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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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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‘Groucho and Me:’ Light on details, but not on laughs

groucho and me 2.jpegReaders shouldn’t turn to “Groucho and Me” funnyman Groucho Marx’s 1959 memoir to learn anything substantial about him or his famous brothers. He even acknowledges that a couple of times. Do pick up the book if you want to laugh. It’s the funniest book I’ve read in a long time.

I chose this book from among several options on my bookshelf to fulfill the Memoir or Biography category for the 2016/17 Classics Challenge. Surprisingly, there were several options on my shelves. I thought it might just be the time to dive into Moss Hart’s “Act One,” (and finally finish) or Sheilah Graham’s “Beloved Infidel,” her take on her relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Oddly, I had even others that could fill the bill, too, but decided humor was the way to go. There’s so little to laugh at these days.

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Classics Challenge reads a book that was banned

Are you taking the challenge? See the next category at the end of this post.

The only thing that saddens and dismays me more than when people try to get a book removed from a school curriculum or a public library is that school districts and library boards have to listen to crackpots who request this.

These incidents are usually started by an overprotective parent who doesn’t want a child exposed to ideas that may “corrupt” them. But when you do a little research you’ll discover that people have asked that works ranging from those by ancient Greeks to Toni Morrison and J.K. Rowling. That’s when you realize it’s not the work itself, it’s the ideas in the work, and the way they challenge the status quo that scares people. Some people, I should say, not all. But, as you know, it’s always, sadly, the loudest, most ignorant bitcher who always gets heard.

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The Classics Challenge is back with new menu items and a few leftovers

For the last few years, my wife and I have challenged ourselves to read classics. I confess we stole the idea from this person who actually offers prizes for people who participate. So few readers of this blog let me know whether they’ve joined me, and even fewer comment or let me know the book they’re reading that I offer no incentives except the joys of reading classics.

Today I offer the categories for the 2017 Classics Challenge. Play along and let me know how you’re doing. Remember, our arbitrary ruling on what defines a classic is that it must be at least 50 years old.

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A new year, a new challenge: Making this blog better for all (but mostly for me)

Gentle Reader,

The 2016 Classics Challenge ended by kicking my butt.

Three categories—and you may remember this was a shortened list of categories—went unread. I would say at least a dozen other books I read went unblogged about due to lack of time or because I had nothing to say about them.

So you’ll see a few changes on Shelf Improvement this year. You might say I’m improving my shelf. Come on, that’s funny.

1: The page dedicated to the 2016 Classics Challenge has been renamed the 2016/17 Classics Challenge, so it doesn’t look as though I’ve been a slacker. I will add new categories soon.

2: I won’t choose categories for you. Feel free to attack what book you want in whatever order you want. It’s all about reading, not keeping up with me. And, truth be told, the conversation I envisioned never really happened. I had envisioned my own little online book club and I’m disappointed it hasn’t happened yet, but that’s life.

3: I’m planning on doing a bit of catch up, so look for a flurry of reviews. These reviews will be, in general, shorter so you, Gentle Reader, won’t be daunted by them. But more important, I won’t let them pile up, either.

4: I’ll also try to read relevant books, as reviews of newer works seem to get more readers.

So here’s to a better year for this blog and its devoted readers. But mostly, for me. I don’t need the guilt of not keeping you challenged or not blogging.



Classics Challenge 2016: Three great works made better because they’re short

So, Classics Challengers. I haven’t abandoned you, but I’ve stopped announcing what books to read in what order because of my few readers, even fewer are playing. I’m trying not to take it personally.

Today, I’m knocking off three categories. I picked these three books because, well, time’s getting short and I’m still not even halfway through the shortened challenge my wife and I chose in January. It’s not that I haven’t been reading, as I’ve said before, it’s that I haven’t been writing. So here we go.

Because the works are brief, I will keep my comments that way, too.

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