Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Down on The Farm

The Child's class is going to be reading George Orwell's Animal Farm. I'm so excited. She's reading my copy, inscribed in my halting 8th grade hand. The more things change...

I read Animal Farm when I was in the 8th grade, too, but not because my teacher assigned it. Back in the day, when my dad, Sean Connery, was still teaching, he had a summertime ritual with the head of the English department. He and Mr. N would go off to a bookstore (probably Powell's, in Portland, although I'm not sure about that). This was always a red letter day for me because daddy would come home with a huge box full of books. In that box were always a few treasures that Mr. N had chose just for me and given to daddy with a "Lori has to read this". (Yes, they called me 'Lori' back then. Don't you ever. Rainey is just fine).

Mr. N never, ever steered me wrong. If he said it was a must read, it was. Three of the most important books I've ever read came on his recommendation.

Animal Farm was one of those. I wouldn't say that my political sensitivity was that high back then. I was a product of the Cold War and necessarily hated the Russians because they wanted to kill me and make me not believe in God. (Sting hadn't yet reminded us that Russians love their children, too). I knew, then, that communism was baaaaad. It would be a long time before I would read Marx for myself and then decide that communism was baaaaad not because of anything he wrote (which I mostly appreciated) but because his adherents were such an intensely dour lot. Which is all to say that the political subtext of the book escaped me on the first read. But it was a profound parable nonetheless. Plus it had talking animals.

Mr. N is also responsible for my reading The Diary of Anne Frank. That book is forever connected in my mind with figs, because I read it under our fig tree, under the cool shade of the tree's broad leaves, the air rich with the thrum of drunk bees who wobbled about on the soft, fallen figs. I haven't read the book as an adult, and I suppose I should but I think I don't because the potency of that book for me was in the identification with Anne's teen-ness. She was grumpy and manic, crushing on boys and generally being a pain in the ass. It was the first time I read something written by someone my age. Our experiences couldn't have been more different, of course. It's not like I didn't see that. But for me that book was way more about coming of age; Anne's crazy helped me see that all my hot and cold running moods didn't make me insane after all.

After those two books I'll bet your thinking, what other classic gem of literature was your "must read"? The Odyssey? Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man? The Great Gatsby perhaps?

Nope. It was a little gem called The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. It is up there on my list of Top 10 Favorite Books of All Time. It's the story of a girl named Kit, who after the death of her grandfather, is forced to leave her home in Barbados and live with her aunt's family in Wethersfield, Connecticut. It's a classic fish-out-of-water tale, as a young, spirited and educated young lady comes smack up against Puritanism. It's brilliant. I love it with all my heart. It was a perfect summertime read: drama, romance, politics, witch trials, more romance. I have reread that book every single year since...something like 40 times now.

A couple years ago I tried to get The Child into it. It didn't take. Perhaps I'll try again this year but for now I'm enjoying seeing her get into Animal Farm. Oh! and here's the thing. Yesterday she stayed home from school (tummy complaints...which I've since diagnosed as a serious case of "senioritis"). I played it tough and wouldn't let her play on the computer or watch TV. Instead I made her start reading the book. I had to satisfy myself that she had indeed begun it so at bedtime last night I asked her to tell me about it.

"Well, there's this cool boar named 'Snowball'...I like him...and he and his friends got the other animals to make a rebellion against the farmer...that was funny when they pushed him and his friends into the wheelbarrow...and the animals wrote these 7 Commandments and they are 'Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy...whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend..no animal shall wear clothes'... "

At which point I was convinced since she was reciting all this to me without aid of the book.

Know what else I'm excited about? The fact that she's getting into a book that wasn't written by J.K. Rowling.

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Blogger sageweb opined...

Hmm I have never read any of the books you mentioned..except for the Harry Potter reference. I read a lot too. I am sure lesbian romance books aren't on your list though.

April 15, 2008 12:37 PM  
Blogger Auld Hat opined...

I remember that book (:
Also, having been forbidden to call you by your childhood nickname is making me really want to call you that now. Notice how I haven't? Me=Friend.
Oh and one more thing - the image of drunk bees wobbling on a fig? FABULOUS!

April 15, 2008 12:45 PM  
Blogger Buck opined...

Awwww. That's sweet.

My first favorite book was "The Exorcist" only because I was a Preacher's Kid and I was forbidden to read it.

April 15, 2008 12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous opined...

Ba Ha Ha Ha (Note no W)

Sounds like an English Major.

Pretty cool.



April 15, 2008 1:49 PM  
Blogger LostInCO opined...

I've read The Diary of Anne Frank, but not the others you mentioned. When I was preteen I found a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I read that more than once, and could relate girl telling the story.

April 15, 2008 1:58 PM  
Blogger Nicole opined...

I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond too. Haven't read it in decades. What have I been thinking?

April 15, 2008 2:18 PM  
Blogger kingba opined...

being a newer peripheral reader of this here blog (clap of hands, applause, cheers, etc.), I need a refresher.
May i ask what the connection is between your Dad Sean Connery??? (and don't take it wrong, but I though I'd ask, esp. as I once encountered (professionally) a woman who.. has been interned, by the way, but thought herself the daughter of Jackie Kennedy-O and very known US fashion designer (who, she said, spoke to her only in a foreign language, I might add).....

so, er, Loraine, would you enlighten me, or shall I draw my own conclusions (warped as they will indeniably be by the hereabove sorry experience?)

Thank you, Rainey, I know you are a good girl.

April 15, 2008 2:59 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Great books all, Sage. Highly recommended. And you're right. Don't enjoy romance fiction as a general rule.

Hat, you are a very good friend, indeed.

Oh, Buck. First we find out you're a commie and now this...

English Majors of the world unite!

Lost: and I (shudders with humiliation) haven't read A Tree. Should rectify that, no?

Nicole, indeed. Do you still have a copy? Because if you don't I'll hook you up.

Kingba, fear not for my sanity. Here's the thing: a couple years ago I was fooling around with Photoshop and I decided to show a picture of my family only with photoshopped faces. I chose different celebs for each person, based on their character, etc. Thus my mom became Dame Judi, my dad Sean Connery, my brother George Cloony and my two sisters became Audrey Hepburn and Martha Stewart. Not very exciting but hopefully that clears up the confusion.

April 15, 2008 3:07 PM  
Blogger kingba opined...

Wa-oh.. that is a family. Can I choose Helen Mirren? And I say that... of course, not really thinking to have her as ...my mom (oops, sorry, "have" has... a second connotation here) but also because, Ladies, I now you worry about our society's emphasis on looks and youth, etc.. but frankly, I'll take Helen Mirren any time over Britney Spears (who is a lost kid, poor girl, what a life already!) or Paris Hilton (and then we have to talk abour brains, too....)

April 15, 2008 4:20 PM  
Blogger evilganome opined...

I read "Animal Farm" as a teenager and "The Diary of Anne Frank" as an adult. I enjoyed them both, but I've never gone back to either. "Down and Out in Paris and London" I've read a few times.

I will say this for my parents. I always got books for Xmas and my mom was pretty good at choosing things I would like. I want to go back and read Jack London now.

The kid may not realize it, but if you are instilling a love of reading in her, you're giving her a gift that will last her the rest of her life.

April 15, 2008 4:42 PM  
Blogger Sling opined...

You'll let me know,as The Child continues reading Animal Farm,when she lets out an audible,"OH,SNAP!"..won't you. :)

April 15, 2008 5:09 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Kingba, we're all fans of Helen Mirren around here. You may have her. So to speak.

Evilgnome, from your lips....she's not the bookworm I was (the dyslexia may have something to do with that) but ding dong, when she finds a book she loves she can't put it down. That makes me super happy.

Oh, you betcha, Sling. ;)

April 15, 2008 6:02 PM  
Blogger Miss Healthypants opined...

I remember reading Animal Farm and TOTALLY not getting it.

I hope the Child is smarter than I was at that age. :)

April 15, 2008 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Syd opined...

I remember not a single thing I had to read during English classes at any level (grade school, jr. high, high school), except for some plays during high school (The Taming of the Shrew, Our Town, Inherit the Wind, The Glass Menagerie, plus a comedy by Booth Tarkington and a nonmusical version of a Gilbert & Sullivan work) and a bit of poetry (EA Poe's The Bells).

But the books? Nope. Maybe because my mom had gotten me started on the Reader's Digest Best-Loved Books for Young Readers series fairly early on (age 8, I think). With things on my bookshelf like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Call of the Wild, Treasure Island, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Masque of the Red Death, Autobiography of Helen Keller, etc., plus her own series of condensed books (84 Charing Cross Road, The Haunting of Hill House, among numerous others), it's no wonder I don't remember the white-bread reading lists from school.

On the other hand, college lit classes gave me 1984, Heart of Darkness, Day of the Locust, As I Lay Dying, The Great Gatsby...no Animal Farm, though.

Sorry, Rainey ;)...when the discussion turns to books, I get a little carried away...

April 15, 2008 8:16 PM  
Blogger jp opined...

I didn't hate animal farm, but I think I was either too young or too stupid at the time to make any connections. It was just a story about animals.

April 15, 2008 9:15 PM  
Blogger Anne opined...

Fern loved The Spellman Files, laugh-out-loud funny, by Lisa Lutz, not JK Rowling.

April 16, 2008 8:30 AM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

MHP, the only reason she knows the subtext of the book is 'cause her teacher explained it to them.

You're plenty smart.

See, Syd? My childhood memories are just chock full o' book memories...the ones I remember having read to me, the ones that inspired me to read for myself, the ones from school, the ones from the public library, the ones for Christmas and birthdays...books, books, books. I watched TV and played and did all that other kid stuff but still and all my greatest pleasure then and now was curling up with a good book.

JP: Animals that talk. Love the talking animals. So, how's your tan coming along?

I love the JK, Anne, but it is important for The Child to remember that there are other writers in the world. We'll have to add that Lutz book to the summer reading list.

April 16, 2008 11:16 AM  

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