1. A new weekly feature: AOTW:
- I am standing at the counter at the health club. I have finished my workout and am waiting to return my locker key so I can get my ID card and head home. I am the only one there at the moment--the attendant, I know, is in the back room, dealing with the towels and the washing machine. I've been waiting a few moments when another guy arrives from the parking lot, ready to check in. We wait a moment. Then the attendant returns, and the other guy hands his card to her--gets waited on first, in other words This guy knows I was there waiting before him--no question--but he does what he does anyhow ... thus, he wins the inaugural AOTW designation.
2. I finished some books this week ...
- One was Huck Finn's America (2015), by Andrew Levy, a professor at Butler University (where, years ago, my uncle Ronald Osborn taught). Levy focuses on the writing of HF, on what was going on in Twain's life--and in the country at the time. (The novel, which took Twain nearly a decade to write, appeared in 1885.) Levy's is a very good book, one I wish I'd had available when I was teaching HF (basically, from 2001-2011). He examines most closely two things: American conceptions of childhood; the enduring problem of race. He also has a different way of looking at the final chapters, which have troubled readers and critics for a long time (me among them). He connects it all to minstrelry--and to Twain's realization that things just don't get better. Huck lights out for the Territory because he sees that it's all starting over again--nothing had changed. Anyway, if you teach the novel--get this book!
- Andrea Chapin's debut novel, The Tutor (2015), is about some missing years in Shakespeare's life. In the early 1590s a plague outbreak closed the London theaters, and Shakespeare, who had been there for a few years (the dawn of his career), promptly went ... where? We don't know. Ripe territory for a novelist. Chapin imagines that he signs on as a tutor in an aristocratic family (a Catholic family with a history of hiding priests from the Protestant authorities).
- The novel got a good review from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune ("a tremendous work of historical fiction"--link); the New York Times did a big feature on Chapin and her research (link); Entertainment Weekly gave it a B (link).
- But I was disappointed. Yes, she did a lot of research on Elizabethan ways; yes, she works in some lines and situations that the Bard used in his later plays (like the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V). But to me it was just a romance novel dressed up in doublet and hose.
- The other novel I finished this week was Poor Things (1992) by a writer from Scotland, Alasdair Gray, a novel that friend and former WRA colleague Jeannie Kidera recommended. Jeannie teaches Frankenstein to her high school students--and she's quite aware of my own obsession with Mary Shelley and her novel, so she knew I would like this very intelligent riff on the novel by a very talented writer. She was right. Like Shelley, Gray uses stories within stories, letters. He also uses names of folks from Mary's life for his characters. One of the principals is Godwin Baxter. Well, Mary's father was William Godwin--and among Mary's girlhood friends was Christy Baxter (from Scotland), who was with her the first time she saw Percy Bysshe Shelley. Later, Gray has a character give Godwin a nickname--God--a name that's appropriate of course in a story about the creation/resurrection of human life. (I laughed aloud the first time I saw it.) Godwin Baxter has done what Victor Frankenstein did--reanimate a corpse. (Or did he?) But in this case, there's a complication involving the brain, a complication that I'll not reveal since it's key in the story. Anyway, this book was very fun to read, and I'm not going to say anymore about it because I don't want to spoil anyone's fun. I'll end with a "Thank you" to Jeannie!
3. I know this is a bit churlish--even insensitive--but it's annoying that we have to go to 3-4--sometimes 5--different grocery stores to get everything we want--Mustard Seed, Marc's, Acme, Heinen's, Giant Eagle. It's a luxury, I know, having this problem. But that rarely stops me from getting annoyed! (Maybe I should be the AOTW this week!)
4. Joyce and I enjoyed The 2nd Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, despite its romantic, lying view of aging. We especially loved Bill Nighy and the two women megastars Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, both of whom once played young Shakespearean heroines. But I think Coleridge was much closer to the truth in this excerpt from his "Youth and Age":
|Judi Dench as Juliet, 1950s|
|Maggie Smith as Portia, 1969|
|When I was young?—Ah, woeful when!|
|Ah, for the change 'twixt Now and Then!|
|This breathing house not built with hands,|
|This body that does me grievous wrong,|
|O'er aery cliffs and glittering sands||10|
|How lightly then it flash'd along:|
|Like those trim skiffs, unknown of yore,|
|On winding lakes and rivers wide,|
|That ask no aid of sail or oar,|
|That fear no spite of wind or tide!||15|
|Nought cared this body for wind or weather|
|When Youth and I lived in't together.|