Friday, December 11, 2009


I thought a lot about a blog post called Sunday morning something, something, by A Cuban in London yesterday, but I was filled with errands to the point of hardly being able to get out of the car and walk, that's how much my body hated driving in spite of the breadboard I sit on (given to me by my daughter when she was very young and trying so hard to improve the look of our place...a breadboard with a design on it, a whole set of gray dishes she bought at a yard sale when she was thirteen or so, hoping we'd have matching dishes, a Mexican sangria pitcher with little cups, hoping life would turn into parties) and all my attempts to pull in my stomach, to work on the core essential to the back.

Anyway, it's very interesting. I have skimmed it three times. It would be interesting to hold it and mark it, but I can't. I know he's very fond of the Zadie Smith essay, but I actually liked his better than the last one of her that he posted and I read....

His post has many interesting points for those of us who have had friends assume we've read something, something, we, meaning I, have no interest in reading. Of course, he makes the very important point that these canons are based on Western culture, since those who are asking him are steeped in that way of thinking. He goes to mention many important books written in Spanish, avoiding being Cuban-centric, that would/should be part of a canon and, of course, acknowledges that the same would be true for books written in Japanese, etc.

And he uses the word economy, both in the what's-happening-now-sense, the crash and crumble, but also in the economy of one's life -- how much time does a person have. I'm not sure whether he directly tackles class, though class is always an underlying assumption.

Anyway, it's very interesting and thought-provoking and seemingly written effortlessly, but the best thing about it is the neat hand-off at the end to The Soaring Impulse blogspot, that of a doctor who works in Swaziland. The Cuban notes that 50% percent of people in Swaziland who are twenty are HIV positive, making a strong case for the fact that there are far more important things to think about than whether you have read Roth. (I haven't either.)

At any rate, what I was thinking about is how much I've always distrusted books, most especially novels. When my mother died, (I was twelve, a fact I've written 5 million times, it's that important) and I was left in quite a silent (when it wasn't chaotic and distressing) household with a shelf of her books. No, many shelves in the living room, filled with clothbound books with gold lettering. Forester, Virginia Woolfe, Tolstoy, Willa Cather (am I spelling that right?) and Hesse. I'm sure I've forgotten the rest. (In my early twenties, I read Steppenwolf, (sp?) and that was the book I liked, an outsider on the landing, listening.)

I did read many, such as To The Light House. And I got into trouble for doing a high school book report on one, I'll think of the name, maybe a very short piece by Tolstoy about a man who had had an affair and was on a train. I was punished for reading something so scandalous by having to write an essay on  Pilgrim's Progress, a book so easy that I only had to skim it to get the gist.

Anyway, none of those books said anything useful to me who had been left with a silent, cerebral father (with a PhD in math) who had married the nurse who brought my mother home from the hospital for that week it took her to die and took me back with her to Chicago while my mother's funeral occurred, having convinced my father this would be better for the little girl, only because she just wanted to get back into that house and to him. You can write the rest of this story that went on for six years, after she married my father a year later and kept flying back to her second husband who never knew she had married again. Yes, I was the pawn.

So, that was when I tried to read the novels and knew they had nothing to tell me, nothing useful, and developed my idea that words are lying cheating bastards. A theory that I still hold close.

What's interesting is how much children's literature had changed between the time I was young and my mother carefully chose beautifully written books with gorgeous illustrations (and didn't want me to go to Saturday afternoon movies or read comics) and when my daughter was young.

Naturally her life was diametrically opposed to mine -- no suburbs, but a NY slum, no stick-around father but a ner' do well, extremely talented, light black painter, no money except what I earned here and there and she was dyslexic to boot. By the time I got my first full-time job (insert a miracle here), and she and I moved to Boston, and she went to a public school that offered tutoring and suffered through the agony and embarrassment of accepting help, Judy Blume had begun to write about things that mattered to young kids.

I remember when Krissy told me about her favorite book, "Daddy was a Number's Runner." I could have kissed that writer. She is older than the Cuban. And likes reading. Though her choices are very eclectic. And she is out of a grouping that would question her about the canon and express shock that she hasn't read blah and blah.

But I spent many years in an environment, a university, where it was expected that I'd read this or that or had seen this or that or visited here and there. And it always used to piss me off. Not only because I hadn't, but because most of those people asking me weren't engaged working part time (that was illegal, of course, if you were tenured, but no one found out) with women who had become homeless.

I guess the Cuban's elegantly written posting hit a sore spot with  me. Thank you, Cuban.

He has a very interesting post today about Son and Daughter, when they speak Spanish and when they don't.

1 comment:

  1. I was just gearing up to respond to your latest post when I spotted this one.

    Thanks for your reflections on my 'reflections'. I loved the way you expanded on my point about what we read and why.

    Yesterday The Guardian Saturday Review brought a very interesting article by a writer called Rachel Cusk. Using two famous books, "A Room of One's Own" by Virgina Wolf and 'The Second Sex' by Simone de Beauvoir, Rachel attempted to explain the current position of female writers in the world. Although I was a bit sceptical of some of the theories she proposed, some of her points coincided with some of your experiences. This, for example:

    'What's interesting is how much children's literature had changed between the time I was young and my mother carefully chose beautifully written books with gorgeous illustrations (and didn't want me to go to Saturday afternoon movies or read comics) and when my daughter was young.'

    And indeed, it has changed, and Rachel, at some point in her article, addresses those changes. How thirty years ago a woman was woman before being writer and how now... well, has it changed? That's another question Rachel asks her/us.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post and kind comments. Inadvertenly you brought my attention to the connection between both parts of my post where I never saw a segue there before. :-)

    Greetings from London.