Friday, June 23, 2006

scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen (this means you really love me)

I try not to blog about work too much, because, you know me, the consumate professional. Or something.

But there's something I wanted to bring up. I've talked before about classics education today and have bemoaned the fact that I've never studied Dickens or Austen or Bronte.

Now, when I have a kid who asks me for a book that is way beyond their level, I gladly give it to them. I read The Mists of Avalon in 4th grade, Les Miserables in 6th. My mom told me later that I didn't understand most of the content, so no harm done except for a rather pretentious vocabulary.

Earlier this week, I had a customer come in looking for the classic Greek authors for homeschooling her 4th and 5th grader. I showed her several workings of these that we have at that age level. No, she wanted to teach them The Iliad and Oedipus Rex in translation, not a children's version. Uhhhh...

I expressed suprise at such difficult material. She said she wanted them to reach a little. I mean, I read The Illiad in 8th grade, and I was reaching. But she was all on her homeschool kick and how they're better than average and how I wasn't homeschooled so blah blah. I wanted to smack her. Sure, I went to public school, but I grew up in Lake Woebegone, so whatever.

But I showed her where everything was and she picked up a copy of The Brothers Karamazov and asked me how to pronounce Doestoevsky. Riiiiiiiiiiight. She then told me that he was on her forgotten list of Greek guys she wanted to teach. I told her he was Russian.

But beyond that, lets say these kids do have a reading level of that age. I'm not saying they shouldn't read it, but they shouldn't be taught it. It's one thing to read and understand the content to the best of our ability, but do you really want to give a 4th grader a lesson on the Oedipus complex? About Smedrikov's parental situation? About patricide? And why Ivan drinks so much vodka? Seriously?

There is a difference between reading level and content level. Let kids be kids. Damn.

Anyway... so, I finally bought Meat Is Murder by The Smiths, because I am in love with "Rusholme Ruffians". Maybe because I've seen a Platt Field's fun fair so I can feel like I understand it on a deeper level or someother crap like that, but it's a good song. I've been listening to the disc non-stop for the last few days. Also, because I am the world's biggest idiot, I didn't know that "How Soon is Now?" is a Smiths song. Or didn't realize what song it was. Because it came on and I was like "Wha?"


In honor of the last night of the fair, here are some books that talk about The Smiths.

Charmed Thirds Megan McCafferty

Our Not-so Darling Jessica is off to college. There's lots of touching stuff with her sister and her parents and Marcus and blah blah and if you liked the others, you'll like this one.

But what I really liked about this one is that it gave a really accurate picture of college life. There are a bunch of pissy reviews on Amazon of people who are obviously not in college about how Jessica changed to much and what happened and why didn't she stay in touch with blah blah blah... but that's what happens when you go to college. You become a different person. You lose touch with the kids from high school. You become an adult (gasp! I know!)

I also like the little details thrown in of Brita-filtered Vladimir and and Ali G-style "Respek". And even the talk about Facebook. Except McCafferty calls it THE Facebook. Ha.

Most of all, I loved that Jessica discovered early on that college is college and the college experience isn't unique to your university. The mind-altering life changing thoughts and experiences? Every other college kid is having them too. I liked that she realized this early. I liked how it crushed her. Because that moment was just SO TRUE. And so rare in literature. Especially when the character is at the author's alma mater, which is the case here.

I also loved this bit of irony

He's one of those shaggy-haired sideburned emos who owes a great debt to Conor Oberst as the champion for man-children with ink on their hands and poetry in their heavy, heavy hearts.

Not only hilarious and true, but coming from the world's biggest Smiths and Morrisey fan. I mean, Morrissey has to be the FATHER of emo, and I don't think Jess realizes it.

Also, is it just me, or do YA authors give their teen characters a retro taste in music back the era that they were high schoolers in, so the characters can feel all deep and meaningful about the same music that the author did instead of this crap that these young whippersnappers are listening to today?

King Dork Frank Portman

I read this because Michael at Bookslut won't shut up about it.

And with good reason. An excellent anti-Catcher, pro rock-and-roll novel that is hilarious.

It also contains such passages as this:

I should mention that Catcher in the Rye is this book from the fifties. It is every teacher's favorite book. The main guy is a kind of misfit kid superhero neamed Holden Caulfield. For teacher he is the ultimate guy, a real dream boat. They love him to pieces. They all want to have sex with him and with the book's author, too, and they'd probably even try to do it with the book itself if they could figure out a way to go about it. It changed their lives when they were young. As kids, they carried it with them everywhere they went. They solemnly resolved that, when they grew up, they would dedicate their lives to spreading The Word.

It's kind of like a cult.

His riffs on the drama kids (at his school faux-hippies, at the other high school, faux-mods) high school pecking order and the endless litany of band names he comes up with. Plus, sex, drugs and murder. WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT?!

Even if the glossary does define The Smiths as "Music for sad people"

There's also this great bit about this other band that's mainly doing covers of the Smiths, the Cure, and Joy Division (whom I am also in love with)

The irony was that the singer was Dennis Thela, who was among the most sadistic alpha psychos the normal world had to offer. In other words, he was a major player in the nation of perpetrators. He and his evil super bitch girlfriend had been responsible for half of the suicide attempts, nervous breakdowns and eating disorders in the greater Bay Area. It's guys like Dennis Thela who made the Smiths, the Cure and Joy Division necessary in the first place. I had thought normal people and that sort of music were mutually exclusive, but I guess I was wrong. It's a funny world.

How can you not love that?!

And, even though it never mentions The Smiths,

The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

DOES talk about The Catcher in the Rye.

This is a collection 20 poems, each told by another high school student. They don't focus around the same event or even the same period in time. Just 20 takes on life in high school, with some inter-related stories.

Including one great poem from a guy who's going crazy because his girlfriend is in love with Holden Caufield. HA HA HA.

But it's great, because everything Levithan writes is great.

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