Sunday, May 27, 2012

Best nonfiction read, ever.

When I finished reading Maus and Night it was impossible to not feel the cruelty that is possible in humanity deep in my gut. While reading In the Garden of Beasts, I only became more disengaged with politics and their inability to create the kind of change that the world desperately needs.  I'm a micro-thinker by nature, meaning that I'm a believer and participant in small change on a small nature when it comes to making a difference.  I'm thankful for people who have the brains and enthusiasm for policy and law, but am generally overwhelmed when looking at the world's brokenness at such a vast level.  And so, I sit in my classroom and teach my students to be critical thinkers and to hopefully see some magic through reading and writing.  I knew that I needed to read something that would reveal hope to me on a micro level--to remember that amidst the ugly there were people who loved and people who fought for what was right.  Then I remembered a friend had recommended Eric Metaxas's biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to me over a year ago and realized there would never be a better time to read it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Christian who was a part of the German resistance to Hitler and became involved with multiple assassination attempts, ultimately hanged at a concentration camp two weeks before the end of the war.  It's just over 600 pages and it overtook my reading and thinking life, which partially explains my month long absence from writing about reading on here.  I've never been more engaged in nonfiction and I have never been so captured by the integrity of a single person.  There isn't a way that I can begin to describe all that I took away from reading it, except to say that I can only hope to strive for justice and love the way that he did.  His life is a story of doing what is right, period, and not hiding under the illusion of safety in rules and regulations and inaction.

Streets with names from the Middle Ages and other thoughts on roots.

Tana French is a phenomenal, literary mystery writer and my mom, brother and I have enjoyed all of her books.  I read her third, Faithful Place, earlier this year and for some reason never wrote about it, but still find myself thinking about these words from the final page:

"All that night...I went looking for the parts of my city that have lasted.  I walked down streets that got their names in the middle ages...I looked for cobblestones worn smooth and iron railings gone thin with rust.  I paid no attention to the shoddy new apartment blocks and the neon signs, the sick illusions ready to fall ...In a hundred years they'll be gone, replaced, forgotten."

  I'm in the middle of our last unit of the year, Reading and Writing Through the Literary Genre of Coming of Age.  We are obviously focusing on the adolescent coming of age, but I have found that life continues to spiral me through many comings-of-age. We read 8 short texts of a variety of genres together and they are all reading a coming of age novel of their choosing.  We are having two class-wide discussions, dividing the books in half.  This means that this week discussion revolved around struggle and we have watched all of our characters wrestle with the fact that growing up is equated with pain and finding ways to cope and survive when the safety and blissful ignorance of childhood is pulled away.

This is what brought me back to these words from the protagonist of Faithful Place, because I think to survive well means to have a life rooted in things that last.  The imagery that French employs is so poignant to me--especially the "sick illusions" that  call me to temporary, shallow wellness, which is what we are seeing in class from our adolescent protagonists on their way to finding something deeper and real.   I cannot wait to talk about hope next week and the kinds of things that bring resolution from life's messes. It never ceases to amaze me the way that talking about literature with 13 year olds on a regular basis always brings me back to truth.