… or at least this blog post is.
Item: The Spawn is currently reading The Great Gatsby in her English class. She has about as much use for it as I did when I read it 31 years ago, which is to say not much. Honestly, I haven’t much more use for it now, and suspect that much of its place in the canon is due to its brevity, the accessibility of a movie version, and the fact that like Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies, it’s obvious in a way that makes a single reading pretty much sufficient. But on the way home from school today, I said something about Gatsby-as-poseur, using his library as a case in point. That got me a “Huh?”, so I explained that quality books were once sold with the pages unopened, leaving the reader to separate the pages with a paper-knife or other edged object. The fact that Gatsby’s library is filled with books in this condition indicates that they’ve never been read, and are merely another accessory — part of the pose.
The Spawn was indignant. “Why does no one explain these things? Why wasn’t this even mentioned?” I suggested that it had probably slipped her teacher’s mind — which seemed to me a diplomatic reply, and perhaps even a true one. “I don’t know,” the Spawn said. “I don’t think she really wants to be there. She’s got that thousand-yard stare. Dead eyes, like a hooker.” Lacking an adequate response, I finished the drive home.
Item: I started reading a couple of greatly differing books this morning, but I suspect I’ll enjoy them both. First off is James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice. I knew Cabell was an influence on Heinlein, but I just had never gotten round to reading any of his work. I’m not very far in at this point, but already finding that it provokes a melancholy smile. And this may prove to be utterly unfounded, but I’m picking up a touch of the same attitude that I found in parts of Rasselas. That’s a good thing.
The other book I started is Roger Kimball’s The Fortunes of Permanence, which Jay Nordlinger discussed in a series of articles at NRO last week. I’m about 90 pages in, and find it bracing. One bit that particularly caught my notice was a comment Kimball makes on the difference between information and knowledge. There has been an ongoing debate at Mondoville between the forces of teaching content versus skills (Obviously, the best approaches meld both, but I’ll use the binary here as shorthand.) The latter camp argues that we simply need to show these kids how to find information, how to arrange what they have retrieved, how to present it cleanly. On the other hand, say the content folks (including your genial host), a college graduate in the US should be able to understand the references in, say, a WSJ opinion piece. I would contend (as Kimball aptly puts it) that the skills camp confuses process with product. The struggle continues.
As an aside on this last, I’ve heard a number of people in the skills camp offer versions of Johnson’s bit about the two kinds of knowledge. But of course, they ignore the fact that Johnson possessed an abundance of both himself, and would never have relied exclusively upon the second. Then again, I’m the sort who “reads books through” more often than not, so perhaps I’m not to be trusted either.
Item: Colleague and reader the Nerd Girl passed this along, having seen it at a ferry terminal in Seattle. Fortunately, I’m gracious enough to share my sobriquet.
Item: Yesterday was Mother’s Day, of course — my fourth “white carnation” version of the holiday. But something odd happened yesterday as well. My mom’s favorite flower was the iris; she was pleased that the iris was the official flower of her home state as well. She liked all colors of the flower, but her favorite was purple.
Over the weekend, a stalk burst through the mulch in our back yard, near a bed of hostas we had transplanted from Kentucky. It was not expected — I don’t recall seeing it in past years. The stalk began to bloom on Saturday, and opened yesterday: