i teach this novel to college students, and have taught it for about three years now. there is no other book, in my opinion, that divides a class so r...morei teach this novel to college students, and have taught it for about three years now. there is no other book, in my opinion, that divides a class so radically -- some students love this book and cant stop reading it, despite acknowledging that it is one depressing representation of americas history of hatred against those who live outside of the gender binary, and others hate it for the writing style, which is admittedly not the most sophisticated out there.
other students hate it because they simply refuse to believe that anyone can be treated in this manner in america, but that is an entirely different subject for another forum.
the brutality of the book is precisely why i teach it, because it is in the unflinching portrayal of jess and her various butches and femmes -- al, theresa, grant, and perhaps most critically ed -- as well as the integration of various historical moments -- stonewall, the rise of unions, vietnam -- that makes this a canonical work in sexuality and gender studies, and whatever flaws there are in feinbergs skill as a writer are nicely covered by the intense honesty she writes with.
it isnt an easy read, and it isnt a light one, either. the problem that ive run into with teaching this novel to a group of well-intentioned, wide-eyed undergrads is that too many of them want to believe that "things have gotten so much better now, and will and grace is on tv, so that means gays are accepted in our culture!" after reading the text, which presents me with an entirely different set of dilemmas, such as the commodification of "gay" culture, the rhetoric of "queer"ness, and why i now pronounce you chuck and larry is not a bastion of hope for gay people everywhere.
i taught this book for a writing course, and the way she crafts the text straddles the admittedly delicate line between memoir and fiction beautifully...morei taught this book for a writing course, and the way she crafts the text straddles the admittedly delicate line between memoir and fiction beautifully. smith is able to weave together the grief her family feels at losing roy, the consequent loss of her religious faith, and her understanding of a nascent sexuality in a way that is both simple and poetic. other themes come up a bit briefly -- the idea of the "other," both sexual and racial, the desire for freedom, intellectual curiosity, etc. -- and i wish she had touched upon them more. the majority of my freshmen were intrigued all the way through, so that has to be saying something. (less)
this was required reading my sophomore year of high school and i hated it. i could not care less about ralph and piggy and jack and simon and the whol...morethis was required reading my sophomore year of high school and i hated it. i could not care less about ralph and piggy and jack and simon and the whole lot of them, traipsing about the island and basically proving the cynical (yet totally realistic) point that, left to their own devices, children totally suck.
i kid, i kid, thats not that golding was saying at all.
the point remains, however, that all the symbolism of the conch and the fire and the creeper-things and the glasses was too much, and i put it away with relish once we had to move onto a separate peace, which i also hated, but for different reasons.
it wasnt until college when i picked it up again on a whim that the book truly reverberated within me. i dont know what it is -- the lapse of four years time? the ability to read the text for pleasure, instead of for writing assignments? -- but i was completely enchanted this time around.
now i teach it to my students when i tutor, and i keep raising their expectations by telling them that it is one of the best books ive ever read. they, of course, dont know what to do with it, because it doesnt end with harry scoring the winning point in a quidditch game and dumbledore awarding points to neville longbottom for bravery and everyone going nuts as gryffindor wins the medal or trophy or whatever it is. (less)
having gone to an undergrad institution that prized itself on the humanities and majored in american literature and womens studies (much to the horror...morehaving gone to an undergrad institution that prized itself on the humanities and majored in american literature and womens studies (much to the horror of my parents, who couldnt understand how those degrees would lead to an optometry career), i spent an insane amount of time between the ages of 18 - 21 talking about all the -isms and -obias that plague both this nation and the world. and yet there was a disquieting silence surrounding class, and to this i am not sure if this is because of the classes i chose to take, or because i just tuned out.
in any case, reading skin: talking about sex, class and literature was a monumental experience for me; when allison speaks of the mythical poor and of being an academic, i almost bristled with the tension that she was speaking of, since that tension is something that i have felt all of my life. to grow up working class, to aspire for academic satisfaction, and to be human, and not some kind of angel living in the streets, paired with the idea of literature as both salvation and damnation, no one id read to that point had articulated that existence so amazingly as allison has in this collection of essays.
her novels are not as strong as her non-fiction, sadly, but allison is someone i find deeply moving in her unaffected style and presentation. (less)
hawthorne is that perpetually needy manchild of a writer, you know the one who peers over your shoulder while youre trying to read and keeps p...moreoh god.
hawthorne is that perpetually needy manchild of a writer, you know the one who peers over your shoulder while youre trying to read and keeps pointing out the parts of his own writing that he finds particularly good and/or moving.
"yeah, see? do you see? see how i talked about how the rose is red, and then i talk about how hesters 'a' is red, too? do you see what im trying to do here, with the symbolism?"
and its like that all the way through the book.
*edit 12 september 2008: im tutoring with this for of my students, as her AP english teacher is teaching it as part of his curriculum. and yes, it still sucks as badly as i remember. actually, even more so, because now i have to teach it. (less)