Colum McCann

Three novels that span the 20th century’s tumult.

Elin Hilderbrand Irish by birth and a New Yorker by choice, Colum McCann has mapped in his fiction the experience of a wide range of characters, from the “sandhogs” who built Manhattan’s subterranean architecture (This Side of Brightness) to the ballet maestro Rudolf Nureyev (Dancer). His novel Let the Great World Spin observes the frayed and fraught metropolis of the 1970s. Here, the author shares three favorite novels.

Books by Colum McCann


By James Joyce

“My own great-grandfather walked the streets of Dublin on June 16th, 1904. But Leopold Bloom — who walks those same streets in the 20th century’s greatest novel — is as real or perhaps even more real than he. This is the job and the beauty of fiction. We become alive in a body and a time not our own. We are given insights not only into others, but the deepest parts of ourselves. We know our fathers, and our father’s fathers because fictions get built around them. This is a book of everywhere.”


By Don DeLillo

“An exquisite symphony with all the dirt, the grime, the garbage, the beauty, the depth, the meaning and the chatter of our times. DeLillo starts out: ‘He speaks in your voice, American …,’ and then goes on to examine our relationship to history and what it means to the everyday. DeLillo finds consequence – and dignity – in even the most anonymous corners.”


By John Williams

“An American classic, largely ignored, but recently resurrected. Stoner is the apparently simple story of a professor of the classics in a college in the American mid-West, but it becomes a contemplation of love, of dedication, of literature, of heartbreak, and, quite literally, what it means to be alive. A book about turbulence in the silence, Stoner is a book that reaches into your ribcage and squeezes your heart backwards.”