Holden + Staci

When I was in 11th grade–about a billion years ago–I had crushes on two literary characters. Their names? Hamlet and Holden Caulfield. When I share this fact with people, they don’t quite get the Hamlet crush, but they openly tease me about Holden. They claim he is whiny, as they do Hamlet, but the larger source of ridicule seems to be his popularity among killers. I suppose the most famous instances are Mark David Chapman, who killed John Lennon in 1980; John Hinckley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate then-President Ronald Reagan in 1981; and Robert John Bardo, who killed actress Rebecca Shaeffer in 1989. If I am not mistaken, Chapman and Bardo were carrying The Catcher in the Rye, and Hinkey had a copy in his hotel room.

Of course, the number of people positively influenced by The Catcher in the Rye greatly outnumbers the number of criminals who seem to relate to Holden’s alienation. It was important for me to recognize in Salinger’s prose a kindred spirit; although Holden validated my feelings, he also made me feel less alone.

It took me twenty years for me to reread  The Catcher in the Rye. I had fond memories of the book and its place in my life, and I wanted to preserve those memories, not replace them. I finally reread it when some of my students recommended Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I saw the connections between the two books and recommended Catcher to my students, at which point I decided to read it again so I could discuss it with them. I was pleased to find that I still enjoyed the book, although I read it differently than I did the first time. Instead of thinking, “Wow! Holden is my soulmate!” I thought, “Oh, that poor boy! I hope he gets the help that he needs.” What a difference twenty years can make!

 

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Going to the Dogs

I have a thing for dogs. When I was younger, I was a cat person, but now, although I still like cats, I am more of a dog person. I have three rescue dogs–Guinevere, Elaine, and Igraine, or Gwen, Lainey and Iggy–that I love to no end, and I don’t want to imagine anything ever happening to them.

Maybe this is why my reaction to dogs in books and movies is so strong. You see, I cannot deal with a dog’s death, real or not. One evening, for example, my husband came home to find me in tears, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay in my lap. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I sobbed.

He noticed the book. “It’s a dog, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s the book about?”

“It takes place during World War II–”

“Wait! Six million of your people were killed, and you’re crying about a dog?”

I sniffled, “His name was Oyster.”

Don’t even ask how I reacted to Sharon Creech‘s Love That Dog or the dog scene in Richard Russo‘s Empire Falls or how much I cried in the movie theater during I Am Legend. Before the latter came out in theaters, one of my students tipped me off about Sam the dog’s fate, and every time poor Sam was on the screen, I wept, much to the confusion of the people around me. Oh, and Carolyn Parkhurst’s Dogs of Babel? Don’t get me started.

I don’t know if my dogs–Gwen currently at my feet, Iggy sleeping next to her, and Lainey on the other side of Iggy–explain my visceral reactions. I wonder if anyone else experiences this?

 

On Edginess

The most recent issue of Harpers Magazine includes part of an interview George Saunder conducted with Patrick Dacey. In it Dacey discusses “edginess,” the quality that would leave him dissatisfied with writing a lovely if “corny” scene and motivate him to add something ironic or snarky or awful. He suggests that this approach prevents writers from seeing “the spiritual, the ineffable, the earnest, the mysterious” and therefore limits our view of the human condition. As I catch up on my reading this summer, I’ll have to see if Dacey’s words ring true. What do you think?

 

Man or Woman?

Accompanying V. S. Naipul’s provocative assertions about women writers, The Guardian published a quiz to determine whether people could determine the sex of a writer. I got an embarrassing 5 out of 10 and an admonition that I “clearly need to read more works by men.” How did you do?

The sex of authors has become even more timely with the revelation that “Gay Girl in Damascus” blogger Amina Abdallah is reportedly a man named Tom MacMaster. If this is true, I wonder how many people suspected the posts were written by a man?

Published in: on June 13, 2011 at 11:56 am  Comments (4)  
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Got Answers?

One of the many good suggestions (#70, to be exact) on Daily Blog Tips’ 101 Ways to Promote a New Blog is to “answer relevant questions on Yahoo Answers, so today I thought I’d give it a try. I answered mostly questions under “Books and Authors,” but I also answered a couple under “Teaching.” I noticed some interesting things:

1. Many of the questions were from students wanting other people to do their home work for them.

2. The questions mentioned in #1 didn’t get many responses.

3. Many other questions were from writers, presumably (based on their spelling, grammar, and use of “text”) young ones, who wanted people to read their work or help them come up with titles or character names.

Most of the questions I answered were from young people looking for reading suggestions. These questions tended to be more thoughtful and better written than the abovementioned ones. It felt good to help other readers, particularly young ones, and to join a community, such as it is.

Published in: on June 9, 2011 at 1:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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