As a creative writing instructor who assigns a lot of reading, I have at least a few introductory students each semester who complain about the material. It's not that it's too difficult or too dense. It's that it's too depressing. Reading the hard stuff can make you ache, but it can also feed you.
Gay penguins, a superhero clad in briefs, vampires and witches, bondage -- next week is all about banned books here at PEN as we join librarians, booksellers, publishers and writers to celebrate the freedom to read.
Writer Sherman Alexie, who was born on a Native American reservation, talks with me about feeling "lost and insignificant inside the larger culture," and how his culture's "lack of power" is very apparent in stereotypical sports mascots, like that of the Cleveland Indians.
This is something of a belated "best of year" list, although there are some older titles I only got to last year included. An eclectic list, modestly offered -- a bit heavy on books on music, but many others, and perhaps something will strike the interest of other readers.
Don't go calling Sherman Alexie's stories universal. "When people say universal they mean white people get it," he argues. His assessment is even more damning when you consider his subject matter -- modern-day American Indians. If there's any group white people get, this is not it.
I always openly address grief, dying, and grieving in my classroom. Between the many deaths in literature and the persistent grief and melancholia in poetry, it's a subject that weaves itself easily into an English class.
Are we really so uncertain and so unsure of how stable our society is that we would become this afraid to share the perspectives of those who have experienced feelings of isolation -- or loneliness in our society or who have a different story to tell?