November Reading

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Here’s what I read and did in November.

My wife, Renee, directed the girls’ play at the Hebrew Academy this November.  It was a theatrical version of one of the creepiest Twilight Zone episodes of them all, “The After Hours,” which features a most unusual elevator ride and lots of mannequins.  The show also had commercial breaks, just like the television episode did, only her commercials were for literary works such as Romeo and Juliet, The Odyssey, and A Doll House.  Renee did an incredible job directing it, and I stayed after school most nights to assist with carrying lights and untangling cords.  It was a huge success, and you can see tons of adorable pictures here.  (You can also see our Rabbi doing his Rod Serling introduction.)

On to the books!

1. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

One way to tell that you are spending a lot of time at work and not giving yourself time to read is when it takes you more than a month to finish a book by Ray Bradbury.  I checked this book out of the lower-school library in late October, when I was finishing teaching Something Wicked This Way Comes.  It sat in my car or in my briefcase, unread, while I spent my evenings helping out with the school play or spending time with the family during Thanksgiving.

The copy of the book I checked out has a sticker right there on the spine reminding me that it is appropriate for sixth-grade readers, and my wife kept joking with me about a poor sixth grade student who kept returning to the library to see if anyone had returned his favorite book, The Martian Chronicles.  But we were so busy!  I didn’t have any time to read!

The Martian Chronicles is neither a novel nor a short story anthology.  Instead, it is a series of narratives that Bradbury started writing in the 1940s that all deal with travels to Mars.  Some of the stories were written just for this book, and there are short vignettes between some of the chapters that almost tie everything together.

Bradbury published this book in 1950.  His writing is as rich and imaginative as you would expect it to be, but he had not yet acquired the overwrought, psychedelic tone of his later works.  While some of the stories in The Martian Chronicles are preachy, as one might expect from Bradbury, many of them are heart-rending and beautiful.  The climax of the book is “And There Will Come Soft Rains,” one of his most-loved and most-anthologized stories (and probably my favorite story that has absolutely no characters.)

2. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

The man who taught me AP lit was John V. Lavecchia, one of my favorite teachers of all time.  We were studying Hamlet, and he assigned us Romeo and Juliet as a weekend homework assignment to read in order to prepare for Shakespeare.

Art by Tom Gauld.

I remember feeling quite the adult scholar, being assigned an entire Shakespeare play, with no assistance, for homework.  Naturally, I did my reading and was ready for class the next week.

This November, it became my job to teach Romeo and Juliet, and I realized that I had not read the play since that assignment back in 1995.

How long has it been since you’ve read it?  If you are like me, and your memory of it is distant at best, I recommend you return to it.  You know you loved the balcony scene, funny nurse, and dramatic conclusion, but there are so many reasons you have probably forgotten.

Among the unexpected joys of re-reading this text after (gasp!) 17 years were the street brawl that starts off the action without a wasted moment and the many double entrendres and dirty jokes throughout.  There’s Juliet’s dazzling soliloquy in Act III, scene ii, in which she looks forward to her wedding night, a speech that I read once when I was in high school and never thought of again.

But more than all of those, the moment I loved most when I read Romeo and Juliet comes in the final moments of Act I, when the two meet for the first time.  You may recognize these famous lines, as I did when I re-read them, but I only understood half of Shakespeare’s meaning until now.

The dialogue quoted above, the first lines that the two speak to each other, form a sonnet.  These two are so destined to meet, and so perfectly matched, that even the words they first say to one another create the highest expression of idealized love.  And I never would have realized this if I hadn’t taught it. The cliche states that “To teach is to learn twice,” but sometimes cliches are true.

(You know what Shakespeare did after he finished Romeo and Juliet?  He wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)

3. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

We spent so much time on Death of a Salesman that I can’t even muster another line about it.  The notion that there are still essays in my briefcase about Willy and Biff that I have not graded makes me slightly ill.

Suffice to say that you can watch the very serviceable 1984 production, starring Dustin Hoffman, on Netflix streaming.

Coming up next month–I return to reading my favorite author of all time–Philip Roth.  Get to reading, everyone!

2 thoughts on “November Reading

  1. I read slightly more than you did this month but not by much, I fear.

    I should give Romeo and Juliet another try sometime. I used to hate Midsummer Night's Dream, one to many overproduced productions of it I'm afraid, then I started teaching it. I found a class set in the book room one day and, well…. Now, after many years and many reads, it's one of my favorites.

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