Friday Morning Bookclub

July 17, 2009

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow Arrives

Filed under: Historical Fiction,Homer & Langley — susanbright @ 4:36 pm
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Langley Collyer (1885-1947) circa 1942-1943.

Langley Collyer (1885-1947) circa 1942-1943.

Today we received our copies of the book Homer and Langley from Random House! Since so many of our members are going on vacation this summer, I thought this might be a good forum to talk about the book and generate the questions we will send to Random House. I look forward to your comments! I am still waiting for responses to determine whether this will be our August or September book, so please let me know your thoughts. If you would like to pick up your copy, just let me know when. If  I am not home, I will leave it on my side porch for you!

Here is the description of the book we will be reading.  Remember, our challenge is to make up a list of discussion questions.


From Ragtime and Billy Bathgate to The Book of Daniel, World’s Fair, and The March, the novels of E. L. Doctorow comprise one of the most substantive achievements of modern American fiction. Now, with Homer & Langley, this master novelist has once again created an unforgettable work.

Homer and Langley Collyer are brothers–the one blind and deeply intuitive, the other damaged into madness, or perhaps greatness, by mustard gas in the Great War. They live as recluses in their once grand Fifth Avenue mansion, scavenging the city streets for things they think they can use, hoarding the daily newspapers as research for Langley’s proposed dateless newspaper whose reportage will be as prophecy. Yet the epic events of the century play out in the lives of the two brothers–wars, political movements, technological advances–and even though they want nothing more than to shut out the world, history seems to pass through their cluttered house in the persons of immigrants, prostitutes, society women, government agents, gangsters, jazz musicians . . . and their housebound lives are fraught with odyssean peril as they struggle to survive and create meaning for themselves.

Brilliantly conceived, gorgeously written, this mesmerizing narrative, a free imaginative rendering of the lives of New York’s fabled Collyer brothers, is a family story with the resonance of myth, an astonishing masterwork unlike any that have come before from this great writer. ( )



  1. I think this is wonderful! So exciting to be picked to read Homer and Langley! Looking forward to a future of happy blogging!

    Comment by Esther Jacobson — July 17, 2009 @ 5:21 pm | Reply

  2. I think this is a fantastic idea! Sounds like a very unusual and compelling story too! Thanks to Susan (and Lauren) for setting up this blog.

    Comment by Jean — July 18, 2009 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

  3. I love having a bookclub blog. It’s a great way to communicate between meetings. Homer and Langley looks interesting, and I’m always up for a challenge. One suggestion for the blog, change our name to SexyFridayMorningBookClub (just a suggestion).
    Again, thanks Susan and Lauren for setting up the blog!!

    Comment by Audrey — July 29, 2009 @ 9:50 am | Reply

  4. Wow — just back from the beach and finished Homer & Langley. I knew nothing about these brothers previously and was pretty horrified at their increasing alienation and disposophobia. Every attempt to “socialize” or “normalize” seemed to move them further into their own smaller and smaller world. I don’t want to give away the story for those who have not finished the book but some of my questions would be:

    Do the brothers love each other?

    How can someone portrayed as educated and artistic, intuitive and understanding, and really “seeing of the world” as Homer “gone along” with Langley who he knew was sick and not thinking “right”? Blindness does not explain his increasing dependency and increasing acceptance of Langley’s world view, Langley’s “Theory of Replacements,” Langley’s theory of growing new cones by diet, etc. This was a man who prepared for blindness by counting his steps in the house and blocks and blocks of the outside world.

    Do you believe Homer has options when Langley returns and the household is basically in tact and financially secure? At what different junctures could Homer have chosen a different path?

    Looking forward to more fully developing book club questions for Random House with all of you… Thank you Susan for the blog and opportunity.

    Comment by ann — August 24, 2009 @ 1:54 pm | Reply

    • Ann, this is a terrific start. I just started the book and I guess I better put my knitting needles away and do some serious reading!

      Comment by susanbright — August 24, 2009 @ 4:09 pm | Reply

  5. Yes, I think Homer deeply loves his brother. Love is blind. We all know of people who fiercely stand by a spouse even when the spouse is full of negative qualities. It’s a co-dependence that can’t be understood by anyone else except a therapist. That’s how I understand this filial relationship. They have a deep bond that makes sense only to each other. They are both damaged and made an unsaid pledge to one another to nuture each other, endure each other. I think Langley’s Theory of Replacements is brilliant and his universal newspaper for all times is, too, but his mental illness turns his intellect in the wrong direction. Homer comes to realize his brother is crazy but joins him in his world instead of coaxing him out of it. I guess he decided to be loyal to the end because separation from him would be unendurable. They were almost like Siamese twins to me, one organism. This book was dark and quirky but I couldn’t put it down. It had everything that fascinates me: how our culture changes from decade to decade, american history, family dynamics, psychology…everything E.L. Doctorow writes captivates me.

    Comment by Carol VB — September 2, 2009 @ 2:11 pm | Reply

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