November 27, 2014

I don’t normally do the “what I’m thankful for” thing (I have a hard time with sentimentality). But this year, so much has gone on, that I feel compelled. You see, a lot of my friends have been on Facebook and Twitter talking about how rough Thanksgiving is going to be because there are bound to be fight about Ferguson. Cate and I started doing Thanksgiving on our own a few years ago because trying to split things between our two families just wasn’t very enjoyable. But even if we were going to see my parents today, I wouldn’t be worried. I’m thankful for that.

You see, both of my parents came from nothing. And I mean nothing. My dad, especially, can really tell you what dirt poor is. His family is big and his parents both worked hard. My Grandpa served in WWII and Korea and my Grandma worked on military airplanes during the war. And yet, still, when all was over, they couldn’t make ends meet.

Both of my parents dealt with that kind of thing when they were kids, and it taught them something. It taught them that not everyone gets a fair shake. And, I think, once you see that in your own life, it’s hard to not to see it in the lives of others. At least, if you’re willing to look.

My parents aren’t perfect. But they’ve both always been willing to listen to reason. They’ve changed their minds for the better about some things over time. But they’ve never had a hard time understanding that they were lucky. We were poor when I was little and then we weren’t. My parents worked hard and caught some bad breaks, but they did eventually pull themselves out of poverty. They’ve also seen plenty of people work hard and not pull themselves out. They’ve also seen how a lack of opportunity hits some groups a lot harder than others. They know, in short, that there are people out there who work just as hard as they did and who still end up with nothing. They know what privilege is and they know what luck is.

And so, here I am. I have a good job because of a college education that happened only because of the rich childhood my parents gave me. In a week or so, I will have a novel coming out, at least in part, because of some of the wonderful teachers I had at that college. I have a wonderful wife and children I love. I have pretty much everything I wanted. Yes, I worked hard, but I got pretty lucky, too.

Other people aren’t that lucky. This year, I talked to the mother of one of my students who mentioned, without prompting, that she was trying hard to make sure he understood that he had to act a certain way because he was a very large, young black man. This was not part of my reality as a child or a teenager. I have a kind of natural glare that some people find intimidating. But it never really mattered. It was a never a concern. That’s part of the luck and privilege I grew up with.

And so, this Thanksgiving, I am grateful that there will be no arguments like many of my friends will be having today. In my family, I don’t have to do the heavy lifting where social progress is concerned. My parents have already done that. I have it easy at the family dinner table. Easier, probably, than I really deserve to have it.

October Book Log

November 2, 2014

This was a pretty big reading month for me, including a couple of big books. Generally, I was quite pleased. Most of this year has been rather down for me where reading is concerned, but things have looked up lately. I do need to really pick it up with Shakespeare if I’m going to get through the plays. Anyway…

1. Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee (5/5) – This was a re-read for me and the second book my AP Lit class read. I’ve discovered, through teaching, that it generally takes me three reads before I feel like I really know a book. This was my third read, and as such, I saw all the layers and how they are built by Lee. He is one of our greatest contemporary writers. I never tire of his prose.

2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (3.5/5) – I read this to Simone. It was a fun little book. She certainly enjoyed it. I found it fun, but a little wanting at times. Preachy in places. I don’t like children’s books to preach, even if I agree with them.

3. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (5/5) – This was one that I picked up at the bookstore, having heard good things, read the first page of, and then bought. His range is unbelievable. He seems to be able to write whatever and whomever he wants and to do it convincingly. I’ve read two of his books now, and will have to read the rest.

4. Troillus and Cressida by William Shakespeare (2/5) – Blech. This was supposedly a commissioned work. It’s pretty awful. Not one I’ll eve likely revisit.

5. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (5/5) – Re-read this for AP as well. I really like Ibsen. I need to read more of him. I do tire of re-reading plays more quickly than I do with novels, though. I can probably stand to read this one or two more times before I really feel the need to teach something else for a while.

6. Winesburg Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (5/5) – I’ve read this probably ten times now. I love it. It’s still the most common answer I give when asked what my favorite book is. I found myself this time really appreciating the unity of passion that runs through all the stories. Still, this year, I started to feel I knew it a little too well. I started to notice little structural ticks and other things that become apparent only after reading something many times. I think it is time to rest on it for a while.

7. Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare (4/5) – Some of the comedies have started to blur together for me, but I did enjoy this one. Other than the rare misstep, Shakespeare has been consistently good or great since getting over some issues early in his career. I’m intrigued to reach the end.

8. Othello by William Shakespeare (5/5) – I hadn’t read this in ages and found that I liked it more than I’d liked it before. Probably one of my favorites now. Iago really is a thing to behold. That kind of evil is generally unrealistic, but that doesn’t make it less engaging, especially when it’s written as well as this.

9. Middlemarch by George Eliot (5/5) – This book and I have a history. It was the only book in my undergraduate English courses that I found myself completely unable to manage. I think I read about 40 or 50 pages and then gave up. Well, 15 years later, here I am finally having read it. And it really was very, very, very good. I don’t know why I had a problem with it before except that I was young and stupid. I didn’t expect Eliot to be so amusing. It is a very English novel, but done very well. I’d prefer this to anything I’ve read of Jane Austen.