Thursday, May 11, 2017

May 11, 2017--Reading to Rona

In elementary school, at PS 244 in East Flatbush, reading flawlessly out loud was highly valued.

At this, I was a total failure.

So much so that after being traumatized in second grade because, from anxiety, I stammered and mispronounced many words when reading out loud while standing in front of the class, facing my quivering fellow students--their turn will come--I didn't read another book, to myself much less out loud, until 6th grade. Somehow I resumed reading then and ever since books have been my most dependable companion. Actually, Rona has been my most dependable companion. (See below)

So much that went on at PS 244 they claimed was preparation for "real life," and reading in public was high on that list. Not that one would be called on to do much of this as an adult, but to withstand pressure and perform under a version of fire was what was valued and, if like me one wasn't good at it, having one's inabilities exposed in public and to be mocked and ridiculed by our so-called friends was thought to be essential preparation for those of us with middling talents who were destined to have many bosses during our lifetimes, bosses who would relish calling us to task for our foulups, often in the presence of work colleagues. Second grade, in other words, was not about the 3-Rs and nurturing creativity--it was a form of basic training where only a few would emerge to become achievers. The rest of us were destined to be barked at for the rest of our lives.

Then there was spelling. I begin to tremble as I approach this memory.

It was further preparation for the future. In this case not because any of us were being encouraged to become writers--more likely accountants--but since most of us were to be mired in authoritarian work situations where we would be forced to be competent in the world-of-following-orders that didn't make sense, all the while under pressure to carry out tasks that lacked necessity or logic.

English language spelling, then, with its arbitrary rules and idiosyncratic requirements was thought to be a good introduction to living unquestioningly with the irrational. Memorizing odd spellings trained us to not raise questions but simply surrender to things that otherwise should have raised questions. Parroting spellings such as foreigner and parallel and thought and through and gauge helped us learn how to handling tasks and follow, without resisting or objecting, work assignments and put up with civic requirements that didn't make much sense.

But later, with the help of Spell Check I became a writer and by reading to Rona I am overcoming my fear of mispronunciations--a liberating psychological metaphor.

Recently, over seven evenings, I read to her, Jonathan Allen's and Amie Parnes' Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign. We hung in more for the gossip than the insight or the vivid portraits of the key players. Both were missing and thus they rendered an intrinsically interesting story mundane. Still it was worth reading. Including just for the reading.

But then this week we have been reading out loud the newest novel by Lidia Yuknavitch, The Book of Joan. It is exceptional.

Neither Rona nor I are drawn to post-apocalyptic literature--usually the opposite--but this novel feels as if the imagined future (it is set in 2049) is actually an apt vision of the pre-apocalyptic present.

World wars and environmental catastrophes have transformed earth into an uninhabitable cinder. To regroup, a few thousand wealthy earthlings have retreated to an orbiting platform in space known as CIEL. There, as the result of widespread devastation, evolution has been reversed. The survivors have become hairless, blanched-white, sexless creatures floating aimlessly in space and in isolation. At the heart of the matter, these escapees have come under the domination of a bloodthirsty cult leader, Jen de Men, who turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state.

Enough said. No more spoilers. Pick up a copy and get lost in the dystopic world Yuknavitch invents. Or perceives.

Better yet, find someone to read it to you. Perhaps a refuge from PS 244.

PS 244

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