Without a doubt, Mr. Dangel is now one of my favorite poets. I've been reading the book for years now, starting over at the beginning each time that IWithout a doubt, Mr. Dangel is now one of my favorite poets. I've been reading the book for years now, starting over at the beginning each time that I picked it up again. These poems spin stories, evoke emotions, stir up memories and transport me into a world that, while very different from my own, seems also one that I have inhabited, or should have inhabited, or if life was just a bit different would have inhabited. A rural life of limits and opportunities.
I read these poems with a sense of longing for the lives I haven't led and for my past that I can’t return to, even when they make me laugh.
In "Farming the High School Homecoming" he writes
Still, we were never in danger of believing we could cover our plainness with ceremony and tin foil.
It's not clear if any of the homespun people in this book are the author, or even people he actually knew -- but they feel true in the way that it is important for poetry to be true, and thus they are beautiful even as they eschew the decorative beauty of extravagant metaphor and lyrical allusions. Still, though, these poems are finely crafted, the language carefully chosen. I read these poems aloud to my family. I like reading them aloud, those few I have read, because it slows me down and I realize the care that he’s taken. Also, because I want to own them somehow, to say, I am like these people, sometimes, or could be.
I feel that I should make this more practical somehow, that my words aren’t doing their job of informing you, the reader, about this book and its functional properties. Practically speaking, there’s very little information about the book itself thus far – that quote I gave isn’t even typical. If this were a Consumer Reports – or even a New York Times – book review it would be severely lacking. The book is structured as a number of smaller books, each has its own character and style, some are more to my taste than others. They feature many characters and points of view, some, like the adolescent Arlo and Old Man Brunner, will show up over and over, others will be there only once. The tone is both elegiac and wryly humorous and you should read it if you even like this poem a tiny bit:
Farming in a Lilac Shirt
I opened the Sears catalog. It was hard to decide-dress shirts were all white the last time I bought one, for Emma's funeral. I picked out a color called plum, but when the shirt arrived, it seemed more the color of lilacs. Still, it was beautiful.
No one I knew had a shirt like this. After chores on Sunday, I dressed for church. Suddenly the shirt seemed to be a sissy color, and I held it up near the window. In the sun the lilac looked more lilac, more lovely, but could a man wear a shirt that color? Someone might say, "That's quite the shirt." I wore the old shirt to church.
And every Saturday night I thought, Tomorrow I'll wear the shirt. Such a sad terrible waste-to spend good money on a shirt, a shirt I even liked, and then not wear it. I wore the shirt once, on a cold day, and kept my coat buttoned.
In spring I began wearing the shirt for everyday, when I was sure no one would stop by. I wore the shirt when I milked the cows and in the field when I planted oats-it fit perfectly. As I steered the John Deere, I looked over my shoulder and saw lilac against a blue sky filled with white seagulls following the tractor, and not once did I wipe my nose on my sleeve.
I don't have anything to add beyond what others on Goodreads have said -- this is simply put, some of the best reportage I've ever read. MeticulouslyI don't have anything to add beyond what others on Goodreads have said -- this is simply put, some of the best reportage I've ever read. Meticulously researched, moving and real, this is a slice of inner-city reality that will stick with you forever. Beyond the Beautiful Forevers is an apt comparison, but The Corner is more detailed and follows more people in more corners of their life. I read this in 2007, but echoes of it will likely always sound in my memory....more
Should a children’s book aim to teach important lessons to kids or just exist to entertain? This is a false choice and Library Lion shows just how posShould a children’s book aim to teach important lessons to kids or just exist to entertain? This is a false choice and Library Lion shows just how possible it is to do both. I loved this book about a lion who falls in love with story time at the library, breaks the rules – by roaring in protest when story time is over – and is allowed to stay only on the condition that he obeys all of the rules from then on. Eventually there is a choice to be made between following the rules and roaring to fetch help for someone who is hurt, and the lion chooses to roar and face his punishment. This book is quite plain about the key lesson it is trying to teach – that even good rules may need to be broken for the right reason – but, although the story was clearly written with that lesson in mind, it never strikes a false note in playing to its theme. Children often relish stories with obvious morals – some of Aesop’s fables have stood the test of time and are still relished today, and the lesson of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is grasped again and again with glee as the story is enjoyed by generation after generation of preschoolers. But some stories with morals can be didactic or simply solemn, weighed down by the burden of an Important Lesson. This story, though, is anything but heavy and is completely natural and uncontrived. The illustrations make a fine first impression, drawn with such charm that they are certain to sway anyone even the slightest bit susceptible to such things: the lion manages to be both strong and cute (maybe even adorable, especially when he dusts the encyclopedias with his tail!) and the expressions of the people in the story are filled with life. The story is just as charming and lively, while also having more than a little drama. But almost every twist and turn has a kind of moral fiber in it that is enjoyable and fulfilling because it comes naturally out of the story and the characters. I had fun mulling over some of the less obvious moral lessons tucked away in this little story. One is the basic moral choice behind civil disobedience: when the lion breaks the rules, he’s willing to take the penalty, in this case, never returning to the library. Another is the principle of judging people by their actions, rather than by who they are or where they are from. Mr. McBee clearly thinks that lions – just because they are lions – don’t deserve even the chance to be in the library; Miss Merriweather (a woman of some perspicacity) allows the lion to stay as long as he obeys the rules. There’s also, in the book’s final pages, a poignant lesson in empathy and treating others as you’d like to be treated. The lion is gone from the library and it seems likely that Mr. McBee is at least unconcerned by the lion’s absence –it never sat well with him to have a lion in the library in the first place. But one evening he stops by Miss Merriweather’s office on his way out: “Can I do anything for you before I go, Miss Merriweather?” he asked her. “No, thank you,” said Miss Merriweather. She was looking out the window. Her voice was very quiet. Even for the library. (Never mind how delicious I find that fragment “Even for the library.”) Mr. McBee understands Miss Merriweather’s pain and knows what will make her happy so, instead of going home, he goes in search of the lion. It’s a moment of sweet redemption for the previously unlikeable Mr. McBee and in the end there are no “bad guys” in this story. That’s another lesson and, although it may not always come true, I find nothing wrong with the idea that anyone – or everyone – may be redeemed in the end. I don’t want to give the wrong impression of this book – I love it because it is adorable, exciting and emotionally fulfilling. I love it in my gut, because it is fun and because I just plain enjoyed it (and because the pictures are so charming), not for its moral clarity. But the fact is that, just as in life, the lessons in this story are impossible to separate from the story itself. ...more
This is one of the most insightful and thought-provoking books I've read -- I read it years ago, just after my divorce, when I felt adrift.
I pick itThis is one of the most insightful and thought-provoking books I've read -- I read it years ago, just after my divorce, when I felt adrift.
I pick it up now and then and reread parts of it. There are some parts that seem unimportant, but there is a lot that is very important. It makes me think again about the intersection between Jewish and Christian ethics (and about their differences, which it tries to delineate); most importantly, it makes me think about what is important in the way a life is lived.
"Love your neighbor as yourself"; this is the major principle of the Torah. Rabbi Akiva...more
This book is simply amazing. A children's book that may be more meaningful to adults, it follows a blind girls first venture out in the city after herThis book is simply amazing. A children's book that may be more meaningful to adults, it follows a blind girls first venture out in the city after her blindness becomes complete -- all she knows for certain is what she can perceive, everything else is filled in by her imagination....more