7.05.2015

rtod

Revolutionary thought of the day:
Scargill's got the megaphone and he launces intae one ay his trademark rousin speeches that tingles the back ay ma neck. He talks about the rights ay working people, won through years of struggle, and how if we're denied the right to strike and organise, then we're really nae better than slaves. His words are like a drug, ye feel them coursin through the bodies around ye; moistening eyes, stiffening spines and fortifying hearts. As he wraps up, fist punched into the air, the 'Victory to the Miners' chant reaches a fever pitch.

Irvine Welsh, Skagboys, prequel to Trainspotting.
Arthur Scargill led the National Union of Mineworkers' strike and their struggle against Margaret Thatcher's new order. Thatcher was determined to break the industrial labour unions and impose privatisation and austerity on the UK. The long and bitter mining strike was a pivotal moment.

At the time of this quote, a huge contingent of supporters have gathered, intending to repel scab workers. Police lead them into a trap, then brutally assault them. Police had been specially trained and issued special new equipment in order to inflict mass beatings on unarmed supporters.

Despite the name given to this infamous confronation - The Battle of Orgreave - it was not a battle. It was a one-sided assault and very nearly a massacre.

The Guardian gives context: Miners' strike: how the bloodiest battle became the 'biggest frame-up'

7.04.2015

what i'm reading: wild by cheryl strayed, zeitoun by dave eggers

I've just finished two truly excellent works of nonfiction: Wild and Zeitoun. Both books read like fiction, with clean, clear writing and page-turning suspense. Both document almost unbelievable, out-sized events, in one case likely unique, in the other - horribly - anything but. I highly recommend both books.

I didn't expect to like Wild. Something about the phrase "best-selling memoir" just turns me off. But when the book was chosen as one of my Library's "Raves and Faves," I was intrigued. Those are always excellent books. (I'm quite proud that all five of my Raves and Faves suggestions made the list!)

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail is a story of perseverance and redemption. Her life unhinged, battered by loss and confusion, the author decides to undertake a wilderness backpacking expedition. This is no casual walk in the woods; she's chosen a trail for which experienced backpackers may spend a year in training and research. Strayed is completely inexperienced and almost comically unprepared - comic, that is, if the consequences of failure weren't potentially life-threatening. At several points in the book, I thought, "Well, she must survive, because she wrote this book...".

Wild is suspenseful, moving, sad, uplifting, heartrending, and joyous. I was filled with wonder at this woman's strength, tenacity, and resilience. Wild left me contemplating that potential in all of us.

Zeitoun is also a nonfiction page-turner. It's almost impossible to write about Zeitoun without spoiling it, and the way in which the story unfolds gives it tremendous power. Perhaps most people reading this review already know the terrible punchline.

Zeitoun is the story of one man's, and one family's, ordeal during and after Hurricane Katrina. It is a story that sits at the intersection of two American nightmares: Katrina and the post-9/11 police state.

It is an answer to every person who feels "police state" and "fascism" are hyperbole when applied to the United States. In truth, that depends on your zip code, your skin colour, and your last name.

Considering I last visited New Orleans in 1992, I have a strangely personal relationship with Hurricane Katrina. August 30, 2005, the day Katrina hit New Orleans, was one of the most momentous days of my life: the day my partner and I moved to Canada. As with any move of this magnitude, we were unplugged from the world - no TV, no internet - for a couple of days before, and at least two days after. When we were back online, I struggled to take in the magnitude of what had happened. No matter how much we read, I felt like I never caught up.

In the 10 years since, in any story about the Katrina disaster, the dates jump out at me. I can picture us clearly, driving The World's Fullest Minivan, my beloved Buster between us, Cody hunkered in a cave in the back, starting our new life. Right at those moments, tens of thousands of lives were shattered, ruined, or ended.

The Zeitouns' story is compelling, heroic, and deeply frightening. If you've ever been inclined to think, "That wouldn't happen here," or "But they would never do that", know that it did, and they already have.

As with What Is The What, Dave Eggers is using proceeds from this book to fund many very important and worthwhile causes. I highly recommend picking up a copy.

6.28.2015

some thoughts on the u.s. moving a bit closer to equality (#lovewins)

At last, it has happened. With Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex marriage has been declared legal and constitutional in the United States. Same-sex couples can legally marry, just as opposite-sex couples have always had the right to do. Most importantly, laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are now unconstitutional.*

For some years on this blog, I used to note every country that joined the equal marriage club, but about two years ago, I stopped counting. More than 20 countries now recognize same-sex marriage as a right, and that number continues to climb.

This issue has always been, is, and always should be a complete no-brainer. Equality is equality. Rights are rights. We can't have rights for some and not others. That couldn't be more obvious. The debate in the US, especially the displays of extreme homophobia and bigotry from the other side, has helped the vast middle of the road to adjust to the idea.


That's why yesterday's SCOTUS decision, although incredibly wonderful, is tinged with a sad after-taste. I fully expected this ruling, but I imagined something more like 7-2 or 6-3. The 5-4 majority, and the small-minded bigotry embedded in the dissenting opinions, are disturbing evidence of the deep and frightening divisions that exist at every level of US society.

Right now it's Pride, and we're all celebrating, and we're not fretting over this close call. That's as it should be. But reading quotes from Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion makes my flesh crawl. This is a Supreme Court Justice, one of the most powerful positions in a country that claims to be a modern democracy. Say no more.

Shortly after the Harper Government was elected, the new Prime Minister brought a motion before Parliament to re-open the issue of same-sex marriage. Equal marriage had been the law in Ontario since 2003, then became legal in eight provinces and one territory, and finally was enshrined nationally on July 20, 2005. But Harper had promised his socially conservative backers this one re-visit. This would be a "free vote," where all Members of Parliament could vote according to their individual consciences, rather than voting as a party, the way the Parliamentary system normally works. The motion to re-open the issue was defeated 175 to 123.


Allan and I had moved to Canada only a few months before this, and were still getting up to speed on how the system works. We expressed surprise and dismay at the closeness of the vote... and learned that the previous votes, the second and third readings of the Civil Marriage Act, were carried by 164-137 and 158-133, respectively. That 175-123, the last stand of the backwards thinkers, was actually an improvement.

This is so hard to get my mind around. More than 100 elected representatives to the Canadian House of Commons believed it should be legal to deny a same-sex couple the same rights afforded an opposite-sex couple. I think this is what the over-used word mind-boggling refers to.

Mind you, I could care less about legal marriage personally. To me it's an antiquated and meaningless institution. Not love. Love is The Most Important Force in the World. Not commitment, and partnership, and dedication, and chosen family. But legal marriage. That choice has been my privilege as a woman partnered with a man. If I was partnered with a woman, the choice would have been made for me. I would be a second-class citizen, with fewer options, protections, rights, and privileges than if I had a male partner. So duh. No-brainer.

Yet four out of nine Justices on the Supreme Court of the United States disagree.

Thank you to Justices Kennedy, Sotomayor, Kagan, Ginsburg, and Breyer. Thank you to every lower-court judge, every lawyer, every state legislator and mayor, who made this possible.

Thank you especially to every same-sex couple who didn't take no for an answer.

* * * * *

Vanity Fair: The Bitchiest Quotes from Scalia’s Gay Marriage Dissent

ThinkProgress: 19 Hysterical Passages From Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Dissenters

Gawker: The Craziest Lines in Every Dissenting Gay Marriage Opinion


* Many states continue to enforce anti-abortion laws that have been ruled unconstitutional, so there are still battles ahead.

6.21.2015

a 150-year-old solution

I stumbled on this letter to the New York Times Book Review from a few weeks ago. It's in response to a review of two books about precarious work - one about technology threatening jobs of even the most educated people, and another about the rise of unpaid labour.
Barbara Ehrenreich’s chilling review of Martin Ford’s “Rise of the Robots” and Craig Lambert’s “Shadow Work” (May 17) is the best evidence-based response I’ve seen to all the headlines announcing that a recovery is “just around the corner.” But if it isn’t, and unemployment and part-time employment can only get worse, what can be done? Ehrenreich concludes that “the best that the feeble human mind can come up with at the moment” is a guaranteed annual wage.

Actually, one human mind came up with another solution over 150 years ago, and that was to share the work among all able-bodied people, with society making sure that all the skills required to serve everyone’s needs are widely distributed. In this way, everyone would have a job as well as more free time to do the things that most people cannot do until they retire. With the rich sharing their excessive wealth with others and taking on productive jobs, this could be done — especially today — without lowering anyone else’s living standards.

That person’s name was Karl Marx.

Bertell Ollman, Manhattan

The writer is a professor of politics at New York University.

my feminism includes trans people. all women need to listen to each other.

The continuing liberation of transgender people is a marvel to behold. We are witnessing history, as trans people and their issues become part of the mainstream. From Chelsea Manning to "Transparent" to Laverne Cox, and of course Caitlyn Jenner, transgender people and issues have never been so front and centre. I don't do celebrity gossip so I don't know anything about the lurid lead-up to Jenner's coming out, but when the woman who cuts my hair asks me what I think about transgender people, I know something big is going on. There is more than one out trans person in the larger circle of my own life, something most of us never could have said throughout human history.

Of course the Vanity Fair cover reflects the reality of most transgender lives the way the Cosby Show reflected most African American lives. This New York Times article is a good wrap-up of where things stand - and where they don't - in the mainstream.

Naturally I consider myself an ally of trans people, as I would for any people asserting their own humanity and equality. For a feminist, a socialist, and someone who identifies as LGBT, this defines "no-brainer". So I find the current clash between different schools of feminist thought and the trans movement very sad - although predictable, and I think, temporary.

Apparently there are people who call themselves feminists who actually believe that trans women are not "real women" and should be excluded from the movement. That attitude is bigoted, offensive, and dangerous. As a general rule, anytime you agree with the anti-woman, anti-abortion, anti-gay crowd, you might want to re-assess.

There are also feminists who feel that some of the language - and the policing of that language - around trans issues denies the reality of their own lives, and denies the struggle of women's own liberation. When they have stated this publicly, they've been accused of transphobia.

Abortion access organizations - small grassroots networks that help low-income women who want abortions - have changed their language to be inclusive to trans people. Instead of referring to "women who need abortions", they now say "people who need abortions". A transgender person in any stage of transition might become pregnant. If that person identifies as a man, he may also be a rape survivor. He deserves care that treats him with dignity and respect.

In the abortion-rights movement, not everyone is comfortable with this. I know from personal conversations that some felt pressured - even bullied - into making this change, rather than educated and supported. That's not the road to inclusion, either.

Katha Pollitt, writing in The Nation, asks "Who Has Abortions?".
I’m going to argue here that removing “women” from the language of abortion is a mistake. We can, and should, support trans men and other gender-non-conforming people. But we can do that without rendering invisible half of humanity and 99.999 percent of those who get pregnant. I know I’ll offend, hurt and disappoint some people, including abortion-fund activists I love dearly. That is why I’ve started this column many times over many months and put it aside. I tell myself I might be wrong—it’s happened before. “Most of the pressure [to shift language] comes from young people,” said one abortion-fund head I interviewed, whose fund, like many, has “Women” in its name. “The role of people in our generation is to give money and get out of the way.” . . .

From the perspective of providing care, I understand it. “The focus should be on access,” NYAAF board member Rye Young told me over the phone. The primary purpose of abortion funds is to provide immediate financial and other help to individuals in crisis, whom funders usually know only as voices on the phone. If wording on a website makes people feel they can’t make that phone call, that’s not good. We women have had enough experience with being disrespected by healthcare and social-service providers not to wish that on anyone else. Does presenting abortion as gender-neutral need to be part of that welcoming procedure, though? The primary sources of abortion data in the US—the CDC and the Guttmacher Institute—don’t collect information on the gender identity of those who seek abortion, but conversations with abortion providers and others suggest the number of transgender men who want to end a pregnancy is very low. I don’t see how it denies “the existence and humanity of trans people” to use language that describes the vast majority of those who seek to end a pregnancy. Why can’t references to people who don’t identify as women simply be added to references to women? After all, every year over 2,000 men get breast cancer and over 400 die, and no one is calling for “women” to be cut out of breast-cancer language so that men will feel more comfortable seeking treatment. If there was such a call, though, I wonder what would happen. Women have such a long history of minimizing themselves in order not to hurt feelings or seem self-promoting or attention-demanding. We are raised to put ourselves second, and too often, still, we do.
The column was vilified as transphobic and hateful. Pollitt was attacked on the internet as if she were Fred Phelps. Did most of the people tweeting and re-tweeting read the column in question? Were they seeing the full context?

This response was more helpful. In "Cisgender Women Aren’t the Only People Who Seek Abortions, and Activists’ Language Should Reflect That", Dr. Cheryl Chastine points out that the claim "99.999 percent of those who get pregnant" are cisgender women is not unlike an era that thought gay people were extremely rare - or, I would add, a culture that claims there are no gay people within it.
Feminists like Pollitt who argue against inclusive language assert that because “99.999 percent of the population” seeking abortions are cis women, it is inaccurate and inappropriate to use gender-inclusive language. So how many trans people are we really talking about? It’s more than 0.001 percent. Suppose you time-traveled back to the 1950s and asked the average physician how many of his or her patients were gay. They would probably respond, “None” or, “Maybe one or two.” It’d be easy to conclude, therefore, that 99.999 percent of all people were straight, so there’d be no need to include any forms of non-heterosexual orientation in language or activism. Assuming the proportion of non-heterosexual people has stayed roughly constant, though, our 1950s physician likely did have a number of gay, lesbian, or bisexual patients. The doctor simply took them to be heterosexual. They may have even presented themselves as such, out of a legitimate fear that the physician would behave prejudicially toward them.
Excellent article. Helpful. Calling Katha Pollitt a bigot on Twitter, not helpful. (No need to point out that uninformed bashing on Twitter is the norm. I'm aware.)

Another piece that was trashed as transphobic was Elinor Burkett's essay, "What Makes a Woman" in the New York Times. I can understand that. I was uncomfortable with some of it, too. At the same time, much of that essay resonates with me.
Do women and men have different brains?

Back when Lawrence H. Summers was president of Harvard and suggested that they did, the reaction was swift and merciless. Pundits branded him sexist. Faculty members deemed him a troglodyte. Alumni withheld donations.

But when Bruce Jenner said much the same thing in an April interview with Diane Sawyer, he was lionized for his bravery, even for his progressivism.

“My brain is much more female than it is male,” he told her, explaining how he knew that he was transgender.

This was the prelude to a new photo spread and interview in Vanity Fair that offered us a glimpse into Caitlyn Jenner’s idea of a woman: a cleavage-boosting corset, sultry poses, thick mascara and the prospect of regular “girls’ nights” of banter about hair and makeup. Ms. Jenner was greeted with even more thunderous applause. ESPN announced it would give Ms. Jenner an award for courage. President Obama also praised her. Not to be outdone, Chelsea Manning hopped on Ms. Jenner’s gender train on Twitter, gushing, “I am so much more aware of my emotions; much more sensitive emotionally (and physically).”

A part of me winced.

I have fought for many of my 68 years against efforts to put women — our brains, our hearts, our bodies, even our moods — into tidy boxes, to reduce us to hoary stereotypes. Suddenly, I find that many of the people I think of as being on my side — people who proudly call themselves progressive and fervently support the human need for self-determination — are buying into the notion that minor differences in male and female brains lead to major forks in the road and that some sort of gendered destiny is encoded in us.

That’s the kind of nonsense that was used to repress women for centuries. But the desire to support people like Ms. Jenner and their journey toward their truest selves has strangely and unwittingly brought it back.
I, too, feel that much of the discourse around trans issues reinforces gender stereotypes. We've struggled against these stereotypes, and we've spent a lifetime asserting our right to be women and to be people, even as we reject them. So it can hurt to hear women, whether cis or trans, embrace these stereotypes and define their womanhood and their personhood through them. This is what I took from Burkett's article.

Burkett also asserted that Caitlyn Jenner has benefited from male privilege most of her life, and that privilege comes into play now. I agree with that, too.

The fact that some of Burkett's essay resonated with me doesn't make me transphobic. My observations come from my own reality. I've had my own struggles to define myself and accept myself in a sexist world. My journey is different than that of a trans woman, and I'm sure in many ways it has been infinitely easier, but it is still my reality. Any cis woman finds herself agreeing with this essay needs space to assert this, without being accused of a bigotry that isn't (necessarily) there.

Trans people have every right to demand inclusion. But inclusion gained through silencing discussion is not really inclusion at all: it's separatism. At a certain stage in a movement, separatism may be what's needed. But for the road ahead, I hope to see us aim for understanding and solidarity - among all feminists, all LGBT people, and all allies.

These types of conflicts within and among social movements have a long and rich history. The second-wave feminists clashed with the pioneers of gay liberation. Going back further to the earliest days of the women's movement, in the 19th Century when women were fighting for basic civil rights, there were conflicts between feminism and the abolitionist and temperance movements. All movements have growing pains, early conflicts, and questions that can only be settled over time, through people's own lived experiences.

Experiencing these growing pains in the internet era amplifies and escalates the conflict. When someone publishes an essay, and one sentence of that essay ignites a Twitter storm - and it's reasonable to assume that many (most?) people retweeting have not read the essay, merely the offending sentence and the claim of bigotry - then there is no education. There is only noise.

I'm not equating Twitter attacks on Pollitt or Burkett with the struggles of transgender people for full acceptance and equality. I'm not suggesting cis feminists who are uncomfortable replacing the word "women" with "people" are victims.

I am merely suggesting that true inclusion is not about who can generate the most tweets - that is, who can yell the loudest. Feminists of all ages and eras have a lot to learn from this exciting wave of trans liberation. Trans women and their allies may have something to learn from previous waves of feminism. We'll only find out if we listen to each other.

* * * * *

Some good reading on this topic:

It's Time to End the Long History of Feminism Failing Transgender Women, Tina Vasquez, Bitch Media

On Trans Issues with Feminism and Strengthening the Movement's Gender Analysis, Jos Truitt, Feministing

Trans Women Are Women. Why Do We Have to Keep Saying This?, Leela Ginelle, Bitch Media, an analysis of Burkitt's essay

Who Has Abortions?, Katha Pollitt, The Nation

Cisgender Women Aren’t the Only People Who Seek Abortions, and Activists’ Language Should Reflect That, Cheryl Chastine, RH Reality Check

What Makes A Woman, Elinor Burkett, New York Times

Responses to Burkett's piece published in the Times. I'm using this because it represents multiple points of view.

6.18.2015

thoughts on luxury, plus know your rights, rental edition, part three

We have to move.

We are heartsick over it.

Our landlord is selling the house we live in. We're not letting ourselves get kicked out (see below), but chances are very good we'll have to move, so we're taking steps to find a place sooner rather than later.

With the shock of our landlord's announcement faded - at least a bit! - we've been able to evaluate our options. And sadly, very sadly, we realize that we should stop renting houses and go back to apartment life.

Comfort is easy. Less comfort is not.

It's incredibly easy to grow accustomed to certain comforts and conveniences...and famously difficult to give them up. Entire miniseries and movies are premised on spoiled rich people learning how the other 99% lives. But you need not be Johnny Rose to experience this. Even a little comfort, once savoured, is difficult to part with.

The house we have been renting for the past two years is the nicest place either of us have ever lived in. We'll probably end up living in an apartment that would have once seemed incredible to us: three bedrooms, two bathrooms, beautifully maintained building. But our standard of living has gone up. And it's hard to go back.

The toughest part is the backyard. My last several years in New York City, I craved some bit of outdoor space. I swore that even the tiniest backyard, a little square of grass, would satisfy me. Now it's been 10 years of wonderfully spacious backyards. I can scarcely express how much we have loved this. Every night that weather permits we eat outdoors. If we're home and it's nice out, we are in the backyard. I have treasured this.

We've also become such lazy dog owners! We take our dogs to the dog park and we walk together for fun and exercise. But on a daily basis, we simply open the back door. In New York, we walked our dogs four times a day - two long walks and two quick ones. We walked them in the rain and in the snow. We walked them after work, we walked them in the morning, and late at night. How did we do this?? I can't remember!

Our dogs now spend so much time outside. They chase squirrels and bark at passing trucks. They stare out a window at passers-by. Now they'll be apartment dogs again. They'll have a good life, I know that. But I know what they'll be missing.

There's always an upside.

Of course we've discovered the upside of the situation.

- No stairs for Tala! Because of Tala's spine condition, she cannot walk stairs. We have doggy ramps on the back and front entrances, but she either can't sleep in our bedroom or she comes upstairs only to sleep, but it's a struggle. Apartment life will be easier onTala. And of course all dogs do better without stairs as they age.

- Our monthly expenses will decrease considerably. Rents are high in our area, but the rent on our current house is crazy. We also pay our own utilities, which will be included in an apartment rental. We'll likely reduce our monthly costs by $500 per month, a sizeable change.

- No snow shoveling.

- No lawn mowing.

That's all I came up with.

Know your rights, rental edition, part three

You may recall that last year our landlord tried to raise our rent by 11%, when the legal increase rent was 0.8% for 2014 and 1.6% for 2015. And he wanted the extra money in cash, in an envelope, with no record of the rent increase in writing! When we objected, he first threatened some further illegality, then backed down.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the same landlord is trying to have us move out before we are required to do so. Under Ontario law, the landlord can ask us to move only after he has a buyer, and only after it is determined that the buyer wants to live in the house or have a family member live here. He would then apply for an eviction order and give us 60-days' notice.

But this lovely landlord is in a hurry for us to move: he wants to make improvements on the house that would be impossible with us living here. To do that, he'll either need an order from the Landlord Tenant Board, which is highly unlikely to happen, or he'll need to offer us an incentive to vacate sooner.

Meanwhile, we're looking for apartments. And bemoaning the loss of our backyard.

6.15.2015

what i'm reading: fallingwater rising, biography of a building

In the prologue to Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House, author Franklin Toker writes, "Put this book down now if you can't live without the old myths about Fallingwater. But take comfort in the fact that a Fallingwater history shorn of miracles can still be thrilling."

Toker examines those old myths, and one by one, he uses his extensive and impeccable research to dismantle them. The truth, for me, was far more interesting.

I visited Fallingwater in 1999, and although I have a great interest in architecture and am captivated by that house, I thought a biography of a single building might be too detailed for my level of interest. I was wrong. The book does contain quite a lot of detail. But through that detail, and through his nearly palpable passion for his material, the author reveals the magnificence of Fallingwater and explicates the full depth of its meaning.

Toker weaves a social and cultural history of Fallingwater, placing it in context of Wright's career, Kaufmann's aspirations, the Depression, and the conflicting forces of architecture that were raging at the time. He shows how Fallingwater was sold to the American public, and how that hype permanently changed the country's perception of art and architecture. He analyzes what Fallingwater means in the context of art history and American identity. As Janet Maslin wrote in her review for The New York Times, "Nothing about the way Fallingwater was built, conceived, influenced or manipulated escapes the author's attention."

Some of Toker's claims border on the speculative, but he meticulously presents his evidence and makes his case, leaving the reader to decide if he's made too great a leap. Given that he spent nearly 20 years researching this book, the evidence is always substantial.

I was fascinated to learn that on the eve of Fallingwater's conception, the architecture community considered Wright washed up, a has-been. He had not completed a building in 13 years, and his work was thought to have become repetitive and - the worst insult possible - regressive. At almost 70 years old, Wright was living in relative isolation, both his personal life and his professional life mired in depression. Yet his two most famous, recognizable buildings - Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum - were still ahead of him. By the time he died in 1959 at age 91, Wright would be, without exaggeration, the most famous architect in the world, leaving behind an unrivaled body of work. How Wright transformed his career, his image, and the face of architecture through this one building is an amazing tale, and Toker tells it with the sparkling writing and wit.

Incidentally, this book is a great eye-opener for those who reject certain art based on the politics or personal life of the artist. Wright, it appears, was staunchly anti-Semitic, although his two most famous buildings were created for Jewish clients. He admired the Nazis and the Third Reich, and disliked that "the Jews" were leading the U.S. into war. (Anti-Semitism and fascist tendencies are one of the threads running through this book, and very relevant to Fallingwater's context.) Wright was also a raging egotist who abandoned his wife and six children to have an affair with a client's wife. Wright the man was not exactly an admirable character. Wright the architect was a visionary and a genius.

Another note: I highly recommend keeping some internet-enabled device on hand while you read Fallingwater Rising. Toker references dozens of buildings, and few readers will be able to conjure mental images of each one. I kept my tablet handy, and did an image search for every building mentioned. This provided me with a context I wouldn't have found in the book alone, plus I ended up with a new short-list of buildings I'd like to see on my travels.

6.14.2015

holden caulfield, ponyboy curtis, and my teen book club

"Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

Recognize it?

For me it's one of the most memorable final sentences ever written.

I just finished re-reading The Catcher in the Rye, possibly for the first time since reading it (twice) in high school. I remembered it in a theoretical way, but had forgotten the details. It's a funny, sad, perfect little book.

I'm not breaking any new ground when I call Catcher the original young-adult novel. Every John Green and Ned Vizzini and Stephen Chbosky narrator, every wise-cracking alienated youth straight through to Buffy Summers and Veronica Mars, inherits their voice from Holden. Catcher, published in 1951, is more influential now than when S. E. Hinton started to write The Outsiders only 13 years later.

I had the perfect incentive to re-read Catcher: it's this month's selection for my teen book club. The core group of members are bored with cookie-cutter youth novels. They want substance. Over the past year, we've read The Outsiders, Fahrenheit 451, The Golden Compass and Ender's Game, now Catcher, and later To Kill A Mockingbird. They know they'll read some of these titles for school, but they want to read them now, with our group.

We have quality newer titles on the list, too: M. T. Anderson's Feed, Saving Houdini, historical magic realism set in Toronto, Kelley Armstrong's Loki's Wolves, and of course, the incomparable Eleanor & Park. But I find their thirst for classics so touching and inspiring.

I won't be the youth-services librarian at Central Library forever. Whenever I do move on, I will miss this group.