That’s your favorite book? I’ll have to check it out!

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Rachel Sugar over at The Date Report wrote this piece: All the Books I Lied About Reading to Impress Guys (And Then Read Anyway).  It’s pretty funny.  And: who hasn’t read something because the person we like said they did?  I’ve done it.  Dudes have done it for me.  And it’s always weird.

Although, if you’re lucky, you can get a good read out of the situation.  Unlike Sugar, I’ve had an OK reading experience when I’ve read a book because a dude told me it was his fave.  Not on my top ten.  I haven’t read either book a second time.  But they weren’t bad.  The first one was Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut.  The Dastardly Pirate who recommended it to me wasn’t aghast when I said I hadn’t read any Vonnegut, but he claimed I would like him.  After that conversation I went out and bought Bluebeard and read it immediately.  I didn’t hate it.  I didn’t love it.  I still haven’t read anything else by Vonnegut, but it was an interesting read and I appreciated it.  I also found it extremely interesting that the Pirate’s favorite book is a story about a cantankerous artist who did the art that everyone else was doing because everyone was doing it until it started falling apart.

The other book I’ve read “because it’s his favorite book”, he actually gave to me as a Christmas present.  We were barely dating and I didn’t think presents were necessary, but he showed up days after Christmas with a pair of earrings he made for me and a copy of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.  For our relationship, this wasn’t promising.  The TMM wanted me to give Steinbeck a second chance (because I hate him more than the overturned turtle hates crossing the road).  I think the vehemence in my speech concerning Steinbeck made him sad.  He assured me I “didn’t have to read” the book, and certainly not “right away”, but he fucking gave me his favorite book as a present: of course I had to read it.  I didn’t hate it nearly as much as I hate both The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.  I understood his point about the language being beautiful (I even cried at the end, it was so lovely), but I knew our relationship was doomed as I started to see the TMM in both Doc and Mack (or vice versa).  Even though my eyes were beginning to open, I held onto that relationship for far longer than I ought to have.

Sugar’s life lessons learned from reading books for dudes were: “be yourself” and “you are not Charles Bukowski’s target audience” (amen).  Mine is: don’t read his favorite book unless you’re sure you want to know these things about him.  At the time we all thought it was super sexy when Jess Mariano wrote margin notes in Rory Gilmore’s copy of “Howl”, but now that we’re grown and more experienced we all know it was fucking punk move.  Any dude who wants to color your experience with a text is a thoughtless doofus.  As Sugar points out: “…identical reading lists are not the key to romantic compatibility”.  Neither, as it turns out, is being from the same area or playing the same instrument (which I already knew from high school: I never found the boys who played the same instrument as me attractive – unless he was Brazilian).  It takes more than liking the same books, or music, or movies, or comic book villains, or ethnic food, or historical era, or African songbirds to make a healthy relationship.

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VA mom wants to widen school policy requiring parental permission for “sensitive topics”

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Because her 17 year old AP English student son was disturbed by Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Now, while Beloved is the reading equivalent of running a mile in knee-deep mud, there’s really no reason to ban it from an Advanced Placement English course.  Ok, so it’s mildly disturbing, yes.  I read it as a college student and was pretty annoyed/disgusted/horrified pretty much the entire time.  Until I realized that as much as Beloved is about the dead girl and her mother’s guilt regarding the dead baby – it’s also about Denver, the living daughter, actually living her life — moving past her mother’s guilt and becoming a functioning member of society.

This novel is not easy and anyone who thinks it is has no idea what they are talking about.  This book is about a very tough issue.  But it’s no worse than any other book written in or about the mid to late 1800s America.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as lovely as it is, is the white, sanitized version of slavery.  Harriet Jacobs’ and Frederick Douglas’ slave narratives show a more real, more brutal, more honest side to what was going on.  Beloved shows readers the plight of women under slavery, how bleak a situation it truly was, and some really tough decisions women had to make sometimes.  It’s also a story of healing, of hope, of moving into a future without looking back.  It’s heavy.

Wherever there is prejudice and injustice and hardship there are going to be “sensitive topics” discussed.  The Grapes of Wrath was a book I had to read as a high school junior that left me rather uncomfortable – especially the ending scene; The Painted Bird tells the story of a boy roaming the ignorant and backward Polish countryside during and after World War II, some of the things he witnesses are highly disturbing; Night by Elie Wiesel shows what being in a concentration camp was actually like; In the Time of the Butterflies shows the fear of the Dominican people during President Trujillo’s dictatorship and what some brave few went through in order to gain some justice; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, pulpy, pop fiction, sure, is the story of rotten people perverting what is meant to be a welfare system on one hand, and a warped and twisted sociopath who abuses his own children severely screwing them up for the future, on the other.  What these books, along with Beloved, teach us is to recognize injustice and prejudice and, if we can’t do something to stop the greater problem in play, to have compassion for the people around us.  Do what we can to help the people we love who might be going through a hard time.  They tell us to be supportive of our friends and family.  To try to work toward a brighter future where these things don’t happen.  These books all end the same way: with Hope.

It’s idealist, maybe; some might say naive; but it’s a mature concept that is expected, and often demanded, by society, by authors, by critics.  If a high school student is deemed smart enough and mature enough to take a college level literature course you can bet your buttons that he or she is going to be expected to handle some “sensitive topics”.  The student is going to be asked to be mature enough to handle some adult topics, sometimes harsh and uncomfortable topics.  But being at a college level means acting and thinking like an adult, recognizing that you’re not a kid anymore, and starting to make your own decisions.  Taking a college level English course while in High School might be a “safe” way to introduce a student to college, but it shouldn’t expect anything less from the student than a college literature course would.

This Virginia mom might have a point about including parents in designing the curriculum to an extent, but I think the harsh reality is that her son wasn’t mature enough for Beloved.  There are worse books his teacher could have chosen, but it seems to me that he or she chose an appropriate novel to expect a teenager in a college level English course to be able to handle.  It might be disturbing at times, it might give the kid nightmares, but it hopefully is also opening his mind and getting him to think about the world in a slightly different way.  If high school students are expected to read The JungleNative Son, Johnny Got His Gun, Of Mice and Men, The Lord of the Flies, and The Bell Jar, then a high school student in a college level class should be expected to handle Beloved.

If the student can’t, then maybe he shouldn’t be in that class.

*Click on the picture to go to the NPR website to learn more about Toni Morrison and “This Virginia mom” to read the Washinton Post article about Ms. Murphy’s campaign to change school policies.

A List (And Links) to “Reviews” of the Books I’ve Read This Year

Cannery Row
Pieces Of Eight
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk
Photograph 51
Shortpacked!
Out of the Silent Planet
The Help
The Little Prince
The Phantom Tollbooth
The Phantom of the Opera
Me Talk Pretty One Day
The Marriage Plot
Anansi Boys
Isn’t It Pretty To Think So? 
The Surgeon
The Apprentice
The Sinner

Bel Canto

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My totally awesome post on Tumblr about John Steinbeck and, specifically, his book Cannery Row. You should all go read it and let me know what you think (about my writing, about what I have written, about John Steinbeck and about Cannery Row)! This is meant to be a discussion! And I really want to know that people have read it so I’m whining on all of my social media outlets and trying to get people to go read this damn essay I wrote about an author I fucking hate.

I lied

The other day my sister asked me what I was doing and I said “Writing”… I was really trolling Tumblr and WordPress…

On the upside, I have written and readied my post about Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.  It will be posted on Tumblr on Thursday and, honestly, I’m sort of in love with what I just wrote.  It’s really one of the best posts in Literary Bex Tumblr history.  It different from my usual book reviews and I think that’s part of what makes it special.

I do so love writing about books I’ve read.