I’d heard the name for years, but finally took the plunge. What a remarkable voice. From “Malcolm” –

what could have been

floods the womb until i drown.

These poems are political, personal, sexual; they are clearly meant to be heard – some moreso than others and these often fall a bit flat on the page. Her prose poems, like “Mrs. Benita Jones Speaks,” are amazing – theatrical and dynamic. From “Poem for July 4, 1994,”

For we the people will always be arriving

a ceremony of thunder

waking up the earth

opening our eyes to human


From an earlier section of the same poem –

It is essential that we finally understand

this is the time for the creative

human being

From “I Have Walked A Long Time” –

i have lived in tunnels

and fed the bloodless fish;


Take a moment to savor the connotations of that title. The fall of? The fall of man? The fall as in the season? The fall of America? What or who is in the fall?

That the title merits even those questions (and more, I’m sure) is only the beginning of the power of Lent’s words. I am a pretty fast reader, but this one requires slow and careful attention. Lent’s stunning sentences constantly kept me off-balance. He omits the unnecessary, and an honest reading of this book makes you realize how many unnecessary words there are (in books, in conversation). Lent earns the comparisons to Cormac McCarthy. It’s hard to believe I can call a 542-page book spare, but I can.

The story covers three generations during an often unexamined period of American History. Post-Civil War to the beginning of the Depression. We move from father to son to his son. That can make the book sound male-dominated, and maybe that’s true, but there are three pretty powerful women here too – the matriarch of the family, Leah, and her two daughters, Abigail and Prudence.

There was only one moment I really didn’t buy – the transformation of Jamie (the son at the center of the second section) from an admittedly reluctant son of a farmer to a gangster. How does he know of life in the city, much less almost immediately have the skills and confidence to become a part of it?

A wonderfully evocative novel about changes in America and trying to account for the changes in one family.

My first reaction to this book was that Blackmon was absolutely right. My image of slavery was limited to the plantation. I had no idea about industrial slavery or the extent of it, much less how well-organized it was. I knew that sharecropping was largely another name for slavery, but again, the way that Black Americans were arrested for crimes that were often as vague as they were unsubstantiated, was completely new to me. And I had to and have to wonder why that is.

At times, it seemed like Blackmon backtracked unnecessarily, to provide the backstory of someone he’d introduced into his narrative. Other times, it seemed like he went into too much detail. But I think, like Ondaatje, Blackmon knew that he “must get this book right, [because he] can only write it once.”

This book is a compelling story, one too little told, right to the end, when Blackmon teases out his own family’s intersections with the era he wants us to know as Neoslavery (and not the Jim Crow era). He also asks the compelling question about the responsibility those of us in the present have to that which happened in the past. (The Wachovia Bank story is memorable here.) In this section, I was reminded of Ta-Nahesi Coates’ outstanding piece on “The Case for Reparations” (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/). It is one thing to say that slavery happened a long time ago, and I had nothing to do with it. But when you can say that it didn’t end until both technology and war combined to make it at least slip beneath the surface (I would argue, thanks to Michelle Alexander and others, that it’s not over even now), that makes its existence uncomfortably close to present day.

Like others, I was sad to hear of the recent death of E.L. Doctorow. Ragtime, the book, the movie (which he apparently didn’t like) and the musical (also not his favorite) are all important to me, each for its own reasons. I thought The March and World’s Fair were okay and could not get into Homer & Langley. Instead of going back, I reached for this one, by all accounts Doctorow’s final novel.

It’s definitely not the historical fiction I think Doctorow is most known for. It’s meditative, perhaps personal, at times obscure. That it was his last adds a tinge of sadness, perhaps only because of the knowledge of his death, perhaps because this one seems to include a touch of the autobiographical.

Though I was amused by and sympathetic to the comments on an unnamed American president who did not do well at Yale, that whole section seemed to belong more to the author than to the story.

So The Book of Daniel is next. And then Ragtime.

I’ve long had an aversion to the “If you do x, you’ll get y” approach to teaching when it comes to food, treats, stickers, etc.. But when Kohn digs into the notion of grades or even praise as part of his argument against rewards, I was, well, quite challenged. I felt like he was shining a spotlight on my practice. I’m certainly more careful with praise than I used to be (thank you, Carol Dweck) and though I’ve had my share of grade-grubbers in my time, I never really thought about grades as a reward. Still, I’m currently at a school that wants to downplay their importance, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. I think it’s the right direction. The praise portion is tough. How and what do you say to a student in order to recognize effort? accomplishment? I’ve gotten better at asking questions than making statements. And I’ve tried to get out of the habit of saying things like, “I need you to do this.”

In terms of behavior, I’m pretty much on board with my understanding of Kohn’s argument (as is my school). Involve the students. Seize teachable moments. Restore and repair rather than punish.

My hackles definitely got up during Kohn’s anti-pay-for-performance diatribes (and he can lazily slip into hyperbole when he doesn’t seem to want to make an argument). While I grant that his forecasts can prove true (“I don’t like you, so you’re not getting a bonus”), I was part of an effort to administer a pay-for-performance scheme. I know that we tried very hard to calibrate our expectations and to build in checks and balances to try to make sure our results were reasonable and consistent. Since I was involved at the very beginning of the program, emotions and questions were running high, but with some consistency, I imagine it will settle into an effective system and that the staff will get used to its existence.

A good, challenging book. I wrote a lot of notes in the margins – in support of the author and to argue with him.

I seem to be continuing my series of books about abandoned women. I’d heard Ferrante’s name floating around enough that I became intrigued. I decided to try a stand alone book first before I thought about embarking on her Neapolitan novels. It didn’t hurt that the blurb on this one is from Jhumpa Lahiri.

This is an amazing and powerful book right from the very first sentence (expertly translated by Ann Goldstein): “One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me.” And thus, the protagonist, Olga, is abandoned and she falls apart. I kept asking myself why a woman falling apart because her husband left her didn’t somehow seem insulting to women. But it doesn’t because Ferrante so carefully explores how very much intertwined couples become, especially when one – in this case, the wife – makes sacrifices for the other.

The sentences are powerful and the story is authentic. I will be starting the Neapolitan novels soon.


I was hooked by the five-page / one sentence prologue. But the magic dissipated soon after that. The story centers around an opium den, its employees and customers. At the heart of the story is Dimple, with a name and a history that are both too complicated to explain. The story meanders and in the last third takes a turn toward speechifying, some of it the familiar rantings of a person alarmed at the changes in society. Perhaps I don’t know enough to appreciate the allusions to the character of Bombay and the politics and economics of India, but at a certain point, I just wanted to get to the end. How and why this book became shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, I do not know.


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