Much to the chagrin of my beloved, I have been spending my week away from the classroom awash in American literature, preparing for the next month of school or so. We had originally planned to venture to the Pacific Northwest and visit one of my best and most dear friends. Alas, the combination of my lack of concrete planning and cost of the flights stymied any sincere attempt to take off anywhere. While I certainly have great empathy for Ali, who quickly found herself amidst the pressure packed prospects of a licensing evaluation for one of the programs she supervises, I have been really trying to make some solid progress. And I must say that the time I spent investigating texts have made the effort quite rewarding.
Closely reading the likes of American realist and naturalist writers (think Bierce, Crane, London, Harte, and Chopin), I have become reenergized by how good some of these guys are. There is a reason that your high school English teacher made you read them. The shame of course is that it is hard for any regular fourteen to eighteen year-old to really appreciate a lot of literature outside the poetry of pop songs. They just haven’t lived enough.
I am reminded of the handful of Great Books classes I took while in college. I was the youngest one in a group of middle aged adults, from all walks of life, united by their simple love of reading. In some ways that may have been the seedling of my eventual professional path; but I distinctly remember Tom, a factory worker who was prone to sneaking purchased books into the house to avoid the wrath of a wife who had grown claustrophobic from the stacks of volumes that had begun crowding her domestic existence, who often remarked, “I remember reading this stuff when I was younger, but it just didn’t seem nearly as good. You really have to have lived some life to really appreciate how good a lot of these works are.” Of course at the age of nineteen or twenty, I was just glad to be in the same room with other people who really liked talking about books as much as I did. Add to that fact that the same cast of characters was likely to migrate from one class to the next, over the course of the year, those experiences were the greatest classes I have ever taken. Yet, Tom’s sentiment has always stuck with me and reading some of these short stories brought it all rushing back.
I cannot recommend enough that you give some of those authors you were forced to read as a kid another chance. They really are that good, in some instances. I was really struck by rediscovering the power, poise, and rhythmic resourcefulness of a Stephen Crane. His prose is both beautiful and poignant. Rereading “To Build a Fire,” perhaps Jack London’s best work, was at once nostalgic and enlightening. There were vivid descriptions of the effects of snow and cold that I distinctly remembered and was delighted to revisit with a newfound understanding and admiration. His work has a simple elegance in subject and style that makes me completely understand why his work was hailed in his lifetime and lives in contemporary film. However, it is his use of simple, bright, and highly tuned sentences that are completely lost in a cinematic treatment. Plus, who does not remember the first time they read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” becoming stunned, disturbed, even mortified maybe, to find that the main character had at once been betrayed and hanged, the realization setting in after being hoodwinked by the elaborate escape fantasy Bierce had constructed. All kinds of stories like these could be easily pulled from the internet (Project Gutenberg has an enormous selection) and printed. In fact, they may only take you a half hour or less to read. Try it sometime, while you head home on the train or while you are eating lunch at the counter. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you might even like them this time.
On another topic altogether, Ali and I are beginning the process for developing the wedding rings with our favorite jewelry maker Jade Moran. I’ll keep you posted, but you can now see the official photo of the engagement ring on her site, if you like. Check out the gallery too, and maybe even consider buying something. Her work is strong and I couldn’t recommend her as a custom designer more. If you are looking for something distinct and unique, she is the one.
Also, speaking of nuptials, a belated public congratulations to Mike and Vicki on their recent plunge into matrimony. Cheers to the both of you!