Should We Burn Babar? (Kohl)

This provocatively titled collection of essays calls for not only a more radical approach to selecting literature, but urges us to teach young children to see stories, particularly older ones (classics though they may be) with more critical eyes. In addition to Babar, Kohl takes on the perennially safe (and generally inaccurate) portrayal of Rosa Parks’ role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He compares textbook account and shows the true danger of what Adichie calls “a single story.” He does not leave it there; instead, he puts together the story as he thinks it should read.

In these days, when there is much talk of 21st Century Education, Kohl reminds us – in several inspiring passages – of the importance of stories for children. His book is also a call for us to examine the not always conventional sources of our philosophies of education. As with many good books, he sent me on a search for other sources, both fiction and otherwise.

A powerful and highly recommended book.

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The Leaf and the Cloud (OIiver)

It’s beginning to feel a bit obvious, but I adore Oliver’s poetry. Here, though her topics are familiar, her form is new and engaging. I was struck by it right from the cover page. This is actually The Leaf and the Cloud: A Poem. So are each of the sections called chapters? I read a section or ‘chapter’ each night, but I hope to go back and read it as one poem.

Oliver’s language can seem deceptively simple, but she sneaks up on you.

The poem is not the world. / It isn’t even the first page of the world. / But the poem wants to flower, like a flower. / It knows that much. / It wants to open itself, / like the door of a little temple, / so that you might step inside and be cooled and refreshed, / and less yourself than part of everything.

And Oliver has always been great at questions –

what will engage you? What will open the dark fields of your mind, / like a lover / at first touching?

And those are both from the first ‘chapter.’

Inheriting the Holy Land (Miller)

Miller’s book, subtitled, An American’s Search for Hope in the Middle East, is remarkable for its impressive reach. Miller, in an admittedly privileged position, has access to places and people that most of us have only seen on TV. She interviews campers from Seeds of Peace (http://www.seedsofpeace.org/) – she was once one herself – as well as leaders from Israel and Palestine. Miller moves in and out of the story. She is open about her own reactions and biases (she is Jewish), but does not let them get in the way of her story. There are parts that make you feel like she’s found the hope she mentions in her subtitle (an issue that one of her readers questions her about on her book tour) and other sections will leave you despondent. What’s always been true and is illustrated over and over again here is that nothing in the Holy Land is simple, and nothing is likely to happen soon. The hope, Miller finds, is in the children. Though it sounds trite, she provides ample reasons why the more the old guard recedes from leadership, the greater the chance of, if not peace, then at least co-existence. If only the children that Miller talks to don’t learn too much from their elders. This is a well-balanced and important book.

April Galleons (Ashberry)

I had bailed out of an earlier Ashberry collection because I couldn’t seem to find my way into it, but a colleague encouraged me to try his work again, and I’m glad I did. April Galleons is one of the best poetry books I’ve read in a while. Not only does it contain great individual poems, but the collection, in addition to being hefty at 96 pages, hangs together well. Ashberry seems at ease with himself. There’s a sense of humor about these poems. It’s as though he’s seen the compromises that life requires and has figured out they’re not so bad. And he’s an absolute master at line breaks. You’ll find you want to read some of these out loud. Some excerpts –

From “Posture of Unease” –

But for all you I / Have neglected, ignored, / Left to stew in your own juices, / Not been that friend that is approaching, / I ask forgiveness, a song new like rain. / Please sing it to me.

From “Alone in the Lumber Business” –

The bridge / Of fools once crossed, there are adjustments to be made. / But you have to settle in to looking at these things.

From “Vaucanson” –

“It hurts, this wanting to give a dimension / To life, when life is precisely that dimension. / We are creatures, therefore we walk and talk / And people come up to us, or listen / And then move away.

From “Unreleased Movie” –

“And I mean what shall be saved / Of us as we live aimed at some near but unattainable mark on the wall?”

In the end, as Ashberry writes, “life manages itself.”

These are poems to return to.

Last Man in Tower (Adiga)

The spark was definitely there in The White Tiger, but I thought Adiga’s format (the letters) boxed him in a bit. Here, he has his full repertoire in hand, and the result is wonderful. At first, I feared that there were too many characters, but Adiga does such a superb job of characterization that it didn’t take long for me to really know and imagine each one. His prose is sharp and funny. Consider (225) –

“Storm-swollen, its foam hissing thick like acid reflux, dissolving gravity and rock and charging up the ramps that separated beach from road, breaking at the land’s edge in burst after burst of droplets that made the spectators, huddled under black umbrellas, scream.”

Not only does Adiga present great characters here, but he’s after something larger – the story of the last man in the tower who resists the overtures of an ill, but greedy developer. There’s a familiar quality here – the individual against the group – but Adiga keeps it fresh. Who develops a conscience? Who doesn’t? I was genuinely unsure about what would happen in the end (and who would be responsible for it).

Adiga’s greatest ‘character’ may be Mumbai. The city, in all of its warts and glories, is presented here with such detail and poetry. Could anyone not named Adiga get away with this? Probably not. So what?

I just want to talk with the idiot responsible for putting the blurb from USA Today on the cover. I cringed each time I saw it. “If you loved the movie Slumdog Millionaire, you will inhale {this] novel.” Idiotic on so many levels.

Great writer; another great book.

Collected Stories (Garcia Marquez)

It took me a long while to get into magical realism. It was Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits that convinced me of the legitimacy of the genre. Garcia Marquez’s work has long been a challenge for me. It took me a few tries to get through One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I am glad I persevered. I had fond memories of a few of Garcia Marquez’s short stories when I picked up the collection.

This Harper Perennial edition is arranged chronologically by publication date. The stories are presented in the way they were originally collected for their publication in Spanish. The initial stories are intimidating in their obscurity, but either Garcia Marquez’s style evolved or I got into its rhythm enough that I found myself having some ideas about the stories and enjoying them as I went along. Still, it did not surprise me when I felt most comfortable with his most recent work.