Friday, September 23, 2011

A Rosa F. K. Druschki By Any Other Name

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

We’ve all read them. We’ve reread them. We’ve watched them adapted for film and television and we’ve sometimes had to dissect them to find some deeper meaning under the watchful eye of a teacher who is convinced we didn’t noodle out the last dreg of relevance. Here’s what I know. Classics are classics because they make you think. Not just in the moment you turn the last page, but later, out of context, out of the zone. You carry them with you even when you don’t know it and you take the lessons and ask yourself ‘What Would Jane Do’ even when the circumstances you find yourself in are far beyond the elegant dresses and delicate dance of social class found in Austen’s oh so properly English drawing rooms. Here are my roses, which smell as sweet, and whose thorns remind me that their existence can continue to prick my mind with their lingering ideas.

1. We’ve all read them. We’ve reread them. We’ve watched them adapted for film and television and My African Safari

2. Stalker: Every Girl’s Guide to Dealing with the One Who Just Won’t Go Away

3. The Debt Crisis: A Bird’s Eye View

4. It’s Gets Better: It’s All About Surviving the Teen Years

5. I’d Vote for This Guy

6. It’s Not About Me

7. Maxed Out

8. Recycled

9. The Millionaire Matchmaker

10. Dilbert’s Greatest Hits

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I can’t watch Al Gore’s documentary without thinking about the dust bowls of the American west. I cannot read anything about our failure to commit to the Kyoto Protocol and not believe, passionately, that our next big wind might be our last because we didn’t learn anything from Steinbeck. He put environmental devastation in real people terms in a way that Rachel Carson could envy. The eroded farmland of Kansas could easily be the overfished waters of the Atlantic, the oil-drenched oyster beds of the Gulf Coast or the melting ice caps of the Antarctic. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Most of the good stuff has enough truth to be believable because it is true. Which means Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece should be a learning place, a listening spot, an education for the reader and all with whom he has a chance to discuss it. Please, oh please. Before we’re all loaded on a truck trying to drive beyond the wasteland.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. This one was a recent revelation for me. I remember it as required reading complete with weeks of intensive literary criticism. Every word, every action was determined to be laced with nuance and theme. It’s a lie. A big, bald-faced, it’s heavy so it must be good and if I just examine it closely enough I will find Truth. It’s the paper version of Woody Allen is so unfunny he must be a genius. Conrad wasn’t any of those things. He was actually in Africa watching as King Leopold of Belgium plundered the Congo and turned it into his own mid-century version of a personal ATM. The characters in Heart of Darkness are based on real people, although some are composites, well known to the Belgian business people and government exploiters who colonized the Congo like a swarm of fire ants, leaving nothing in their wake. Read King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild. It will give you the real perspective necessary to see Conrad’s Darkness for what it was, his journal of his time spent among the rubble.

Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte. This is one of those girl guides every single lady should get before she goes off to college. Broody is good and interesting with a limited sales-by date. Broody can be appropriate for the age but if he keeps turning up “by coincidence” years later with the same old bag of I’m a dark and twisted sole and only your love will save me, RUN. Do not walk. Do not leave a forwarding address. This is what restraining orders and Louisville sluggers kept in the umbrella stand are for. Sure, have a little bad boy in college. Then go off and a) always be ready to take care of yourself and b) pick somebody who can do the same.

Little Dorritt by Charles Dickens. Dickens wrote about the man on the street, the one living the life of the times. In Little Dorritt, the reader gets to see the deficit crisis, the jobless rate, the uninsured problem and the individual effects of every political action and non-action without the rose colored glasses of someone who can write a chapter and start it with ‘except for me’ life was a misery. Maybe we should reinstitute debtor’s prisons. Not for those individuals befallen by circumstances beyond their control but for those people in a position to promote the well-being of the fifty percent of Americans who fall below the poverty line and the additional forty-nine percent of Americans who combined represent less than 2% of the nation’s assets. A little cell time might give the 1% and their elected officials a chance to walk in the shoes that could take them down the path of reason.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Without the lovely period pieces and the splendor of the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli movie version, this is the story of two horny teenagers and their rebellion against their parents. Dan Savage’s public service campaign, ‘It Gets Better’ addresses the horrors of high school for gay teenagers in particular but could easily be applied to any Clearasil wearing, Sixteen Candles watching, anxiety-ridden adolescent trying to get a darn diploma and then the heck out of Dodge. In a paraphrase of Dickens from The Tale of Two Cities, these are the best of times, these are the worst of times and if you just hang in there and not pretend to be someone else, you won’t end up with your head in a basket. It sucks for everyone.

Boomsday by Christopher Buckley. Probably not considered a classic, yet, I am waiting for this candidate. Yeah, he’s an empty suit but he cops to it. Yes, he doesn’t have a moral compass but that’s what staff is for. And I must agree that his ability to run a country is severely limited by his inability to see beyond his own reflection but it’s not like we, the electorate, haven’t run into him before. But he says what we are all thinking, regardless of party partisanship, shut the f*&^% up. It’s code for I’m tired of listening, show me something. Do already. Because doodoo simply isn’t cutting it.

The Gift of the Maji by O Henry. It’s hard for me not to see everything I read, or have read, through today’s political lens. Here are two people who understand that stomping their feet and demanding their way won’t get it done when resources are limited. They also live the political nightmare, you finally get what you want only to discover that not talking to each other and staying abreast on their changing views, you’ve given the husk and not the fruit. Maybe it’s time to have a real conversation with the people you’re in bed with.

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss This one works on so many levels. Not only do the Whos have so many presents that an entire sleight needs to carry far beyond its capacity to accommodate the misbegotten loot, but poor little Max simply can’t bear the burden of schlepping the bounty up the big hill. Plus, let’s face it, for all the press time that little Cindyloo Who gets, Max is the heart of the story.

Only Yesterday by Frederick Lewis Allen. Honestly, if you were to redact the dates in this book published in 1932, you’d think this social scientist was Diogenes’ long-lost last honest man and writing contemporaneously with the current political, cultural and economic quagmire sucking at his feet. It is positively creepy how someone who died in 1939 could not only have analyzed the two decades of a generation’s life experience prior to his death, but he could extrapolate the same conditions to their it-never-goes-out-of-style repeat performance of the last couple of years. I feel like sending copies to everyone in Congress (with the key parts highlighted to make it easier for them) and a little note that says you might want to check out the problem-solving and public backlash sections for tomorrow’s headline.

Emma by Jane Austen. I think Patti Stanger, who stars in this reality-series train wreck, did write a book about her experiences with clueless men with money and beautiful, smart, interesting women who are prepared to exchange all that for boorish, unkempt, clueless men with a black American Express card. I didn’t get it then. I don’t get it now. Including the part about how the matchmaker can’t even figure out her own life so why would you entrust her with yours? I love Austen. I reread some of her work every year. But this one…I’ll admit, it doesn’t call to me. Then again, I’m single and bitter. And long in the tooth. Maybe it’s just jealousy.

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Every cube mate whose ever gotten on your last nerve, every boss you arranged to die in your most recent thriller, every customer you wanted to bang over the head (reapeatedly) with your phone can be explained by this book. It’s the Meyers-Briggs home game on crack. It’s the How to Win Friends and Influence People book written for people who don’t have time while doing three jobs that used to belong to them and two other people no longer with the company to read business books and who, frankly aren’t looking to make friends of these nuts. With this primer, you can figure out how to get just the information you need from Owl without the discourse, dodge Rabbit in the break room and score the honey in your next salary negotiation. 100 Acre Woods just became the Fortune 500 Acre Woods and you’re tight with Christopher Robin.

Thanks for reading. Thank you more for thinking about what you're reading and have read.



Meredith Cole said...

You picked some good ones, Gabi. Thanks for the reminder of the timeliness of the classics.

I have to admit that Emma is not my favorite Austen, either. I go for Pride and Prejudice when I need an Austen fix.

Gabi said...

Thanks, Meredith. I haven't read P & P in a couple of years. I'm definitely due.