Sep. 4th, 2013

[identity profile]

Pure Imagination
Fiona Apple
Pure Imagination-Single

I hesitated before posting this song because:

1. it was written for a movie adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1964 novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
2. it is a cover of the original sung by Gene Wilder
3. it is used in an advertisement for an American-based Mexican restaurant
4.1. the above-mentioned advertisement is also a gone-viral public service announcement--a criticism of current methods of food production

All that aside.
I am so excited to share it.
This song is beautiful.
Fiona Apple's cover is a twenty-first century adaptation; replete with electronic blips and beeps that add an altogether-new layer of creepiness.  As much as I have always loved this song (I have come back to it during particular bouts of depression), I have always found it a little unsettling (and, simultaneously, delightful).  I love the breadth of this version...the orchestra; the way the music swells and shrinks; the familiarity of Fiona Apple's voice.

The original composition--even if it is so very entwined with a movie adaptation--takes its inspiration from a wonderful book.
I think what I have always liked about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--and Roald Dahl's books in general--is that they can be quite...horrifying.  He creates these vivid, fantastical lands and characters, but they are not without their ugliness.  I think that that is an important facet of good children's literature; these are the books that stay with us.

[identity profile]

Catcher in the Rye
Catcher in the Rye

: I could never stand The Catcher in the Rye. Ever. Holden Caulfield holds zero appeal as far as I'm concerned. I read my dad's beat-up red edition when I was a teenager -- I even remember where; it was during the summer, staying at my aunt's in Kingston -- and, because I didn't know any better in high school, because I thought that canonized literature was universally appealing, because no one actually ever told me differently: I assumed that I had to like it. As a teenager and as now, I defined myself by my love of reading -- so clearly, that meant I had to like the classics. So I did, all of them, even if I actually hated them.

I try to remember to mention this to my classes whenever possible: you don't have to like what I like. Just because you hate something we read in class doesn't mean you're stupid, or that I'm boring, or that books generally are boring, or anything except that you didn't like what we read in class. And if it was a classic? All the better; flout the canon! But, high-school-teacher rants aside: The Catcher in the Rye sucks. A lot of canon literature sucks, in my eyes, anyway; I find so much of it...boring. Pedantic; oversaturated. I genuinely believe that many people read [much of] it because they never had the revelation I did -- that you actually get to define your personal tastes! You don't have to be a Chaucer scholar by extension of your love of reading; in fact, there are already way too many of them. Find what you love, let it rip you up, let it take you into the parts of yourself you had no idea existed, let it sweep you into new levels of consciousness and understanding ------------ or, sure, force yourself to read yet another Thomas Hardy tome. Your choice.

Sometimes I forget why I want to be an English teacher. Last year, I got full-on amnesia. "Remind me again," I'm sure I said over many a glass of wine, "why I teach books to people who hate to read? I hate listening to them whine; they hate listening to me talk; we're all miserable. What's the point?"And it didn't get much better this year, even faced with fairly delectable (well, as delectable as you can get, these days) classes. What's the point what's the point? Why are we reading books and discussing them? Who cares about character sketches and plot structure in the long run? whyyyyyyyyyyyy?

I first heard this song in the fall of my second year of teaching, and I just fucking loved it -- despite the title. It's too much fun: that bouncy, disco-lite-meets-Talking-Heads vibe (iii-iii-ii-iiiii! "Psycho Killer" throwbacks, anyone?); the beautiful earworm of a chorus; the lyrics (much as they emulate Caulfield); and even though I didn't like the book on which it's based, I was excited that it was a typical high school book -- because at that time, I was so excited about teaching. I only had one English course, and it was basically flawless, and I wished constantly that I could have a courseload full of English classes I could inspire and push and intelligently discuss books with.
Wishes come true (so do nightmares) and here I sit, two years later with a schedule of English courses, and had I written this post when it was intended to be posted (instead of a week later), it would have been a different story. I would have had a lot more to say about how pointless teaching English is, currently. I would have wondered whether I should throw in the passion towel and teach grammar & comprehension questions, dissociatedly.

Wait, now.
I don't have to teach The Catcher in the Rye.

And even if, one day, I do ------- I don't have to teach it their way.
When teaching goes wrong for me, it hurts in ways it doesn't hurt many other English teachers -- because for some reason unfathomable to me, those English teachers don't read (or they read the books they liked in high school because their teachers said they should, and the cycle perpetuates), or at least, they don't read with every fibre of themselves on fire; they don't care that their students leave their classes without passionately loving a book, a character, a sentence. They don't understand the obvious: the answer to my question, earlier, "what's the point?"
The point is that WE love books. Not all of them. Probably not the same ones as our students. But we love them. And we should teach, above all else, that love. Because anything else is details, is superfluous. We should show that we care. We should malign Caulfield's arrogance, praise his individuality, or not teach him altogether because the book sucks ---- but whatever we do, we should attach ourselves to it, passionately. And not every student will respond; most won't. But they sure as fuck won't ever respond to comprehension questions.

So what is the point? Why do we keep reading? Why should I keep teaching?
Because books are in our nature. Or if not books, stories -- and my medium of choice for storytelling is books, and that's what I can set on fire in a classroom, but either way ----- we, as a species, love to read. To listen. To imagine and visualize. To actively engage with characters and words and plot twists.
But more importantly, because books are in my nature.

I don't have to like everything I teach or every minute of my job; that'd be impossible. But I can take a moment to remember when I first heard this song -- back when I was bright-eyed and optimistic -- and pull that person back into me. Not all of her, because I've learned a lot in two years -- but some. That passion -- not for teaching, but for literature. Because, honestly, I am a reader before I'm a teacher --- and if literature does anything, it helps us put things in perspective.


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