1. AOTW. Good news: No one qualified this week. In fact (as usual), I came very close to winning the award myself on a couple of occasions. I guess I'll just have to try harder?
2. I use Quicken Billpay for a lot of regular payments, and this week I got to send off to Toyota the final payment on our 2010 Corolla, a car that has served us very, very well. Sixty payments. Whew!
3. This week I finished the penultimate novel by Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (serialized, 1760-61), a novel with some obvious connections to Don Quixote but with some very funny and some very moving moments. (He takes the entire book to win his Lady Love--no surprise there, really: This is the sort of thing that occurs usually in the first chapter.) And some biting moments of social satire. Near the end, he takes on the whole idea of mental institutions (where Launcelot finds himself briefly held against his will):
Finding himself agitated with impatience and indignation, he returned to his apartment, and the door being locked upon him, began to review, not without horror, the particulars of his fate. “How little reason,” said he to himself, “have we to boast of the blessings enjoyed by the British subject, if he holds them on such a precarious tenure; if a man of rank and property may be thus kidnapped even in the midst of the capital; if he may be seized by ruffians, insulted, robbed, and conveyed to such a prison as this, from which there seems to be no possibility of escape! Should I be indulged with pen, ink, and paper, and appeal to my relations, or to the magistrates of my country, my letters would be intercepted by those who superintend my confinement. Should I try to alarm the neighbourhood, my cries would be neglected as those of some unhappy lunatic under necessary correction. Should I employ the force which Heaven has lent me, I might imbrue my hands in blood, and after all find it impossible to escape through a number of successive doors, locks, bolts, and sentinels. Should I endeavour to tamper with the servant, he might discover my design, and then I should be abridged of the little comfort I enjoy. People may inveigh against the Bastile in France, and the Inquisition in Portugal; but I would ask, if either of these be in reality so dangerous or dreadful as a private madhouse in England, under the direction of a ruffian?” (from Chapter 23)
Smollett would love to write only one more novel--The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, published in 1771, the year of his death. I've started reading it ...
4. Yesterday (Saturday), I had the pleasure of seeing and listening to a former student at Harmon Middle School, Cori McCarthy, now a noted YA author who has been on tour promoting her latest, the exciting Breaking Sky, which is now in the process of being transformed into a movie--or so we all hope. (Sony is working on the production.)
I wrote recently here about Cori's novel Breaking Sky (link to that post), and I noted that Cori was in 8th grade the year I retited from Harmon Middle School (1997), and I didn't know the 8th graders very well that year for a couple of reasons--for one, I retired in January; for another, I had a student teacher in the fall.
And I especially didn't know Cori very well because for 8th grade English she had not me but a wonderful young teacher, Karl Norton, who had recently come to the school to continue his teaching career. Cori is grateful to him (as she should be), crediting him for helping awaken her interest in literature, especially through the poetry of Walt Whitman.
I did know Cori's family. Her older brother Evan had been one of my finest students, and we are still in touch via Facebook.
Anyway, there was a nice Saturday afternoon crowd at the Aurora Memorial Library yesterday (50? more?), including many of Cori's friends from school days--as well as neighbors (and a teacher or two).
She spoke without notes about her decision to become a writer--about things that had gone well and not gone well in her career--about the difficulties you face with agents, editors, publishers, publicity--about her "writing process." She writes the first draft of a novel very quickly, she says (about a month), then spends months rewriting and revising and, especially, looking for the novel's heart.
Most affectingly, she talked candidly about how she invests herself in her characters--even identifying individuals in her books who are in fundamental ways like her. She talked about how injecting her pain into characters on the page has helped her--and, she hopes, her readers, as well.
There were quite a few local students there in the crowd, and they were riveted by her.
Afterwards, we chatted briefly as she signed her two books for me, and I told her, as I was leaving, that I wished I'd retired a year later than I did. We teachers hate missing special young people.
5. Jocye and I tried to watch the Hitchcock film of Dial "M" for Murder not long ago (link to trailer for the 1954 film). We had recently seen the stage production up in Cleveland and wanted to see how Hitchcock adapted it for the screen (he shot it in 3-D, his only film using that technology). The screenplay, by the way, was by Frederick Knott, who'd written the stage play. But we didn't last long with the DVD. It was so similar to the play that we got kind of ... bored (surprising for a Hitchcock film) and turned it off after the near-murder about 1/3 of the way through. Enjoyed seeing Robert Cummings, though. When I was a kid, I loved his TV show--The Bob Cummings Show--back in the 1950s. He played a daffy photographer--who was a bit of a ladies' man.
6. Finally ... last night we both enjoyed the DVD of Hey Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird, a 2010 documentary (available from Netflix) that was shot, of course, before news of the "new" Lee novel exploded in the media last year. The film was almost entirely positive. It explained the background of the writing, Lee's later retreat from the spotlight, her friendship (later fractured) with Truman Capote. The filmmakers interviewed on camera a number of notable contemporary writers (James McBride, Lee Smith, Rick Bragg, Richard Russo, and others), all of whom spoke with great admiration for the book--and for its transformative effect on them as young readers. Seldom was heard a discouraging word.
Lee gave her last interview in 1964, and it was eerie to hear her voice. Even more eerie? The time-shredded voice of her 99-year-old older sister (who appears several times), who, at the time of the film, was still a local lawyer, still in practice.