Monday, July 5, 2010

Jim is observing the Independence Day holiday. Much of his recent reading has been pedagogically-minded, as he prepares to team-teach an interdisciplinary English/Ethics/History curriculum centered around the theme of freedom in the fall of 2010. To that end, he's been reacquainting himself with the work of Toni Morrison. As with re-reading Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the first time in 20 years (see his recent post on this), encountering Morrison's Beloved again for the first time in about the same interval has been a happy experience. Like Shakespeare or Faulkner, Morrison is both a richer and easier experience the second time around: structure and language are easier to observe and appreciate once you have a working knowledge of the context and plot, in this case the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 an its impact on an American family in the generation that followed. Though it's only been about  year since he read Morrison's A Mercy, first published in 2008, it, too, holds up very well. This short novel, set in the relatively fluid slave system of the mid-Atlantic in 1682 demonstrates an absolutely masterful grasp of colonial history even as it presents a vivid array of characters, black and white, male and female. It stands with her best work, of which Beloved will surely always rank first.

Jim has also been to the movies a few times lately. He recommends A Solitary Man, starring Michael Douglas in a repellent character study -- a cut-rate Gordon Gekko, albeit a more three-dimensional one. Though the movie relies on a creaky device that frames it at either end, it nevertheless raises interesting -- and haunting -- questions about the durability of character and our ability to really learn from experience. The acting of course is terrific, with Douglas getting able assistance from Susan Sarandon as his ex-wife, Daanny DeVito as an old pal, and Mary-Louise Parker  as a wronged, and vengeful, lover. Also truly worthwhile is Toy Story 3, which retains the truly astounding resonance of the first two installments of the series. Endlessly clever, the story manages the neat trick of seeming unpredictable while you're watching it and inevitable in retrospect. It may well be that work of art about the human condition currently in circulation features a cast of inanimate objects.

May you experience a sense of joyful freedom in the last leg of this commemoration of the nation's birthday.