One of my high school teachers has been on my mind lately. It's probably because Braiden has been telling me about a book he had to read - which he loved, of course. Even though I always loved to read, I was never so thrilled with the books that were assigned. But Miss Haltiner assigned stuff like Madame Bovary and Wuthering Heights, and boring authors like James Joyce. I'd usually read the Cliff's Notes instead, but Miss Haltiner could never be fooled. I'd often get my book reports back with comments like "Next time please read the book." Needless to say, I didn't do so well in her classes but I liked them just the same. I liked them because we spent a lot of time discussing the books and talking about what the authors were trying to say, and the clever ways they said it. I still remember listening to a song in her class that was popular at the time, "King of Pain" by The Police, and how she pointed out that part of that song was talking about Oedipus, another book we had to read.
I still love to read, and although I mostly read histories now, I find that I need a good novel every once in a while. The problem is that years ago I read all the Tom Clancy and Stephen King and John Grisham I could stand! Sure they're exciting and kind of fun, but they're not very... satisfying. So, I find myself reconsidering some of those books from high school. I still haven't touched Madame Bovary or Wuthering Heights, but I have read Animal Farm and quite a number of others which are often considered "classics." Although not books from high school, I've read two by Sinclair Lewis, who was known for his satirical views of American society and values. While I enjoyed Main Street (1920), I found Babbitt (1922) intolerably dry. It's the story of a successful but mundane businessman, George F. Babbitt, who finds no joy or satisfaction in his civic and business accomplishments. It's probably meant to be a satirical poke at the "American Dream," but there was just no cleverness to the story. His comparisons are blunt and obvious and lack any creativity, and try as I might, I just couldn't enjoy it.
I was initially put off by this biting portrayal, and didn't want to like the book. The plot seems thin and lacking in direction, and subtlety wasn’t one of Lewis’ strengths. But I was surprised to identify with some of the characters: sometimes Carol, sometimes Kennicott, sometimes others. There seem to be many layers to the story, as well: social and political criticisms, differences between men and women, and observations about marriage and family. Many of the aspects of the story are still very pertinent to our lives today, and I ended up enjoying it more than I had anticipated.
So Miss Haltiner, who knows? Maybe I'll yet get around to reading Madame Bovary or Wuthering Heights, but I can't ever imagine wanting to read James Joyce.