The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sometimes, even I just don't get it...

People, particularly my students, assume that because I am an English teacher, I must love all literature and appreciate all the "greats" of literature.

This is far from true. It is hard for me to find books I really like, and even I sometimes have trouble getting through books. I have started All Quiet on the Western Front several times and never gotten through the first few pages. It is the same with The Scarlet Letter. I don't like them and have determined that I cannot read them. I struggled through Frankenstein the first time, but eventually, after years and years, grew to have a deep and profound appreciation for the novel.

There is one more author whom I have never understood. In Latin American literature, the "greats" include an author by the name of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He is a Nobel Laureate and apparently an amazing writer. I will admit, his style is somewhat transfixing, but other than that..... ???????  I first was exposed to him in college through a story called "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."  I totally didn't get it. I mean, literally, I understood the story. I comprehended the plot and whatnot, but the story is apparently supposed to have some intense deeper meaning that I just never really got. Part of this may be the fact that it is a genre called "magical realism" which has never really resonated with me. I like magical stories, like fairy tales, and I like realistic stories, but I just don't like when the two join together. It is an uncomfortable union for me. Like, the movie Field of Dreams sort of bothered me the first time I watched it. It grew on me, but initially my reaction was annoyance. For this reason, when some of my kids just never "get" Poe, I try to be very understanding, because I know what it means to not understand an allegory or get the literary significance of a piece, or just not to click with the genre.

Years later, I tried to read a book he wrote, which is supposed to be amazing called 100 Years of Solitude.  Again, it is magical realism, but I thought I could try to enjoy it if it is a good story, but I found that the story feels as the name suggests... long and uninteresting. I couldn't connect and decided to stop reading it about 20% into the book. I don't have a lot of leisurely time to read, so I really don't waste my time with a book that isn't good that far into it, unless the author has really gained my trust (for example, John Irving's Widow for One Year was still very boring probably 35% into the book, but I got that far and realized that the remaining 65% was totally worth it, yet I only did it because he had gained my trust with The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany).

I had nearly given up when the title of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book caught my eye on the bargain book shelf at Borders last week. Memories of My Melancholy Whores. Hmmm... interesting. Plus, for $5, who could go wrong? And it was large print and only a little over 100 pages, so at least it wouldn't be painfully long, right? I stood at the bookshelf and read the first few pages. Here is how it starts.... 

In my ninetieth year, I decided to give myself the gift of a night of love with a young virgin.I have never gone to bed with a woman I didn't pay ... by the time I was fifty there were 514 women with whom I had been at least once ... My public life, on the other hand, was lacking in interest: both parents dead, a bachelor without a future, a mediocre journalist ... and a favorite of caricaturists because of my exemplary ugliness.
  Okay, it sounds trashy, but he is a nobel laureate, so it couldn't really be, right? I was hooked. Admit it... you would be too. Truly captivating, apparently not at all magical realism, and actually a seemingly good story. I bought it.

It is finally summer and I was able to read it today. It was, as I thought, a quick read. Finished it today. It was not a good story. It went nowhere. I will save you the trouble (so warning, if you still, despite my warning, want to read it, "spoilers" if they can be even called that with this book, are coming) and tell you that basically, he arranges to have a night with a young prostitute, a virgin, but he goes and finds that she is asleep when he gets to the brothel and basically won't wake up. Instead of force her awake, give up, ask for a new one, whatever... he comes back night after night for like a year to watch her sleep. It becomes totally not about having sex with her, but about watching her sleep. That's it. He watches her sleep for like a year, and then it basically just ends. She moves on, he moves on. It is over.

I am sure there is some element of literary genius in there that I am not getting. If this were for a class, I could easily choose quotes and BS my way through one hell of an essay on the significance of his inability to love a woman who is awake, and why her sleeping innocence awakens in him some element of living that he never experienced  before, but realistically.... seriously.... it is a story about a 90 year old guy watching a naked teenage girl sleep every night. Creepy... and not really entertaining.

I have two more books to read, a Tobias Wolff one that seems very good and very literary in a way I will enjoy, and a cheap contemporary novel Made in the USA that probably has no literary merit whatsoever but promises to be a good story. Any other suggestions? I am picky. I like true stories when they are a good story and not just someone's pathetic attempt at being able to publish a book about his life. I like stories that surprise me. I do not like Jodi Picoult or any stories about teenagers that have depressing topics or endings (My own experiences with teenagers are depressing enough- I don't need to read fiction for that). I like fiction that is very amusing, intriguing, and will make me laugh and random points while reading, but totally doesn't need to have happy endings. I like commentaries on life if they are well written.  I don't like romance. I don't like reading books that feel like essays, as I read too many of those during the year. I don't like thrillers.  I do like "page turners." I do like stuff that is way below my reading level and frequently enjoy reading YA lit just to know what good books to recommend to the kids, especially when they are quick reads and captivating stories. The Giver is seriously one of my favorite books ever, except the ending, which sort of stinks.

Anyhow... suggestions?


  1. I love anything by Jodi Picoult but sometimes there is sexual content in her books and I'm not sure that's appropriate. LOL!!

  2. For non-fiction, I really loved Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

    As for fiction, the Lemony Snicket books (A Series of Unfortunate Events) are a lot of fun. I have most of them; I think 1-4 and 9-13 (I had the whole's a long story). Anyway, they are VERY fast reads, but if you've never read them and would like to check them out, I'll lend them to you (but you'll have to get the middle ones from the library or something, sorry!).

  3. If you are into Historical Fiction let me know. I have a bunch of suggestions.