Saturday, November 3, 2012

Feeling Dumb...

Recently, I asked my daughter to send me a reading list of some of the works that she has been pouring over for the last year and a half in grad school at Wake Forest. She is studying English Literature, I like to read, so I thought it would be nice to get on the same page…as it were…with her, so I can better understand what her scholastic life is like. She forwarded the following list:


Ralph Waldo Emerson:


“The Poet”

“The American Scholar”



T.S. Eliot:

“The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock”

Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“The Birth-Mark”

Truman Capote:

"In Cold Blood"

Walt Whitman:

“Song of Myself"

Jonathan Safran:

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

Toni Morrison:


Amy Tan:

“The Joy Luck Club”


So far, I’ve read everything on the list up to Whitman. I’ve loved everything except “The Poet” which was just too airy and bored me to the bone. Emerson and Eliot are pure genius, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing has always seemed beautiful to me. But the best thing about the list that Kaitlin sent me was her editorial comments about each recommendation. Without her permission, I share a few of them here:

About Whitman she says,” Whitman radically changed the American intellectual/artistic landscape. He collapsed the body/soul divide…”

Concerning Emerson’s poem, “Uriel” about which she will be writing a paper she explains, “ I’m going to read “Uriel” through an Ovidian lens, because in the Metamorphoses, Ovid writes about “discordant concord” as “the path life needs”, and I think “discordant concord” is rampant in “Uriel”. Ovid explains that fire is the enemy of water, but “moist heat engenders all things”. Both Ovid and Emerson complicate traditional binaries.”

Ok, she lost me at “Ovidian lens”. It is a continuing fascination for me to observe my children and the paths they have taken. I have a daughter whose mind burns with a passion for great writing, who reads great works of literature almost three dimensionally and takes such great joy in stumbling onto the centuries-old truths found there. I have a son who, as a composition student, daily reaches within himself to create music, and thinks in a musical language few can speak. What baffles me is the realization that when I was their age, the deepest thought that ever entered my head was, why is it that if you pour beer directly into the bottom of a glass, a huge head of suds rises to overflow onto the counter, but if you tilt the glass slightly, you can empty the entire bottle without spilling a drop…WHY??  For me, “discordant concord” is a perfect description of the 2012 Boston Red Sox, and I had to Google “binaries” and I still don’t know what it means. The apple may not fall far from the tree, but it must pick up 50 IQ points on the trip.