Archive for January, 2010

BeHolden to Salinger

Like the majority of Americans born in the last half-century, I read The Catcher in the Rye in high school—part of the summer reading program before my sophomore year to be exact, when I was 15. Fifteen—as I believe Taylor Swift reminds us—is a strange time when it comes to reading: You’re stuck between more juvenile fiction and legitimate literature, with nothing specifically geared to you, especially if you’re male.

The Catcher in the Rye is pretty much the book* that bridges that gap between the short stories and novellas I had to read for middle school and the novels required for high school.** Salinger’s 1951 novel is that eminently accessible canonical work, and reading it is an eye-opening experience for so many teenagers because the novel is written on their terms. The Catcher in the Rye is like that teacher you have in high school who doesn’t talk down to you, who doesn’t follow regular lesson plans, and who makes you feel like he really cares. It’s the literary equivalent of Boy Meets World’s Mr. Turner. From its opening lines, Salinger’s novel acknowledges and celebrates the teenage mindset: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

*I mean the article literally; I cannot think of another book that should be read at the age of 15.

**I don’t know if my experience was unique, but in middle school, we had these big textbooks with “LITERATURE” on the front full of terrible excerpts from novels and terrible short stories and terrible novellas like John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. With these things in circulation, it’s a wonder anybody from my generation reads at all.

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The Catcher in the Rye, JD and Me

Long, long ago, when I was deeply enmeshed in the process of college applications, an interviewer from a certain school asked me which book that I had enjoyed the most in high school English. I thought about it for a second, trying to determine which answer would be the most impressive, and eventually just said The Catcher in the Rye. As soon as I said it, the interviewer spat out, “I hated that book.” I didn’t get in to the school.

J.D. Salinger’s classic novel is oddly polarizing. There is, quite famously, a large group of Holden Caulfield devotees. People relate to that character in a way that goes much deeper than most people usually relate to literature; the extent to which Caulfield’s alienation resonates with readers is almost frighteningly tragic.

And yet reactions like the one offered by my interviewer are not uncommon. Some people—a minority, but a surprisingly vocal one—simply do not understand the fuss over Salinger’s most famous work. They find the whole story to be solipsistic and self-indulgent. A high school history teacher of mine once felt the need to declare his hatred of the book without provocation. And his criticism was emblematic of what most of the book’s critics think: “I thought Holden Caulfield was whiny and self-centered. He didn’t remind me of me or anyone I knew.” Continue reading

On the Super Bowl’s Greatest Plays

Having two weeks off leading up to the Super Bowl is great—so long as you’re a fan of one of the two teams playing. That fortnight is filled with excitement, to the point where you can celebrate the previous week’s win and your trip to the big game before getting anxious about how the Super Bowl is actually going to play out.

But for everyone else, it kind of sucks. The game itself becomes something of an afterthought, with more faux-analysis and soft features than any normal fan can bear to consume. Those two weeks also lead to a lot of articles like this one from John Clayton, recounting the Super Bowl’s greatest plays.

Anyone’s list of the top plays in Super Bowl history was pretty stagnant for a while, but the last two years have each provided very memorable moments and legitimate contenders for the top spot. Clayton opts to go with James Harrison’s first-half, 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII, turning what could have been a Cardinals’ score into a Steeler touchdown. I don’t take a huge issue with this decision; if John Clayton had had this at No. 1 with an otherwise logical and reasonable list, I wouldn’t be writing.

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Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #118, #120: In My Time of Dyin’, Fixin’ To Die

These are the two worst songs on Bob Dylan’s self-titled debut album and, as such, two of the worst songs Dylan would record in the 1960s. To my knowledge, he never played either of them in concert; Dylan would, for the most part, abandon the songs that he didn’t write when he started performing regularly, although there is a performance of “Man of Constant Sorrow” featured in Martin Scorcese’s No Direction Home, as well as extant live recordings of a few other songs from the album, but none of “Dyin’” or “Fixin.’” Continue reading

Paul Shirley Doesn’t Like Haiti Relief

Our old friend and adversary Paul Shirley has gotten into some trouble recently, for saying something even more controversial than that he doesn’t like The Beatles:

I haven’t donated a cent to the Haitian relief effort. And I probably will not. I haven’t donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads “Need You’re Help” is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him. If I use history as my guide, I don’t think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either.

Not so surprisingly, this statement, which was part of a larger essay on the misguided nature of donations to Haiti, got Shirley into a lot of trouble. He was a trending topic on Twitter yesterday (a worse fate has befallen no man) and he lost his job at ESPN.

Part of me feels for Shirley. For one, I’ve always enjoyed his writing, and he was nice enough to respond to our blog review of him. I also like it when people take unpopular stances and generally hate when people get fired for them.

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The Double Bonus: Not Thrilling, But Nice

We’re back to Week 1 with our formatting here: Tim is in black, John is in red. We asked for feedback last week, and we got one response demanding the return of color. You’re welcome.

We’re roughly halfway through the conference season already, and I can’t help but react to the season thus far the same way Dom Deluise’s Caesar does to that alabaster tub in History of the World Part I: “Nice. Nice. Not thrilling, but nice.” A lot of it has to do with the parity settling in among the nation’s conferences: There seem to be fewer elite teams in 2010 and several leagues with tightly packed standings.

It also appears as if most of the big six conferences are having down years. We knew coming into the season that the Pac-10 would be down, if not to this Oregon State-got-beat-by-51-by-Seattle extent.* The Big XII is having an excellent season with Kansas, Texas, and Kansas State at the top and a nice balance in the middle. The Big East is still the Big East, if not quite as top-heavy as last season. The SEC is having a bit of a bounceback year—how could it not after last season’s disaster?—aided by South Carolina’s upset of Kentucky and Vanderbilt’s win in Knoxville (once again, the SEC East may have four teams better than anyone in the SEC West. Prove me wrong, Mississippi, prove me wrong).

*Which was still not the most surprising loss in the last month for a member of Craig Robinson’s family. Continue reading

Simpsons Classics: Lisa the Iconoclast

Our first two Simpsons Classics looked at early-season episodes in “Life on the Fast Lane” and “Bart Gets an F.” This time, we jump ahead a few seasons and to an episode that focuses on Lisa.

I admitted in my last Simpsons Classic that I’m a bit of a Lisa fan. But you don’t have to be to enjoy all that’s going on in “Lisa the Iconoclast,” a classic out of the series’ seventh season, by which point it was deep into its prime.

“Lisa the Iconoclast” takes place in the week leading up to Springfield’s bicentennial, during which Lisa discovers (through research at the Springfield Historical Society, “Where the Dead Come Alive [Metaphorically]”) that the town’s beloved founder, Jebediah Springfield, was in fact the murderous pirate, Hans Sprungfeld. She takes her case to Mayor Quimby and what Moe later calls the “Town Jubilation Committee,” convincing them to exhume Jebediah to prove that he was Hans based on his silver tongue. The coffin doesn’t contain a tongue and Lisa is shamed, but only until she figures out that the Historical Society’s curator, Hollis Hurlbut, pocketed the silver tongue in order to protect Jebediah’s legacy (and his own scholarly pursuits). In the end, though, Lisa decides not to inform the townspeople of their hero’s disgraced past, deciding to preserve the myth instead.

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