Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Please be aware that I read this two days ago and it was only my inability to find an appropriate picture that kept me from posting two days in a row! I finally went with the creepy album cover rather than the neon unicorn - but it was a hard decision.

Here's a tip. If you are writing an essay about The Glass Menagerie and don't mention the broken unicorn you're not paying attention. Not only did I love Laura's response to that, but it was also such a blatant use of symbolism that even a dense-headed reader like myself spotted it.

This was a beautifully written play. I wanted to pick little bits of the language out to post here, but they don't really work outside the structure of the play. I read this in one short afternoon at the YMCA. And yes, I do a lot of good reading there. What else am I going to do? Exercise? Anyway Alex Hurst of the BHS class of 2005 was lifeguarding and came over to me and said in a voice filled with the joy of reminiscence, "Oh! The Glass Menagerie! I read that for summer reading!" I was so pleased that he remembered the book - I asked if he liked it. "Of course," he replied, "look how short it is!" And with this I began quietly weeping.

Anyway - aside from its charming shortness this play also has depth and a lot of moral ambiguity. Is Tom a hero for saving himself or merely another selfish troll in a line of selfish trolls deserting the weak? I make it sound like I have an opinion, but I am actually very conflicted which is one of the reasons I really loved reading this.

Just a side note - with The Glass Menagerie, I have finished all of the summer reading books that I have previously read (which are really just this and Fahrenheit 451) so from here on out - they are all mysterious to me!

I didn't have a lot of books that came to mind after I read this so I asked some friends for suggestions for books with strong mothers who boss their children to near the point of insanity. They came up with Pride & Prejudice and A Light in the Piazza. Here is a shocking revelaton - I have never read P&P! I have seen several versions of the movie and it was my senior play in high school where I (if I do say so myself) stole the show with my magnificent swooning as Mrs. Bennett. I whipped through A Light in the Piazza and found it somewhat depressing and yet interesting. Basically a mother arranges a marriage for her strange little daughter in Italy in the 1950's - or as the book jacket calls it "modern times". Ha!

Really, if you like The Glass Menagerie you should just read more Williams. A Streetcar Named Desire is amazing. Also - the Beverly Public Library has Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams which is fascinating.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
It took all week but I finally finished! I was dreading this book. It was written in 1852 and much of it is in southern dialect and it just seemed hard. But much to my surprise I really liked it.

It needs to be said that from our perspective as twenty-first century Americans this book is racist and very patronizing. But it is also a very compelling story and moving as well. And the motives of Harriet Beecher Stowe were pure in her raging desire to bring slavery to an end. It is easy to believe the legend that when Abraham Lincoln met the author her said, "So you're the little lady who made this big war."

I don't know that I would have made it past chapter one if it hadn't been for my friend Nicole. Before I started the book I asked her, "How much of this do I really have to read of this before I switch to the SparkNotes to be able to claim that I read it?" She looked at me with such disappointment in her face and said, "You must read it all." And so, to keep my sterling reputation as an actual reader of books I did. And I don't regret it a bit. Nicole is so proud of me! And she also recommended two narratives written by slaves which are available on-line Narrative of the Life of Henry Bibb and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. Both are fascinating and moving.

I would also recommend two books that deal with slavery and its aftermath that I found to be excellent. Beloved by Toni Morrison absolutely haunted me. So much so that I never even watched the movie. Toni Morrison is an unbearably good writer. Another of my favorite authors is Walter Mosely. (He was also former president Bill Clinton's favorite writer, so make of that what you will...) I am a huge fan of his Easy Rawlins mysteries which I will recommend again when I am writing about Early Autumn. He has written an interesting young adult novel about a slave who is made immortal called 47.

One note about this novel - you need to remember the historical context. The author makes sweeping racial generalizations about slaves - generally positive but still very stereotypical. There was also a casual bit of anti-semitism. And finally - so much evangelical preaching that I felt as if I were still in the halls of the baptist high school I attended. The dialect and the exhortations to the reader make the writing seem a bit awkward. But it is a novel that helped our country evolve towards a more equitable and humane future.

Monday, July 17, 2006

I have returned from the beautiful northwest. And I read all but one of my selections. Here are the updetes on what I read. And I apologize because I am sure that you were being kept up nights wondering what on earth I thought of these books!

The Queen's Foolby Philippa Gregory was wonderful - very compelling. The heroine was one of those types that you sometimes want to shake by the shoulders and tell her to pay attention. Other than that it was a fast paced, fascinating read.

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray was wonderful. I had a student snach this from my hands the minute it came into the high school library and now I know why. It was exciting with a much more detailed look at the mystical aspects of the story.

Beauty by Sherri S. Tepper and I didn't get along. There is an excellent Reader's Pledge that I would like to invoke. If you find a book boring you don't have to finish it according to writer Shannon Hale who I have never read but intend to very soon.

Love Walked Inby Marisa de los Santos was lovely! It surprised me a lot. The main character is a little too perfect and everyone is pretty, but the emotions felt real and the story was heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling - I am convinced that Snape was just doing what Dumbledore wanted him to do. And I am being vague here in case you haven't read it. The book would just be too sad if it were otherwise. I am waiting anxiously for the next and final installment. As for this "Who is going to die?" brouhaha - my money is on Snape and Neville.

I am very nearly done with Uncle Tom's Cabin, my first selection from the Junior class list. It is taking a long, long time - but I am going to rip through The Glass Menagerie like a sneeze through a kleenex just as soon as I finish. So brace yourself!