Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I'm so happy I finally got back to my IRL book club. This was the book I went back on, a bit depressing but full of topics for conversation.

I read this back in high school and remember being angry with it. Actually, let's be honest, I was just an angry teenager ( morphing into an angry 20-something for a bit). I was angry at Esther's passivity, her inability to take control of her own life, her lack of taking charge.

Now, at 41, I have a different take on The Bell Jar. Growing up female and not sticking to traditional roles has been very difficult. I can't imagine doing the same in the 1950's, where you have paths set out in front of you and you didn't dare veer from them. Where I feel I fought (and continue to fight) an uphill battle, doing the same in the 1950s could end in a breakdown, much like Esther.

Depression is a very real, very consuming illness. I was diagnosed in my 30s and still struggle. Some days, the best I can do is lay in bed and that's it. Other days, I can get out, go to work, school, etc and keep moving forward. I was most struck by Esther's depiction of the fig tree. All of the figs represent every thing she wanted to become, every path she wanted to take, yet she was stuck, sitting at the bottom of the tree watching the figs dry up and fall because she could not choose a path. In the '50s, her paths were wife and mother. That's it.

Reading about Esther's descent into her breakdown made me want to shake everyone around her and yell at them "Why can't you see that she's falling?!? Why don't you just step into her view and be there??" Everyone fell away from her when she pushed them back and she kept falling.

I don't know a great deal about Plath but my understand is that Esther is Plath and, knowing Plath's end, I do wish someone would have stepped in.

It really has done a lot of good for me to re-read books from my younger days because it amazes me how my life has changed my perspective. Teenagers really don't know much.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers

I found myself tearing up a bit at some of the diary entries in this book. Dammit, kids!

First year teacher Erin Gruwell found herself handed a class of "undesirable" kids that no one wanted and no one thought would go anywhere, let alone graduate. Thank goodness Ms. Gruwell was crazy optimistic and never lost faith. Her classes, 150 kids, ended up being the center of attention nationwide for their success. And that success started through reading and writing. My 2 favorite things. This book is a compilation of their diaries that take us through their freshman year to beyond.

In Long Beach, the good neighborhoods are not that far from the bad neighborhoods but they might as well be light years apart. The kids in Ms. Gruwell's class are mainly from the bad areas, where they worry that they'll be shot coming to and from school, or beat up because they are the wrong color, or whether they will have food once they get home or even if they will have a home. It's nearly impossible for kids in these circumstances to succeed. How do you split your time fearing for your life and doing homework? Most teachers had given up on the kids, knowing they'll end up like everyone else in their families. Ms. Gruwell didn't give up.

Reading the entries as the kids mocked this young white lady, knowing she wouldn't last 6 months there and how she earned their respect and brought out the best in them was amazing. Dust got in my eyes a few times.

The Freedom Writers went on to have a movie made about them, a documentary and created a foundation to assist teachers in helping at risk youth as well as mentoring and sponsoring the youth themselves so they can graduate and go to college.

Good book for some inspiration just when this world seems a bit worse for wear.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

I love Sedaris' sense of humor. It's witty and dry and often self-deprecating. Sedaris has been keeping diaries for 40+ years and this book contains the ones from 1977 to 2002. If anything, it's inspired me to start writing in my in journals again.

The diary entries are entertaining and Sedaris does admit that he left some of the more druggie ones out because he sounded like a crazy person. Considering what he left in, I'm surprised Sedaris is still alive.

There is no plot to discuss, no spoilers. Just a witty man with an incredible ability to observe and record the mundane and the bizarre from his life. If you've never read Sedaris, I wouldn't start with this. I would start with Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim or When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Then come back to his diaries.