Sunday, July 13, 2008

Finding history in the fairy tale

I was a rather unusual student in that I loved getting a new syllabus/book list from professors. When you just receive this you've got all of these 'smart-people-recommended' books that you are required to buy and read. Talk about a fairly easy way to some good new books to read. I found some great authors in my four years of college. For example, Graham Greene remains one of my favorite British (loosely categorized, of course) authors, while Stephen Asma's "The God's Drink Whiskey" will always be my tome when I'm looking for great anecdotes combining travel, enlightenment and amusement. One of the best genres (literature and movies alike) that I have discovered in my time as a reader (meaning since I started reading Dr. Seuss when I was 3) are the ones that pillage history. In the same breath, those stories that pillage fiction to find the fact are also wonderful.

I was lucky in my college years. I came in with roughly 5 classes worth of credits. This means that I could take at least 5 classes that had nothing to do with my major. One of those classes was a modern language class (taught by a German professor, actually) on the Grimm's fairy tales. As just about any peson knows, the fairy tales that we know are majorly doctored versions of those tales (which were, in turn, majorly doctored versions of folk tales they stole from other traditions and legends). My professor made it a point to tell us this every class period. She also made it a point of say that there was nothing wrong with rewriting fairy tales.
In any case, one of the most poignant and moving books that we read in that class was assigned to illustrate her point. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: a novel of war and survival was written by Louise Murphy, a poet and novelist born in 1943. This work places her on the map for many people, and remains the work that she is best known by.

Set in one of the least recorded times and places of Holocaust history, this novel begins with a Jewish family (a father, stepmother, daughter and son) trying to escape the oncoming Nazi's on a motorcycle. All the elements of the well-known fairy tale show up: a stepmother who talks the father into sending the kids away, a 'witch' living in a cottage in the middle of a deep forest, even a stint in an oven. What Murphy does marvelously well is to integrate all of these aspects, twist them, and create a story of war, love, loss and loyalty. The witch, Magda, narrates the story. The first line reveals the basis in legend and the narrator's focus on the truth of the legend. "The story has been told over and over by liars and it must be retold." It is Magda, as well, who offers up the nuggets of wisdom that such stories always hold. It is she who finally ends the tale as well, with the core lesson that Murphy spent the whole novel trying to impart. Generally I do not enjoy stories with morals that slap you in the face. And this one really doesn't, mostly because of the beauty of language that Magda seems imbued with at the very end. In her (the narrator and author) words:

"There is much to love, and that love is what we are left with. When the bombs stop dropping, and the camps fall back to the earth and decay and we are done killing each other, that is what we must hold."

Bottom line
Read it. You'll be glad you did. And if you know me personally, you might even be able to bum a copy off of me, keeping in mind that if you lose it, I might have to put you in an oven!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

music obsession

I would love if I could just be given this sum of money every month that I could ONLY use to purchase music. I love music, good music, new music. I have a habit of finding a song that says everything I need it to say and then getting obsessed with it.

Case in point: FLOBOTS:

Specifically 'Handlebars' by Flobots. I admit that the first time I heard this song, I hated it. It seemed childish, monotonous and repetitive. Of course, I also didn't make it past the first repetition of "I can ride my bike with no handlebars." And that was where my fatal flaw was. The song is about building up to this moment where a choice is made and everything depends on the choice. So of course the song just gets better and better and better...and better. It's one of those songs that when you first hear it (and the next time and the next time) you don't fully understand everything going on.

And those are always the best songs, aren't they? The ones that speak to you and keep speaking to you, no matter the mood. Those are the songs that stay with you. The songs that follow you into your dreams, that you wake up to, that you find yourself humming along with as you cook food (or at least I do, anyway).
Anyway, my recommendation (at least after you've visited FLOBOTS' purevolume page and listened to all of their awesome songs) is to expand your horizons even further and try out a wonderful music-discovery site by the name of Pandora. The problem with a lot of songs, for me, is that you often hear them too often on the radio. Often, they start out good and then they just turn annoying as you hear them more and more. Pandora is chock full of songs that you've never heard of, or at least rarely heard. It's a great place to stoke your music obsession.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fourth of July

Rob Ostermaier/Daily Press/July 4, 2007
Working on July Fourth is fun. People are more patriotic than they have ever been, but in a newsroom they also tend to have a jaded, sarcastic patriotism. It's beautiful. Mostly because if you take yourself too seriously all of the time life gets too short.
To me, it is much more wonderful to take the Fourth of July and celebrate the beginning of our country: the questioning of a government. So I have no problems with those people who felt the need to jeer at a president they don't believe even has others are taking an oath to uphold the values of the country that man 'represents.' To me, that moment speaks exactly to what this country is all about. And to Dubba's credit, he mentioned one aspect of our country as well (free speech) and did not get mad, but, seemingly, welcomed the critique.
And it is always nice to read a newspaper opinion that is not afraid to remind people that they need to give patriotism as a word a rest. Patriotism isn't about wearing a lapel pin and declaring you love your country. It's about showing that you love your country by being willing to fight for the betterment of it. By not backing down, even when others say that your country is a sham. Being an American is great. I will never be embarassed to say I'm an American. I will disown any connection between that word and a president, or a reverand, or any specific person, however. Being an American means I can say that Bush is an idiot and not fear for my life. But being an American also means that I won't just say it, I will do it (through voting).
Well enough diatribes for one day. Time for me to get back to work.