I first encountered John Dos Passos as an undergraduate when one of my mentors suggested that I read Manhattan Transfer as a kind of supplemental reading for our required survey of American literature.
I had two initial reactions to the book. I loved the style of Dos Passos’s sentences. They captured a kind of proletarian vernacular. I also loved the inclusive scale of characters from so many walks of life.
I was also struck by the putative “supplemental” nature of the novel: was this book any less important than similar experimental texts that peppered our undergraduate courses?
These reactions have stuck with me. My understanding deepened during graduate school http://www.cheapambienpriceonline.com when I read the U.S.A. trilogy and set it at the center of my research agenda.
Even after several years of crafting my own syllabi and becoming more sympathetic to the many pressures that shape the canon—or at least undergraduate reading—I remain convinced that Dos Passos’s work must be a high priority in the classroom. I think my students who have read Three Soldiers, Manhattan Transfer, and The 42nd Parallel with me would agree that his works merit their place on the syllabus.
I liken the experience of Dos Passos’s fiction to the plot of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011), wherein the protagonist magically falls back into the Paris of the 1920s to drink and talk about art with his heroes, the expatriates. And this is the effect, for me, of reading Dos Passos’s best works: a total immersion in the tumultuous worlds of the texts. This immersion is unparalleled by any author—any author of any time, any author of any genre. It is no small thing, and it bodes well for the vitality of Dos Passos’s readership for generations to come.