Friday, May 29, 2009

Caution: Student Blogger

Tricia and I are busy today. Instead, we present the inaugeral blog of our intern, Mentor High School Senior Taylor Pool.

I am sitting at my desk, reminiscing on my last four months of high school.

I spent most of it stressed over a 15-page research paper. By “research paper” I mean the jumble of research, quotes, thoughts and B.S. that I waited until the last minute to finish. It is now in the hands of my teacher who has the power to decide whether or not I graduate.

But, instead of worrying about my grade and/or future, I might as well blog about the book that has consumed so much of my time. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray is set in England during the 1800s when everyone struggled for money, status and power. Thackeray’s satirical novel was originally written in short installments, so that back when people actually had time on their hands, they could read the story and catch the author’s subtle humor and irony that he used to make fun of people and society.

I chose that novel partly because it looked interesting and partly because of the author’s awesome middle name. Then I started reading the book which was OK to begin with; but, once I reached the 100th page and felt some sort of accomplishment, I discovered that I still had 710 more pages to go. Great. Someone please stop me next time I choose a novel that has enough pages to wallpaper every home in the city of Cleveland.

Somehow I actually managed to finish the book and eventually came up with my own thesis, “The religious allegory, Vanity Fair, condemns materialism and ordains spiritualism.” Fifteen pages plus a bibliography. I did learn one thing. Don’t choose a book based on a middle name.

-Taylor Pool

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Poetry Thursday with a donkey

Tricia and I haven't been prolific this week, have we? To be fair, there was a holiday. There's also been crime and stuff.

Today's entry comes from Gertrude Hinds. My poetry book lists her as English, even though she was born in Pennsylvania and raised in California before turning expatriate.

The Donkey
I saw a donkey
One day old,
His head was too big
For his neck to hold;

His legs were shaky
And long and loose,
They rocked and staggered
And weren't much use

He tried to gambol
And frisk a bit
But he wasn't sure
Of the trick of it.

His queer little coat
was soft and grey
And curled at his neck
in a lovely way.

His face was wistful
and left no doubt.
That he felt life needed
some thinking out.

So he blundered round
in a venturous quest
And then lay flat
on the ground to rest.

He looked so little
and weak and slim
I prayed the world
might be good to him.

I now close with a haiku for tonight.

Stupid Dwight Howard
What is Ben Wallace doing?
Foul his smug smirk off

-Jason Lea,


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dune and science fiction cliches

I’m re-reading the Dune series in an attempt to be even nerdier.

I like science fiction and fantasy but hate their cliches.

Why must every elvish woman be a malnourished maiden? Where are all the fat elves? There’s got to be a fat elf somewhere. How about one that can’t sing or shoot a bow?

How come every alien is either genocidal or a pacifist? Is there no middle ground? Really?

Has there ever been a supercomputer that didn’t try to take over the Earth?

Some days, it feels like no one’s had an original fantasy idea since Douglas Adams. (Satire is usually the first sign of a stagnant genre.)

I like Frank Herbert’s Dune for the same reasons I like George Orwell’s writing. It takes a commonplace occurrence — for example, government monitoring in 1984 — and stretches it to an ominous extreme. It’s an exaggeration, for sure, but it’s just real enough to be threatening.

Similarly, Dune examines the science of politics and religion.

Dune, at its simplest, is the story of one boy’s rise to power. “A common Messiah story,” as one character wryly notes.

Dune doesn’t interest me because of the writing, or the characters, or the other things I often babble about in these blogs.

It’s the ideas. Science-fiction and fantasy are the rare genres where the ideas can be almost as important as the story.

The various organizations in Dune try to manipulate the young messiah. The Bene Gesserit are the ultimate political power, breeding the perfect politicians for their purposes. They obfuscate their ambition with quasi-religion. The Landsraad Council is an interstellar Wall Street, where the mean is justified as long as the end is profit. Bene Tleilax (stupid science fiction names!) want to plumb the depths of science without considering the ethical ramifications of, say, re-animating a corpse.

The characters in Dune are less interesting. (Notice I’m not talking about them.) But the story hints at Orwellian questions.

What would happen if organizations started breeding the ultimate politicians? What if people were indoctrinated with certain prophecies that could be exploited knowingly by pseudo-religious figures?

And, of course, the most important question that science-fiction can make us ask: What if it’s already happening?

That’s why I like this type of stuff. Not for the elvish chicks or human-hating calculators.

-Jason Lea,

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Poetry Thursday with Britain's first lady laureate

It’s another Poetry Thursday (as opposed to Tangent Friday.)

Carol Ann Duffy was named Britain’s first female poet laureate in April. Her predecessors include Lord Alfred Tennyson, William Wordsworth and John Dryden.

Some examples of Duffy’s work:

Mrs. Darwin
7 April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him—
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Mrs. Rip Van Winkle
I sank like a stone
Into the still, deep waters
of late middle age,

Aching from head to foot.
I took up food

And gave up exercise.
It did me good.

And while he slept,
I found some hobbies
for myself.

Painting. Seeing the sights
I’d always dreamed about:

The Leaning Tower.
The Pyramids.
The Taj Mahal.

I made a little watercolour
of them all.

But what was best,
What hands-down beat
the rest,

Was saying a none-too-fond
farewell to sex.

Until the day
I came home with this
drawing of Niagara

And he was sitting up in bed
rattling Viagra.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. In addition to an annual wage, British poet laureates are entitled to a "butt of sack," which translates to about 600 bottles of Sherry.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Did your favorite make the list?

I will confess to being a compulsive list-maker.

So deep is my addiction that if I have actually accomplished tasks before writing the list, I will still write them down only to cross them off seconds later.

Ahhh. Accomplishment.

Perhaps sadder than my love of list-making is my love of list-reading.

So I was intrigued when my daughter got an e-mail from the College Board touting 101 Great Books recommended for college-bound readers.

The list includes such expected entries as "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte, "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner and "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck.

I have read most of them and would like to put a few on my list of upcomings (I'm still gearing up for a reread of Hemingway so it may be a while before I get to them). I've not read Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" but I'm intrigued.

Check out the complete list and happy reading!

- Tricia Ambrose

Lousy vacations in literature

The three harbingers of summer are upon us.

Birds keep waking me with their chirping, my lawn is growing faster than I can cut it and my father is finding any excuse he can to barbecue.

Soon, families will be piling into vans (or Priuses, if they’re worried about gas prices) and traveling the country. My wife spent almost every summer of her prepubescent life trapped in a motor home with her family. My mother-in-law insists these jaunts across the country were fun for the whole family.

The pictures suggest otherwise.

My wife’s younger brother spent their vacations perpetually injured. In most photos, he’s wearing an eye patch, a conspicuous Band-Aid or a cast. The frizzy-haired redhead who would one day be my wife and her father never smiled for a single photograph. Except in Vegas.

But it could be worse. Classic literature is filled with lousier trips than a motor home journey to Yellowstone.

Here are some of the faithfully transcribed travel logs of famous literary characters.

Wanted to go sailing. Ended up on Deadliest Catch rerun.
Cabin mate was cannibal who likes to snuggle. Awkward.
Didn’t like my boss. Next year, I stay on land.

Got lost on way home. Jerk with one eye ate half of my crew.
Lived with Circe for a few years. Hope my wife doesn’t notice.
Finally got home. Found 30 guys hitting on my wife. Awkward.
Son and I killed them. Awkwardness dispelled.

Got lost in woods. Dead poet took me to Hell.
Met a lot of Italian politicians (no shock.) Ninth Circle is surprisingly cold. Should have brought thermal.
Next year, plan to go to Purgatory.

Samwise Gamgee:
Went on road trip with friends Frodo, Pippin and Merry. (Pippin ate all food by second day. Hate Pippin.)
Got chased by progressively more ridiculous things, including, but not limited to, riders on black horses, walking Molotov cocktails called Balrogs and some dude on a dragon.
(I was much happier as a gardener.)
Ended with Frodo dropping a ring in a volcano. Apparently, it would have jammed the disposal.

-Jason Lea,


Friday, May 15, 2009

So close I can smell the weekend...

The garbage truck didn’t take my yard waste because I left it in the wrong type of bag. Now, my garage smells like decomposing foliage.

It’s Friday. Welcome to the melange.

I have some final one-sentence stories from my coworkers.

From my City Editor John Bertosa: “Caesar came, saw and conquered." (I guess this counts.)

From Education Reporter and rabbit enthusiast Sandra M. Klepach: “It took two attacks and Ralph Fisher’s severed genitals before the family could see the cloned Brahman bull was not their beloved pet reincarnated.”

(Sandy wants everyone to know that her one-sentence story was inspired by a segment from Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life.)

I read Eric Michael Dyson’s “Is Bill Cosby Right or has the Black Middle Class Lost its Mind?” I never want this blog to turn into a discussion of politics. Never. So it will suffice to say that I found it interesting. Dyson dissects Cosby’s recent comments regarding the African-American poor. In Cosby’s words, they “failed” to keep up their end of the civil rights movement.

Dyson said that most of Cosby’s criticism is ill-founded. He also notes that Cosby avoided the topic of race for most of his career and questions why he would only broach the subject to attack the poor.

I found myself disagreeing with both Dyson and Cosby. In general, I think they both leaned toward extremes. Cosby was too quick to blame the poor; and Dyson, too quick to blame racial power structures.

I would only recommend the book if the last four paragraphs didn’t bore the spit out of you. I find this kind of stuff fascinating, but it ain’t beach readin’.

The annual Esquire fiction contest is upon us. More information here.

Aspiring writers can write a short story for the magazine. The winner gets $2,500 and published in Esquire. The story must be 8,000 words or less. It also must be titled either “Twenty-Ten,” “An Insurrection,” or “Never, Ever Bring This Up Again.”

Best of luck.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. The ultimate challenge would be to write a one-story sentence involving one of those titles.

P.P.S. “She stood from the couch — still smelling of Miller Lite — smiled disingenuously, and said, ‘Never, ever bring this up again.’”

Final Post Script. That wasn't very good at all.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Defining poetry through plagiarism

I’m trying something new. Henceforth, Thursdays will be poetry days on the book blog.

To kick it off properly, we’ll be defining what poetry is.

Well, I won’t be defining poetry. I’ve always shied away from defining things like art, poetry or obscenity. I use Potter Stewart’s “I-know-it-when-I-see-it” meter as my measuring stick.

Instead, I have a couple guest professors lined up.

First, John Stuart Mill:

The object of poetry is confessedly to act upon the emotions;---and therein is poetry sufficiently distinguished from what Wordsworth affirms to be its logical opposite---namely, not prose, but matter of fact, or science. The one addresses itself to the belief; the other, to the feelings. The one does its work by convincing or persuading; the other, by moving. The one acts by presenting a proposition to the understanding; the other, by offering interesting objects of contemplation to the sensibilities.

This, however, leaves us very far from a definition of poetry. This distinguishes it from one thing; but we are bound to distinguish it from every thing. To bring thoughts or images before the mind, for the purpose of acting upon the emotions, does not belong to poetry alone. It is equally the province (for example) of the novelist: and yet the faculty of the poet and that of the novelist are as distinct as any other two faculties; as the faculties of the novelist and of the orator, or of the poet and the metaphysician. The two characters may be united, as characters the most disparate may; but they have no natural connection.

Many of the greatest poems are in the form of fictitious narratives; and, in almost all good serious fictions, there is true poetry. But there is a radical distinction between the interest felt in a story as such, and the interest excited by poetry; for the one is derived from incident, the other from the representation of feeling.

(If you want Mill’s entire essay, click this.)

I prefer the definition suggested by Heather McHugh in her poem, What He Thought:

We were supposed to do a job in Italy
and, full of our feeling for
ourselves (our sense of being
Poets from America) we went
from Rome to Fano, met
the Mayor, mulled a couple
matters over. The Italian literati seemed
bewildered by the language of America: they asked us
what does "flat drink" mean? and the mysterious
"cheap date" (no explanation lessened
this one's mystery). Among Italian writers we
could recognize our counterparts: the academic,
the apologist, the arrogant, the amorous,
the brazen and the glib. And there was one
administrator (The Conservative), in suit
of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide
with measured pace and uninflected tone
narrated sights and histories
the hired van hauled us past.
Of all he was most politic--
and least poetic-- so
it seemed. Our last
few days in Rome
I found a book of poems this
unprepossessing one had written: it was there
in the pensione room (a room he'd recommended)
where it must have been abandoned by
the German visitor (was there a bus of them?) to whom
he had inscribed and dated it a month before. I couldn't
read Italian either, so I put the book
back in the wardrobe's dark. We last Americans
were due to leave
tomorrow. For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant,
and there we sat and chatted, sat and chewed, till,
sensible it was our last big chance to be Poetic, make
our mark, one of us asked

"What's poetry?
Is it the fruits and vegetables
and marketplace at Campo dei Fiori
or the statue there?" Because I was
the glib one, I identified the answer
instantly, I didn't have to think-- "The truth
is both, it's both!" I blurted out. But that
was easy. That was easiest
to say. What followed taught me something
about difficulty,

for our underestimated host spoke out
all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:

The statue represents
Giordano Bruno, brought
to be burned in the public square
because of his offence against authority, which was to say
the Church. His crime was his belief
the universe does not revolve around
the human being: God is no
fixed point or central government
but rather is poured in waves, through
all things: all things
move. "If God is not the soul itself,
he is the soul OF THE SOUL of the world." Such was
his heresy. The day they brought him forth to die

they feared he might incite the crowd (the man
was famous for his eloquence). And so his captors
placed upon his face
an iron mask
in which he could not speak.

That is how they burned him.
That is how he died,
without a word,
in front of everyone. And poetry--

(we'd all put down our forks by now, to listen to
the man in gray; he went on softly)-- poetry

is what he thought, but did not say.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. I never thought I could hate a Celtic more than Paul Pierce. Thank you, Rajon Rondo, for proving me wrong.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Not in love with this novel

"In Love with Jerzy Kosinski" by Agate Nesaule (ISBN 9780299231309) introduces us to Anna, a woman haunted by her experiences in World War II, married to a controlling, emotionally abusive man, struggling still with her relationship with her father.

Right up my alley, I thought.

But I didn't like Anna.

Perhaps because I've never been forced to relocate from my homeland or faced the tragedy of war firsthand or even perhaps because I was not familiar with the story of Jerzy Kosinski himself. (Aside for those of you in the same boat: Kosinski, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust by adopting an assumed identity, gained fame for his novels but was later accused of being a plagiarist.)

Whatever the case, I was never able to connect with Anna.

I never felt I understood how her war experiences had shaped her, just that they had. Same goes for her relationship with her father and her relatives from the old country.

The novel is well constructed and Nesaule's descriptions of Wisconsin rang true, but I just couldn't lose myself in the story.

- Tricia Ambrose

P.S. Jason, here's my story in six words: Crowd noise masked her final scream.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Hemingway Challenge

Chiefwahoo15’s Ernest Hemingway anecdote interested me.

I can’t imagine wringing more emotion out of six words than, “For sale: baby shoes, never used.”

Maybe Hemingway never jotted those words on a cocktail napkin, but it's possible. He never published an unnecessary syllable.

So it got me thinking. How hard is it to write a single-sentence story? Could I take the Hemingway challenge?

I wasn’t able to do anything with just six words.

Some of my aborted attempts:
The pianist quit by severing her left hand.
He regretted jumping before he hit the sidewalk.

Fortunately, I found a Web site that collects one-sentence stories much better than mine.

Some of the “stories” are just droll observations. Two examples:

My online dating service matched me with my cousin. (This was submitted by someone calling themselves Probably Not Okay.)

Three years into my English major, I finally ran out of BS. (Ryan)

Some stories hinted at plot:

I found out the hard way that cucumbers are flammable. (Shamrocker)

prom sucked. (kay)

Finally, some were full stories — plot, character, all compressed into a single sentence. Some of my favorites:

It really sucked that my only friend among the dozens of people there was the one in the casket. (Lonely in Black)

As the cashier gave a knowing look to my wife as she scanned the prenatal vitamins, I realized this random girl is the first person on earth to know we are having a baby. (Kevin)

When I was 5 or so my mom would tell me to lie down before she tied my tie and I just now realized at the age of 19 that she did this because she’s a funeral director. (ferdinandthebull)

When I arrived at the memorial site, I couldn’t think of anything witty or poignant to write, so I just carved ‘I miss you’ into the telephone pole that killed you and went home. (Lost Theories)

When the strange man wouldn’t quit staring at me while I nursed my baby, I finally lost it and asked him if he wanted some for his coffee. (Sorcha)

I waited for him to hit me, instead he replied, “She’ll probably cheat on you too.” (Cowboy)

The day I built my grandchildren a sandbox, my prissy 6-year-old granddaughter announced, “Grandma, I can’t play in that, it’s got dirt in it!” (Tricia. I assume this is not my co-blogger, seeing as she has no grandchildren.)

I like all of these, but you’ll notice they’re longer than six words.

But Hemingway might have been impressed my coworker’s one-sentence story.

I hate people today. (Tracey Read)

-Jason Lea,

One final story, which is actually a poem. It was suggested by my coworker, Sandra M. Klepach:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
(William Carlos Williams)

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Strength of Southern women

There are moments when I think in my next life I would like to be a Southern woman.

To be fair, there are also moments when I want to be a potato farmer in Idaho sewing clothes for my 11 children or a lady who lunches in Manhattan meeting my children at their boarding schools.

What prompted this latest longing for the South was "The Sweet By and By" by Todd Johnson (ISBN 9780061579523).

There's just something about the strength of Southern women - at least the ones I read about in novels.

The lives of Lorraine, Margaret, Rhonda, April and Bernice intersect in not always the likeliest of ways, but their connections are no less powerful.

I found myself nodding my head in agreement at their observations. Things like "Rising up when you're weak makes a person stronger." or "Holding my grandbaby, I know that my love will outlive me." or "Sometimes it's a lot easier to see something coming when it ain't coming at you."

This slice of life deals with issues surrounding aging, mother-daughter dynamics and marriage.


- Tricia Ambrose

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Take Another Piece of My Heart of Darkness

I recently reread “Heart of Darkness” and was disappointed.

It’s not that “Heart” was bad, but I remember loving it the first time I read it.

If either of our readers don’t know, “Heart of Darkness” is Joseph Conrad’s fictional account of a ferry boat captain’s dealings with ivory traders in Africa.

The captain, Marlow, follows the unnamed (but presumed to be the Congo) river until he reaches the acclaimed Kurtz. He’s instructed to recover Kurtz who’s deep in “savage” country.

Kurtz’s reputation precedes him. He’s brilliant, rumored to run the ivory company some day, but has an unethical way of gathering his ivory.

He would convince the native Africans that he was a god, and they would give him whatever he wanted.

When I read “Heart” in college, I thought it was a wonderful tale about the dangers of greed. A 72-page parable with the ultimate moral that life is horrible once you lose perspective.

But when I reread “Heart,” the prose felt bloated and soporific. I fell asleep twice while reading. (In all fairness, I could just be exhausted this week.)

Before, it seemed murky.

Now, it seemed imprecise.

Before, it seemed ambiguous and mature.

Now, it reads like propaganda against the country of Africa and those who would colonize it. (The latter bothers me less.)

Smarter people have analyzed the racist overtones in “Heart.” Chinua Achebe once wrote, “Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist. That this simple truth is glossed over in criticisms of his work is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked.”

Conrad, through Marlow, often describes the “savages” of Africa as just human enough to recognize as a “distant kinship.” The only African who receives something passing as a compliment is a woman, some sort of mistress to Kurtz.

Marlow calls her “savage” and “superb.” She’s woman enough to be beautiful, but not white enough to be tamed. (It’s not unlike Stevie Wonder’s tongue-in-cheek line. “His sister’s black but she is sho nuff pretty.”)

Racist authors don’t upset me. I recently quoted my disbelief in “moral” and “immoral” fiction. Ernest Hemingway was six sorts of a misogynist and I enjoyed his writing (though understand and respect why Tricia would not.)

What bothers me about “Heart of Darkness” is simpler than that. Conrad has no affection for his subject matter. He clearly does not love Africa or the people within it, whether they be born there or colonists.

And if he doesn’t care for his subject matter, how can we?

-Jason Lea,

P.S. I swear, that's the last time I use that Janis Joplin reference.

P.P.S. I'm about to watch the series finale of "Scrubs." Afterward, I intend to mourn my loss with sherbet.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Road to the White House

This weekend I sat down with "American Wife" by Curtis Sittenfeld (ISBN 9781400064755). I'll admit I didn't read much about it before making my selection. I liked the title and the cover photo, truth be told.

Sittenfeld, perhaps best known for her debut novel "Prep," here has crafted a portrait of a first lady and her path to the White House.

Alice Blackwell is riveting. The book comes in at more than 500 pages, yet is a quick read (I kid you not). I truly enjoyed the early sections detailing Alice's youth. Alice relates the events of her past from a distance that allows the perspective of age and experience to provide greater context. I wanted to follow her on her unlikely journey to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

But the closer she gets to that address, the stronger the similarities between Alice and Charlie Blackwell and Laura and George Bush become. For me that was a distraction. Not because of any political views, but because it was hard to continue to think of them as Alice and Charlie, not as Laura and George.

I did enjoy the novel, though, and will be returning to Sittenfeld's work.

- Tricia Ambrose

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Monday, May 4, 2009

You really got me thinking

I'll admit your question had me thinking, Jason. Which "classic" author did I think was the most overrated?

The whole idea of the "classic" author reminds me of school and of teachers who seemed determined to suck the enjoyment out of reading by touting authors as "classic" rather than focusing on their stories.

(As an aside, I didn't have any of these teachers, but I know a lot of people who did. I still have nothing but fond memories of Sister Angele. She would assign multiple books to be read at any given time. Some we never discussed at all. Others we would be asked to write an impromptu essay on in class. Still others would be dissected for a week. I loved it!)

So, back to your question...

I'm not claiming to have read every work considered a classic or even any work by every author considered a classic, by any stretch.

I guess, if forced, I'd have to say Ernest Hemingway.

For the simple reason that while I have read several of his works ("The Old Man and The Sea," "A Farewell to Arms," "The Sun Also Rises")I don't remember anything that stands out.

Granted it's been a while since I've read them, but I haven't read "Jane Eyre" in more than two decades and I still recall Charlotte Bronte's description of the moors and the moody Rochester. It's been the same amount of time since I read "Madame Bovary" and I still remember feeling sorry for Gustave Flaubert's Emma even as she annoyed me.

In fact the only thing I recall about Hemingway is that my 10th-grade English teacher (not Sister Angele) made a comment about an observation I made in an essay I wrote on "The Old Man and The Sea." (Such moments were among the highlights of my high school years, what can I say.)

As I've said before, Jason, for me it's all about character. I like a good plot too, don't get me wrong, but that's not what sticks with me. I have been known on more than one occasion to read a book jacket and think that story sounds appealing. Then I get a chapter in and meet the characters and realize I've already read the book.

The best part of this whole exercise has been that I now want to go back a reread some of the classics.

So thanks, Jason.

- Tricia Ambrose

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Trunk filled with magazines

I drove home Sunday with 54 years worth of National Geographic magazines filling my trunk and back seat.

My family cleaned my grandparents’ home Friday. We removed the last of their things in anticipation of the house’s new owners.

We, the scavengers-cum-schleppers, collected keepsakes. I took my grandpa’s dog tags, a box of picture slides and the National Geographic magazines.

I had already picked their library clean. Most of their books pertained to hiking or history. My grandparents are rural. I don’t mean that in a condescending or deprecating way. They are country folk, the kind of people who cooked too much so they could give some to the neighbors or shoveled their half-mile driveway as long as physically possible.

My grandpa has spent the last 80 or so years of his life involved with the Boy Scouts. It’s how he knows Senator George Voinovich and Judge Forrest Burt. He was a wilderness man. He married my grandma while he was on furlough from the Army. I’ve never been to a single scout meeting, and probably couldn’t start a fire with a case of lighter fluid and an acetylene torch. The closest I’ve ever been to the military is, well, collecting my grandpa’s dog tags.

Honestly, I have no clue what I’m going to do with the November 1955 edition of National Geographic or the 600 or so other editions. The old maps of Africa are almost unrecognizable. The countries have changed names so many times, I was grateful to recognize Egypt.

Old pictures of dinosaurs looked liked enormous bloated crocodiles, instead of the sleek, birdlike animals into which they have “evolved.”

I may never crack a page on their archives again, but I can’t throw out or even donate them to a library. My grandparents spent 54 years collecting them. That’s more than twice as long as I’ve been alive. It meant something to them, so it means something to me.

I’ll need to find a place to keep them, maybe get another bookshelf exclusively for them. (My grandpa would have built one from scratch. I’ll probably buy one at Wal-Mart and spend an afternoon struggling to assemble it.)

Hopefully, 60 years from now, my grandkids can figure out where to keep 110 years worth of National Geographics... and their great-great-granddad’s dog tags.

-Jason Lea,