Saturday, September 1, 2012
September 1, 2012: Crowd-Sourced Shaping Books
[The Library of Congress is currently hosting a pretty cool exhibition called Books That Shaped America. Many of its featured books are ones I (or Guest Posters) have written about in this space, and the topic as a whole is of course central to much of what I do here. But this week I bloged about a parallel but more intimate topic—a handful of the many books that have shaped this American Studier. This crowd-sourced post is drawn from the responses and stories shared by my fellow American Studiers—please add yours!]
In reponse to the childhood post, Rebecca D’Orsogna remembers “the nerd fantasy From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler—they slept in the Met, did research for fun!”
Irene Martyniuk highlights the Nancy Drew series, noting that “Her blue roadster represented such freedom. She had perfect manners even if she didn't have a mother and she had guts. Hannah Gruen could always be counted on and her lawyer father backed her up on everything. Beth, the typical female was always a bit scared and cried, and George, the way ahead of her time tomboy (maybe even closeted lesbian) was tough as nails. And then there was Ned. When I was teaching [the series], I found one critic who wrote something like: the moment you start wondering when Nancy will sleep with Ned, you're too old for Nancy Drew. So true. To me, Nancy was way ahead of her time. This is why she is such a role model for girls (Nancy Drew still outsells the Hardy Boys by a large margin). She is so many things that are both expected and unexpected. While, indeed, the mysteries themselves are formulaic, the fun is in the details. She has Ned wrapped around her finger and she does everything with such grace. And she has her own car.” And later in the week, Irene adds that “Emily L. by Marguerite Duras was also a game changer. I look on it as the female A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”
Responding to the young adulthood post, Ilene Railton notes that for her such “books would have been Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventures, which were certainly more for boys than girls, but I loved them nonetheless.” (As Ilene noted in nominating her Dad, Herman Fine, for February 4th’s Memory Day, he contributed to her love for Stevenson’s works.)
Isabella Greene writes that “As a young adult I think Romeo and Juliet and The Diary of Anne Frank would have to be the two that had the most impact on me. R&J because of the whole new style of writing that seemed so hard to understand, but once you put the effort into it, the most amazing story emerged—just when you are starting to really ramp up your own fantasies about love and passion and giving yourself over to it completely (or as completely as 15 year olds know how). And Diary because, again, here was a young girl who had thoughts I could understand but was living a life so foreign to me, so scary and different, yet she was just a teenager, like me, having teenage ideas and feelings.”
Speaking of Proal Heartwell, as I was in the high school post, he has a new book coming out, on his relationship to and investigations into a Welsh poet: called Goronwy and Me, it’ll be out this coming week from Wipf and Stock Publishers. Check it out!
My Fitchburg State colleague Kate Wells responds, “Too many to list! Thinking about high school off the top of my head: Assigned school reading - Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Personal reading - Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But college is where things started to truly blow my mind. Probably the book with the biggest ‘Holy Shit - THIS is how good books can be?’ moment was Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.”
In response to the grad school post, Monica Jackson notes that “Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy made me realize one day in a graduate class at UMass Boston that I was actually on the same level as the other students in my class. (I always had this fear like everyone was somehow smarter than me because they spoke the language of the discourse community and I was still learning what a discourse community was. ) That memoir helped me relate to the author and explain how we all kind of related to the author. My explanation made others question and discuss, which I guess is really the point of graduate school (adding your own perspective to what’s already out there).”
August recap tomorrow and next series next week,
PS. Any shaping books you’d add?9/1 Memory Day nominee: James Gordon Bennett, Sr., the Scottish immigrant, journalist, and editor whose New York Herald pioneered virtually every significant form of newspaper journalism and who helped shape American politics and society in numerous ways.