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Open City
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2018 Book Discussions > Open City-Welcome--No spoilers (Aug 2018)

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Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I am starting the discussion of Open City a couple of days early. I will be traveling on the fifteenth, and probably for about a week after that. I expect to have internet access, but it may be a little spotty, so I wanted to get this started before I leave home.

I will be very interested to hear what the rest of you think about Open City. I'm still deciding, myself, what I think about it.

Here are some links to reviews:





message 2: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments A minor request - can we include the title of the book in the title of the discussion thread? Otherwise the thread notifications just end up being a long list where it's difficult to tell which thread is for which book. Thanks!

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Bretnie, I have edited the title of this thread. Does that fix the problem?

message 4: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments Yep, thank you so much! :)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2439 comments Thanks Casceil for the reviews. While mostly positive, they do have a few criticisms that, on reflection, I appreciate. I enjoyed the book and look forward to discussing it, although I will only have about a week to participate before I will have limited access so glad you started early!

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
August is a time when many people travel. I'm not sure how to go about discussing this book, with its fluid prose that does not seem to have much structure, and its not-really-a-plot story. I liked the New Yorker review, because it made me feel like I had more of a handle on the book.

I'm going to open a spoiler thread, where discussion of anything in the book is fair game.

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
I have not yet got hold of a copy (I have been slightly distracted by the Booker longlist) but I hope to find one before the end of the month.

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
I found a copy today so may be joining sooner than I thought...

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Glad to hear it, Hugh.

Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
I just started it!

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments I'm 80% done, but about to head out on the road.

message 12: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments Casceil wrote: "...Here are some links to reviews:

(view spoiler) I wonder if James Wood read the entire book before writing his review (2011)? Do the events of the intervening seven years impact our reactions?

Nutmegger Linda (lindanutmegger) | 103 comments “Open City” seems a beautifully modulated description of a certain kind of solitary liberalism common to thousands, if not millions, of bookish types. NYTs
I had to chuckle at this in the NYTs review.
Over all I'm really enjoying the book. I'm finding a lot of musical and literary topics and pieces to explore.

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I have arrived in Redding, California, and have checked into a hotel with a good wi-fi connection. After a three-day car trip there is not much left of my brain, but I hope to be able to post something intelligible tomorrow after a good night's sleep.

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Finished it! I think I would have liked it better if I found New York charming. Alas, I never have.

message 16: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
I have read the first six chapters and I have to admit I am finding it heavy going. Every time I think I am following it there is another random conversation. Cole also assumes a lot of background knowledge on art and architecture. I hope it starts to make more sense soon...

message 17: by Cath (last edited Aug 18, 2018 08:33AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cath | 10 comments I just finished it, and I ended up liking it more than I thought I would at the start. Of course the chapters were connected, but I enjoyed my readings more when I thought of each chapter as a self-contained "story." Found myself thinking, "okay, who or what is Julius going to run into next, and what will he have to say about it, what thoughts will it trigger?" Now I'm mulling over what do I think was the overall message of the book...Didn't read any reviews beforehand because I wanted to have an "untainted" reaction, so now reading the reviews (thanks for the links!) is my next step.

message 18: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Enjoying it more now, maybe because Brussels is more familiar than New York but probably more because the thematic logic is getting clearer.

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments I found Open City an interesting book to read following Reservoir 13. Open City's structure, while not nearly as unusual as Reservoir 13's, did seem to echo the previous book's in the way it was divided into chunks that were only loosely gathered into chapters. Or at least it struck me that way.

Kathleen | 292 comments I wasn't sure whether I'd read this, but picked it up to take a look and before I knew it I was two chapters in. I like his writing style, and so far, I find whatever he's talking about compelling.

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I'm sorry to be mostly absent for this discussion. My husband and I moved our son to Redding this week, and we have stayed on a few extra days. If you have read about the Carr fire in California, you've read about Redding. We were very lucky. The fire that burned the Western Edge of Redding came within about 1,500 yards of our son's new apartment. The air here is full of smoke, and I find it very tiring just trying to breathe. Our hotel is full of fire-fighters. We have about 20 fire trucks in the parking lot outside our room. I think this place must be beautiful when the air is clear.

I have had trouble sticking to reading Open City. I looked at reader reviews, and most readers tend to either give this book 5 stars or give it 2. There is little middle ground. I have enjoyed parts of it, but sometimes I find it is not holding my interest. At times the writing style reminds me of Proust--vividly detailed descriptions of music and art, in an almost stream-of-consciousness flow.

message 22: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
I am still thinking about how to review this and my rating will definitely be between those two poles -for me it is about 3.5
There is a lot to like - Cole is well read and engaging but it lacks direction and much of it failed to hold my interest. Perhaps I have just read too many novels set in New York.

Elaine | 103 comments I joined this list some time ago but got sidetracked. Too much to read! However, yesterday I began Open City and found myself immediately drawn in. I like the style although it is hard to sustain. Seebald is a master at this. I too was somewhat surprised by the ratings. I don't mind meandering if it leads somewhere. It's ages since I've stayed in New York, but I look forward to Brussels. I like the references and plan to look into them. I'm sure it will add depth to the novel's scope.

message 24: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Actually (just looking at this thread), those of us who have finished it are all rating it 3 or 4 stars...

message 25: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
... and for me the Sebald comparison is superficial - The Rings of Saturn is a little similar (at least in the sense of being memories and ideas prompted by places, though Sebald's places were mostly rural) but Austerlitz and The Emigrants are very different.

message 26: by Lily (last edited Aug 20, 2018 01:33PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments I worked in NYC for a number of years. At the time I read Open City, long after I was no longer working there, I enjoyed the book a great deal and wanted it to soar in ratings. Looking back at what I remember about the book now, what I still like was the snooping around the City, taking in some of its nooks and crannies, adding a bit of perspective to them, even the rather high-flown pretentiousness of the allusions. (I know some careful critics pointed out errors in accuracy; even I had a few points, thoroughly forgotten now, where I asked what is really the relationship of that to that.) What still troubles about the ultimate "value" of the book is chapters like the bed bugs (I still haven't quite "got" it, although I can certainly apply some symbolism or other esoteric interpretations.) and the final story, to which I refer elsewhere in these discussions. Was Cole prescient in sticking his finger in a dam that was about to break?

I will say to Hugh, I suspect that there is something about Open City that appealed to me in some of the same ways Reservoir 13 seems to have charmed him. Like Colum McCann in Let the Great World Spin , Cole captured glimpses of that City to which I could readily relate and had not encountered in other writings. Rather as I perceive Penelope Fitzgerald did in Offshore , although I don't know the area of which she writes, only how vividly she evokes it for me the reader. I can name at least a few books set in NYC that I did not care for; I don't put Open City on that list. I put it more along side The Goldfinch and Cosmopolis than The Emperor's Children or [g] Primates of Park Avenue and certainly of different tilt than New York.

Elaine | 103 comments Having read all of Sebald's novels with the exception of Vertigo, I have the impression that Cole is trying to replicate what Sebald accomplished, but I would say that it is nearly impossible to so. Sebald was truly an extraordinary writer. For me, the experience of reading his writing feels like being drawn into a liminal world, somewhere beyond everyday reality. It is somewhat magical. In contrast, Cole is much more prosaic although he does create interesting connections. I am enjoying his novel.

message 28: by Lily (last edited Aug 21, 2018 07:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments I have not read Sebald, so I cannot make that comparison. But yesterday I finally went back and read my own review from 2014. (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) At the time, mid-year, for me this novel ranked second among what I had read, exceeded only by Sonali Deraniyagala's personal account of the surviving the Sri Lanka tsunami. (My review of Wave is here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)

Looking back, I realize that part of what I so enjoyed about Open City was taking an Internet tour under the meandering direction of this intriguing mind (yes, "mind", more than "person" for this part of the tour -- [g]). I must have had considerable free time, because I recall numerous videos and articles about art and artists and places and people being a large part of the enjoyment. One that I particularly enjoyed was learning about the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi, a process that included a video featuring a curator specializing in his work.

Since I worked in both downtown and midtown Manhattan and did graduate studies uptown, I had a certain familiarity with the ground and means over which the protagonist traveled. I enjoyed taking that imaginary tour as well, arguing, along with his reviewers, whether the author got it right or had taken fictional liberties.

I came to like and respect this young intern's attitude towards his patients and what he might realistically be able to accomplish in helping them heal. In revisiting the book, the theme of "evil," global, social, personal, as a background for so much intellectual prowess has given me food for thought as to what the book is -- superficial? Realistic about what is within the scope of even a well trained cosmopolitan life? Self-deception and self-avoidance that movements like MeToo are bringing to our awareness five years later than I first read this?

Elaine | 103 comments Interesting comments, Lily. I plan to look into the links. I did like the description of the works of the deaf artist, John Brewster. Of course, all of his subjects appear to be white, which makes sense since there were well off and able to pay for their portraits, some of which are almost scary -- formidable Puritans.

Here is a link to the exhibition our narrator visited at the Folk Art Museum. The exhibition was from late 2006 to early 2007.


Kathleen | 292 comments I don't have the connection or familiarity with NYC, but I would still love to explore some of these references. I just love the view of a city at a walking pace.

I too was intrigued by the story of John Brewster. Thanks for the link, Elaine--haunting white faces!

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