Current/Recent Reading List

27 January 2009

New Semester Rising

Because of our snow days last week, our new semester didn't start on time, so now tomorrow is the day. When I was in high school, there was no such thing as a "block schedule" semester calendar, so you stayed in the same classes from August until May. As a teacher, this mid-year changeover has always felt odd to me.

For some reason today I was thinking about the feel of this new semester versus the feel of a new school year in August. There is a touch of hope and optimism attached to the newness, but it is far more muted than it normally is after summer's end. Of course, it is the middle of freakin' winter, which is hardly conducive to joyous moods. Also, students and teachers alike have just finished last semester in a rush of activity, emotion, and exam angst, so none of us feel completely recharged to start over again, I suspect.

There is an upside, I think, in that I can still be hopeful about what lies ahead, but in a more realistic (chastened?) way. When I'm away from students for all those weeks of summer, I tend to get a little too "pie in the sky" about all my big plans and all the GREAT THINGS THAT WILL HAPPEN IN CLASS EVERY DAY!! AHHHHH!!!

Yeah. Well, some of those things did happen, so I'm thankful for them, and for the tiny miracles that will somehow occur even in this less-than-eagerly-anticipated semester about to begin... wish me luck, as always.

22 January 2009

"All Changed, Changed Utterly."

(With a hat tip to W.B. Yeats for my post title)

Snow, at least in measurable quantity, doesn't find its way to the central piedmont of N.C. very often, so it was a cause for celebration at our house when we got about six inches on Tuesday.

Especially during a morning storm, as the snow really kicks in, nothing seems quite itself anymore (I'm sure those in northern climates who are used to the routine would beg to differ!)

Added bonus - it only takes two days for it to disappear 'round these parts!

14 January 2009

I'll Take This...

How about a little self-pat on the back? Here's an excerpt from a student's "Farewell to English II" journal entry, which I took up after exams today:

"...I am going to miss you and this class SO FREAKIN'BAD!!! I had so much fun in here and I read more often than I have for a while - loving the Shakespeare! You helped me to start reaching out for bigger things and pushing myself to figure out what my limits really are. Thank you."

12 January 2009

"The Absent Thing Alone is Real"

Before he died last week, my wife's uncle (as we were told at the funeral) expressed that he was ready for death, tired after many a good fight, and ready to "go home." Two days later the author and priest Richard John Neuhaus died. Today I opened up the latest, now-melancholy issue of First Things to find the last words Neuhaus would ever publish in his column there. As he revealed a new bout with cancer, he wrote, among other things, "Be assured that I neither fear to die nor refuse to live. If it is to die, all that has been is but a slight intimation of what is to be."

I have nothing profound tonight to add on the subject of death (have I ever?). Only to note that the conjunction of these two deaths last week, one of a relative and one of a favorite author and thinker, greatly impacted my household, in different ways, of course. I'll also note the bravery, mentioned above, of each as they faced the final hours, knowing all the while they must have felt, at moments, less than brave. Which is to say they were human.

My wife's uncle was - will continue to be - described as "larger than life", and for good reason. He was a Marine who survived the hell-hole of Okinawa, a public servant and political force in his home county for decades, and a man who never met a stranger, nor, apparently, an excuse to throw a charitable fundraiser (preferably involving barbecue) that he didn't like. I usually only saw him once a year at Christmas, so for the fifteen years I knew him my perspective was somewhat unique - rather than the public man, I almost always witnessed the private man, often when eating breakfast with him at his kitchen table before the larger family gathering had commenced. He had me by almost fifty years, but we found we had similar interests and similar viewpoints, and I considered him my friend. He was generous with his attention and always ready to swap stories, the old Southerner par excellence. And, he didn't leave this world without teaching my son something - he taught the Boy how to salute! I, in turn, salute a long life lived well.

As for Neuhaus, I simply would say that whether or not you agree with his political stances over the years (and they were strong and principled), even if you never had the pleasure of reading his monthly "The Public Square" column, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not seeking out two books of his that have consoled me numerous times through rough patches - even crises - of faith. Death on a Friday Afternoon should be read often, but most especially, I would recommend, during Lent. And then there is Neuhaus's remarkable, luminous As I Lay Dying, his account of being at death's doorstep during his first bout of cancer, including the humble account he gives of an astounding encounter he had while lying semi-conscious in his hospital room. I remember going out to buy this book right after I had read William Cullent Bryant's alluring, nihilistic poem "Thanatopsis", and suddenly feeling the cold fear that all there is to life is this world. Neuhaus's writing has consoled me in the face of such fears many times now.

For all the consolations, though, there is still the grief of this world, always present, easy to find every day. We feel our losses deeply, and that can never change. I love this quote from Joseph Bottum in his obituary of Neuhaus:

"Grief doesn't conjure up ghosts. Grief renders the world itself ghostly. The absent thing alone is real, and in comparison, all present things are pale, gray, and indistinct: a vague background to the sharp-edged portrait of what is gone."

05 January 2009

And The World Continues Apace...

After a very long, very relaxing break, you can imagine I had certain trepidations about jumping back into the classroom today, especially with this being the last week before semester exams, and my having to return to grumpy teens their research papers, replete with notations along the lines of, "Make the following 15 corrections, redo your entire works cited page, and then resubmit."

One girl, in fact, got EXTREMELY angry that I told her to better paraphrase certain passages or else be in danger of the accusation of plagiarism, which was a heavy hint that she was, in fact in danger of the accusation of plagiarism. Well, she whined and fumed about how this is really the way she writes, and maybe she hasn't shown it all year but she could write like a stupid 5th grader if that's what I wanted, etc. So, I took her over to my computer, looked up a website from her works cited, found a passage from said website, and pointed out to her how she used the exact same sentences without quotation marks in her paper and just slapped an endnote on them.

I'm still waiting for my apology...

Later in the day, I also intercepted the following note, which I reproduce exactly as written:

What happened with you and Shotgun?

nothin I was just askin if you saw him. do you think he misses me?

I don't know, why? didn't u see him over the break

I told you already that Im not allowed to see him he will get sent to jail duh!

What? Why?
(end of note, as Mr. P took it)

There is definitely a Jeff Foxworthy joke or two just waiting to happen there, I know. Let's just hope ole' Shotgun, whoever he is, stays out of the pokey.