Sunday, July 24, 2005

She who successfully answered these questions five--

(Ten bonus points to anyone who can tell me where the title comes from)

1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying "Interview me."
2. I will respond by asking you five questions - each person's will be different. I'll post the questions in the comments section of this post.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Thus wrote Mike, of Miscellaneous, etc. And I volunteered. And here's what Mike, a complete stranger, asked of me:

1. If you suddenly had the capability to set the reading list for every high school graduate in the country, what books would you require?

Wow, that’s a good question. It’s also been the one holding up this whole thing.

I’ve been pondering it from several angles – do I go classical? Do I go Canadian? Do I go with teen-angst? Do I go with a theme? Or do I just go with what I did in high school – all Robert Heinlein all the time?

(I’m not interested in debating the work of the late great Grandmaster, since it’s been years since I’ve read anything of his. I will say that I learned a great deal about politics, civics, leadership, and personal responsibility from his work.)

In the end, this is what I’ve come up with:

Satisfying the CanLit and teen angst criteria comes Saints of Big Harbour by Lynn Coady. A young man in rural Cape Breton copes with family, first love, and becoming the target of a malicious gossip campaign.

And because I read it in grade 10 and remember liking it, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordechi Richler. I don’t know if it stands up to the test of time, but it fills the CanLit and Classical bills. Besides, I don’t think I could subject high school students to Margaret Atwood or Leonard Cohen and still live with myself. Save them for independent reading, guys – you’ll be so much more attractive to the opposite sex cooler if you read them on your own.

Now that I seem to be stuck in the CanLit rut, let’s throw in Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King. It’s got humour, it’s got imagery, it’s got folklore. What more could a high school English teacher ask for? (Besides someone who wasn’t as snarky and well-read as me in grade 12, I mean.)

Shakespeare, Shakespeare. Where would we be without the bard, I ask you? Let’s not do Romeo and Juliet, which makes me roll my eyes and want to rant about teenagers and hormones. Or Hamlet, who’s whiney and self-centered. Instead, let’s make the kids read Othello, which is about friendship, loyalty and betrayal. And/or MacBeth, which was another favourite of mine. If we must do "Shakespeare on love", can we do Taming of the Shrew (despite its somewhat misogynistic message, but containing the great insult “Fie, fie, thou froward and unable worm!”) or Much Ado About Nothing, with the fabulous line, “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.”

Moving on…

Poetry – every high school student is required to be tortured by know something about poetry. I’m going to assign them Andrew Marvel, who’s “To His Coy Mistress” is still my favourite poem since learning it in grade 9, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, because she wrote:

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”

I can’t think of a more appropriate sentiment which would appeal to lovestruck and heartbroken teenagers.

Finally, short stores. Because I’m not mean, I’m going to make them read Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman, which is a most excellent short story collection. But because I do have a cruel streak, I’ll make them write a three-page essay on the story “Nicholas was…” (If you don’t know why this is cruel, it’s about two paragraphs long. But hilarious/sad, depending on your take.)

2. On your way home from work, a tanker truck full of nuclear waste tips over and permanently alters your DNA -- what super powers do you wake up with the following morning, and what do you do with them?

I’d like the ability to get by without sleep. I find it cuts into my ability to get things done.

3. Who was the worst person you ever met?

We’ll call him Future Sociopath (FS) because I fear that writing or saying his name will invoke a Beetlejuice-like reaction – he’ll spontaneously appear before me. In elementary school, he was in the grade ahead of me. He didn’t beat kids up, but he would taunt them, call them names, and insult them in ways that hurt emotionally, and then get the other psedo-bullies to do the same. In a word, he was cruel. I haven’t seen him since high school, but if I were to see him crossing the street, I’d hit the gas pedal.

4. There can be only one, while the other will be swept from the earth: Dogs or cats?

Ack! I’m a cat person, but I know there are good dogs out there! If I say dogs, can they be swept onto their own little planetoid, where there are fire hydrants and parks and ponds for them to play in?

5. What is one thing to love about living in Canada? What is one thing to hate about it?

The best thing is our diversity – we can accommodate a second official language, people from all walks of life and cultures, lifestyles, and differences of opinion. Yes – it’s a cliché, but we seem to make it work. Also, Kids in the Hall, Rick Mercer and Cirque du Soleil – we’re a funny, weird people.

The thing I hate about Canada is our geography. We’re so spread out and concentrated into a few areas, that it’s tough to get a grasp on how big this country really is. I was recently blown away when someone told me it took them three days to drive from Dryden, Ontario (which is in the very west of the province) to Ottawa, Ontario (which is in the very east of the province). It takes a week to drive from Vancouver to Halifax, and there aren’t that many major cities on the way, not like in some other countries.

Maybe I don’t hate the geography, I just hate that it takes me by surprise sometime.