Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sunday Brunch

Food: Memories of yesterday’s breakfast: what my mother and I fondly refer to as “the best omelets in the world” at a little diner we know.

Book at table: Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. I picked this up at one of my favorite bookstores while on vacation.

Exams went well, and I even got to go on a minibreak, and I’m very happy to return and settle back in with some good reads.

Via the Bookslut blog, I read “Fired from the Canon” by The Second Pass, and in between bouts of wishing I could convey sarcasm and literary commentary as succinctly as they can, I had to agree with a few of their choices. The article lists about a dozen books that they would pick to oust from “required reading” lists, based on their poor quality or modern irrelevance. I mean, I really liked One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I understand how it can be a frustrating and time-consuming read.

If I could remove one book from my memories of required school reading, it would be The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. It’s written in the typical “lyrical prose” of Serious Writers, or as we called it in high school, “What is this? Are they making us read more poetry?” Like James Frey modern writers emulating Hemingway, Cisneros uses short, clipped, repetitive sentences to bore the reader senseless to convey contemporary urban life.

The thing is, I don’t remember much of what happens in this book. I recall a surprising rape scene, thrown into the middle of the jumbled story and never referenced again. I recall some story about “Hairs.” In fact, I don’t think there’s much of a story to it at all. It’s just a sad, sad examination of an impoverished girl growing up amid racism, sexism, and every other sort of horrible thing you could throw at a teenage girl.

The English teachers at my high school really enjoyed teaching this book, but I don’t remember any students who enjoyed reading it. I didn’t feel there was much of a redeeming quality to the book; there is not a commentary so much on society, as there is on the fact that the small society surrounding this girl was really, really horrible to her. In the end, it was an unpleasant read, and I didn’t take anything away from it.

I imagine some people would pick Moby-dick, if their school taught that, though I would venture to say it’s a book I would heartily defend to remain on required reading. It probably helps that I didn’t read it until my senior year in high school, when I was wending my way through "the classics." We also had a teacher who was terrific and really knew how to teach the material, so it was easy for our class to get into reading that immense novel. It’s not even the longest book I’ve ever read by a long shot, but it’s a novel I feel accomplished in saying I read it, and I hope to read it again some day to get even more out of it.

So here’s the Sunday Brunch question for this week:

If you could remove one book from school (elementary, high school, or college) required reading lists, which would you choose, and why?

Look for some historical fiction news and reviews this week, and happy reading!

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