TBR 2019 #2: American Pop by Snowden Wright

#12 of 373 for the 2019 List
#1 of 50 for the 2022 Reading Goal

TBR 2019 is my gradual reading of my Goodreads To Be Read list. These are the books that I decided, at some point along the way in 2019, that I wanted to read. The project is a way for me to expand my horizons when it comes to books and, at times, consider what might have made me think a book was a good or bad idea.

American Pop by Snowden Wright

As a reader, we gather tropes, conventions, genres, and cliches that we enjoy. We cobble them together to form our reading identity, a shorthand we can use to emotionally guide us through a book, or even a review. Once, I bought the Greg Iles book 24 Hours solely it because it had the number 24 in it and I loved stories that were time locked like that. It turned out to be a brutal but fortuitous choice. Iles has only grown as an author since.

As far as these tropes, I love big sweeping stories of generations of people where the events of the lives of these characters connects to American History. Due to my general business at any given moment, I’ve recommitted to this reading project, this reading of books in a rather arbitrary order. But, if I had started reviewing these books last year, you would have read a review of Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner. It’s a wonderful book about two sisters who start growing up in mid-century America and work their way through life, growing apart, drifting away.

That book came up often in my journey through American Pop, a tale about the fictional Forester clan, spanning generations and lead us through the rise and fall of an American dynasty that rivaled the Kennedys. That Wright gives us a family tree at the start of the book is wise; I referred to it often to keep the multiple branches and generations straight. The moments when this book is at its most interesting is when it’s clear who is being written about; there are certainly characters who are more indelible in the reader’s mind than others.

The Forester Family is noted because of the invention by Houghton of Panola Cola, later shortened to PanCola. One could say that it’s painted by Wright in the book as an analog to Coca-Cola if it weren’t for the fact that this book does mention both Coke, Pepsi, and Royal Cola as competitors and contemporaries. For someone like me, fascinated with culture and consumerism, I loved this aspect of the book: PanCola feels like a real brand by the time you’re done with the novel, a real product that your parents or grandparents talked about loving but then, one day, just kind of disappeared.

American Pop is full of some of the cliches that riddle big family dramas. Miscarriages, closeted siblings, poor treatment of those who are different, hidden children lost for generations. There’s also, however, never a time where these tropes become crutches for Wright. He knows that he has a wide cast of characters and never spends too much time lingering on the fact that each of them, due to the immense success of the family, has its own drama. Each chapter hops from one generation to the next, with the last third of the book spending time to connect the rest of these lines, even if it doesn’t answer every question in the book, something that will infuriate some.

There are probably better versions of this novel, less soapy. But…I haven’t read those. This was an enjoyable, if sometimes uneven read, that I whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who is interested in these kinds of stories and this era of history, squarely in the 1900s.

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An English teacher in Indiana who loves to read and share that love with anyone who will listen. Aspiring ukulele YouTuber.

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Phil Wrighthouse

Phil Wrighthouse

An English teacher in Indiana who loves to read and share that love with anyone who will listen. Aspiring ukulele YouTuber.

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