On the passing of E.L. Doctorow and the influence of “Ragtime” on a young reader

I wanted to share a few brief thoughts on the passing of E.L. Doctorow. I was eleven years old when I read Ragtime. I was an avid reader from the time I could pick up a book and devoured books as quickly as possible. Any extra money I could rustle up went for three vices: candy, books and records.

I think I may have borrowed this book from my mother, after seeing it on her stack of books. Through E.L. Doctorow I was introduced to the world of jazz. The piano player in the book made reference to Scott Joplin. Because of those references, I discovered Jelly Roll Martin and Eubie Blake and my love of jazz, both modern and traditional grew from there.

My maternal grandparents were born in 1910 and 1916. This book started a discussion with them about life in the early 1900’s. It was a bridge that allowed me to understand and ask questions about their life experiences. I remember my grandmother and I having a particularly interesting conversation about carpetbaggers. I also remember asking my mother about them and staying on that subject for quite some time. Probably to the annoyance of many!

It was the bicentennial year of America and the family in the story manufactured flags and fireworks and Ragtime definitely tapped into the whole theme of that year. Patriotism was everywhere. I got my grandmother a trivet with the bicentennial year on it. There was also a picture of George Washington with flags and fireworks. I don’t doubt that the reading of this book contributed to that purchase because the themes of the book stayed with me.

It also created a bridge to my mother and I watching Roots and comparing some of the themes I had read about in Ragtime with those in Roots. It is amazing how one book can lead to another and how one theme might grip you and send you to new sources.

I would also encourage parents to no fear adult content and to let children who can read adult books, read widely. Discuss books with your kids and if you can, inter-generationally. I was so fortunate to have two generations of readers on both sides of my family who loved reading and enjoyed discussing and sharing novels.

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