Monday, December 25, 2017

A Holiday Break: American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Books are always the best holiday gift for me. The only thing I like better than the anticipation of reading a long sought after title is the fondness that comes with remembering the discovery of an unexpected treasure.

As I look back on all the books I've profiled here in 2017, the one I'd most like to revisit is American Pastoral by Philip Roth. I blogged about it back in July, and found it to be a novel of astonishing depth and complexity.

It is a novel of two people representing two generations. First, there is Seymour "the Swede" Levov, the child of Jewish immigrants, representing a generation of people embracing the American dream and all of its totems and rituals. And then there is his daughter Merry, the radical, representing a generation of people disillusioned with the very totems and rituals that define the generation that came before.

And although the novel delivers powerfully when the reader views Seymour and Merry as individuals in conflict with each other, the transcendent depth of the novel emerges when they are viewed as the generations they represent, wrestling with each other for the soul of America. The Swede, in blaming himself, embodies the mindset of an aspirational generation, while Merry, in rejecting all that her father has arranged and decoded for her, embodies the mindset of a nihilistic one -- the American pastoral versus the American berserk.

As you enjoy your holiday break, I hope you find some time to curl up with a good book. I know I will.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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