Sunday, November 7, 2010

Great Expectations

I don't remember if it was 9th or 10th grade.  I don't remember much beyond Miss Havisham, Pip, a "conwict" and something about a scary staircase that turns out to be either the memory of an illustration or a scene from a movie version with Robert De Niro.  One thing I do remember is that I didn't like it.

Forty years later I listen to Great Expectations in my car --and the reasons why I didn't like it back then are obvious.  Its frank and relentless expose of adolescent insensitivity, embarrassment, cluelessness and ingratitude is not something an insensitive, embarrassed, clueless and ungrateful adolescent is ready to countenance.  Too much like looking in the kind of mirror that shows your soul instead of your face.  Too much like confession.  That Pip becomes a sympathetic character by the end of the novel was no consolation: the prospect of a future helping others reach their goals wasn't much fun at 15 either.

Forty years later I think I get it.

There's a lesson there for high school teachers.  Or maybe just for me.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Color Purple

Students suggested we tackle this after I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and A Raisin in the Sun.  I had to confess that I had never read it.   But rather than just say no, I thought I'd check it out.  Turns out it tackles some of the most difficult questions of race in America, and of life on earh --and it does it with grace, intelligence and compassion.   So thank you, students, for helping me fill this gap in my education.  And thank you, Alice Walker.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The More We Know

the more complex and mysterious the world becomes.  The more we know, the more we find how much  there is to know, how much work there is to do, if only we didn't have to worry about getting paid or recognized for doing it.  Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything makes me think I'd be willing to help with catalog building, classification, pattern recognition, speculation, and maybe I wouldn't be unhappy about not winning a prize or being listed as a reference.  Anyway, Bryson ought to win a prize for this.  We ought to be proud that our day and age gave rise to such work.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Anna Karenina

I seem to remember an old joke that it wasn't so much about marital infidelity as about agronomy.   Turns out, after 30 CDs --something like 34 hours spread over December and January --it's not so much of a joke after all.  Russia liberated the serfs at roughly the same time as Lincoln ended slavery in the US.  I read a lot about sharecropping from the sharecropper's point of view, but I never read about an owner trying to come up with an agricultural system that would be productive, profitable, AND fair.