Teaser Poster for Captain America: The First Avenger

Posted in Comics, Entertainment with tags , , , , , on February 4, 2011 by Mike

Go ahead and bask in its awesomeness first:

The Movie I've Been Waiting My Entire Life For

Marvel Studios nailed it.  I can’t imagine another image that would get me so anxious for this film, to be honest.  The word “AVENGE” across Evans’ chest is a subtle reminder of not only the title of the film but also Cap’s status as an Avenger and, hell, America’ desire for vengeance upon entry into WWII.  Just perfect.

Not only that, but it’s obvious (to me and probably to most Cap fans) that the designers of the teaser poster have been looking at images of Cap from the comics, and chose to model their poster on a cover from issue #4 of the current volume:

Cover art for Captain America #4

July 22nd can’t get here soon enough – I’ll be the one in the front of the line at Cinemark on July 20th.

Now I need to find a site that’s selling the poster…

Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Lawsuit”

Posted in teaching on February 3, 2011 by Mike

When creating the syllabus for this spring’s Intro to Lit class, I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to change up the readings from what I had done the past two years and throw in some new selections. Apparently, at the time, I didn’t want to talk about Cather’s “Paul’s Case” again, nor did I want to return to Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies”, both stories I enjoy and am comfortable discussing. No, I decided to go with a new story, one that was new to the 11th edition of our text (a decision more than likely prompted by the idea that my students would HAVE to get the new text that way). So I leafed through the anthology’s Table of Contents and came to Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Lawsuit”. The blurb hooked me…

He thought he’d seen the last of his late father’s second wife, but now she’s back to trouble his peaceful existence.

…and here’s where I should say I read the story, did some research on it, and made an informed decision as to whether to add it to the syllabus. But my intuition told me it would be a nice addition so I skipped a couple of those steps.

Here we are, three weeks later, and I’m recognizing that I have some ideas about the story, but that’s a bit distant from having some real thoughts about it. So I’m writing this trying to work some of those ideas out.

The story centers on the first-person narrator, a man whose 55 year-old father had married a younger woman (20). Complicating the situation is the fact that his family (his two sons, the narrator’s mother, and some sisters) worry that this will affect their “rights” to any inheritance, as he keeps his money locked in a cupboard in the house. The story, as you might guess based on the author’s name, is set in Egypt, so there are one or two cultural questions I have (namely since, as far as I can tell, the father has not yet divorced his first wife, does this mean he’s a polygamist?)

I should look this up (Egypt apparently frowns on the practice, but I can’t see that it’s illegal, so that answers that question…somewhat). The rest of the story relates how angry the son is at the young woman b/c of the trouble her relationship causes: the older brother dies in jail after a bloody fight with his father, and the woman ends up taking the money after the father dies due to a stroke. Years later, the woman re-enters the narrator’s life when she attempts to bring suit against him for “rights” – apparently an attempt to finagle money. Also another cultural difference – this claim would be laughed out of an American court.

Of course he’s furious, but here’s where Mahfouz starts making his point, through the son’s lawyer: the lawyer explains just how bad off the woman now is – she’s destitute after having been divorced several times, which is a mark of shame in the culture. The divorces resulted, more than likely, from her inability to have children, and she herself was scammed by a younger man. The lawyer also suggests sympathy would lie with the woman in any hearing b/c of the situation of her marriage to the much older man.

Anyway, the narrator is smug when he hears this – karma’s a bitch, it seems (note to self: don’t use that in class). He goes to court with the intention of seeing just how bad off she is, and more than likely rubbing her face in his success.

But then he sees her, and finds that she is truly a broken woman, who actually apologizes to him for causing him trouble, but tells him she has no other recourse.

His anger melts – he finds an “inner peace” – and it seems this change of heart might be key to finding a theme. The narrator wants vengeance so bad, yet when he has the chance to gain it, he seems to realize what an empty pursuit it really is. He tells the woman not to worry, that what the Lord wills will be done. He’s regained a level-headedness that had been lost to him for years.

I’ll work on that a bit. Interested to hear what my kids have to say about this.

Yelled at a class today…

Posted in teaching on January 31, 2011 by Mike

…can’t stand that I did now that it’s after the fact, but felt so righteous in my indignation at their behavior.

I had been talking about Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” for the fourth time today and the class, which tends to be talky anyway, just got on my last nerve. Several students didn’t have their texts, some of them who I’m unsure if they’ve actually bought the book yet, three weeks into class.  Some were having side conversations, which is irritating but something I don’t really snap at.  Then there was the student who had her head down and eyes closed but when I called her on it told me she was “still paying attention.”  The last straw came when another student tossed a mint toward the “still-paying-attention” student.  I lost it, a bit, and berated them all for their lack of attentiveness and all-around rudeness/disrespect.  Tossed the “still-paying-attention” student out to the hall telling her she was wasting my time.

Stopped the class for a while and sat at my desk to calm down.  Then went on with the lesson.

Sometimes I think, “what do I expect from 17 and 18 year olds?”, but then I think, hey, I was never rude to my teachers like some of these students.  I guess I should emphasize that it was only four or five who were getting on my nerves, and the rest of the class was fine, but still, when it’s a class of only 18 (and a college class at that), I’m a bit less understanding.

The other problem is that I let these things build up  and then blow up.  They’ve been talky all year long, but it never got to the point that I thought they were disrespectful until this past week.  We’ll see how they behave the rest of the week.  I’ve been told that when I lose my temper (which is rare), I’m quite intimidating.

He who hesitates…

Posted in Comics, Entertainment, Figures with tags , , on January 31, 2011 by Mike

…doesn’t get the figures, apparently.

I went to Toys R Us a week or so ago after going to Blinn to pick up a copy of the textbook I’m teaching out of this semester. It had been a while since I had been in to check for new Marvel Universe figures, and even though Toys R Us tends to disappoint me, I went in anyway. Walking in a guy caught my eye – he had multi-colored hair which was plastered on his head, unkempt, and yes, I made some judgments internally about how silly he looked.

So I walked back to the aisles where they keep the Marvel figures, only it’s the aisle that holds the two-packs and only occasionally single figures.  Still, I look around a couple minutes at the DC figures (I’d probably buy a Green Arrow figure if I saw one) and then look to see if the Arkham Asylum figures are there.  No dice, so I move to the next aisle.

Turning the corner, there’s that same goofy-looking kid standing at the “main” display of Marvel Universe figures with a few in his hand: Thanos, Constrictor, and Yellow Jacket.  Yeah, the ones I wanted – all with close ties to the Avengers.  He walks off down the aisle and I could only futilely look through the peg racks, knowing (of course) there would be no others.

There weren’t.

Swallowing the Ladybug, Part III

Posted in Parenting on January 31, 2011 by Mike

So we had to drive to Temple.  At midnight.

I imagined that the ambulance would have its lights flashing, its siren blaring as we roared down Hwy 6, but no such luck.  Don’t get me wrong, the driver wasn’t pokey, but he only got up to about 75 or so at times – I didn’t have any real trouble keeping up.  In hindsight, following an ambulance to Temple was the best choice because I would have gotten LOST after turning off of 6 at Hearne.

An hour and a half later, we arrive at Temple – Suzie’s sleeping pretty soundly and Laura had managed to doze a bit herself.  I, on the other hand, was sleep-deprived and my eyes were swimming – those last 30 minutes of the trip were  a bit dicey for me; only Sirius blasting Liquid Metal managed to keep me more or less alert.

More waiting ensued.  We spent about two and half more hours waiting for Suzie to be taken for an x-ray, and by this time (about 4:30 AM), Laura’s patience was running out.  She finally went to speak to someone and soon after Suzie was wheeled out to x-ray where they found that the ladybug had moved to the entrance of the small intestine (looked it up: the pylorus) where it was lodged snugly.  We’re both worried that if they don’t get going with the endoscope soon, we may be looking at actual surgery to get the damned thing out.  But the staff assures us that there’s time and they’re prepping the room at that time.  Forty-five minutes later Suzie is taken for the procedure and there’s nothing for us to do but wait.

I’m going to try to describe what I was feeling at this time.  For those without children, I’m not quite sure you can understand the feelings a parent has seeing a child wheeled away to a surgical room.  It doesn’t matter if it’s merely for ear tubes or anything else – there’s a fear that you might never see your child again.  At least that’s what I felt.  It’s one of the most difficult emotions I’ve ever had – I know it’s necessary, but I don’t want her  out of my sight, and yet I can’t do one damned thing to help her.  It’s faith that allows the nurse to wheel the child away – faith in the staff, the doctor, and God that you’re doing the right thing. But it’s also a helpless feeling, one that I don’t feel too often, and one I never want to feel.

Waiting is excruciating.  Humor helps – Laura and I joked about wondering how Suzie was going to pay this off and things like that, but nothing could relieve the tension.  Neither of us dozed at all – we finally located some coffee and watched a National Geographic show on orangutans,  remarking how we bet the baby apes never swallowed anything stupid.

Finally, the doctor came out with a small plastic cup in his hand.  I noticed this because that’s what I immediately  looked for when he came through the doors.  The relief was palpable – it washed over me like a warm shower, I kid you not.  I felt a warmth envelop me as the doctor told us he was able to get it (it had almost been taken in by the valve) and I know I had tears of gratitude well up when he was describing the procedure.  It was a brief talk; the doctor left us pretty quickly but then returned about 10 minutes later to ask if we wanted to see her.

Of course we did.

We saw Suzie wake up from the anesthesia – there was the pretty standard confusion as to where she was and she cried a bit.  Then she puked up some blood from the scratches on her esophagus caused by the endoscope and the sobbing really began.  But other than that, she was fine; she needed to stay until the doctors saw that she could eat/keep things down – Laura decided to drive back to College Station and make sure her work was taken care of  while I stayed with Suzie.

She slept.  I watched.

This is what started all the trouble.


Sidenote:  After we saw Suzie wake up, it was decided I needed to go find a CVS for some pull-ups.  The nurse there tells me where to go but neglects to tell me how to get to the hospital exit.  Now, I’ve gone the whole night without sleep so I walk out of the recovery room a bit disoriented, but looking for signs directing me to an exit.  I must have taken a step in a wrong direction because an older doctor came up behind me and grabbed my arm, asking me what I was doing down there in a restricted area.  In my daze I try to explain about my daughter just inside the room I had exited, all the while thinking that his grabbing my arm is a bit uncalled for, and, looking back on this, I believe if I hadn’t been so disoriented he might have seen me react a bit to his grabbing me.  Anyway.  His aggressiveness was odd.

Swallowing the Ladybug, Part II

Posted in Parenting on January 17, 2011 by Mike

Yeah, Suzie had swallowed it.

I looked around the desk for the charm but obviously couldn’t find it.  Meanwhile, my wife is making arrangements to get our older daughter to her parents because we’re going to need to take Suzie to the emergency room.  She then lays into me about not paying attention to Suzie, which in my opinion is a patently unfair accusation because she was sitting on my lap and I was tickling her at the time; if anything, I was paying TOO MUCH attention to her.  True, I had no idea that Suzie had put the ladybug in her mouth, but…well, that doesn’t exactly help my case, does it?  I only know that I couldn’t believe Suzie had done this – she had never really been one to put things in her mouth – and I couldn’t really defend myself against Laura’s complaints.

So basically we’re both frustrated and worried about our daughter, and on top of this it was a chore to wake Tina up.  Seems once she’s out, she’s OUT.  I roused her at least twice, telling her to get some shoes on to get ready to go to her Bubba’s only to find her asleep in bed three minutes later.  When her Bubba did finally get to the house, Tina still seemed confused as to what was going on and why I was yelling at her to get out to Bubba’s truck.

Anyway, Laura and I got Suzie, who had calmed down a bit by now, into the car and took her to the emergency room.  Suzie was asking questions about what we were doing, but was in strict agreement with the idea that the LADYBUG HAD TO BE GOTTEN OUT OF HER TUMMY. Unfortunately, Suzie thought this was going to be a pretty simple process: “I’ll go to the doctor and he’ll get the ladybug out?” she kept suggesting, and Laura and I could only hope it would be that simple.

We had no idea what was in store for us.

The emergency room was quiet when we arrived – the St. Joseph facility had practically just opened that year and we were able to walk right in and take Suzie to a room.  Then the waiting began.  The nurses, of course, came in and asked the pertinent questions, but we kept waiting for them to take Suzie for the x-ray.  This was about 10:15 or so.  Another 40 minutes passed before they took her for the x-ray, where they found that, yes, she had swallowed the charm and it was settled in her stomach quite nicely.

Here’s where the fun begins.  After looking at the x-ray, it’s determined that the ladybug should be able to pass naturally and that we should be able to take her home and just keep an eye out for it in a day or two.  Laura was a bit concerned about the antenna on the thing (they were a bit pointy) but that didn’t seem to worry anyone else.  I, on the other hand, felt a bit of relief, because I had visions of Suzie having to have surgery to get the thing out.  So at about 11:00 PM I’m thinking we’re going to be able to head on back home. Then the doctor being consulted said that it would have been different if the charm had had both a battery AND a magnet in it – either one by itself was apparently not a problem.

Well, damn.

Funny thing about those ladybug charms – they have the small battery to light up the LEDs but they also have a magnetic back to them (apparently to teach dads a lesson about not watching what their kids put in their mouths).  So when Laura lets the doctor know this little factoid he gets a bit more serious and starts making some phone calls.  And we’re back to waiting.

After another 20 minutes or so, we find out that we’re going to need to go to the Scott and White Hospital in Temple because there is no one in B/CS  who will use an pediatric endoscope.  [note: Laura and I at the time were outraged, thinking that some doctor just didn’t want to get out of bed.  Later she would talk to a friend in the medical field who explained the concern about liability among doctors who haven’t concentrated in that kind of procedure  and how the doctor in Temple is practically the best there is at pediatric endoscopy].  Then we are told Suzie will be taken by ambulance, which is an 80 mile trip, and that the EMTs have been informed but that we would have to wait not only for its arrival, but the arrangements to be made for the transfer.

Now, Laura is not the most patient of people in even the best of circumstances (don’t ever be in a car with her during rush hour traffic – it’s not pretty).  She’s a take-charge person (a reason I love her), and there were moments that I could tell that she was seriously considering packing up Suzie in our car and making the drive ourselves.  Which would have been bad because I would have ended up driving and then we would have ended up lost.  It didn’t help matters much that Laura’s dad was there kvetching about the waiting and generally being grumpy toward the staff, and thus stressing Laura out more.  Still, Laura remained calm and reasonable while I went home to pack some things for Suzie and Laura for the trip.  Suzie, meanwhile, slept.

Finally, at about midnight, the ambulance was ready to go.  Laura was to ride in the ambulance with Suzie while I followed behind in our car.  They got loaded up and we were off to Temple…

next time: the drive to Temple and more waiting

Swallowing the Ladybug, Part I

Posted in Parenting on January 9, 2011 by Mike

So, I have two daughters, ages 8 and 4.  My eight year old likes to think she’s 13 but I’ll end up writing about that another time.  My four year old is very easy-going, and up until this past December there’s been no “drama” with her (her sister’s had stitches in her forehead twice, not due to anything cool like sports, but general clumsiness).  That all changed when she swallowed a lady-bug.

I had just come back from my shift at a newspaper late night and was sitting at my computer, probably reading texags or something.  Suzie, my younger daughter, stays up a little later than her older sister because she doesn’t have to get up as early, and she likes to snuggle with my wife before she goes to bed.  I think my wife (Laura) was in the dining room putting together Christmas invitations for the party we were having in two weeks.

Anyway, Suzie comes up to me and wants dessert, even though it’s 9:30.  I put some yogurt pretzels in a little bowl and she comes to sit on my lap while I’m back on the computer, reading random crap (I have to keep up on my random trivia for QRANK).  She then notices the ladybug on the desk.  Laura had just cleaned off the desk in order to display a nativity scene at the top which meant a lot of junk hidden behind the pictures of our kids we normally keep up there got pushed down to the desktop.  One of these lost treasures was a necklace charm shaped like a lady bug, which lit up with blinking lights when the back was twisted.

This is the infamous ladybug

She immediately grabs it, correctly identifying it as a ladybug.  The battery inside was long dead so I couldn’t show her how it lit up, but she didn’t care.  She examined it a bit, and then  went back to eating her yogurt pretzels – I saw her grab a pretzel from the bowl so I thought her interest in the charm had faded. [Now here’s where I apparently wasn’t a good dad].  Suzie asked me to sing the “Yo Gabba Gabba” song “There’s a Party in my Tummy!” with her, so I raise my voice an octave and start singing it, tickling her tummy [note to parents: don’t do that while your kids are eating].  Suzie started giggling but then started gagging and coughing; something was apparently caught in her throat  so I put her down and called to Laura, thinking she swallowed a pretzel wrong.  Actually I was a bit frightened; I had seen my daughters get food caught before but this was different – for a moment I could tell Suzie couldn’t breathe.  So my calling Laura was more out of feeling of utter helplessness and a hope that my vet wife could fix her.

But practically as soon as the gagging/coughing began it stopped – Suzie spit out some fragments of yogurt pretzel into my hand and I felt relieved that THAT was over.  But then Suzie started crying, and as I started to try to console her she said those four words that would lead to one of the longest nights of our lives:

“I swallowed the ladybug!” /sobs

To be continued…

Huck Finn without the “n word”, Part II

Posted in Novels, teaching with tags , , , , , on January 6, 2011 by Mike

A few years ago a member of the Dallas School Board (Ron Price) raised a ruckus about Huckleberry Finn for the same reasons Gribben is publishing the edited version.  I wrote about the situation on a previous blog attempt, and was reminded of it by a long-time reader (read:  my brother).  I’ve decided to post it again here as it’s still very much relevant to today’s “controversy”, and, in my opinion, is a bit more memorably put.  Enjoy!

[note: some works listed here are no longer on my school’s reading lists, not b/c of complaints or challenges, but because we like to vary our reading lists up from time to time.  Needless to fear, any novels we read today could very easily be added to this post.  We’re rebels like that]


In an article about the current controversy surrounding Adventures of Huckleberry Finn up in the Fort Worth area, Ron Price, a Dallas school board member, states, “We are here today to say we will not tolerate the N-word being used by any educators anywhere in our school district, throughout our region or the state of Texas. It’s critical that we examine all of our textbooks to ensure that the language is proper and that the language is not being used to abuse any child in any school.”

As an English teacher for ten years, I find Ron Price’s statement scary, and not just because of my feelings about Twain and Huck. His statement suggests that any word deemed offensive by any student can and should be removed carte blanche from the curriculum. With this threat in mind, I started looking through my high school’s reading list in an effort to determine which works could be targeted.

Let’s start with the word “nigger” – obviously, Twain’s Huck Finn is gone.  Tom Sawyer is, too.  So are any number of his short stories and essays, including a scathing condemnation of a southern lynching entitled “Only a Nigger.” But Twain’s not the only author whose works will be culled. So, too, will Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is removed, as are any number of his novels.  Flannery O’Connor is also guilty of using the word in a few of her stories. Catch-22 is gone. A few Hemingway works won’t make the cut (including The Sun Also Rises) and, to be consistent, neither will Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying, Richard Wright’s novels Black Boy and Native Son, and Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography (and most other slave narratives I’ve read).  So right there we’ve effectively silenced four of the greatest African-American voices in American literature.  But, hey, at least students won’t be exposed to the word “nigger,” right?

Swear words (not just racial epithets) are offensive, too.  Good-bye, Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, Cold Mountain, Catch-22, Invisible Man, A Lesson Before Dying, and Fahrenheit-451 (oh, the irony!).  The boys of Lord of the Flies should have their mouths washed out with soap, and Orwell’s 1984 is horrid.  Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima is gone (and I haven’t even mentioned the witchcraft in that one…oops), as are Seabiscuit and A Separate Peace.  Don’t even get me started on Grendel, that monster (why can’t he act civilized?).  No wonder I hear all sorts of curse words in the hallways – the literature students are reading is setting the standard.

Let’s move on to not just words, but actions (actions speak louder than words, you know).  I know many people find sex offensive, particularly between unmarried people.  So, so long, Scarlet Letter and Cold Mountain; good bye, Romeo and JulietThe Great Gatsby has an affair in it, so scratch that, and the trouble in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible all starts with an affair between John Proctor and Abigail (but maybe we can leave that one in, since John is hanged at the end). Wait a minute – Willy Loman has an affair in Death of a Salesman – obviously Miller has some strange fixation on sexual trysts so let’s ban ’em both.  Catch-22, A Lesson Before Dying, and Invisible Man are now three-time offenders, so perhaps we can burn them and drive home the point (I mean, do they have ANY redeemable qualities?  Oops, that’s beside the point).  Dances with Wolves – Dunbar masturbates!  And then he fools around with Stands With a Fist (this is after being fondled by some young indian women). The senior level reading list is chock-full of sex (implicit and explicit) — Kate Chopin, you’re not fooling anyone.  Nude women abound in The Odyssey, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is scandalous (the foreword Wilde writes notwithstanding). Not a sexual episode, but in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels the titular Gulliver actually pees on a house to douse a fire – how lewd!  Students don’t need to be reading that, it’s distracting and they’d laugh, and then the next thing we know THEY’LL be peeing on house fires (maybe we could just excise that portion).

And what about witchcraft?  Of course there’s Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima, but we’ll also say goodbye to Macbeth, Hamlet and Julius Caesar (is there ANY Shakespeare work that would be safe?) and The Crucible centers around it.  If we throw in religion (don’t want to start in with what any religious books say, as it might make some students uncomfortable) we also have to get rid of The Poisonwood Bible, any Puritan readings (Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, for example), and let’s just ignore any allusions made in any other works (“Mr. Williams, what does Patrick Henry mean when he says ‘Don’t be betrayed by a kiss’?” “Just ignore that line, student of mine, it could be offensive if I explain it”).  Practically nothing Abraham Lincoln wrote could be read (he was President!  How dare he quote the Bible!), and more recently published novels being considered by our English staff like Life of Pi and The Kite Runner (both finalists for a local community reading program) are immediately verboten.  Oops, perhaps I shouldn’t use German because of the negative connotation it might have.

Strangely enough, graphic violence doesn’t seem to offend anyone.  But violence is usually accompanied by swearing (people who get shot/stabbed/poisoned are generally nonplussed) so it’s a moot point.

Some reading this might reply that I’m descending onto a slippery slope.  Perhaps a bit, but I would also point out that every specific work mentioned above has been challenged at a school somewhere in this country for the exact reason given. So here’s the question: if we shouldn’t include anything in our curriculum that could possibly/maybe/might offend someone, what exactly do we read? Does context not count anymore?  Does authorial intent not mean anything?. My entire AP reading list is gone, based on Ron Price’s argument that began this missive.  Most of the works included in my school’s English curriculum are questionable because they could make some students uncomfortable, and apparently that’s not what some in high places believe literature should do.

But I would argue that this is EXACTLY what it should do.  This is what great literature (i.e. education) does: it makes us question our society, our world, our selves, and questions without immediate answers are uncomfortable.  When we read any novel, we come into it with preconceived ideas and if the book makes us question those ideas, we’re forced to think about WHY we believe the things we do.  Huck Finn makes us think about race (which will ALWAYS be an issue in the U.S., even if we abolish the word ‘nigger’) and how supposedly civilized people treat one another.  It’s a tale of how difficult it actually is to overcome the supposed “truths” society feeds us from day one, and it’s a tale of friendship.  To ban this book (and others) for the use of deemed “offensive” words, disregarding entirely the context of such use and the author’s intent, is a crime far greater than making a student uncomfortable.  Yes, some ideas we encounter in our education can be offensive, but if teachers are just in the business of reinforcing preconceived notions/ideas, playing it safe, why the hell are we here?

Huck Finn without the “n word”

Posted in Novels, teaching with tags , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2011 by Mike

Saw an article this morning that reported on a new edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that would replace every instance of the word “nigger” with the word “slave.” For instance, an excerpt from the new version’s chapter 2, where Huck comments on Jim’s behavior after Tom plays a trick on him (placing Jim’s hat in a tree while Jim sleeps), would read:

Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn’t hardly notice the other [slaves]. [Slaves] would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any [slave] in that country. Strange [slaves] would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. [Slaves] is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire; but whenever one was talking and letting on to know all about such things, Jim would happen in and say, “Hm! What you know ’bout witches?” and that [slave] was corked up and had to take a back seat.

This is not the first time such an edition has been published.  Huck-critic John Wallace published a similar version a number of years ago which was much lampooned by academia, but now this new version has a much-respected Twain scholar on its side, Auburn University American literature professor Alan Gribben, who is leading the effort in an attempt to introduce more “general readers” to the classic, without the distasteful epithet.

It’s a misguided attempt.

Twain knew from the get-go that Huckleberry Finn would be considered by many to be an unsavory book.  That’s the point of the novel.  Slavery/racism/prejudice is detestable, and readers of the book SHOULD squirm when Huck starts throwing that word around.  Many defenders of the book (myself included) make the very valid point that “nigger” was the operative term for blacks in the South circa 1835-1845, when this book takes place.  But Twain’s use of the word goes beyond just “realism”.

When Huck uses the word, we squirm because it’s a 12 year old boy using the term, and to our 21st century sensibilities (as it was for Twain’s readers in the late 19th century) the term has no place in polite society.  It’s vulgar and hateful, but Huck just keeps using it.  There’s the point – Huck has been raised in a society that in Twain’s eyes is vulgar, is hateful, and Huck can’t help but use that term.  The prejudice has been taught to him – by Pap, by the Widow Douglas, by Miss Watson, by the church, by his school-teachers.  If Twain were to use another term (such as ‘slave’), the ugliness of St. Petersburg and the rest of the slave-holding South is white-washed (as it were), and instead of throwing its ugliness in our face, he’d be concealing that truth.   We as readers NEED to see the South as it was, and, more importantly to the novel’s progression, see just how deep Huck is influenced by his upbringing. Changing the language makes Huck’s decision to go to hell for Jim, despite all the shit society has taught him is “right”, less profound. No, Huck doesn’t stop using the word at that point in the novel.  But he has done something greater – he has attributed humanity to a “nigger”, shirking everything he has been taught.  And that’s why I teach the novel to my students – because of Huck’s decision to rise beyond the limitations and pettiness of what we call civilization for love.

Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel about the devastating effects of hate disguised as a boy’s adventure novel.  Perhaps if so many people did not carry such romanticized notions about Huck and Jim on the journey down the river there wouldn’t be such a fuss over the book.  We could better accept the novel as the biting satire it is, rather than a depiction of the halcyon days of youth that better describes Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a thematically inferior yet more pleasant read (because Twain is not challenging us in this one). Huck would be treated as an “adult” novel, and perhaps then it would be read with the understanding that it’s meant to make us uncomfortable, rather than indulge our nostalgia for a simpler past.

The controversy over Huck Finn will not end with Gribben’s new edition of the book.  Hell, the controversy’s been raging since 1885, when it was first published.  What the new edition will do, I’m afraid, is water down Twain’s message, water down Twain’s truth.   And I’m afraid it will fit right in in a world where even the risk of offending someone is an intolerable crime.

Twain knew this when he wrote: “Truth is the most valuable thing we have.  Let us economize it.”

Gribben’s edition does just that.

I’m giving up softball…

Posted in Uncategorized on December 28, 2010 by Mike

For the past, oh, nine years (and three years before my time in Arizona), I’ve played on a city-league softball team. The team formed when I was in grad school, and was comprised of a bunch of English grad students. We may not have fielded the best teams, but we had the most clever team names (“Fielder’s Indifference” was a personal favorite).  Don’t get me wrong, we were competitive in our Thursday night D league, but I played because I liked hanging out with those guys.  After games we’d sit around drinking Miller Lite in the parking lot, talking about literature and dissertations and profs until the lights at the park were turned off.  Yeah, we were geeks.

Of course, being a team of grad students we lost members regularly to scheduling conflicts and graduation.  I left for Arizona with my wife where we stayed for two years, and when I came back to College Station I found the team still active, but with a completely new set of faces, minus two or three guys who were still working on their PhD s.  Still, I kept playing, fall, spring and summer.  I’ve played every position regularly except first base and catcher, mostly without incident.  I did, however,  manage to break my nose six years ago playing third base when a grounder took a bad bounce, leading to a trip to the emergency room.  My wife was non-plussed.

For the past three years I’ve been the pitcher for the teams (we also have  a co-ed team), but now the team is not an English department team; in fact there are only three guys who have ties to the department.  But that’s not the reason I’m hanging up my cleats.  This past fall wore on me.  I’ve been team manager for the past couple of seasons, and between getting money from the team members (some of whom I didn’t know before they stepped onto the field for the first game) and trying to make sure we had enough guys each week, which has been a real chore for the past two seasons, softball has ceased being fun and been more of a hassle.  And maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been the “old man” on the team for the past five years, but the “jerk” factor on opposing teams has ballooned considerably.  Most teams we’ve been playing against these past couple of seasons have been mouthy bastards, it seems.

While still competitive, we haven’t really been a team so much as a collection of individuals for which Thursday night softball is convenient.  Many of the players go their separate ways after the games and while there’s still drinking in the parking lot, it’s a small, irregular group, and I’m only able to stay occasionally.  Wives, kids, and jobs take precedence among us.  There are a couple guys I’ll miss seeing on Thursday nights, though outside of softball I don’t see anyone on the team regularly. But I don’t know that I’m going to miss the game all that much.

And that’s the best reason I can give for my retirement from softball.