Friday, October 17, 2008

Seasons Change

The seasons are changing and I welcome it. There is a distinct cooling in the air, pumpkins are starting to sprout on front porches, and costume stores are on every corner. Haunted houses are being touted. The leaves are changing from the chameleon green to the more natural red, yellows, and oranges. The days are getting shorter. My sweater doesn't seem so out of place now.

We are deep into the fall semester, papers are starting to come due and research is being quickly done. Freshman students, eager as always to please, take big topics and try to squeeze them into two page papers. The success is debatable.

Speaking of debates, the election season is winding down, or heating up, I guess it all depends on your way of looking at it. Soon we will have a new president and a new set of problems.

Autumn has arrived and in it, I revel.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Maryland, Again

A whirlwind trip to Maryland, done. It was a quick weekend. As I look back at it, I think I spent more time in the car going and coming back than actually on vacation. We went to the mountains of Western Maryland. We go there a lot, more than we should probably, but to hell with it, that's my "homeplace" as the oldtimers used to call it.

The leaves were just starting to turn from their thick green to their fire reds, oranges, yellows. The maples were the furthest along. The air was clean and in the mornings and evenings crisp.

It felt good like it always does to go "home."

Friday, October 03, 2008

Traveling with Steinbeck

Taking a break from reading. I'm re-re-reading Travels with Charley, by John Steinbeck. Its one of those books that never quite got the notice his other books like Grapes of Wrath, or Of Mice and Men recieved and that's too bad. Almost sad, really.

Those other books are good, great even, but there is something about them doesn't really resonate with me. That is particularly true with Grapes of Wrath. Maybe the themes are too big, or maybe my brain is too small. Either way, I feel awash in the prose and somewhat buffetted by them. Not so with Travels with Charley.

Travels with Charley is, as far as I am concerned miscast. One usually finds it in the amongst the fiction of Steinbeck. It is not fiction, but a travelogue. In the early 60's Steinbeck decided to become reaquainted with America. He figured, and rightly so, that since he wrote about America and the American experience he should get to know America. So he had a small camper built on a pickup truck, got his standard sized Poodle, Charley and set off to rediscover his country. Or as he put it:
One of my purposes was to listen, to hear speech, accent, speech rhythms, overtones and emphasis. For speech is so much more than words and sentences. I did listen everywhere. It seemed to me that regional speech is in the process of disappearing, not gone but going. Forty years of radio and twenty years of television must have this impact. Communications must destroy localness, by a slow, inevitable process. ...with local accent will disappear local tempo. The idioms, the figures of speech that make language rich and full of poetry of place and time must go. And in their place will be a national speech, wrapped and packaged, standard and tasteless.

Reading Travels with Charley is like looking at a backwards mirror. I do find it to be a modern day prophecy. When I read Travels with Charley I have to do it in small doses, a page or two, sometimes just a paragraph. Reading the book almost fifty years removed from the actual writing has the feelin of literary archeology.

I have a strange affinity for Steinbeck. I'm not sure why, maybe it has something to do with the fact that he and I share a birthday, granted his was 72 years before mind and he was dead a full seven years before I made my squalling appearance, but for some reason Steinbeck's words resonate and rattle my brain cage when I read them. Full discloure: I tried, but have never gotten through East of Eden, if there is a heavier handed book I have yet to meet it.

There are passages in Travels with Charley that stick with me, particularly those rare occasions when I am traveling. I usually get whacked in the head from Steinbeck when I am in a motel. I make it a point to leave nothing behind because of something he writes about when he stops in Chicago.

There is an audio recording of the book, but it is only on audio tape; trust me, I have looked for it on cd. The book is read by Gary Sinese. Sinese's gravelly voice really captures the prose and the rythym of the book.

So, I shall go back to 1960 and drive with John and his dog Charley and rediscover America. I wonder what I'll learn this time.