On February 13th, Fixed on Fiction met to discuss Philip Caputo’s The Longest Road. Below are some of the comments made during our meeting.
First, Elizabeth reminded the group of the Big Read programs which correspond with this title. Handouts with Big Read event information can be found at the Reference and Connection desks or online.
Similar to last month’s title, the majority of the group found The Longest Road to be a so-so read. One member stated that she “really liked” the book while other readers confessed that despite the fact that they enjoyed certain aspects of the book, they also had a lot of struggles/dislikes. First, here’s what worked for the group-
Likes… Several readers mentioned that while Caputo made his own political stance clear in the text, he appeared to present an unbiased narrative by including opinions that differed from his own. One reader mentioned that she really enjoyed the fact that Caputo interviewed people from all walks of life and included their thoughts and beliefs, even if he disagreed with them. Additionally, most readers were very interested in Caputo’s overall concept. His big question, “How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united?” intrigued us and served as a great hook when we first picked up the book. Lastly, our group confessed that we loved the fact that Caputo has a Chicago background. Any reference to the south side or surrounding suburbs was met with enthusiasm by group members.
On the other hand, there were aspects of the text with which the group struggled-
Dislikes…Overall, the number one point of contention among readers was a sense of dissatisfaction with the answer to Caputo’s big question. While we appreciated the author’s inclusion of interviews and the responses he received to “What holds us together?” ultimately most readers were left needing more reflection. Naturally, Caputo received a wide array of reactions to his query and most readers wished that he had summarized his findings in the conclusion of the text. Additionally, the majority of group members referenced some difficulty getting through the book. A few readers described this as “the book failed to lead them along” or draw them back in. One member mentioned that she found the book a bit tedious which could have been the result of a lack of dialogue.
On history/geography…Throughout the discussion, several readers mentioned that The Longest Road seemed to “be many things at once.” For example, the text was a travel memoir, a story of marriage, a discussion of “What holds us together?” and also a history lesson. When asked if readers enjoyed the inclusion of Lewis and Clark and other historical aspects, most replied with an enthusiastic yes. One member noted that the geographical tidbits made the story especially interesting. For example, most readers found Caputo’s brief description of the size of Alaska to be especially enjoyable. Another group member pointed out that she loved the “mishmash” of themes because if the entire book had been devoted to history or geography it would have been boring. Instead, Caputo provided just enough historical references to keep the reader engaged.
On tourists vs. travelers…At one point during his journey, Caputo told his wife that he was a traveler, not a tourist. When asked what the author meant by this phrase, the group proceeded to share stories of their own personal adventures that applied to this concept. One reader described tourists as people who visit gift shops, stay in chain hotels, and eat in restaurants where the menus are in English. Another reader recounted a story regarding her trip to Paris when she mistakenly spent one day with other Americans and it ended up being the worst day of her vacation, i.e. it was more of a “touristy” experience. While some readers initially found Caputo’s traveler vs. tourist comment to be a bit pretentious, most group members ended up agreeing with him. The majority of readers were more appreciative of their traveler experiences rather than those as a tourist.
Final thoughts…Despite the fact that most members had a few struggles with this title, nearly everyone found some part of Caputo’s tale to be an enjoyable read. As we were wrapping up our discussion, one reader noted that she most enjoyed Caputo’s descriptions of incredible, national sites. She appreciated his message that: “You don’t have to leave America to see amazing things.” Nearly everyone agreed.