Sunday Lit Meme: Guilty Pleasures

Some authors get a lot of respect for their work. Some authors get a lot of money for their work. A few (precious few) manage to do both. This week, I’m interested in the latter more than the former. With that in mind:

What author’s work is your favorite “guilty pleasure” — the one you love to read when you have a moment free but would never, ever want your favorite English professor to know about?

Mine would have to be Tony Hillerman. I love gorgeous Southwestern scenery, strong women, and intelligent men, and Hillerman’s novels have all of the above in spades. Yes, they go over the top once in a while. Yes, the last three or four he published bordered on silly. No, those later books probably wouldn’t stand up to logical scrutiny by the Legendary Lieutenant if he were a real book critic instead of a fictional detective. But dammit, Hillerman’s characters are just so engaging, his use of Navajo lore so intriguing, and his setting so enchanting that I can’t help loving his work anyway. Picking up a Hillerman novel is like taking a road trip to New Mexico to visit old friends, and there’s something charming in the way Hillerman himself became so attached to some of his characters that even after more or less committing to a chronological sequence, he sort of lost the stomach for writing in real time and just couldn’t quite bring himself to age his characters into irrelevance or oblivion. As an erstwhile fiction writer myself, I completely empathize.

So … who is your guilty pleasure?


Glorious day

I have very little to report at the moment, aside from the fact that Songdog and Riggy had an absolutely wonderful time running around at the dog park today, and I am more or less caught up on the things I needed to do this weekend. I have a couple of math lessons to plan and a handful of papers to grade, but those can wait until tomorrow. It’s looking increasingly likely that I might actually get to curl up in a comfortable chair and enjoy a nice stress-free Sunday evening at a coffeehouse.

Life is good.


Munchkin Tuesday: Counting Dots

This was always one of my favorite Sesame Street bits. Somebody has collected 11 of them and put them together in a single video. I thought I’d seen all of them, but several of these are new to me.

In completely unrelated news, I saw a skunk booking it across Route 66 as fast as his little feet would carry him this evening near the refinery. I had no idea we had skunks out there. I figured they were too shy to hang out in an area that busy.



As I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before, my first year as a teacher was not stellar, which is why it took me a decade to work up the nerve to try a second year.

I’ve often wondered how much faster I would have found my way back to the classroom if I’d recognized important breakthroughs when they were happening.

One of my favorite examples of this — and it’s one I had forgotten until a friend posted a Facebook link this evening that jogged my memory — was the kid who decided, about three weeks into the school year, that instead of being called “Ms. Priddy,” I should henceforth be known as “Master P.”

Can you imagine? Here I was, a skinny, stuffy, awkward, prim-and-proper, clueless 22-year-old from Southern Illinois, trying to teach proper English grammar to a roomful of hip, urban teenagers in the toughest part of North St. Louis County. I could not have been a bigger dork if I had held a focus group meeting to come up with strategies for maximizing my dorkiness. I had exactly nothing in common with Master P, which of course is exactly why Steve’s friends immediately latched onto the moniker, and within days, half of my students refused to call me by any other name.

At the time, I had just enough presence of mind to realize that while my kids were making fun of me, they were doing it in a good-natured way, and the fact that they’d given me an incongruous but affectionate nickname was probably a positive sign.

What I didn’t realize was how positive it was or how important it was. Had I known, my life might have taken a very different path. I’m not sorry things worked out the way they did — after all, subsequent events led me to Ron, to Route 66, to Tulsa, and ultimately to the wonderful kids I work with now — but I’m sorry I wasted ten years feeling like a failure when, in point of fact, I was anything but.

If I could, I would reach back across the years, put my arms around my 22-year-old self, and whisper, “Swweetheart, don’t you see? Your kids love you. Just listen to them, love them back, and let them teach you what they need you to learn. Trust them, and trust yourself. You’re on the right track.”

Stay tuned. I can’t reach across 15 years to reassure a younger version of myself, but I’m working on a project that just might be the next best thing. When I’m ready to unveil it, you’ll be among the first to know.


Sunday Lit Meme: Self-indulgent, overrated crap

In the film Bull Durham, Susan Sarandon’s character asks Kevin Costner’s character what he believes. Costner delivers a lengthy, not-entirely-safe-for-work riff that includes the line, “I believe the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap.”

This week’s lit question:

What author’s novels would you classify as “self-indulgent, overrated crap”?

My first choice would have to be J.D. Salinger. I will cop to a certain bias against authors who write about people I want to slap (F. Scott Fitzgerald, I’m looking at you), and I can’t think of a literary character more deserving of a hot date with the back of my hand than the intolerably whiny Holden Caulfield … but that’s not my only issue with Salinger. After all, most of Jack Kerouac’s characters righteously deserve a right hook to the jaw, too, yet Kerouac’s writing is so brilliant that I’m willing to put up with insufferable wastrels like Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise for a few hundred pages in exchange for the pleasure of basking in their creator’s prose. If Salinger could paint word-pictures like Kerouac or draw me into his world like William Faulkner, I might be willing to put up with his obnoxious brat for a few chapters.

The problem with Salinger is twofold: First, he doesn’t have the poetic brilliance of Kerouac or the immediacy of Faulkner, and second, Faulkner himself couldn’t live up to the hype that’s surrounded Salinger as a result of his eccentricity and his perennial presence on the banned books list.

Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s marvelous when authors win the censorship lottery. Few things delight me more than watching somebody land on the bestseller list as a direct result of some idiot’s attempt to censor him. Salinger’s popularity is a victory for the Constitution. Freedom 1, Dumbassery 0. Sweet. But that doesn’t make Salinger a literary giant. It just makes him a very, very lucky man who happened to sprinkle a few well-placed (and, IMHO, suspiciously phoney-sounding) goddams into an otherwise unremarkable manuscript at an extremely opportune moment.

Bravo for him, but really: The Catcher in the Rye is hopelessly overrated, and while I think Salinger was a marketing genius, I could name any number of authors whose literary gifts leave his in the dust.

What author do you consider overrated?


Latest creation

I’m holding a drawing tomorrow in class for another fabulous (read: ridiculous) handmade prize. Here it is:

I was going to do something different this time, but the last sock monkey went over so well that I decided to put together another one. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but its arms are “tattooed” with images of flying pigs that look vaguely like something Matt Groening would come up with.

I think the weirdness coefficient is high enough to endear this little character to most of my students….



Oh. Em. Gee.

Judy Collins is coming back to Woodyfest!


Judy. Freakin’. COLLINS.

Who needs the TARDIS? Apparently 1968 is coming to Okemah this summer. Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, and — OMG! — Melanie, all in the same weekend.


Commence hyperventilation in 3 … 2 … 1 …