Archive for June, 2011

Wise Words

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It’s that time of year once again… school is out for the summer.  I turn to Marmee, the matriarch of the March family in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, for advice on the best way to spend my time off:

“Have regular hours for work and play, make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well.  Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success, in spite of poverty.”

Sounds good to me…

Tomorrow’s My Birthday…

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… and what better way to reflect than with this great poem about living and life by Denise Levertov?

The Secret

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of

I who don't know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can't find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.
Denise Levertov

We’re Cool, Huck

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My dad recently gave me a copy of Twenty-Five Books That Shaped America, written by Thomas C. Foster, author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor.  One of the books he discusses is Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

For many reasons, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Huck Finn ever since I began teaching it four years ago.  It’s a book you need to take seriously if you’re teaching it, but whenever I read Twain, I feel like he’s laughing at me if I take anything he says too seriously.

But Foster’s commentary on Huck is great.  I found myself agreeing with him on almost every point.  My favorite passage of the chapter runs thus:

“The main thing about Huck and his book is the whole language business.  Have you ever considered what life would be like if everyone talked like a character in a Henry James novel?  Now don’t get me wrong; I have the utmost respect for James.  Sort of the way I have the utmost respect for the federal penitentiary.  It’s necessary for my way of life, but I don’t really want to go there.  Forget life.  Have you considered what reading would be like if all characters talked as if they were in a James novel?  No?  I’ll tell you.  It would be decorous but dull.  And that’s just what Huck Finn isn’t.  Dull, that is.  Or decorous, for that matter.  Huck talks the way a boy would, if he were ignorant and rough around the edges, if he’s been raised by the town drunk in a place like Hannibal, Missouri, if he’d seen the devil and ’sivilized’ ladies and had been more frightened of the ladies.”

Funny and true.  The other thing I like about Foster’s essay is that he acknowledges the weaknesses of the book while still maintaining his stance that it’s one of the most important books written by an American.  I can’t stand when commentators are afraid to criticize classics for fear of committing literary blasphemy, and Foster’s willingness to do this makes his entire argument more compelling.

On the Road also made the list, but I’m going told hold off reading that chapter until I finish reading Kerouac for myself.  And I can’t wait to see what Foster has to say about Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.  Reading that was like wading through 200 pages of insanity–I wonder how that might have shaped America… because, you know, we’re all so sane here.

Kerouac and Salinger

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This week, I was inspired to start reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  It’s one of those books I always meant to read but never got around to it until now.  I didn’t know much about Kerouac other than that he was a Beat writer and that famous quote you always see:  ”The only ones for me are the mad ones…”  That line appears around page ten of On the Road, and reading it was like Nick seeing Jordan at the first Gatsby party he attends–a literary hey, I know you!

One of the things that strikes me about the book (I’m only about thirty pages in) is that I can’t help but think of Holden Caulfield when reading Sal’s voice.  From the recurring idea of madness to endless displacement to the confiding nature of the narration, Holden and Sal seem to be cut from the very same cloth.

Now I’m interested–I’m starting to wonder if Kerouac and Salinger knew each other back in the fifties, or if there was any record of their work influencing each other.  I think I see a research side project out there on the horizon beyond the end-of-semester paperwork…

Good Evening, Ladies and Gents

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One of my friends performed stand up comedy at The Comic Strip in New York last weekend.  The evening was the final performance of an eight-week comedy writing class she took, and all of the comedy newbies did a great job.  It was a ton of fun and a lot of laughs.

In that vein, I present you with a joke, courtesy of one of my coworkers:

“A billionaire, a Tea Party member, and a unionist are sitting around a box of a dozen doughnuts.  The billionaire takes eleven doughnuts.  He then turns to the Tea Party member and says, ‘Watch out for that guy.  He’ll try to split that doughnut with you.’”

To quote Lorrie Moore, “Ha!  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!”  Et cetera.

Ginsberg Groupie

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I’ve been reading some Allen Ginsberg poetry recently.  His poems are some of the grittiest I’ve ever read, and I absolutely love them.  The two books I checked out of the library are Death & Fame and White Shroud.  Here’s one of my favorite lines that I’ve read so far, from the poem “Things I Don’t Know”:

“How make a living, if I couldn’t write poetry?”

So cool.

Best Present Ever

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At a loss for what to buy for your writer friend’s birthday?  Never fear… Squirrellicious from Etsy has the answer.