Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Monday, April 26, 2010

Just Another Manic Monday

It's Monday, not my favorite day of the week. I just don't like transition days; Tuesday is my favorite day of the week -- I always feel productive on Tuesdays. For some reason I didn't post this weekend, probably because I was hopping all over the blogosphere. Crazy-for-Books had a crazy-good idea in the book blogger hop, and it was really interesting seeing all the variations on book blogs out there. I keep finding really good blogs, and I am following so many now that I wonder how I will keep track of them all. At some point I need to find the right balance between reading other blogs and writing my own. But I love that there is a conversation going on, and I love the opportunity to take part in the conversation.

So I've been reading widely and deeply; widely because as a teacher I am always reading with and ahead of the students, and deeply because once I get reading on a topic, I want to go deeper. I recently finished reading T. C. Boyle's short story collection Wild Child, and that led me to The Forbidden Experiment: The Story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron by Roger Shattuck. I will probably write more about this book when I have finished it. The "Wild Boy of Aveyron" was discovered in early 1800 outside of a French village. He was probably about eleven or twelve years old, and had evidently been living alone in the forest for some time. He had a scar on his neck as if someone had tried to end his life. No one knows where he came from, whether he was abandoned in the forest or became lost. He knew no language, and did not have any socialization at all. From the descriptions given by his caretakers, he may have had autism, but that is sheer speculation. As Shattuck says: "Did the boy have emotions? Was he happy alone in the woods? How can we know? ....He made strange noises and laughed after a fashion. On his terms, whatever they were, he seemed to be satisfied with his lot."

One question raised by this story is, how did this boy manage to survive? And since he did survive, Shattuck asks, "Just what right, or duty, did anyone have to remove this boy from the life he made for himself?"

Now, here's where I may lose you, gentle reader. This question made me think about Huck Finn. That's another book I'm reading, along with my juniors. The juxtaposition of these two books made me think about Huck, and how he resists "sivilization." Now, I'm a teacher, so I'm all for children going to school, but when I read Huck's poetic descriptions of life on the Mississippi River, school just sounds dumb in comparison. Who wouldn't rather float down a river on a raft (with a pile of books, of course). And who are we (society, schools, teachers, etc.) to force Huck to wear clothes, go to school, stop smoking a pipe, and begin acting like a righteous little hypocrite?

When I am finished reading The Forbidden Experiment, I can continue to think about the very good questions posed by Shattuck by reading two other books on my shelf: The Wild Child by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (the story of Kaspar Hauser, who was kept in a dungeon his entire life, and appeared in Nurmeburg, Germany, at the age of sixteen in 1833), and Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children by Michael Newton.

Meanwhile, I read about half of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart this weekend, while I was also dipping into The Complete Poems of John Keats. And Keats led me to more Keats: I picked up The Complete Letters of John Keats last week, and I'm looking forward to a full Keats immersion very soon.

My TBR list grows continually, and I take suggestions from other bloggers all the time. I'm intrigued by some of the reading challenges out there, including the Persephone challenge. One book that is on my list to read next is Caucasia by Danzy Senna. I'm thinking of reading this alongside The Wedding Dress by poet Fanny Howe, who also happens to be Danzy Senna's mother.

I am continually made aware of the connections between books: connections that exist between writers, connections made when one writer responds to another writer, connections of theme or character. The reader is part of this too: as we read, we are creating connections in our minds, then as we connect with other readers, more connections form. This richness of the world of literature means a book is so much more than just a book.


BookQuoter said...

Great post.

I did like Lark and Termite. Thanks

Jessica said...

I saw a documentry on Feral children a while back, some of the more modern cases were really sad but it also went into lanuage development as there seems to be a cut off point with this. Basically if a child has not ben subjected to lanuage by the age of 2 then they will never develop and be able to communicate via lanuage.

With regards to challenges, they are hard to keep away from sometimes.

bibliophiliac said...

The question of language development is so fascinating. I guess that is what makes us (what we think of as) "human." How strange and sad to contemplate those cases where children never got to learn language.

Priya Parmar said...

what a wonderful mix. i think writing is so often shaped by reading. themes, rhythms, structures are borrowed and reinvented often unconsciously.

have you read or seen peter hanke's kaspar?

Becki said...

I didn't get around to all the books in the hop. Sorry, this is going to be a long comment because you addressed so much in your post.

I've been interested in feral children for a very long time. I ran into a book years ago that covered a story of one of the wild children, I believe in Germany. Since then the subject has really interested me, but of course I also have an interest in (general) anthropology so this is clearly a topic which would make me wonder.

I can see what you're saying about Huck Finn and the connection. Much of what I imagine you're seeing in him is what has drawn me so deeply to delight directed learning (or unschooling, though I prefer to have some role in my child's education rather than leaving her mostly to her own devices).

Yes, I'm a home schooling mother. My daughter right now is 2 years old and is developing a deep love of books. Why not? Her mother and father purchase more books than we have room for in our house! She's learning to read, can count to five (most of the time) and is learning her alphabet. All this is being accomplished through play, without ever requiring her to do something she doesn't want to do.

On a side note, I picked up a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird yesterday at the used book store, only to discover that it had been defaced for a class: the assignment was obviously to read the book and take notes in the book (ugh! this disappointed me! I exchanged the book for a brand new copy).

Last night I found myself on Amazon, reading reviews of this my all-time favorite book. Many of the reviewers were students who had been "forced" to read this book in school. These children gave the book a 1-star rating, quite unfairly, and mostly because they didn't understand the novel (which, it was clear, wasn't being taught as a period piece but as a book about slavery, which it is not). All this has led me more deeply to the conclusion that while I will give my daughter choices of which books she wants to read, she will ultimately choose which books appeal most to her. I believe children learn best this way, ultimately.

So much for a defense of position.

For the record, the student who had marked up To Kill a Mockingbird concluded that it was the best book he'd ever read. That did my heart a great deal of good.

Thank you for the recommendation to read the Yates short stories. I will likely try to make some time for them. My schedule is something of a mess with a home schooled toddler in the house, but as quickly as I read through Revolutionary Road I think I will manage to make it. Thank you!

bibliophiliac said...

Thanks for your comment, Priya. I'd love to be able to create some sort of visual web connecting all the books that influenced a writer/novel. Becki, thanks for your comments. I have mixed feelings about "forced" reading. I hate to think that being forced to read a book would lead a child to hate that book. On the other hand, some students will fall in love with a book they're "forced" to read. The best compromise is to have some required reading and some reading students' choice. About people who write in books: I buy used books because I love encountering readers' marks! And I love to mark up my own books (and sometimes books belonging to the school).

Ben Carroll said...

every now and then i remember a book i was forced to read at school, and usually with great affection. but i was reading for pleasure by then anyway.

interesting that your other post is about Keats-- i was 'forced' to read poetry at school, and hated it, and am only starting to get past that schooled reaction.