I never, ever want to go back. But a new semester begins this week, and, despite the terribleness of having to return, it is always a little bit wonderful to start again fresh. Fall term was interesting. I taught The World According to Garp (John Irving), Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and Lexicon (Max Barry) in my lit class.
I confess to having been a little uncertain about The World According to Garp. It’s gripping… and incredibly bizarre (thanks to Garp, the terms farce and wtf land the top two spots on the course’s MFW list). My college-age son recommended it to me one day (he lent me the worn, page-weary copy he kept in his car in case he ever got stuck and needed something good to read… and yes, I’m feeling way happy just now that I can claim him); we’ve been engrossed in many intense literary conversations as a result. It’s strange that my guy and I found common ground in Garp, that I edged a little closer to understanding him because of that novel. And he was right: My students, somehow, despite Garp’s propensity for being a “sexual weirdo” got Garp. That Irving transcends gender and recalibrates the heroic, my son must have intuited I’d love.
I selected Americanah for a number of reasons, among them my experience in Cameroon a few summers ago and the opportunity to coordinate our reading of the text with a visit by colleagues from the University of Buea, BU’s Cameroon Study Abroad partner institution. Because Adichie is Nigerian and because Nigeria and Cameroon share a common geographic and cultural history, Americanah introduced familiar themes and offered opportunity to invite two colleagues from the University of Buea to speak with my classes. These conversations – like so many we had last term – illustrated the deep and important connections between literature and society. My students read. And I have some hope that they’ll do so again.
Lexicon I selected to offset the weightier subjects which largely defined the term, though the novel is provocative in its dystopian perspectives on technology, privacy, and education. My class was especially chuffed when Barry took time to respond to an email query I sent following a particularly good class discussion which raised questions about the ethnicity of a character, a question that ultimately only he could (and did) answer and even contextualize.
Happily, I also managed a few reads over the break:
Wave. A haunting account of loss by Sonali Deraniyagala. Stark in its truth. Incisive. Raw.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, one of my favorite authors. It’s easy to fall in like with the tale’s Boris, and Theo is so much like The Secret History’s Richard that the two converge in my thoughts. The ending: eh. Getting there: brilliant.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things introduces Alma, a 19th century spinster-scientist-heroine. Alma remains at home in Pennsylvania for most of her life. Following an improbable middle age romance and its humiliating failure, she journeys to Tahiti, then the Netherlands. She is a silent (fictional) co-discover of natural selection. A curator of mosses. Her forays into self-pleasure remind that Gilbert has written before on the subject; and, as in Eat, Pray, Love, the detail is minimal but revelatory, humorous and humane.
At MBDA we’re preparing for another active spring: curricular development, a history project by one of our exceptional Berry undergraduates, and a turn toward transcription. Lots of good stuff.
My own writing has focused largely on research, but there has been some relish too. My 10 year old and I began writing together over the holiday. He’s a serious crafter. And he’s fun. I’m not certain which we’ve done more of when we’ve sat together to write: write or laugh. In either case, we’ve managed – over many, many hot cocoas and an even greater number of ROTFLs – to draft a plot and to develop more than half of it into full chapters of a short novel. Our Minecraft tale is coming along. And that child of mine has written some of my all time favorite lines. Ten is good. I wish more children would write. They’re so wholly unbridled in their cleverness.