Saturday, September 21, 2013

Thoreau-ly Enjoying Vonnegut!

So already, since we're talking about stories -- okay, since I'm talking about stories -- just want to talk about a few other ones -- the fictional ones that grab our hearts and sit there like blessings and burdens, that make us want to run out to the street and tell everyone "You have to read this!" -- even though they probably read it years ago, in the case of Vonnegut, while we were busy vacuuming, or weeding our gardens, or paying our bills, or doing what I'll probably be doing after I finish posting this -- reading student essays.

Recently, one of my students, Solomon -- he and his mother both know that I'm mentioning him here -- designed a graduation project entitled "Literature, Writing, and Blogging" and asked me if I would be his advisor.  Both of us are trying to understand who and what blogs really are for, and we both trust literature to make lives -- ours and other people's -- better. It's good news for me that my blogging life and my work life are coming together in some way.  I hope that it's good news for Solomon, too.

While he continues to develop the reading list for his project, Solomon has agreed to read Howard's End at some point this semester. But in general, he's the one who's creating and updating our reading list, which we are treating as a work-in-progress that can and must be revised if reading way is to lead authentically to reading way.

Currently, Solomon has me reading selections from Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House, which I'm loving.  I have loved Slaughterhouse Five for years, and taught it for years, but this is my first foray into Vonnegut's short stories as a collection. Because I'm in full-throttle college-recommendation writing mode, I worried about when I would be able to read these stories, but when I opened the book on a rush-hour Red Line train last week and read the book's epigraph, from Thoreau -- "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes" -- I knew I owed it to myself as well as Solomon to make the time. (One other thing I've learned over the years: if you're going to start laughing all by yourself on a subway train, it's better to be holding a book, so people think you're laughing at something. It's also better if the book isn't the Bible.)

Solomon and I are planning to blog about Vonnegut -- maybe on my blog, maybe on his. So if you have the chance to read or reread "The Kid Nobody Could Handle," we hope you will join the conversation. I suspect it's a must-read for Cambridge Rindge and Latin School staff, since relationships with students is one of our front-burner concerns this year. The story was written in 1955, the year I was born, and arguably it reflects a different world from our present one in some ways -- and just the same world in others. Maybe there's something for teachers and parents to learn that won't involve the destruction of too many pricey musical instruments, given the fiscal realities and priorities of our schools these days.


  1. Just for fun, you two might want to compare blogging to "pamphlets" in the colonies and in London circa 1730-1770.

    I am sure that pamphlets became popular first on the east side of the ocean and migrated over, but I am not sure when. My guess is that they started as an outlet for dissent during the Brits' interminable religious tensions, but I do not really know.

    And at some point, I think they became an avenue for science research, financial investment (sometimes fraud), and politics.

    Pamphlets were new technology once, and took on a life of their own as a social outlet.

    Must be books about it somewhere.

  2. Cool idea, Jim -- very cross-historical-momentish!! Interesting especially since some of those first pamphlets were published in Cambridge (I think one of the very first printing presses may actually have been in Dunster House), and now there's a restaurant commemorating that on Dunster Street.

    I'll let you know what Solomon thinks, or maybe he'll let you know that himself.

  3. That is an interesting idea Jim! Perhaps Joan and I could examine whether or not we'd consider blogging the new pamphleting.

    This certainly provides an interesting look at their use throughout history.
    Pamphlet: year_start=1800&year_end=2010&corpus=15&smoothing=7&content=PAMPHLETING%2BPamphleting%2Bpamphleting


    Hardly evidence, but certainly food for thought!

    1. Solomon,

      I tried to follow your link but failed for some reason. Well, in general, the reason is that I am old and not good with new fangled gadgets -- like electric typewriters, much less computers. But there was probably some more specific reason as well.

      I sorta got somewhere related, though; enough to see that pamphlets were big in England by Shakespeare's time. So will be new to the colonies only to the extent that the print shops in the colonies were new or more plentiful.

      Franklin is probably a good focus in that area because he started with a print shop, I think. Plus, because he is famous, probably can find out more about him. Think "Poor Richard's Almanac" as a popular blog on paper. Or something. I have not actually read Poor Richard's Almanac. (That's Joan's job.)

      My guess is that pamphlets were mostly like political blogs or religious blogs. (Tended to go together at the time.) And derivative in nature in that they tended to play off of current events. Political blogs like Kos, Huffington Post, and Redstate are the same: usually riffing off something in the newspaper or DC trade press.

      As I recall, Bernard Bailyn's "Ideological Origins of the American Revolution" builds its thesis on an analysis of Colonial pamphlets. I read the book 40 years ago, and I was not convinced by the main argument (it leaves out a lot of social and economic stuff) but my recollection is that there was some interesting stuff about pamphlets nuts and bolts in there.

      A newer book, much more entertaining, is "The Invention of Air." Lot of stuff about London circa 1760-70 and the role of pamphlets in scientific discovery. Stuff about Franklin too. I would check it out; fun book.

      Franklin books may lead you to Paris. Kinda fun there too, with the encyclopedia movement (maybe a bit before Franklin) and gossipy Salon society. Must have been something written in that context too, but maybe only journals. Nothing public?

      Have fun.