Thursday, March 21, 2013

What I've Been Reading

(For ENG 100 students interested in my thoughts on Michael Pollan and Food Rules, see my blog post from last semester here.)

Last week, my ENG 112 classes finished reading and discussing Jean Kwok's debut novel, Girl in Tranlsation. Kwok is scheduled to visit DCCC next month, and I look forward to attending her reading.

There is a pivotal scene at the end of the novel (SPOILER ALERT), when Kimberly Chang, the protagonist, decides at the last moment not to go through with her plans to terminate an unplanned pregnancy. She makes this decision after viewing the fetus via an ultrasound:

I expected a clump of cells attached to the uterine wall. I kept my mind carefully blank but without warning, an image of the fetus sprang onto the screen and I gasped. I shifted so abruptly that I dislodged her wand. ... I was riveted by the monitor.
He was doing gymnastics. A small tadpole-like figure, he pushed himself from side to side, swam in that enormous space with complete joy. He was defiant and playful, I imagined he was laughing. In that moment, I started to love him...
As soon as I saw him, I had no choice... (Jean Kwok, Girl in Translation)
My students were rather divided about whether or not Kwok was trying to make a moral or political statement about abortion through this scene. For me, the passage brings to mind recent debates about legislation designed to bring about real moments just like this. When a bill mandating transvaginal ultrasounds was proposed, revised, and signed into law last year in Virginia, there was much public debate about the ethics of such a mandate. Proponents of the bill argued that it would help guarantee that each woman who went through with an abortion understood fully just what she was doing. Critics of the bill argued that it was invasive, unnecessary, and emotionally manipulative. A similar bill, known as the "Women's Right to Know Act," was debated in Pennsylvania last year, and Governor Corbett expressed support for it, though the law never passed.

In my American Literature course, we just finished The Great Gatsby, and much of the discussion, unsurprisingly, focused on just why Gatsby so obsessively loves Daisy, such that his whole life seems organized around the foolishly romantic dream of fulfilling his past desire for her. Yet, for me, I am more intrigued by Nick's love for Gatsby--whom he simultaneously disapproves of and adores. Gatsby becomes just as important of a romantic symbol for Nick as Daisy was for Gatsby. Why is Gatsby the only one who seems to genuinely unlock Nick's capacity for love, which is otherwise closed off by his deep cynicism about the modern world?

Who knows.

Today, I read a short story from an old college friend (Dorothy Albertini) that echoes some of Fitzgerald's themes in Gatsby. Check it out--she's one of my favorite writers.

Finally, Spring Break also enabled me to finish reading my FIRST (absurd, isn't it?) novel by Stephen King: 11/22/63. It was pretty amazing, I have to say. I love time travel stories, though there is always something unsatisfying about how writers try to wrestle with the philosophical and technical aspects of it. This novel was the same, but it satisfied me on the more important themes of history and love. 

On to new books! (Sort of but used...revisited with fresh eyes.) I'll be re-reading and teaching Sacha Scoblic's Unwasted as well as Chester Himes's If He Hollers Let Him Go over the next few weeks. Both are great--can't wait to dig back into them, and listen to what my students have to say.

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