Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky Part Four

Before delving in to Part Four, I’d like to apologize for not posting on Part Three and for not posting at all over the last (almost) two weeks. I have just felt awful, and my energy level has been at about a 1.5. I was reading, but I barely even made it into my office or near my computer. I am finally feeling a little better and actually did finish The Brothers Karamazov in correlation with other bloggers and the ever-gracious Dolce Belleza. It has truly been a pleasure to know others out there are reading and struggling with sections but also to see what sections of the book engaged other readers. I really enjoyed reading other bloggers’ notes and perspectives, so thanks to all!

After the tediousness of Part One, I wasn’t sure I’d make it through. Sure enough, the same elements that bothered me early on continued to bother me. I still say the novel was much too wordy. Parts of the narrative of the trial were painful, and as a former legal secretary I have sat through painful trials. This had to be the worst. The women were idiotic and beyond annoying. I couldn’t identify with any of their ridiculousness, and I don’t like that Dostoevsky didn’t really bother to flesh out his women and make them more believable.

However, (and that’s a whopping big ‘however’) I can honestly say I liked this story. As I mentioned in a comment in Dolce’s wrap-up, the more bloggers commented on the identity of the murderer, the more I had the inkling Dostoevsky would leave us without the satisfaction of a smoking gun killer. It was interesting that there is no finality, no neat wrap-up to this whodunnit. For an avid mystery reader, I really thought I would be more bothered by this, but I wasn’t for a couple of reasons:

  1. I really think Smerdyakov was the killer. Had Ivan not taken the money from his room, everyone would have known Smerdyakov was the killer once he hanged himself. I found him a despicable character from the beginning, more so because I think he was intelligent and yet manipulated everyone around him. I am thoroughly aware of his position and status, but I expected more of him. He could have been valiant and still prideful, but his pride goes beyond Dmitry and even Ivan. He’s intensely proud, which is ultimately what I believe leads to his suicide. He cannot survive as a pawn.
  2. It doesn’t really matter. Each character has base, vile intentions (with the exception of Alexei), and Karamazov was universally hated. Each person he came into contact with was repulsed, angered, and yes, maybe a little fascinated by him. He was so self aware. He knew he was despicable, yet he goes out of his way to continue to be so. Sadly enough, I was ready for him to die. I was so thoroughly repulsed by him, and even during Dmitry’s trial, there comes a moment when the attorneys talk about patricide and how each present wishes he/she had committed the crime. I don’t really buy into that, but I certainly think you can sympathize with Ivan and Dmitry for wanting to be rid of their father’s shadow.
  3. The ending plays out so well, showing innocence exists but for such a short amount of time, and that all are guilty and should be judged accordingly. Dmitry knows this. Ivan understands this before and during his illness. Even Alexei, sweet, innocent Alexei knows this. He even tells Dmitry that had he committed the crime, he would not want him to escape but to serve his time. Hardship is inevitable, but the form that hardship takes can be changed or maneuvered.

As Dolce mentions, I certainly see this as a love story to Alexei, the son Dostoevsky lost, as even in the ending Alexei is extremely naive, telling the boys and friends of Ilyusha:

“You know, boys,” Alyosha said, “you needn’t be afraid of life! Life is so good when you do something that is good and just.”

Dostoevsky paints a picture of his son as he will always be: sweet, innocent, and in love with life no matter what befalls him. Alexei feels things intensely as do all the brothers. This may be a very ignorant statement, but having now read a couple Russian novels, that seems to be the trademark – intense, powerful emotion tends to rule the characters, to their benefit or detriment. I think that’s why I have difficulty identifying with the characters and yet, it is this same overflow of emotion that makes the characters endearing.

Overall, I’m glad I made it through The Brothers Karamazov, and I am so grateful to Dolce for giving me the ever-so-gently kick in the pants to pick this one up from my bookshelf!

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Comfort food and comfort reads

I am feeling under the weather. It’s a combination of the changes in weather, my insanely-busy schedule over the last couple weeks, my detour from working out regularly and probably lack of vitamins. Regardless, this past week was not stellar, and today I feel awful. Cancel class awful. I don’t ever cancel class, but I am having a colleague put a note on my classroom door. I feel so guilty, but I just would not be on top of my game today.

When I don’t feel well, I crave certain foods – baked potatoes, macaroni and cheese, soup. Basically, I want fattening starchy foods without a lot of nutritional value. I want my reading material the same way.

Last Monday I finished Peter Robinson’s A Dedicated Man which was good, but oddly enough for Robinson, it was the type of mystery where all is revealed at the end in an Aha! moment. I typically do not like these mysteries, but as it is Peter Robinson, I’ll let it slide this time.

Then I picked up Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty. My mom bought this book for me because she enjoyed it so much. The book begins on Gemma’s 16th birthday, her mother and she arguing in the street markets of India. Gemma wants more than anything to go to London, where her family is from, but her mother refuses. In a quick twist of events, Gemma’s mother is killed, and Gemma realizes she has an odd power. She is sent to a finishing school and learns more about her power and herself, while navigating the dangerous tides of adolescent girlhood. The book was a fast, enthralling read. The book is rated YA; however, the only YA aspects of it were, to me, Gemma’s naiveté and Bray’s interference in the story, “conveniently” pointing out things Gemma has missed. Without those two elements, I would have enjoyed this book much more. I believe this is a series, but I’m not sure if I would read the others unless Bray steps it up a notch.

Yesterday, after throwing a baby shower Saturday, I recuperated all day with another Mom-Recommended Book – Adriana Trigiani’s Very Valentine. I was reluctant to pick it up because I thought: Valentine? Valentine’s Day? My least-favorite holiday? But Valentine is a 33-year-old, single woman who quit her teaching job to apprentice under her Gram, a master shoemaker. This book was fantastic. A comfort read? Yes. Chick lit? Not really. It didn’t feel formulaic. The main character, Valentine, is just as concerned with making a name for herself in the world of shoe design as she is in finding a boyfriend (sometimes to her relationship’s detriment), and strong, independent women are scattered throughout the book, tempered and complemented by boyfriends/husbands. Plus, much of it is set in Italy, and after three trips to different regions, Italy is a place I feel even more “me,” if possible. Since I am not financially able to take a big trip this year, it was such fun to relive Italy through Valentine’s eyes. If you need a break from something more literary but don’t want the tripe that is chick lit, I highly recommend this. Plus, it’s a series! I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one. Thanks, Mom.

Today, I will try and finish The Brothers Karamazov Part Three in order to post on Thursday. Until then, I am going to fortify myself with Vitamin C, B12, juice and whatever else I can to feel better. Happy reading!


The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky: Part Two

I have to start off this post by telling you all that Dostoevsky sent me a “tweet” this past weekend, saying “you’re not so good too, ok?” after which, of course, I felt bad being so rough on this poor dead Russian writer.

The good news is that Part Two was a huge improvement. Thanks again, Dolce. Were there still incredibly long, dry treatises? Yes. Did I find myself skimming the hundred or so pages of Zosima’s life? Of course. However, I don’t want Dostoevsky haunting me anymore, so let me tell you what I liked.

First of all, the women enter the picture in Part Two. Yes, there are a few women in Part One, but they’re mostly used in reference to beatings or deaths. In Part Two, you see some saucy women. Katerina, betrothed to Dmitry who doesn’t love her, and friends with Ivan who does love her, shows women are something other than punching bags (thank goodness). She understands her situation is precarious, but she is also not blind to what is going on around her. She uses the three brothers to gain more information about them as well as about herself.

On the other hand, you have Lise playing games with Alexei and falling into hysterical fits when it suits her needs. She draws Alexei away from the monastery, laughs at him, and makes him totally uncomfortable. Although she is about as annoying as a 13-year-old girl going on about a Jonas brother, there is something very likeable, too. She knows what she wants; Lise, at a young age, is prepared to make a fool of herself over a monk with whom she grew up and fell in love.

Mrs. Khokhlakov, her mother, is constantly exasperated. She acts as a go-between amongst the men and women and helps the plot to flow as all of this in-and-out-of-love stuff can be pretty boring and trying.

Grushenka, last but not least, is not present in Book Two, but she’s the kind of woman whose name and embodiment is constant in the rooms of those she offends. As a woman of the night, Grushenka is intelligent and deceptive and honest, and I like her. She pits father against brother, and although she may enjoy it, she is ensuring that she is never without anything she desires. As despicable as the other characters seem to find her, I relish in her frankness amid a cast of characters who seem anything but frank.

The rest of Book Two moves fairly quickly, and I certainly feel the tension building to what I know is inevitable in the next portions of the book.

I have to also say, as much as I glazed over during the latter part of Alexei’s account of Zosima’s life, I really enjoyed Zosima’s character. At the beginning of Book Two, his students and friends gather as his death is expected at any time. He gives them hope for the future but also humbles them, telling all:

Love God’s people. We are no holier than those outside, just because we have shut ourselves up behind these walls. Just the opposite, by coming here, each of us has acknowledged to himself that he is worse than those who remain outside, worse than anyone in the world. The longer a monk lives within the monastery walls, the more acutely must he be aware of this. Otherwise there was no reason for him to come here. It is only when it is revealed to him that not only is he worse than all those outside these walls, but also that he is responsible to all men for everyone and everything, for all human sins, universal and individual – only then will he have achieved the purpose of his seclusion.

This, in such stark contrast, to what Ivan believes. In a long conversation with Alexei, he admits that

“I have never been able to understand how it was possible to love one’s neighbors. And I mean precisely one’s neighbors, because I can conceive of the possibility of loving those who are far away….If I must love my fellow man, he had better hide himself, for no sooner do I see his face than there’s an end to my love for him.”

I think this is a fairly common attitude. The idea of helping, the idea of charitable giving affects us precisely because we see it affecting the whole of humanity. When faced with one particular person in need, though, it becomes more personable, more intimate, and more difficult. We judge individuals whereas we feel more compassionate to groups. We love humanity but not humans. Regardless, it’s an interesting juxtaposition, and I found myself really enjoying this part of the book.

Thoughts?


Persepolis and more Book Thief Pages

This week, my students are studying the Islamic Revolution in Iran in preparation for reading Persepolis. Many had never read a graphic novel before and went ahead and zipped through it. Most have really enjoyed it, but I’m looking forward to hearing their perspectives once we know a bit more about that time period. Today, I showed an interview with Marjane Satrapi. She’s really fascinating; I had the opportunity to meet her and hear her speak in Houston two years ago. I don’t simply want my students to discuss the book. I want them to understand the impetus for Satrapi’s novel and it’s medium/format. If they learn anything during this semester, I hope it’s that these elements are deliberate choices by a writer/author to affect the reader in a certain manner. Video here:

Also, the end of last week and early this week brought a few more repurposed pages from The Book Thief lesson. They were still discussing it earlier this week after we had already moved on, so I took that as a good sign and did a little happy dance inside. I always feel like a mom blending broccoli into brownies or something when they tell me they enjoy something I assign. So, without further ado, here are a couple more repurposed pages. Tomorrow, I’ll post about The Brothers Karamazov, Part Two. What are you reading?


Musing Mondays

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about the ‘best’ books’.

There’s been some discussion on my blog this week about what should or shouldn’t make a ‘best’ books’ list. What elements do you think lands a book in that ‘best’ category?


Anyone who knows me – who really knows me – knows that choosing “best” or “favorite” things is like torture to me. And choosing the best five books? Oh my goodness, this post may never get published.

That said, I think the elements that make an unforgettable book are much the same as any other book. However, what gives a book its staying power – whether contemporary or classic – is the combination of those elements. For example, Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer almost made the list, but I felt toward the end, he lacked a strong editorial presence. The characters are memorable, yes. The story is endearing and goes beyond simply fun to speaking about humanity and its beauty and brutality. However, it fell short because it lacked a good ending. By good ending, I don’t mean happy or well rounded or the way I thought it should end. It simply seemed to stop.

A more recent read for me, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon similarly has an excellent, flawed cast of characters struggling to make a life amid prejudice and sorrow and disappointment. Here, the ending is good, but Chabon’s “voice” was a little too present. I felt his conceit constantly while reading this book, and it annoyed me.

My list, then, reflects those books* that I truly think are the best. They have that magic combination that makes me, as a reader, consider these to be lifelong companions, books that have formed me in some way and that I will read again and again in order to take the joy and pain and beauty they have to offer:

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I read this book for the first time way too young. I didn’t know what a “rendezvous” was or how to pronounce it. Nor was I treated cruelly as a young child. But Jane’s story, that of an independent (though somewhat meek) young woman who knew herself so well, was incredibly moving to me. I have read it dozens of times and still re-read my favorite parts a couple of times a year. I love that Jane spoke up when others would have been quiet. I love that the wildly lovely and flirtatious women have no hold over Mr. Rochester’s heart. Jane Eyre is probably the one story where I let cynicism of love subside and simply enjoy the story.

  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

You can read my post from a couple of days ago on this stirring book, but I love it for so many reasons. I love Zusak’s not-so-subtle study of words and their inherent power, both beautiful and frightening. Death’s humanity (there is no other word for it) brings me to tears. This book will stay with me for many more years (I read it several years ago), and I love sharing it with anyone and everyone.

  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Many of the books I love are simply about ordinary life and ordinary people living that life. This book is one of them. What makes it so extraordinary, then? There is no one “ordinary.” Steinbeck so masterfully creates his characters that the reader realizes that a simple farmer, a servant, a wayward son all have moments of intense art in a single life. Read Matt’s review.

  • Sula by Toni Morrison (or almost anything by Toni Morrison, for that matter)

I think it is a testament to this book (as well as Medea and “The Yellow Wallpaper”) that after spending a year writing my Master’s thesis over it, I still love this book so well. Toni Morrison writes women with compassion but certainly without rose-colored glasses. The women in Sula are devious, loving, maternal, sexual, independent, capricious, insecure and unfaltering. Sula herself makes space in a very small society for women who don’t quite fit the mold, but the book also shows the consequences of and prevalent attitudes toward such change.

  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Magical realism at its best. This story is of a young girl who sees with different eyes and lives in a slightly different world. After witnessing a death in childhood, Clara stops speaking, believing her words are responsible for the death. The story spans Clara’s life and the life of her family, full of desire and deceit as well as love and hope. The story, to me, is epic and not easily forgettable.

[I know I have listed five, but I have to include at least one more and may update later, as well.]

  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

I hate when people use the phrase “it changed my life.” It’s cliche, and I really don’t like cliche. Therefore, I’ll say this novel completely refocused my perspective. Many have never read it, but I argue it is a must for any American literature course. It receives comparisons to Black Boy by Richard Wright, but I would argue that it’s better and that it’s totally different. Invisible Man is certainly about race as the main character is African American, and it is set during the Harlem Renaissance. It is an important novel about race and the coming-of-age of young men of the South in the changing climate of the North. As much as I am interested in the story for that alone, the story spoke to me on another level as well. It spoke of identity and personal responsibility. It still speaks of these things. The words “personal responsibility” get a bad reputation these days, but I don’t mean them in the political sense but in the sense that you should know, at all times, who you are and what you believe because we are a changeable people in changeable times. I believe this novel is and could be revolutionary, and I am always saddened when readers have never heard of it.

So there are my five six “best” books and the reasoning behind them. Have you read any of these? What are your “best” five books? If you participate in Musing Mondays, leave your link in comments. I’d love to check out your blog.

And, of course, thanks to Just one more page… for this weekly post!

*I feel I need to qualify these selections. They are adult fiction, standard novel. I do not include personal essays, graphic novels, etcetera in these top five because my brain may literally explode.


The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky: Part One

Hmm. I have tried to read this book once before. Part of me, after seeing others’ editions, wonders if it isn’t simply the translation and edition (an old Bantam Classic) that I don’t like. However, I honestly don’t think that is it.

After looking at Dolce Belleza’s post over first one and checking out the other participants’ posts, I definitely see some similarities in my own reading. Yes, I do pick up on the sense of humor. But after such mind-numbing conversations about philosophy, it just hasn’t been enough to pull me through.

I am all for alternative narrators. When they work, they work well. In The Book Thief, which I just discussed yesterday, the narrator is one of the best parts of the book. That said, in this book, sometimes he is clearly present and others, he doesn’t show up for many many pages, so it’s disconcerting when he does throw his voice in:

The two brothers had been corresponding before on an important matter that concerned Dmitry more than Ivan. What it was the reader will learn at great length in good time. However, even when I learned about that matter, Ivan Karamazov remained a mystery to me and I still did not understand why he had come.

This is where I pause and groan. I really don’t like being kept out of “the know,” but I particularly cannot stand it when the narrator then goes on to discuss it at length:

It is of this brother, Alexei, that I find it the most difficult to speak in this introductory part of my narrative, although it is indispensable to do so before I bring him out onto the stage of my novel. I must write an introductory piece about him too, if only to explain a point that may strike my readers as very strange, namely, that my future hero will have to wear the cassock of a novice at his very first appearance.

It is just so darn wordy.

Basically, the three brothers – Dmitry, Ivan, and Alexei, also alternatively called, hmm, Mitya, and Aloyshi – have a strange relationship with their father. Mr. Karamazov is a despicable character, debauched and dramatic with not much thought as to his effect on others. All three have reason to hate him, but like any complicated father/son relationship, it is difficult to tell where each brother stands with his father.

I gather this between so many philosophical conversations I lose count. I’ll give you an example:

Of course, when he was in the monastery he believed entirely in miracles, but I don’t think that miracles ever confound a realist. Nor is it miracles that bring a realist to religion. If he is an unbeliever, a true realist will always find the strength and ability not to believe in a miracle, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact, he will rather disbelieve his own senses than accept that fact. Or he may concede the fact and explain it away as a natural phenomenon until then unknown. In a realist, it is not miracles that generate faith, but faith that generates miracles. Once a realist becomes a believer, however, his very realism will make him accept the existence of miracles.

Groan.

All are a bit badly behaved. They are wealthy enough. They have little regard for women. I keep wanting to tell each character to suck it up.

But…. Dolce says the mystery gets interesting, and I am banking on that. I love mysteries. I also just really feel the need to finish this book. Thanks to Dolce for hosting and giving me the shove I need to add another Russian novel to my very spare list.

UPDATE: Part Two is most decidedly better than Part One. Odd. I’m actually enjoying it… maybe because there are actually a couple female characters?


24 Hours of Reading… Impressive or Crazy?

My best wishes go out to all those participating in Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-Thon today! I am really really impressed with/slightly afraid of all those reading for a solid 24 hours. I know many of you have children and other pressing outside obligations. So I feel like a real dork for not participating.

Here’s why:

A. I think it’s a little bit of Catholic guilt. “Guilt?” you ask, “Who feels guilty about reading all day?” Answer: I do. Now that I own a house, or for pity’s sake, even before I owned a house, I always feel like the house can be cleaner, or the car should be washed, or I can plan next week’s lessons, and so on and so forth until really, I wouldn’t enjoy reading at all, at all.

B. My attention span. I know this is odd because if you have been reading my blog at all, you know I’m a one-sitting reader. I will sit and read and read until the cows come home (yes, that’s the Southerner in me coming out). However, sit me in one place and tell me to read? No way.

C. I’m *supposed* to be reading Brothers Karamazov, and there’s no way in a million years I can sit still and just read that. I would have to switch back and forth between that and A Dedicated Man, my Peter Robinson mystery. That sounds like enough to really drive a person insane. Think Jane from “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

So. In solidarity, I will visit blogs and offer encouragement, and I am sure at some point today I will sit and read Brothers Karamazov and then set it down and do a bit of cleaning and then sit on the sofa, then blog, then rearrange the furniture, then read a little of A Dedicated Man. I will offer support whenever possible and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be ready for Read-a-Thon Lite by next year. Until then, happy reading you crazed book bloggers. 🙂


To Twitter/Tweet or Not…

I notice that many of the bloggers out there are using Twitter (Dolce Belleza, Hey Lady, Savidge Reads, Booklady’s Blog).

If you use it, why do you twitter/tweet? Can you explain it a bit to a total newbie? I didn’t even realize I had an account until I got a couple emails saying I had “followers”? I logged on with the username in the email and my typical password, and sure enough, looks like at some point, I signed up.

So… I guess what I am saying is: Help! Let me in to this apparently wonderful world. Explain. Offer advice. Any and all help is appreciated.


Teaching: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

I am haunted by humans.

I first read The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak several years ago. At the time, no one had heard of it, but I read it and immediately passed it to all my book-loving friends. (Thank goodness for those.) Of course, I know most of you have read and reviewed this amazing book set in Nazi Germany that shows the overwhelming beauty and brutality of humanity, but I wanted to bring it up again A. because it’s such a phenomenal book that doesn’t ever leave you and B. I taught it to my college freshman and high school seniors the last two weeks.

It is difficult to teach a novel to college students. First, I have two different type of classes – classes that meet three times a week for 50 minutes and classes that meet twice a week for an hour and 15 minutes. I know it’s the same time, but the breakup of that time can sometimes be difficult to deal with. Second, some novels lend themselves well to teaching: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is episodic. Others you can split up easily in terms of theme. Although The Book Thief certainly has many themes, I was still having difficulty. I looked online, but there seem to be mostly resources for younger grades or high school. College is so different.

I framed the conversation in terms of narrator, first of all, because, well…. narrator. It’s Death. I showed some clips of Meet Joe Black on the recommendation of another professor to really illustrate the detachment and curiosity that Brad Pitt’s character, as Death, feels. We related that back to our novel. We also discussed how setting the novel in Nazi Germany could have been a dangerous move for Zusak had he not had an impartial narrator, such as Death. My students were very interested in Death. On some level, I think it bothered them to have to think of little “d” death, but on the other hand, they were really gripped by capital “D” Death’s storytelling.

Then the last several classes, we discussed that more than anything, more than the Holocaust, or Nazi Germany, or destroyed innocence, the book is about words and about the characters’ relationship to those words. Liesel first steals a book before she can even read the words it holds, and we discussed that her stealing begins, at least, as an act of reclamation, filling the void with some physical evidence of what is missing.

However, as Hans teaches her to read, painting words she knows on the walls of the basement, she begins to have a hunger for what those words enable her to do. Similarly, Max, the Jewish refugee the Hubermanns hide in the basement, also has a growing relationship with words. He carries around a copy of Mein Kampf, and when Liesel asks him if it’s a good book, he responds it’s the “best book” because it literally saves his life on the journey to Molching. However, and for good reason, he also hates the book, representative of the evil that caused his life to be in danger in the first place. He rips out the pages and repurposes them, claiming the pages for himself and his own story, instead of Hitler’s.

I asked students for the moments in the book where words stood out to them, and they came up with the books within the book, Standover Man and The Word Shaker, the latter written by Max for Liesel, which describes Hitler’s realization of his own power:

He’d seen a mother walking with her child. At one point, she admonished the small boy, until finally, he began to cry. Within a few minutes, she spoke very softly to him, after which he was soothed and even smiled.

The young man rushed to the woman and embraced her. “Words!” He grinned.

The Word Shaker goes on to say that Hitler plants symbols and words of hate that multiply into a forest of hatred and “farmed thoughts.” One day, the word shaker plants a different kind of seed, and the story ends with hope. Continue reading


Sarah Vowell, or, Why I Have Been Absent For Days

Warning: LONG POST.

Yesterday Sarah Vowell, writer, historian, humorist, superhero’s alter ego (Violet in The Incredibles) flew into Houston, Texas, and I and a colleague picked her up from the airport to trek back to Beaumont, Texas and Lamar University for her lecture that evening.

I will not go into detail about how I was shaking because meeting someone new is uncomfortable for me, and meeting Sarah Vowell, although exciting, is still uncomfortable. I will not go into detail about how I took a wrong turn out of the airport and didn’t realize it for 40 minutes because I was so nervous and so engaged with the conversation….

I’m glad I didn’t go into detail – I feel much less ridiculous. 🙂

What I will share with you is what a delight the last couple of days have been. It’s a curious thing to meet someone you so admire and have them sitting next to you for two hours in a car and to talk as though this isn’t the most awkwardly brutal situation: meeting someone new and sitting next to them in the car for two hours. We went to the Q&A session with students in an Extremist Literature class along with a handful of other students. The questions began with the mundane: If you were stranded on a desert island, what five books and five movies would you bring? Sarah laughingly responded that if you can watch movies, hopefully there is some sort of transmitter there and you can maybe get off the island… but left it at that and played along. Her answer? The Godfather, Groundhog Day, Reds, and Point Break. Groundhog Day because, of course, on a desert island, each day must feel exactly like the last. Books? Moby Dick, which she says she turns to weekly for a paragraph to remind her of her love of the English language. The Great Gatsby, to be totally cliché, she said. Whitaker Chamber’s Witness and Lincoln at Gettysburg. Yes, I know there aren’t five on either list, but she turned the question back around to the student who asked it.

When asked why she is an atheist, she responded that in 9th grade she studied Greek mythology and couldn’t believe how outlandish the stories were and couldn’t fathom people subscribing to such a belief system. Growing up Pentecostal, she then turned to the Bible and the stories there and realized the stories were similarly unbelievable. However, she also said that Jesus’ radical Sermon on the Mount still inspires hope in her, that loving your enemy is one of the most radical ideas and that she wishes that were the face of Christianity today, in a sense.

All in all, the Q&A session was great, and she said it was one of the most encouraging sessions she has ever had with students. She said often she feels that students are afraid to ask questions, or they ask questions they think they “should” ask instead of asking what they really want to know. Continue reading