Sunday, June 2, 2013

Summer Reading

Since my summer class is cancelled and my kids are recovering from sickness, we decided to have the kind of summer I love, a reading by the pool kind of summer.  We haven't been to the pool yet, but I already finished a book. 

I originally planned to alternate authors:  Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and then a random Appalachian writers before returning to Toni Morrison.  Almost all of the books on my list are set in the time period of the historical series I'm writing.  The rest are in the location of my WIPs.  And some are just awesome books I want to read again. 

Then my daughter and I had a conversation.  The theme of her English class this year was supposed to be American Literature.  And yet they read two Shakespeare plays.  And not even one classic novel one would expect a college-bound junior to be required to read.  Not that there's anything wrong with non-classic novels, but I think someone going to college should be well-read if only to catch references when they present themselves, as they often do on Family Guy or Sponge Bob or whatever.  It's not cool when you don't get the joke.

My daughter's impression - and I really hope this isn't true - is that women writers are almost exclusively reserved for the Women Writers class - an elective.  If you want to read Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, or Toni Morrison, you have to take that class.  WTF?  She didn't even know who Joyce Carol Oates was.  That's just wrong.

She said the only female writer she read in class (not sure if it was this year or in her entire high school experience) was one poem from one poet whose name I don't remember.  I started fuming and decided to do something to correct that - or at least find out if that's policy or a strange coincidence.  She asked me not to make a scene about it, so I haven't yet.  I'll sit on it for the summer before I ask the question.  It seems like outside of the Honors and AP English classes, the teachers have the choice of what they teach.  Last year it was all Bradbury presumably because the teacher really liked Bradbury.  I think kids should be exposed to more than Bradbury (no offense to you Bradbury fans).

By the way, they also didn't read any Transcendentalists.  No Emerson, Thoreau, Emily Dickinson.  Not even Hawthorne.  American literature with no Transcendentalists?  It makes absolutely no sense to me.

So my daughter and I looked through each of our several overstuffed bookshelves, cleared a shelf for female writers, and then filled it.  She picked out the books she wants to read first (not just the female writers).  I put my William Faulkner novel back on the shelf and picked up Toni Morrison's Beloved.

I have to say that as soon as I realized there was a paranormal aspect to it, I groaned and almost chose a different book. 

No offense if you write paranormal.  I don't believe in the paranormal - yes, I know writing those words is an invitation for a poltergeist to haunt me in my sleep.  It's very difficult for me to read paranormal fiction - it's just not believable to me. 

But in Beloved, the difference is this:  the things the slave owners did and the slaves went through were just as unbelievable - although I know that sort of thing really happened.  If we are to believe that people are capable of being that inhumane, a little ghost action seems possible too because none of what really happened makes sense, none of it is logical.

So I kept reading because I couldn't put it down.  Not because of the ghosts or because of the horror of how people were treated, but because of the way the story was told and the characters were revealed. 

I read it almost all in one day.  I read until I had three chapters left and could no longer focus my aging eyes on the words.  I woke up this morning and finished it before I finished my cup of coffee.  And I cried.

I'm debating whether to reread Sula or start Song of Solomon next.


  1. Seems odd the class wouldn't feature books by women authors. And while I do like Bradbury, a whole semester of him might be a bit much.

  2. If I remember right, her sophomore year she read two Bradbury books and some stories over the course of the whole school year (not a semester). They also read A Separate Peace that year, which is a good book but definitely male-focused (zero female characters if I remember correctly), and Huckleberry Finn, also a book about a boy.

  3. Well now you've just pissed me off! I don't know why women writers continue to get shoved into Women's Lit classes and are ignored in the main cannon. And everyone should read Emerson. What an insightful mind. Also, Beloved is an awesome novel. Very powerful ending. I don't think I liked Song of Solomon as well, but Morrison is a brilliant writer. Enjoy your summer reading by the pool!

  4. You know, I could and probably will write a whole post about my belief that women authors are continually ignored and underrated!

  5. I shouldn't have been surprised to read about the lack of women authors in the class but I was and it ticked me off just to read it. I read Beloved years ago but remember well how haunting and beautifully written it is. Morrison is amazing.

    I love your plans for the summer!

  6. What a wonderful summer plan. I miss teaching as it provided me those summer breaks. Now it's 365 days (minus a handful of holidays) of nonstop work. I'd love to just spend one whole day reading!

  7. Hang on - American lit and NO EDGAR A. POE????? Say WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT??????

    In my kid's junior year of HS he took a history of film type class ('cause he wants to make mooooovies) and when I went for Open House I chatted with the teacher and referenced that none of the directors he listed in the syllabus were women. He seemed a bit taken aback but nodded and thanked me for pointing it out. Now, I don't know how he might have updated the syllabus (or that he even did) but I'm hopeful. :-)
    Some Dark Romantic