Should school replace parents ?

After watching a TV show on Australian national TV during which politicians were debating all kind of subjects, I feel quite upset. Australian politics are shaken by the soon election of a new Prime Minister. Education was of course one of the subjects discussed. As usual, a grumpy middle age white man pointed out that the youth is lost, damned, Satan worshippers and illiterate. The Coalition dude, (I’m French, I’ve been in Australia for only a few months and I’m having a hard time memorising who is who…anyway), started by blaming the teachers. According to him, the problem with the youth comes from the lack of ability for teachers’ hierarchy to take disciplinary measures on teachers. Everything comes from the bad teachers, the incompetent teachers who are not able to discipline their students, not able to teach them basic literacy and numeracy without the assistance of the parents, with less and less resources and more and more students per class. My experience as a teacher is strictly French, I haven’t been able to teach in Australia yet, but after 7 years of teaching under right wing presidency, I’ve seen our resources decrease, the number of students per class increase and the absence of the parents. I’ve often seen myself trying to contact parents, by writing to them, emailing them, texting them, leaving messages on their voicemail, sending smoke signals and pigeons, and I’m still waiting for them to get back at me. How a teacher is suppose to replace parents in the construction of a child ? How are we supposed to be psychologists, social workers, trying to actually teach something with less and less resources and less and less consideration ?

All The Sad Young Men by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, 1926

During that trip to the library I was talking about last time, I saw on the “recently acquired”  shelf two books… Tender is the night and All the Sad Young Men by Francis Scott Fitzgerald. I read Tender is the Night many times (in French so I’ll definitely reread it in English soon) but I have to admit, even though Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors, I read very few of his short stories. So I thought…No time like the present so here we go…

No need to present Francis Scott Fitzgerald, especially now that Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio made his works known to the non literary or bookoholic world!

He was born in 1896 and died in 1940. He met the love of his life Zelda in 1918 and some think that he wrote The Great Gatsby to get enough money to marry her. He published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920 and left an unfinished novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, behind him after his death. The Great Gatsby has been considered as THE great American novel (as so many others) and it’s the kind of books that still sets off many controversies. As for me, it is one of my favorite book (definitely top 10)..Anyway, the topic today is that collection of short stories Fitzgerald published just after The Great Gatsby, in 1926, All The Sad Young Men.

The first short story is The Rich Boy. It is about Anson Hunter, a rich young man, graduate from Yale, successful businessman, who is in love with the delicious Paula but refuses to marry her because he doesn’t want to loose his freedom. After three years of waiting, she leaves him and gets married with another man. Anson will then have an affair with Dolly Kanger. He doesn’t love her and breaks her heart. She marries another man a few months later. Anson hears that his aunt is having an affair with a young man and solves the problem. His aunt’s lover commits suicide after the breakup though. Anson will meet Paula and her second husband in an hotel lobby. She invites him to her holidays house where she proceeds to enumerate him all the reasons why she’s in love with her husband. Anson’s company sends him on holidays because he seems so very depressed after the meeting with Paula. Three days before he leaves, he hears about Paula’s death.  On the boat, Anson noticed a beautiful young woman and starts to seduce her.

“…there would always be women in the world who would spend their brightest, freshest, rarest hours to nurse and protect that superiority he cherished in his heart.”

The second short story is Winter Dreams. Dexter is a young middle class boy working as a caddie in a golf club. He briefly meets there a young lady, Judy Jones, who will indirectly cause him to resign. He’ll become a very successful businessman after that. He meets Judy again and fells in love with her but she’s a very fickle woman. She collects lovers and doesn’t seem to have any intentions of settling down. Dexter endures that for a year before he meets Irene and gets engaged with her. He meets Judy again and has a one night stand with her. He breaks up with Irene and after a month, Judy vanished again. The War happens and Dexter becomes an officer. When the War ends and Dexter comes back, he’ll hear that Judy is married to a man that doesn’t treat her well and that she lost all her beauty.

The third short story is The Baby Party. The subject of it is quite unusual for Fitzgerald. John and Edith Andros are the more or less happy parents of Little Ede, a two years old girl who is, according to her mother, the brightest, the most beautiful creature on Earth. John seems to be more partial about that. His feelings for his daughter are not as fatherly as one could expect :”Even his feeling about his little girl  was qualified. She had interrupted his rather intense love affair with his wife, and she was the reason for their living in a suburban town…” Little Ede is invited to the next door neighbour’s son birthday party. Edith and John think about it as an occasion of showing off the exceptionality of their daughter. A conflict degenerates when Little Ede hurts the Markey’s baby over a teddy bear. You find here the blindness of parents towards the inadequacy of their children, their refusal to see that their kid did something wrong, the overreaction of the hurt baby’s parents. Mr Markey and Mr Andros end up fighting in the snow, at night, until they’re both completely exhausted. Everyone goes back home. John, then, realised, the deepness of his feelings for his daughter : “John Andros knew at length what it was he had fought for so savagely that evening. He had it now, he possessed it for ever, and for some time he sat there rocking very slowly to and fro in the darkness.”

The forth short story is Absolution. Rudolph Miller, son of a very religious man, is sent by his father to confession. He lies during it, committing a mortal sin. He tries to avoid communion the next day, convinced that God would make him die. A violent fight occurs between the son and the father just before the mass. Rudolph takes the communion and surprisingly doesn’t die. He’ll eventually confess to the priest who will tell him that God would not pay attention to that kind of sin just before dropping dead.

The fifth short story is Rags Martin-Jones and The Pr-nce of W-les. A young; rich, spoiled, bored young lady comes back to New York after a long trip in Europe. She meets a long time lover John Chestnut. Once more John proclaims his undying love to her. She explains to him that she’ll never marry an American because they are so very boring. John invites her to dinner to meet the Prince of Wales. Rags gets very excited at this idea. During the dinner she’s invited at the Prince’s table and leaves John alone. He disappears for a little while and comes back, drunk. He confesses to her he had killed a man and that the police is on its way. She tries to help him escape. The police arrives and a gun fight happens. When Rags is on the edge of fainting, John stops the gun fight and thanks all the actors he had hired to play that little joke to Rags. She’ll find all that very entertaining and will eventually agree to marry John.

I have a few short stories left to read but so far it has been a delightful experience !  I’ll keep you posted…

The Crucible by Arthur Miller, 1953

Well, after a trip to the library I came back with way more books than I could read before the due date and one of them was The Crucible by Arthur Miller. I don’t read much plays nor poetry but many years ago, I read Death of a Salesman and LOVED it so I picked up The Crucible. More of the reading was done on a magnificent beach in a little New South Wales Town… paradise…

A few facts about Arthur Miller…His most well known work is of course Death Of a Salesman which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. He’s also known for being Marilyn Monroe’s husband in the 50’s. He wrote about 60 plays for stage, TV or radio.

The Crucible takes place during the Salem witch trials in 1692. The plot shows how a few little girls trying to cover for a minor fault end up using witchcraft accusations to get back at the people they don’t like. The main story is between Elisabeth and John Proctor and Abigail Williams. Abigail used to be a servant at the Proctor’s house until Elisabeth noticed that something was going on between the young girl and her husband. She chased the young lady and the last will make accusations about Elisabeth. John, repenting for his mistakes, will try to save his wife.

Miller makes interesting parallels between the Salem withc hunt and the McCarthyism that was roaring at the time he wrote the play.

It was  really an enjoyable reading;

I’d give it a 7/10!

 

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane, 2012 (part 2)

My reading activities have been slowed down the past week by a little trip into the wild North Queensland (not that wild and not that North but let’s pretend because it sounds more adventurous that way)…anyway, I finished Live by Night by Dennis Lehane.

Like I told you, I had huge expectations about that book and I’m happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed !  It’s not the best Lehane I’ve read but it is definitely a great book !

The story takes place in Boston, in 1926. Joe Coughlin is a young small thief. His father is a cop, a Deputy Superintendent of the BPD. The all family is linked to the BPD, both Joe’s brothers were cops who lost their jobs during the 1919 Boston Police strike (which links this novel with the other historical novel Lehane wrote, The Given Day).

The book opens with Joe robbing a speakeasy belonging to Albert White. During the robbing, he meets Emma Gould and falls in love with her. She will betray him and he’ll end up in prison thinking she died the night he was arrested. He gets out of jail and joins an Italian gangster family…( to know more, grab the book, a cup of tea and READ!)

The plot seems a little cliché with the gangster falling in love madly with the “femme fatale” and, in my opinion, it is. But this lack of originality is forgotten by the talent of Dennis Lehane’s writing. He takes the reader back in time, at a time where gangsters had a romantic aura and the deep sense  of honor.

I can’t believe I’ll have to wait another two years, at least, to have a new Lehane!

All in all, I’d give this one a nice 7/10.

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane, 2012

I know… Last time, I said that I was starting Sophie’s Choice but I got distracted by a shiny object on my bookshelf and it was Live by Night by Dennis Lehane.

Dennis Lehane is hands down my favourite contemporary author. I’ve read the Kenzie/Gennaro series about a dozen times and the rest of his novels too. Mystic River is brillantisme, Shutter Island is breathtaking and The Given Day is fabulous. I know, I sound biased but that also makes me the worse kind of reader for an author : the one you might deeply disappoint.

I always try to make my newest Lehane lasts, considering it takes him way too much time to write a book. I’ve waited the more I could before opening this one but I couldn’t wait anymore ! So, here we go…

As usual, a few boring but highly instructive facts. Dennis Lehane started his writing career with A Drink Before the War in 1994 (the first of the Kenzie/Gennaro series) and won a few prizes for it. The success never left him. He collaborated to the writing of screenplays for the  TV show The Wire. Some of his books have been adapted as movies, Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River (with the awesomely amazing Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon), Shutter Island (with Leonardo Di Caprio).

His novels are always a subtle mix of thriller and sharp, deep painting of the society. They take place in Boston, his hometown, in the hard neighbourhoods of Southie, Dorchester where the criminals and poorest people live. Lehane tries to show us the imperfections of a society which destroys its weakest elements, turns them into criminals but also the personal choices that make a person turning to good or to bad.

I just started Live by Night and as you read earlier, I have high, gigantic, humongous expectations about this book ! I’ll keep you posted…

The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe, 1987 (part 2)

The Bonfire of the Vanities is, in my opinion, above all else, the story of misunderstanding. Every character is isolated in his own community , cultivating a multitude of prejudices about everybody else. McCoy automatically assumed that Henry and his friend were about to attack him because they were black. Kramer automatically assumed that McCoy’s life had been easy until that fatal day. We, readers, know that the truth is a little more complicated than that but our characters keep those clichés with them and use them to build their opinions about the people they meet.

Wolfe also treats the motif of the personal quest for recognition, success, approval. All our characters, Kramer, Weiss, McCoy, Fallow want to be recognized by their peers. They want to be seen as the best at what they do. They’re desperately looking for the approbation that comes with fame. This is probably why everything goes so tragically wrong. From the very beginning, all the elements of an absurd tragedy are in place.

After reading this book, I always feel a little sad…mostly because when I look at the world around me, I see that the problems Wolfe was talking about 20 years ago still make it to the news.

Anyway, in French or in its original language (the twisted English!), The Bonfire of the Vanities is still on my Top 5 list…

It definitely deserves a 10/10

Next time we’ll be talking about another Oh so joyful book that I started this morning…Sophie’s Choice by William Styron!