Monday, June 23, 2008

June Books

Not to be confused with junebugs.

It's been a hit-or-miss month for reading, and here are some brief thoughts:

Warlock, by Jim Harrison. Didn't like it. I mean, it's Jim Harrison, and from back in 1982, so its protagonist drifts, drinks, cooks lavish meals, and sleeps around, all while considering just how it is that he's supposed to live his life. But that was it.

Checkpoint, by Nicholoson Baker. I liked Mezzanine. I liked Room Temperature. I'm intrigued by the sound of Human Smoke, but this was a waste of 90 minutes. It's short, obviously, and reads more or less like a play -- but it's also the kind of self-indulgent, self-righteous sanctimonious nonsense that I would have written at age 17, if I actually knew how to write. I'm obviously not claiming that Baker can't write, or that he writes like a teenager, or that I could have done better, or even that I disagreed with anything in the book. Still, what's the point? You're upset with the administration. Not exactly a lonely position, is it? You think Donald Rumsfeld is an idiot. Daring, no? You think our country has committed atrocities overseas that our population is all too willing to ignore. Is this news? Are we supposed to be shocked (or tickled) that one of the two characters is actively considering assassination as a rational act of protest? And are we supposed to care?

Little, Big, by John Crowley. Now, this is much better. The first time I read it, I liked it, but didn't pay much attention to it. This month, I allowed myself to sink into it much more deeply, and was rewarded for it. It's good. Even really good. It has its indulgences, sure (come on, try to make an argument that Moby-Dick doesn't, right? "Cetology," anyone?), and its insistence on referring to The Tale every four pages gets tiring, but it holds together to present a world that is simultaneously beautiful, in its own way, and heartbreaking. Make your own comparisons to life from that, if you wish.

All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy. I want to reread the Border Trilogy this summer, so I (obviously) started with this one. No particular surprises on this, maybe the sixth or seventh time through it. I've never read all three of the Border novels back to back, though (and don't remember liking Cities of the Plain much at all), so we'll see how this goes. At least in this rereading, sans the other two books, I'm still convinced that everyone who reads this as some great Western Romance has got it completely wrong.

It's June. Still.

School is out.

And while I'm sure that I'll have years in my life, or parts of years in my life, that will feel tougher, I'm glad to see this one close itself out.

An extra class.
National Board madness.
Adopting our second child.
Somehow coming down with mono.
Only having a week off at Christmas.

Clearly, I wouldn't trade parts of that (at least the second child part of it) for anything else in the world, but, still...

Isn't mono something you get when you're 16?

In any case, one of the great things about teaching seniors is that you get to see them graduate in the same year that you teach them. So, while you miss out on the potentially amazing changes that can take place between freshman and senior years, when you might see a student realize that he can be a writer, decide to be a writer, and then become a writer, you get the ultra-compressed version of high school that a single senior year offers. And a week ago, I watched this year's students receive their diplomas, bound for whatever college, the military, or work brings them, and sifted through the incredible number of memories, stories, and moments of joy, frustration, laughter, and insight, that they gave me over the course of nine months.

I'm not going to detail them here -- at least not now -- but I will say thanks, as I would extend thanks to that group of every year's students that insist on teaching me, inspiring me, reaching me, and making me laugh, grit my teeth, question, and pound my head against the desk in wonder, frustration, or disbelief.

Thanks for reading at least some of Moby-Dick with me. Thanks for talking about Cormac McCarthy with me. Thanks for not falling asleep everyday. Thanks for only plagiarizing stupid shit from Sparknotes in September. Thanks for being willing to articulate what you believe and why you believe it. Thanks for taking an occasionally-honest look at Breathless. Thanks for giving Malick a few minutes of your time. Thanks for writing. Thanks for asking whether Borges was serious or not.