Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Mysterious Mr. Salinger

J.D. Salinger's death was announced today. He was 91 years old.

Salinger was undoubtedly famous for his literary contributions. He was controversial as well, both for his reclusiveness and his strange (arguably abusive) relationships with women.

His fame, after his meteoric rise to success with The Catcher in the Rye, has been maintained primarily by his mystique. Salinger was an argument against PR--perhaps he was more famous for his lack of connection with the outside world.

But his work stands for itself after all this time. His Holden Caulfield is one of the most influential and lovable characters in American literature. The first time I read Catcher I thought it was the funniest book I'd ever read. The second time I read it I thought it was the saddest.

That was Salinger's great power--to create a layered story that could elicit any number of emotions. His characters are real and multidimensional, and we love them as much for their flaws as we do for their strengths.

Since Salinger kept to himself for the last half a century, no one will really notice that he has passed into the beyond. But his books, especially one notable American classic, will pay tribute to him in a way that he never cared to do for himself.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Conversation Fodder

Love talking about mysteries? Check out these questions at PDD. You can ask them of your mystery-loving friends and talk all day.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mystery and Spark

Alan Alda's PBS series, THE HUMAN SPARK, explores a whole different sort of mystery, but one that is likely to fascinate anyone: what makes us human? What makes us who we are?

This show, once you begin to watch it, is impossible to turn off. Alda is such a personable interviewer that he makes the driest commentary by a scientist or psychologist interesting and attainable.

Watch episodes and learn more here:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Farewell, Chalky Old Friend

My old blackboard, covered with lovely student projects and the detritus of teaching.

Today I bid adieu to my 90-year-old blackboard. I now await the tech-savvy SmartBoard (or 'interactive white board'), which is something of a classroom miracle. Gone will be the chalk, the erasers, the heavy layers of dust on the ledge, the gross and sludgy bucket I had to fill each day to wash the board. Don't get me wrong; I loved writing on my chalkboard, and I was one of the rare people who could write a chalk sentence in a straight line.

Evidence of the chalky ledge.

But the Smartboard can do so much more that all schools will go to them eventually, as soon as they can afford them. Anything drawn on the Smartboard can be saved, since the board interacts with the classroom computer. So if I write good notes and fear that I won't remember them for a class later in the day, I can save them and bring them up for the next class. I can also e-mail them or save them for a future time.

I can project Powerpoint images in my class notes. If I'm talking about Shakespeare and jotting down notes about Elizabethan Drama, I can touch a button on my whiteboard to bring up a visual of the Globe Theatre. Much better than the days when I might have tried to draw it myself (my students would attest that my drawings are . . . amusing).

Oh, and if a teacher has sloppy handwriting that students can read, they can touch the SmartBoard and turn it into Times New Roman. Magic. You should have heard the teachers ooohing and ahhhhing at the product demonstration. We were hooked.

I love my old blackboard; it was beautiful, with wood inlay dating to the early 20th Century. Sadly, though, after a few weeks of SmartBoard I doubt I'll ever look back. Such is the fast-moving world.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Great Du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier, her peerless novel REBECCA, and her other great writings are my topic at Poe's Deadly Daughters Today.

Meanwhile, I am immersed in A BEAUTIFUL BLUE DEATH, a historical mystery with a detective from the same time period as, but much more likeable than, Sherlock Holmes.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Snow Day

I got the call at 5:30 this morning that school was closed--no teaching today. If you think that only young people feel jubilant to hear the "no school" message, think again. No school! It's a lovely surprise of an extra day.

The difference is found between the ways young people and older people spend that time. For gradeschoolers, I imagine it's about making snowmen and throwing snowballs. For teens, it's a day to sit around and Facebook or write endless text messages from the warmth of home.

For adults--at least for me--it's a treat because I can spead my chores over three days instead of two. So yes, I'll still be grading papers and paying bills, but I have more TIME to do those things, so I'll find unexpected pockets--little moment gifts--in which I can read or write or even watch a movie.

That's a rarity, and a bright blossom in the cold of winter.

(I took the photo in 2006 in Sinsinawa, Wisconson).

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Mystery of Nature

My parents found this lovely creature in their back yard at the end of December. She was resting and eating bird food, and as you can see, her ankle is very swollen. That seemed to have been her only malady (could she have slipped on the ice?) but of course it made walking difficult for her.

My parents called Animal Control, only to be told they didn't "do anything for deer." Poor deer. Before my parents could do much more research, the pretty doe got gingerly to her feet and limped out of their yard. They assume she returned to the woods at the end of the block.

That same night, while we were driving around and looking at Christmas lights in our own suburban neighborhood, a buck burst out of someone's yard and trotted next to our car. It was a beautiful sight: a steady snowfall, a proud buck with spreading antlers, and a silent street. It happened to be my birthday, December 30, and I saw him as a wonderful ambassador into the New Year. He crossed right in front of our car and then stood in the opposite parkway, looking at us. We looked at him, too, blessed by the silent moment in the December snow.

He was still standing there as we drove away.