Today is Tuesday, September 11, 2012, and I'm marking two very different anniversaries in this post: 9/11 and the Norton Anthology of Literature, both which mark turning points in my life -- and maybe yours?
Eleven years ago, I woke up to the same blue, blue skies that I woke up to today. Not a cloud. Blue. That day, I was supposed to be in New York City, running a press conference, downtown, until my ace second-in-command, called and ordered, "Turn on the news. Now." The skies were clear and blue and then they weren't.
The second anniversary, talks about what saves us from despair, at least what saves me: stories and poetry. The Norton Anthology of English LIterature
is celebrating its 50th anniversary, having published nine editions so far. I have carried my edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry
with me since I was a freshman in college, schlepped it from one home to another, at least a dozen moves, brought it with me to graduate school in my 40s, adding notes to its tissue-thin paper, losing the cover, re-reading some poems never reading others in the 1,000 plus page tome. I will never abandon it, for it never abandoned me.
"I wake to sleep, and take my waking show.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go." --
opening to "The Waking" by Theodore Roethke
p. 1133 in my edition of The Norton Anthology of Poetry
And lastly, if you haven't read LIE
yet -- my critically-acclaimed young adult novel, now is the time.
Re-read Crime and Punishment by Feodor Dostoevsky in the 98 degree heat, which just broke in a lacerating storm of thunder and lightening and downpour. Maybe this is not what others would consider fun summer reading though it's set in the stifling heat of 19th century St. Petersburg in summer and strikes close to the bone -- for me.
Why Crime and Punishment? It's considered the first modern psychological novel -- a portrait of a tormented murderer -- and his redemption -- and my next novel has a character that drew me back to its main character Raskolnikov. However, my character in my new novel has no ex-prostitute to save him, no exile to Siberia to redeem him, no confession -- only the breakdown of reality and his mind -- and yes, death on his hands too.
" 'To think that I can contemplate such a terrible act and yet be afraid of such trifles, he thought, and he smiled strangely. 'Hm... yes... a man holds the fate of the world in his two hands, and yet, simply because he is afraid, he lets things, drift -- that is a truism... I wonder what men are most afraid of..." Raskolnikov in the opening chapter. (I would recommend the "Norton Critical Edition" of this classic over any other).
This blog receives quite a number of "clicks" from Russia (and even recently Romania!) -- is Crime and Punishment still read there? And to all, is there an answer to Raskolinkov's rant: What are men most afraid of?
Musings for this summer evening...one filled with the darkening threat of more rain.
If you haven't read LIE,
my debut novel, consider it for your
summer reading list --
author of LIE
is one of the major figures of modern Chinese literature - but perhaps people out there in the Internet ether know this -- or at least, I keep wondering who in China is clicking on this blog? I taught "Diary of a Madman"
this year -- reluctantly. I knew little of Chinese literature. It was a mandate from the English department at City College of New York to teach this early 20th century short story as part of my World Humanities course.
I loved this story. Reading and teaching Lu Xun led me to think of China -- and of other places in history and time that has suppressed human creativity and hope -- driven people crazy with fear. I wonder if they are reading him in China today -- or is he out of fashion? Written in 1918, "Diary of a Madman" is about a so called "madman's" point of view of his village -- of sanctioned terror, of a village and of families turning to the most horrendous of human crimes-- cannibalism.
Or, is this all just the crazed ramblings of an unreliable narrator? Moreover, is this truth or symbolic of a larger destruction of a corrupt, brutal, inhuman society? Does the madman speak truth to power or does he have no power at all --except to share his nightmares?
As the narrator exclaims at the very end, "Are there children who have not yet eaten human flesh? Save the children..."
A Wrinkle In Time 50th Anniversary edition
is a gem. As an
adult reader (and full disclosure: an author of my own young adult novel: LIE],
I have fallen in love with the story of Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin again. One of my resolutions 02 2012 (does anyone really keep these??) was to read or re-read some classics. Friends sent me ideas: Sylvia Plath, Nabokov, Shakespeare, and to start, I chose this magical childhood favorite celebrating it's 50th year in print.
First, I must say that this new hardcover edition is worth buying --
it's physically beautiful, with a luscious red and gold updated cover, and additional material
including essays by noted children's writer Katherine Paterson and L'Engle's
granddaughter, as well as to the delight of this writer -- a copy of a work-in-progress
manuscript of the opening chapter.
This piece is complete with L'Engle's notations. Lastly, I was inspired
by the inclusion of her Newbery Medal acceptance speech. Every aspiring writer must read this
speech, ‘The Expanding Universe’ from 1963 and this book!
If you are an adult reader, be prepared to be transported by
the language (quotes by greats Pascal, Aristotle, and more, which I'm sure I glossed
over at 10 or 11 years old, are so terrific now). I’ve fallen in love again with Charles Wallace and his love
of words, his obsession with the meaning of them. Most of all, I’ve
fallen again for the story of the search for a father -- and for meaning in
this far-reaching universe. I plan to re-read
again with my 11- year-old and 6-year-old, but first I wanted to savor it all
A Wrinkle in Time expanded my horizons as a
young child and has done so again. As L’Engle says in her medal acceptance speech, “A book, too,
can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life
endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness leading out into the
Yesterday, a major story in the Wall Street Journal
about, not money, not stocks or bonds, not jobs, about -- Young Adult Literature -- "Darkness Too Visible: Contemporary fictions for teens is rife with abuse, violence, depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?" by Meghan Cox Gordan.
Listen up, I loved reading Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton too. I even loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (all of these she recommends). I re-read The Outsiders recently -- and for the most part -- it still reads really well, the characters are deeply developed. I still wanted to make everything for Pony, in the same way I did when I was 12 or 13 (okay, what does that say about me?). But maybe a deeper look at the raw realism of today (yes, okay, LIE) is called for? Where was Laurie Anderson in this article? The raw New York City based novels of Paul Volponi (who in full disclosure gave LIE a great blurb, though I have never met him), or of Walter Dean Meyers? She calls Hunger Games 'hyper violent.' Hey, it's a strong female fighting the capriciousness dictatorial society, but then recommends Fahrenheit 451. I'm not sure of the difference in theme, except one has been deemed a 'classic,' by time and literary critics. She goes on to tout other classics, or even books such as Ophelia by Lisa Kline (in full disclosure I haven't read, but is now on my reading list) based on Shakespeare Hamlet.
And one more thing that seems so fussy,( and so mistaken about YA lit in general) this Wall Street Journal writer breaks the books into 'books for young men' and' books for young women,' and what was great about S.E. Hinton is that boy or girl, you could read The Outsiders. Boy or girl you could read To Kill a Mockingbird.
So yes, darkness NEEDS to be visible. I am hoping that today's audience, boys and girls, young and old, still want to know more about the world, the true, heart-felt, devastating real world.