Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Over the Christmas break, our doorbell rang on the afternoon of the 22nd.  It was our long-time friend David Anderson--a classmate of mine at Hiram College, a long-time professor there (and thus Joyce's colleague).  And he had gifts.  (Oh that moment: Uh, oh--we have no gift for him!)  We chatted amiably awhile (as is our wont with David, who is among the funniest people I've ever known), and then off he went (sans gift from us) on some other errands.  We did not open the presents until Christmas morning, and I was astonished at mine.
Frank Norris
Not long before, David had posted on Facebook a note that he had just picked up a first edition of Frank Norris' 1899 novel, Blix, at the Hiram College Library sale. 
I wrote to David then to tell him that that copy was the very one I'd used for a paper I'd written on Norris when I was a junior at Hiram College.  The course was American Thought II; the teacher was Prof. Abe C. Ravitz, from whom I would eventually take seven courses.  Norris (1870-1902) wrote in the tradition of Realism and Naturalism, and Dr. Ravitz assigned his McTeague and The Octopus in different classes.

I liked Norris--mostly, at that time, because I could understand him!  (I wasn't always too sure what was going on in Hawthorne and Melville; good old FN, though, he kept it simple--and grim.)  Blix, however, is not grim--though it is uncomplicated--more a simple story, a romance, really.  Near the end, for example, our boy and girl are now united: "But his arm was around her and the strong young force that looked into her eyes from his gave her courage" (338-39).  That sort of thing.
Anyway, Dr. Ravitz was perhaps the most inspiring and influential teacher I ever had (and I am thrilled to be in touch with him now via Facebook).  When he used words I didn't know (which was often), words like lycanthropy and apotheosis, I would scrawl them in my notebook (my spellings must have been amusing) and look them up when I got back to my room.  And his method, when dealing with any book, was to show us how that particular text fit with the writer's other works.  So when I began my paper on Norris, I knew I had to read his other books--Blix, Moran of the Lady Letty, and others--especially the wonderful novel about lycanthropy (!!), Vandover and the Brute, which I had to go to Cleveland Public Library to find.  I don't think I'd ever worked so hard on a paper, and although it reads today like, well, like an earnest undergraduate's first effort at trying to sound sophisticated and erudite (the paper is neither), it showed me the pleasures and benefits of reading an author's complete works, and since that time, I have continued with what I've called The Ravitz Method in most of my reading--"serious" and "light" alike.  (More on this later.)

Well, you can guess what was inside the wrapping of David's present.  Blix.  And I wept in gratitude--for David's incredible thoughtfulness.  For Prof. Abe C. Ravitz.  For unexpected--and treasured--gifts.

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