Back to the classics: ‘Gone With the Wind’ as a civics lesson

gone.jpgThe duly elected president of our country the other day asked, about the U.S. Civil War, “If you think about it, why? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

I think I speak for all Americans with brains and for thinking people everywhere when I ask: What the complete fuck?

Assuming he can read, he might find an answer (do himself no harm, either) by doing what I just did: I read “Gone With the Wind,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Margaret Mitchell about not just the Civil War, but its aftermath. I chose this book to satisfy the Classic by a Woman Writer category in this year’s Classics Challenge.

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‘The Shack’ is a slam dunk in the Crap Bucket, isn’t it?

shack.jpgSeveral years ago I tried to read Wm. Paul Young’s bizarre religious tract “The Shack” because, well, everyone was doing it. I got through about a third of it, realized it was crap and returned it to the friend who had loaned it to me saying something noncommittal and politic like, “I just couldn’t get into it.”

Fast forward to last month when someone in my new book club chose “The Shack” as our first book. I nearly dropped out. But being a good team member (something that is almost never recognized, much less rewarded anymore) and I found myself irritatedly skimming this book I had written off years ago.

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An elegy for a culture that’s killing itself

hillbilly.jpgI read J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” about a month ago, and still don’t know what to think about it.

Looking at it one way, the book is an engrossing first-hand story about the life of the rural poor—particularly those in Appalachia—and how one man got out, into the Marines, Ohio State University and into Yale Law School. Now, though Vance’s website says he’s a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm, he is better known as a talking head on cable news channels.

But “Elegy” is also a loving sepia-toned remembrance of a life that no one in America should be living and the people who live it.

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How many poets can dance on the head of a pin?

road.jpegThis is the time of year when students, vying to be their school’s commencement speaker, are furiously Googling “inspirational quotes for speeches.” Invariably, Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” will pop up. These speakers will use this beloved work to urge their fellow graduates to go forward on their own path, their argument boosted by the last three lines of the poem:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Turns out they won’t know what they’re talking about, because they have not understood the poem in the way Frost meant it.

“The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong” by David Orr is an examination of the phenomenon that is “The Road Not Taken” that is  fascinating, exhaustive and exhausting all at the same time.

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A ‘Bridge’ too long from a favorite writer

sighs.jpegRichard Russo has long been a favorite of mine, but I notice I have not read one of his books since I started this blog. Odd.

That could be because his books, like those by John Irving and Pat Conroy are marathons that I’m not always willing to tackle.

I lump the Russo, Irving and Conroy together because they are sort of cut from similar cloth, though Irving’s is special order and Conroy’s is taffeta. Russo’s cloth is denim. It’s dirty and worn, which makes it feel loved, but it can be worn too long.

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A poem for a birthday boy

My second son turns 17 today.

He’s in the middle of that dreaded junior year of high school, where everything matters, from grades to standardized tests to girls and friends to music and memes.

In addition to the things my wife and I have wrapped for him to open tonight after a dinner of hamburgers (his choice) and homemade cheesecake (also, his choice), I offer him this poem by Shel Silverstein.

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A children’s classic tale of a boy and his dog

OldYeller.jpgWhen the kids were young, I read to them nearly every night. I read classic children’s novels (“The Narnia Chronicles,” “The Never-Ending Story,” “Pinocchio” “Winnie-the-Pooh”) and, when they got older, some that weren’t specifically for children, but which I thought they’d enjoy (“Phantom of the Opera,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Erotic Works of Anaias Nin, you know the canon). But, as kids get older, there are other things to do.

I miss those times, but I’ve written about them before, and I have promised shorter posts, so let’s get to the point of this one.

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