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Hello, world.

Whidbey Island (Washington State, USA)

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Hello, world.  I'm writing the first entry in this blog from a suitably romantic location: a sad little Ramada Inn at SeaTac airport, on my way home from four weeks on Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound.  From the cottage I rented there on Snakelum Point (a name that, thankfully, has nothing to do with snakes), water on three sides, my imagination was governed by radically shifting tides, the grace and poise of herons, the sun on my skin. That and a few wondrous books:  Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (finally), Rachel Lloyd's Girls Like Us, Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna, David Finkel's The Good Soldiers, David Sedaris' When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

From Skloot, young as she is, one can learn a lot about narrative persona in nonfiction writing and about managing very diverse and volatile material. The respect with which she treats Henrietta's family is deeply gratifying; in fact, I think what I like best about the book, apart from its range and scope, is that Skloot avoids many forms of judgment and interpretation while still exposing a mind-boggling chapter in the long dance of science with racism. 

Lloyd's book is a remarkable mesh of memoir and sociology, a stunningly effective way to embrace an issue like the commercial sexual exploitation of underage girls.  Except that there IS no issue "like" the commercial sexual exploitation of underage girls.  Inured as I am to reading about the particular horrors at that end of the spectrum of patriarchy, I nonetheless found myself breathless with pain and anger.  It'll be really interesting to see its effect on students in my course this fall--a course on literature and social justice that I'm calling "UnFreedom," focusing on first-person narratives of slavery, institutionalization, and incarceration.  If I had any modicum of doubt that the prostitution of girls is a form of slavery, Lloyd's book vanquished it.

Returning to Kingsolver after several years--what a joy.  Diving down into a big historical novel--another joy I'd forgotten about.  I'm left pondering what I think is the "argument" of the novel, if I read BK's commentary correctly:  that there was a period in the first half of the 20th century when this country turned down a dreadful road from which it's never really departed. Witnessing how quickly, and how persistently, Obama and every move he makes are accused of some form of treason, I'm thankful to BK for reminding me of the evolution of this peculiarly fearful American mindset.  The novel also sent me back to Frida Kahlo in a new and needy way, and Frida is always right there, staring you full in the face from under those monumental brows.

Finkel is the Summer Common Reading author at Kalamazoo College (hereafter known as "K"), so I'll be meeting him in a week or so.  The entire entering class is reading his book.  I wonder how the 18-year-olds I'm about to meet are understanding their connection to, and disconnection from, those kids in the book, those tender boys being ripped apart and dismembered by IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

And then there's Sedaris.  I think When You Are Engulfed might be his best book, or at least my favorite (though I will never, ever laugh as hard as I did reading Me Talk Pretty.  I'm actually considering using WYAEIF as a text, in whole or in part, in Creative Nonfiction in winter.  How that man accomplishes his death-defying swerves in tone and effect is worth classtime to ponder.  He's getting mighty grim in midlife--which might be why I adore the book.

Well, home tomorrow night, hoping that the western edge of Hurricane Irene lies east of Michigan, and hoping my peeps in the eastern seaboard are somewhere dry and safe.

Welcome to my blog.  I hope to be funnier next time.  It will take inordinate dark humor to get me through my 35th and final year at K, and then my departure from the Mothership, as I like to think of it.
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