Posts Tagged ‘Latin’

Or so it would seem, based on Maureen Dowd’s article in Latin right after my post the other day about my old Latin professor, Dr. Madsen.

And hey, if I’m that tied in with it and all, maybe I almost have a Nobel…or maybe I should read something else until these people stop figuring quite so prominently in my dreams.

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Though I realize this may make me unworthy of love, employment, or life, I must admit that I’ve never read The Grapes of Wrath. I don’t know why; most books I haven’t read despite many, many entreaties to do so can be attributed to some combination of time and pigheadedness. But when I needed a mass market paperback for the bus the other day, I grabbed Steinbeck.

As I opened it and began the first page, I experienced a strong sense of familiarity. It was stronger than could be explained by my brief encounter with the movie. (A ragingly incompetent highschool teacher once summarized the book for us by showing the movie in fast-forward while telling us some of the plot points she could remember. I was so youthfully, self-righteously offended by this method of presenting books that I think I walked out of the class.) It wasn’t the feeling you get when you see someone familiar but can’t place how you know them, because there’s an alienation inherent in that moment. Rather, it was the feeling that comes when you start talking to someone entirely new. Then, something in the conversation seems like it’s happened before, seems like you must–must–have been best friends already. You check a few associations, wondering if you have met, but your paths have never crossed before.

Steinbeck’s writing felt like that. The rhythm, the cadence, the sweeping Oklahoma landscape, the trucker and the truck-stop waitress all felt like we’d somehow already known each other. Now, as I’m paused before the next chapter, I’m finding myself wondering: is this sense of familiarity one of the strange side effects of a Master’s in English, or is it a testament to Steinbeck’s saturation of American literary culture? Is his work so utterly embedded in our reading and our cultural dialogue that merely living and reading in America for a decade steeps me in his style and his subject-matter? Will reading the rest of the book be like learning Latin, when I continually had to sort out how these words were connected to the ones I already knew and when their derivations only confused the original meanings? Will this sense of familiarity make for an instant friend, or just an eerie beginning?

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