizen Reader said...

LOVED this book. Was one of my first inklings that nonfiction was going to turn out to be the love of my life. Glad you found it!

Tripp said...

Wow, a foundational book for you, very cool. I am amazed at this book. I plan to write a bit more on this week.