Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Self Diagnosis: I'm a Reading Mess.

In the same way that I cannot make my brain think linearly, I cannot read linearly. I was excited for the freedom of summer because I really believed that I would read one book, start to finish, and then begin the next one.

Well, that was a lovely thought.

It started reading Harry Potter at night because they were too heavy to carry around. Then I read Gilead, (diverting from my summer list, but checking a book off the shelf of books I own but haven't read) but wasn't as engaged so when I got bored, I'd read a short story by Alice Munro (also not on the list, but on the shelf). I finished Gilead and my book club started The Known World. Well. What about Alice? And what about Shadow Cities? That one is half way done, too. Not to mention the excerpts I've read this week from Surprised by Joy (CS Lewis), The Magnificent Defeat (Frederick Buechner) and Reading Like a Writer (Francine Prose). Aye. I think it's just that there is so much that I want to learn and think about. It's overwhelming. In a good way, I guess. I just want to devour and process and talk about so many things--and the rate at which great things are published doesn't help!

I suppose that I just need to come to grips that I am not a linear person. At all. Sometimes that really stresses me out and I try to become a person who doesn't operate on a completely web based design. (Old school web, that is. Think circle in the middle of your paper with lots of branches.) But without fail, I return to my ways of overstuffed bookshelves and piles waiting for me and I dabble in all of them until I finish. Whenever that may be. And I usually do. Finish, that is.

And that's ok.

That feels therapeutic to type out.

Interestingly enough, (well, interesting to me and maybe 2 other people) I am a person who likes my apartment to be orderly and my classroom to be without clutter. I may or may not organize my sock drawer. How does that fit into my reading tendencies? Seriously. Ha.

Friday, July 13, 2007

More thoughts on Dumbledore: How he encourages my belief in God.

If you haven't read Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, do not read this. Please. I beg of you. If you haven't already read the Harry Potter series, read them. Please. I beg of you.

Anyway, everyone knows about the cultural event that occurs just one week from today: the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I day cultural event, because no other series has caused children to read hundreds and hundreds of pages. No other series has caused both young and old to absolutely fall in love with it. I've been rereading the series the past few months in order to prepare for it's release, and to gather more thoughts about the character of Snape. I've tried to find hidden or forgotten insight as to his true character.

On Wednesday night, or I suppose Thursday morning, I finished "The Half Blood Prince" at 12:30 am. I knew the end of the book. I remembered it as Harry and Dumbledore are searching for the Horcrux near the end of the book. But then the truth of what happens hit me hard, and I still have the emotional scars to prove it. Crying, I laid in my bed, wide awake. I listened to music. I tried to read online--anything to get my mind off the reality of what the inhabitants of the magical world just experienced: Dumbledore's death. Sigh. Even typing it out hurts my heart.

I realize that many people may believe that this is over the top; after all it is only a story. But the bottom line of my life is that it is never just a story. There is no one else like Dumbledore: no one with his power, his wisdom, his ultimate belief in love, his discerning care for even Malfoy. So the only thing I can do is refuse to believe that he was wrong about Snape. There has to be more than what we know or are capable of understanding. There has to be.

This kicked me in the rear this week when I realized the absolute faith I have in Dumbledore might be greater that the absolute faith I have in God. I know God. I know his charcter. I know his actions. Why can't I, then, trust in Him with all my heart? Afterall, even though I hate to admit it, Dumbledore is a fictional character. God is real. Real real.

Among other things, that is what I want to work on: trusting in the Rock who is my God...and letting my passion for story and heroes roll over into my passion for Him.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

How Postmodern Narration Makes Me a Better Person.

One of the most heartbreaking things in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” was all of the miscommunication between the characters in the story. One character doesn’t talk, but only writes. Other relationships literally go unfinished. Adults don’t trust children with their innermost thoughts nor children adults, even though both sides feel the resulting disconnect. And I suppose that disconnected really is the best way to describe it because lonesomeness is the only thing that can result, even if one is surrounded by people.

I realized how often this has run through my mind when I finished rereading “The Catcher in the Rye” about a month ago and when I started “Gilead” last weekend. Both of them have one narrator who tells the length of the story through his (in both cases) point of view. Therefore, the reader gets a thorough understanding of how he sees the world and the particular situation around him. And this is what I love about literature…the way I can get inside someone else’s head who doesn’t think the way I do.

If I look over my reading list from the past six months or so, many of the books I have read have abandoned the notion of having one narrator who tells the story through his or her eyes for multiple narrators who show different interpretations of the same events. It’s almost a trick for keeping the reader on his or her toes. It’s easy to cheer for the narrator when his or her opinion is the only one that you know—as the reader you often see the story with the same convictions and prejudices. The narrator’s heartbreaks and judgements become your own. But what about when you read multiple points of view? When you see two sides of a divorce? When you understand how both the child and the parent feels? When light is cast on a conflict you were convinced could only be seen one way?

It is almost as though you have this amazing moment of understanding because you realize that each pair of eyes interprets the world in its own way. All of a sudden you find yourself sympathizing with both sides of a conflict. The conflict becomes secondary to the hearts of the people, the faces, the hearts involved. An issue is no longer black and white.

This is an amazing challenge. This kind of reading forces me to consider people. People with individual stories. People with individual feelings. The more I think about it, this is the way that I want to look at the world. Change in any situation is not as likely to happen if you aren’t invested in the people. If I were to look at my students just as a group of 13 year old students, I would miss out on so much, and my teaching would show it. If I keep poverty and injustice as abstract concepts in the back of my mind, that’s all they will remain.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love this postmodern take on narration and what it can do with my own thinking. “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” deals with the aftermath of September 11th through the eyes of a child who lost his father, his grandmother and his estranged grandfather. Foer pulls the reader in a way that causes the heart to ache with empathy and poetic understanding of how individual people deal with an overwhelming amount of grief. Life almost becomes a little more whole as you take on someone else’s point of view for a while. This is true in real life, too. As far as the miscommunication and disconnect is concerned, the entire time I was reading I was almost shouting at the characters to tell the others about what was actually going on in their heads: “Look at one another and speak what is true! Listen for just a second! Ask him what’s actually going on! Tell him your heart!” Sigh. I always feel the most humbled when fictional characters shout the truth at me.

(Recommended books with multiple narrators: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, History of Love, Atonement, Inheritance of Loss, The Memory Keeper's Daughter)

Sunday, July 1, 2007


I spent a half hour a few weeks ago talking about the delicate art that fathers have: carrying sleeping children from the car to their beds. The image of it all is seamless…your little head falls onto his shoulder into a sleep deep enough to feel like you are still dreaming but light enough to know that you are in your dad’s arms. Sheltered. Protected. As he places you onto your bed and pulls your shoes off, you barely know what is happening. All you know is that you don’t have to worry; you are safe.

I have lived in the city for 4 years and finally feel like I can call it my home, not just a temporary stop on my way to Real Life. At the same time, the nasty word of change is whispering into my ear. As I commit to this city I love, that means I become of fixture of watching the change that is synonymous with New York: losing friends to other cities, testing the outer boroughs, finding an affordable apartment, did I mention losing friends to other cities? Despite my love affair with New York, lately I’ve wanted to close my eyes and transport myself to the safety that accompanied childhood: knowing that I could fall asleep when I got tired and be carried up all the stairs and tucked into bed without a worry.

I feel like my reading life and actual life keep overlapping. I connected more this week with Oskar Schell, age eight of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close than any actual person in my life. Yes, he is eight. But a very precocious and articulate eight. The book chronicles the days of his life when he is first separated from the blanket of security only found in children who play and imagine away and leave all the heavy thinking up to their parents, who carry them through it all while they sleep.

Oskar lost his father on September 11. Clearly, his weariness goes much deeper than I can imagine. His poignant story, overlapping with those of his grandparents, pinpoints the devastation of loss. The degree of devastation that Oskar has experienced I have not. But the feeling of being a bit lost in a world that all of a sudden seems big, unpredictable and dangerous I have. And sweet Oskar, despite his fear of what he knows and what he does not know does his best to be brave and trust in something bigger than he.

And I suppose that is what adult life is about…making my way in a world that I will never fully understand. But I wonder if I am not alone in my longing to escape just for a little bit. To forget what I know about heartache and tragedy and just be carried. But to do so would prevent learning or growth or process. To do so would be to miss the small beauties of life.

So, for now I will let the smell of the soil on Rector Street (I promise it really is there) take me back to summer nights in Centerville, Ohio. I will allow the sleepy kids I see remind me of the trips from the garage to my bed. I will be thankful that I have known safety and I will do my best to trust in what is Good and True and Real.