Monday, September 3, 2012

August Reading


Here's what I read in August.
(The image above is the August illustration from the Rich Hueres manuscript.  In the image above, the nobles are going out hawking, while the peasants swim in the river.  See July's post for more information about the Rich Hueres manuscript.)

I started teaching at a new school this month, so I've been a busy guy.  The transition from summer break to the beginning of school is always a jarring one, but it becomes doubly so when you are starting at a new school with new students, colleagues, hours, and everything else.  So there was not a lot of time in August for doing reading for my own pleasure; instead, I was finishing up all the summer reading I had to do to be ready for the students.

1. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury


When I was in about eighth grade, Something Wicked this Way Comes was hands-down my favorite book.  It seemed as if I read it once a year for a while there, before I traded my allegiance to Lonesome Dove.  I loved the story of the two boys, Will and Jim, who were at the same time the best of friends and also somehow opposites of one another.  Rod Serling's dark imagination was my greatest inspiration at the time, but Ray Bradbury was not too far behind.

I credit this book for ruining the following for me: carnivals, fairs, cotton candy, Ferris wheels, and funhouses.  The notion that other people actually enjoy these things boggles my mind; for me they are dark, depressing, and ominous things.  Because I loved this book, I came to hate carnival.  When my friends or students talk about our Mid South Fair with glee in their eyes, I just shudder.  What is a carnival, after all, except frightening people, rickety machinery, and overbearing evil?  It's evil, I tell ya.

When a colleague at the Hebrew Academy suggested teaching this novel to my 9th-10th class, I thought it was a perfect idea.  The book is more or less as I remember it, though I did find Bradbury's psychedelic prose to become a bit tiresome at times.  His longer work was always episodic in nature, but I didn't remember it being as wandering as it comes across to my adult sensibility.  I will be anxious to see how the students take to it.


2. A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen

If you are my age or older, you might know this play by the Norwegian master as A Doll's House.  It's not so anymore.  You have to pay attention, or life will pass you by.  See, they don't call it a brontosaurus anymore.  Nowadays it's an apatosaurus.  And that movie The Bicycle Thief was changed to Bicycle Thieves.  And Pluto?  Oh, man, don't even get me started on Pluto.  



So, what to say about A Doll House?  Ok, I liked it, I guess.  It was powerfully written and socially relevant, and it's easy to see how revolutionary this play was, considering its context.  A Doll House didn't really reach  me the first time I read it, back when I was a senior in high school and it was called A Doll's House, nor did it speak to me much this summer.  Nevertheless, I am prepared to teach it to my AP class here in a week or so.  

I went on iTunes and found a dramatization of the play with Calista Flockhart as Nora, and used it to read along with while I was doing my work.  Does that count as cheating?  I've done it before, with Pygmalion, and really enjoyed it, and it doesn't feel like cheating at all.  And I've always had a soft spot for Calista Flockhart, which I haven't owned up to and have never discussed with my wife.  Maybe that's something that's just better left unexplored.



Also read this month:

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor

Illustration by Lindsay A Beach
"Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."  -Flannery O'Connor

I wanted to set an appropriate tone for my Advance Placement literature class, so I thought of a story that seemed absolutely vital to my love of literature, but one that I didn't encounter until I entered college.  The answer was "A Good Man is Hard to Find," by Flannery O'Connor.

I don't think I had ever heard of O'Connor's name until I was in my fiction workshops at Rhodes College, and it's amazing that my high school experience was absolutely devoid of O'Connor's work.  So I decided to teach this as the first reading of the year.  My way of preparing for it was to read it six times in about a week, including four times on Thursday, August 23.  It is a wonderful story, and more terrifying than anything I have ever read or hope to read soon, and the fact that it will stand up to six readings in a week and demand more shows it.  

If you have never read this story, do so now.  But if you've never heard O'Connor read it herself, then you haven't really read it.  Click here for her reading at either Vanderbilt University or Notre Dame University in 1959.  You never realized how hilarious it is until you hear her read it.






1 comment:

  1. We saw a production of Ghosts, Ibsen's sort of sequel to Doll's House, that left us devastated. One of the best plays we've ever seen. Somehow, we've never managed to see a production of Doll's House, but we've been to every Ibsen production we could find since.

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