Monday, September 16, 2019

Too Sad to Read?

Photo from Ideal Bookshelf ~ Jane Mount

A few months ago, Ben and I participated in a facebook forum on the issue of 10th graders being required to read The Kite Runner. The discussion was initiated by a parent who was concerned because her daughter was "crying and dry heaving because of it last night."

Ben's Response:

(1) From internet lore:
Q: Why are 15 year olds so angry?
A: Because humanity has an ugly side and around 15 is when you start to learn that.

(2) If she had waited until age 18 to read that scene would she have not found it emotionally wrecking? Why or why not? (If I were to read it again this morning to catch up real fast on this facebook conversation would I have (still) found it emotionally wrecking? Spoiler alert: yes)

(3) I think whether she's ready to read and think about that scene depends a lot on what guidance she'll have processing it. If her parents, her teachers, and her peers can help her channel her feelings of devastation into making her more empathetic and more able to imagine others complexly (as John Green likes to say) then she should read the book -- or I suppose should have read the book, it's innocence lost now. If there is no support and she turns bitter and angry, then that's a bad outcome. Statements like "15 is too young to read that book" strike me as lacking a bit too much in nuance.

(4) Paging Kitti Carriker, interested to hear her thoughts on this.

Thanks to Ben for paging me!
I appreciate that!

I was reminded first
of a previous blog post
and a favorite quotation:

"Now, no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. . . . When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. . . . There is no act more wretched than stealing" (The Kite Runner, 17 - 18). ~ Khaled Hosseini
A reader's response to the quotation
took me somewhat by surprise:

Being forced to read the kite runner as a freshman in high school stole my kids innocence. How ironic.
To which I followed up:
Do you think reading Kite Runner should be postponed until college? Because of the sexual assault? I don't think Ben & Sam ever had it as assigned reading in highschool or college, though since that time, Ben has read it on his own (not sure about Sam). I have also read A Thousand Splendid Suns -- so much sorrow but also hope.

Further notes from my conversation with Ben about the
earliest books that broke our hearts and left us weeping:

Short Stories by Flannery O'Connor
"A Good Man is Hard to Find"
"Good Country People"
"The Life You Save May Be Your Own"

Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway
"God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen"
"In Another Country"

Louanne Ferris
I'm Done Crying: The Making of A Nurse

Lillian Roth
I'll Cry Tomorrow

Maya Angelou
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange

Truman Capote
In Cold Blood

William Golding
Lord of the Flies

Thomas Hardy
The Mayor of Casterbridge

Ken Keasey
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird

Boris Pasternak
Doctor Zhivago

Robert Newton Peck
A Day No Pigs Would Die

Ayn Rand
We the Living

And at an even earlier age:
The Steadfast Tin Soldier
The Little Prince
Harry Potter IV: Goblet of Fire

1. Ben -- others that I overlooked?

2. Additional heart - breaking, eye - opening books.

3. Advice from George Bernard Shaw:

"You have learned something.
That always feels at first
as if you have lost something."

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Does Nanny Have a Line?

Rebecca & Kitti

A week ago, my friend and fellow English teacher, Rebecca Saulsbury Bravard, called me out on facebook:
"I have accepted a challenge to post seven books that I love, one book per day, no exceptions, no reviews, just covers. Each day I may ask a friend to take up the challenge. Let's promote literacy and a book list. Today, I nominate Kitti Carriker."
So, here are mine. Seven novels (published 1996 - 2003*) in that rare category of books on my shelf -- life being so short and all -- that I have loved enough to read and re-read more than once. These seven titles are bound together, in my mind, because of their struggling contemporary heroines, whose great one - liners continually speak straight to my heart.

For example:
I mean, do you have a line?
Is there a line they could cross?


It's so over the line.

Oh, does Nan have a line?

Yes, I have a line!

(133, 224 - 25)

*date of publication
& links to previous blog posts:

1996 ~ Bridget Jones's Diary
1999 ~ Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Helen Fielding

2001 ~ Do Try to Speak as We Do, Marjorie Leet Ford
2001 ~ High Maintenance, Jennifer Belle
2002 ~ The Nanny Diaries, Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
2002 ~ A Perfect Arrangement, Suzanne Berne
2003 ~ Dogs of Babel, Carolyn Parkhurst

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

To Assume My Humanity

Enfant écrivant (1870) ~ Henriette Browne (1829 - 1901)
Alternately entitled: A Girl Writing; The Pet Goldfinch


From youth to age we turn to books
in search of our true selves . . .

"When you were young
And your heart was an open book

You used to say live and let live
You know you did
You know you did
You know you did
But if this ever changin' world
In which we live in
Makes you give in and cry
Say live and let die
. . ."
~ Paul & Linda McCartney ~

"When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep
. . ."
~ William Butler Yeats ~


Steve Almond: "Literature exists to help people know themselves. . . . What I want to argue in this peculiar pint-sized ode is that our favorite novels aren't just books. They are manuals for living. We surrender ourselves to them for the pleasures they provide, and for the lessons they impart" (9, 15, emphasis added).

From his essay:
William Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life
[Recommended by Ned; see also Stoner; and Victoria]

Madeleine L'Engle: "Journal entries for those days were earnest. I was reading as many letters of the great wrtiers as I could get hold of, and copying out the things that touched me closely. . . . Chekhov . . . Thoreau . . . Plato . . . Slowly I was learning who I was and who I wanted to be with the help of the great ones who had gone before me" (39 - 41, emphasis added).

From her autobiography:
Two - Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

Marilynne Robinson: "Why do we need to read poetry? . . . Read it and you'll know why. If you still don't know, read it again. And again. Some of them took the things she said to heart, as she had done once when they were said to her. She was helping them to assume their humanity" (21, emphasis added).

From her novel

So I asked myself: Who were the poets who helped me "assume my humanity"? Which "great ones" had paved the way? When did this process begin and with what authors?

For teen - age booksworms, particularly girls, a typical and time - honored answer might be Jane Austen, or the Bronte sisters. For me, however, it was Taylor Caldwell and Lloyd C. Douglas. Literary or not, these were the authors who inspired a summertime (1970 or so) quest to read if not their complete works, at least all that I could see on the library shelf.

Around the same time, my appreciation of poetry was kindled not by any one matchless poet but by the editor Ted Malone who introduced the selections in his anthology so tenderly that my heart was ready to honor each poem before I even read it. Next (1974 - 1980) came the early soul - searching and consciousness - raising poems of Naomi Shihab Nye; and eventually I gathered "who I was and who I wanted to be" from Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary Oliver, Marge Piercy, Walt Whitman, Ernest ~ Sandeen (please see comment below).

When I asked Gerry about the idea of assuming one's humanity through literature, he named Charles Dickens and George Orwell. Unlike Gerry, who answered with no hesitation whatsoever, I confess to a few moments of consternation before settling on Franz Kafka and Virginia Woolf as the classic reading - list authors who most significantly provide pleasure, impart wisdom, and profoundly impact my way of understanding the world around me and the world inside my head.

A couple of summer's ago, my friend Don Lynam suggested that we all share our "list of books that have survived multiple purges." So many people posted so many intriguing titles, ranging from classics tried and true to others lesser known, with a generous sprinkling of curious, eccentric, and unique choices! Each item, thoughtfully chosen, had undoubtedly aided the various contributors in the assumption of their humanity.

The titles on my personal list overlapped with many already included in Don's survey, so I added only two: my all - time favorite The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov; and, on Gerry's behalf, Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen.


In closing, here are a few life - changing, mostly non-fiction "manuals for living" that would survive any purge of mine. If you are in search of life coach advice, try delving into -- or even just skimming -- nearly anything written by . . .

Brian Andreas - poetic cartoonist
Bill Bryson
Paul Collins - Not Even Wrong
Joan Didion - "On Keeping a Notebook" ~ "On Self - Respect" ~
"In Bed: On Migraines"
Andrea Dworkin
Marilyn French - The Women's Room
Stephen Jay Gould
Anne Lamott ~ Turning 60 / 61
Alan Parsons - lyricist
Leonard Shlain - The Alphabet Versus the Goddess
Sarah Vowell
Barbara G. Walker - The Skeptical Feminist: Discovering the Virgin, Mother, and Crone

And three plays:
The Fantasticks
Our Town ~ "The Least Important Day"
Stop the World -- I Want to Get Off

Monday, June 24, 2019

From the Desk Of

What the painting looks like with its
"expansive background" ~ hanging on the wall
at The National Museum for Women in the Arts


From A Gentleman in Moscow
By American novelist Amor Towles (b 1964)
“A king fortifies himself with a castle,” observed the Count, “a gentleman [or a scholar] with a desk.”

The Count ran his hand across the desk's dimpled surface.

How many of the Grand Duke's words did those faint indentations reflect? Here over forty years had been written concise instructions to caretakers; persuasive arguments to statesmen; exquisite counsel to friends. In other words, it was a desk to be reckoned with.
(12, 18)


For more on the Readerly / Writerly Life
see my current posts

From the Desk of Ernest Hemingway:
"But never feel as good as while writing."


From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir:
On the Side of Happiness

@ The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker
A literary blog of connection & coincidence;
custom & ceremony

Friday, May 24, 2019

"You know she likes that, right?"

Thanks (& Happy Birthday)
to my twin brother Bruce
& his friend Stefanie for sending this one along!
"Never Try to Punish a Bookworm"
This tee-shirt reminds me of an anecdote told by the author Alice Hoffman about how she decided to be a writer. One day in Junior High, she got in trouble passing notes at school, so to punish her, the teacher intercepted the note and read aloud everything that she had written to her friend.

But instead of feeling embarrassed, Hoffman thought, "Wow, this is pretty cool to have all these people listening to what I just wrote!" After that, she said, there was no stopping her!

from her lecture at "Wordstock" 2016
Portland (Oregon) Book Festival

My brother says it reminds him
of an experience with his two daughters:
My older, Anna Mary, was misbehaving.
I don't recall what she did that provoked my ire,
but I sent her to her room.

My younger, Sara Beth, was standing there.
She looked at me rolled her eyes in disgust.
"What?" I asked.
To which Sara Beth replied,
"You know she likes that, right?"

Reader's Paradise ~ Aimee Stewart

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Asking For A Friend

From Working Girl ~ The Movie ~ The Song

Gettng back to a friend a few months after being
asked for my thoughts on a syllabus for teaching
a literature course on the theme of "Women & Work:

Just so you don't think I've been slacking off, I have been going around and around in my head trying to come up with something dealing with work issues and women's issues. I have not found the perfect solution. Everything I think of has a flaw, but I thought that just mentioning some of them to you might help you think of something else that would work.

First I thought of Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" (1853), then, jumping up to the 20th Century, Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, both of which deal with work issues but have male narrators and very few women characters of any kind.

Then I thought of Moo by Jane Smiley, which is hilarious and fast and has several good women characters and deals with work -- but the work is academe, which is such a strange genre all of its own (i.e., novels about English departments; e.g., Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses, Stoner) that I don't know if it would work. But it does focus on some other departments as well (agriculture!) and deals with management and strategy issues -- but again all about the politics of running a university -- such a non-representative work world and probably not the area your students will specialize in. I don't know.

Then I thought of Anna Quindlen's great essay collections (Living Out Loud; Thinking Out Loud); you know I'm a fan -- for the most part. Of course, they're not fiction; however, you do get a good sense of her life as a woman and a working parent. In the same category is a book of essays that I'd recommend to you anyway, just for yourself (or your book group): How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed by Slavenka Drakulic. This is a book (very swift to read) to open your eyes and break your heart. She devotes a lot of coverage to her work as a journalist and occasional parenting conflicts with her teenage daughter.

A novel I loved from my Ph.D. reading list is Margaret Drabble's The Ice Age (1977), which deals with commercial / business architecture and the use of public space (and other things, like emotional isolation, the banality of evil, and the lack of moral center in the late 20th Century, hence the "ice age"). Unfortunately, it doesn't focus much on women's issues, though it does contain female characters, a runaway daughter, a pregnant homeless woman, and the like, and it does make you think about the connection between inside work space (say, the offices of these architectural firms) and the workability of what's actually created for everyday use -- concrete islands where pedestrians are stranded, foul underground walkways, etc. More recent is The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer, but it paints such a bleak picture of work (and marriage and parenting).

As you can see, none of these are quite right, but I will keep thinking and try to write more soon. I'm getting tired and still have to go downstairs and wash the pots and pans. #Fun #SkulleryMaid #maidofallwork

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Small Great Things

Speaking of what to read during a snowstorm, that's kind of how Jodi Picoult's novel, Small Great Things made its way onto my reading list.

Picoult's novel was the monthly selection for the book group of my sister's husband's sister. Got that? In the middle of February, my sister Di and her husband Tom were headed up to Minnesota (from Missouri) to visit Tom's sister Linda, the one reading Small Great Things for her book group, that was scheduled to meet the weekend of my sister's visit. Di had read the novel in preparation for accompanying Linda to the book meeting as a guest, but Mother Nature intervened with much more snow than expected, and the book club was cancelled.

When Di group told me and our older sister Peg about the cancellation, Peg and I were immediately inspired to read the novel for solidarity. It's not often that we are all reading the same thing at the same time, and Small Great Things provided the perfect opportunity. Peg found a nice hardback on sale, and I got a used bargain paperback, and before we knew it we were halfway through. I took it to San Francisco to read on the plane and could hardly put it down!

No sooner had I finished, than my daughter - in - law Cathleen said, "I need a book to read, do you have any ideas for me?" "As a matter of fact, yes I do!" And I passed on my opy of Small Great Things, making Cathleen an honorary member of our virtual Book Club!

Di recommended this book at the perfect time because for weeks afterward, it seemed to keep coming up one way or another in our thoughts and in our conversation. For example:

1. Not long after finishing the novel, I went with Gerry to his allergy appointment, and the nurse doing the pinprick testing told us that she used to be a Labor & Delivery nurse, but after fifteen years she transferred over to allergy. She said -- without my having said anything about Small Great Things -- "Labor & delivery could be very stressful with a lot of sadness. I needed a break from that." So I told her that I just finished a book in which the main character Ruth was a L & D nurse who said the same thing!

Later that day, Gerry was telling me about a family he knew when he was growing up in England that had one British parent and one Indian parent, and the four children had varying degrees of skin pigmentation from dark to light. Gerry said, "It would be an interesting sociological study to see how this impacted them, growing up in England."

I said, "Hey -- guess what? That's another theme in the novel that Di, Peg, and I just read. The two African American sisters, Ruth and Rachel are treated / perceived differently because one has darker skin than the other."

Around the same time, in a family group text, my sons were swapping articles back and forth on the merits of Affirmative Action and related programs for helping historically disadvantaged groups get a level playing field in the economy. Conveniently, I was able to chime in with all the new perspectives that I gained from Small Great Things: you can't just change the law and fix the problem in one generation; it requires generations of consciousness raising.

I happened to come across this good talk from Trevor Noah that reminds me of some of the later discussions in Small Great Things.

In the novel, Jodi Picoult uses the metaphor of perpetually catching the babies being thrown out of the window (449), but I have always heard it as the parable of pulling the babies out of the river -- and wrote about it as such, not so long ago. Here's my version; and here's hers:
“'I feel like I've been standing underneath an open window, just as a baby gets tossed out. I grab the baby, right, because who wouldn't? But then another baby gets tossed out, so I pass the baby to someone else, and I make the catch. This keeps happening. And before you know it there are a whole bunch of people who are getting really good at passing along babies, just like I'm good at catching them, but no one ever asks who the f--k is throwing the babies out the window in the first place.'

'Um . . . what baby are we talking about?

'It's not a baby, it's a metaphor,' I say irritated. 'I've been doing my job, but who cares, if the system keeps on creating situations where my job is necessary? Shouldn't we focus on the big picture, instad of just catching whatever falls out the window at any given moment?'" (449)
5. For more connections, Peg pointed us in the direction of a television series that we'd all been watching together -- For The People. In "You Belong Here" (Season 2, Episode 6, 11 April 2019), there is "another case of a universe coincidence, when the black lawyer finds out he was chosen to prosecute because he's black, a topic that this show seems to touch on quite often."

I knew the episode she meant and had definitely been reminded of Small Great Things when Leonard (the young black male lawyer in For the People) is being lectured by an older black lawyer about being chosen because he's black -- and also about being unable to understand his position of privilege (helpful parents, quality education, decent job, good health, and so forth) -- precisely becaue he has all those privileges. Yes, he has felt racial discrimination, but still he has a lot of other privileges that other blacks (and other whites) lack.

Leonard replies that he has worked for everything he has. And the older lawyer says, "Well, not exactly -- yes you worked hard, but some of it you were given, some of it was good luck." It was perfect timing to compare this conversation to the novel, where it is the young white female lawyer (named Kennedy) who has to learn this lesson from her black elders and peers.

Kennedy uses her new appreciation of the difference between equality and equity in her closing argument:
"I turn toward the jury. 'What if, ladies and gentlemen, today I told you that anyone here who was born on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday was free to leave right now? Also, they'd be given the most central parking spots in the city, and the biggest houses. They would get job interviews before others who were born later in the week, and they'd be taken first at the doctor's office, no matter how many patients were waiting in line. If you were born from Thursday to Sunday, you might try to catch up – but because you were straggling behind, the press would always point to how inefficient you are. And if you complained, you'd be dismissed for playing the birth-day card.' I shrug. 'Seems silly, right? But what if on top of these arbitrary systems that inhibited your chances for success, everyone kept telling you that things were actually pretty equal?'

" . . . 'We are supposed to pretend [race] is merely the icing on the cake of whatever charge has been brought to the table -- not the substance of it. We are supposed to be the legal guardians of a postracial society. But you know the word ignorance has an even more important word at its heart: ignore.
And I don't think it's right to ignore the truth any longer.'"
(462 - 64)
6. In closing, here's one last example from For the People, not specifically about Small Great Things but about our shared certainty that the connections just keep on coming! A week earlier, the episode entitled "One Big Happy Family" (Season 2, Episode 6, 11 April 2019) -- about a corrupt judge sending teens to a for - profit juvenile detention center -- had fit right into our discussion of dominoe - effect coincidences.

The ah - ha moment takes place when some of the research team roll in a moveable blackboard that shows the entire path of connections leading from the judge to the owner of the detention center. They are missing one piece of the puzzle, but all of a sudden one of the young lawyers (can never remember all their names) holds up her phone because she remembers seeing a pic of another judge standing side by side with a relative of someone in the scam. Well -- something like that! I've probably totally scrambled it up, but you get the idea: Only connect!