Now we are firmly in the 20th century. Francesca realizes that you are now expecting the renowned literary masters of the 1900’s, the Faulker, the Hughes, the Hurston, the Salinger, the Fitzgerald, the Morrison, but no! Francesca wishes to zero in on lesser-known gems, the fun and fast reads which illuminate the more amusing facets of American life, the facets at which we must laugh (lest, perhaps, we will cry).
A reviewer on Amazon wrote this superfantastic description of Neil Simon’s superfantastic and amusing play, Brighton Beach Memoirs:
The first of his three semi-autobiographical plays about the “Jerome” family, Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs takes place in Brooklyn, New York toward the end of the Great Depression. Fourteen-year-old Eugene Morris Jerome (Simon’s alter ego) is the protagonist and narrator of the play. Struggling to find his niche among his large, extended family, Eugene writes his own witty observations about them in his journal, sharing them with us as he does so. Yet the focus of the conflict is on the older family members (including Eugene’s parents, Kate and Jack; his brother, Stanley; his cousin Nora; and his widowed Aunt Blanche), all of whom struggle daily to make ends meet. Though a comedy, Brighton Beach Memoirs asks a serious question, one posed in earlier eras by playwrights like Clifford Odets and Arthur Miller: that is, how can one preserve one’s morals and integrity in difficult economic times, when it is all one can do just to put food on the table? Brighton Beach Memoirs is an affectionate though often painful family comedy; in it, Simon establishes characters for his two later “Jerome” plays, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound, while anticipating the impending WWII era, the setting for the former title.
Also taking place in New York City, next we have the enlightening indictment against the Big Apple’s public school system, the ingeniously constructed and clever Up the Down Staircase. This novel follows the story of a new teacher in a large high school, and uses “copies” of her memos, diary entries, lesson plans, student papers, and items found in her classroom’s garbage can to tell the tale.
The scary thing about this book is that the Francesca taught in a New York City public school not that long ago, and though Up the Down Staircase was written in the 1960’s, not much had changed! Argh!
(When people would say to Francesca “Ah, you are so lucky to be a teacher, all that vacation time! Whole summers off!” Francesca would say “Yes, I’d be happy to trade working conditions with you any day.” That always shut them up. Now, Francesca is a fashion blogger, having less of a direct impact on the state of society, but enjoying a far, far less stressful life. No more chalk melting in her hands on hot days! No more stacks and stacks and stacks of papers to grade! No more finding out on September 1st what classes she is teaching, and having to plan five different lesson plans every day, even though the contract explicitly states that there is a 3-prep limit! No more sitting around at parent-teacher conferences and having only 15 percent of the parents show up! No more students acting edgy in class because they have no food at home, or no parents! No more teaching to ridiculous, un-thought-out standardized tests! No more being blamed when the students do not pass the tests, even though they were 3-5 years behind grade level — sometimes, functionally illiterate– when they arrived in my class! No more 20 percent homework-completing rate! No more climbing up several flights of stairs with all one’s books because the teachers’ elevator is broken from November to May!
No, no, Francesca now enjoys an anxiety-free life, writing about d’orsay sandals and princess-seam blouses. We must all be extremely grateful to those who enter the teaching profession and stay in it longer than two years. Its takes more fortitude than Francesca has. To all you teachers: Francesca applauds you! xoxo!
Ahem. Back to the ranch . . . )
And now, one of the best, most telling books to emerge from the 20th century: Jerry Falwell v. Larry Flynt: The First Amendment on Trial. This book explains in thorough and crystal-clear detail the social and legal context surrounding one of the most famous “free speech trials,” which occurred when evangelical minister Jerry Falwell sued Dirty Man extraordinaire Larry Flynt for libel. The book turns the legal ins and outs into a compelling drama (which is what it was), and sheds light on just how deep the rabbit holes of free speech, religion, and pornography really are. Who knew law could be so interesting, and so much fun to read about?