The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

immigrant lit

I've been frantically plowing through potential texts for my "immigrant experience in literature" class this week. I've decided upon a few: Thomas Bell's immigrants-in-the-Pittsburgh-steel-industry novel OUT OF THIS FURNACE, Dave Eggers' recent WHAT IS THE WHAT, about a Sudanese "lost boy" (who ended up at Allegheny College), Maxine Hong Kingston's classic THE WOMAN WARRIOR, notwithstanding its difficulty, and Monica Ali's BRICK LANE. I've rejected Gish Jen's TYPICAL AMERICAN and Junot Diaz's DROWN, as well as Edwidge Danticat's BREATH, EYES, MEMORY, and am undecided about Andre Dubus III's HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG. These are freshmen, I figure--how interested are they going to be in a story about competing claims for ownership of a house?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

hole in the wall

Originally uploaded by Mantooth
Just to add to all of the other chaos in our lives, we decided to undertake a minor construction project in our house--here is the initial result, a large hole in the wall between the kitchen and the dining room. Next week we're having a countertop installed that juts into the dining room. We love the effect, though--the galley kitchen was claustrophobic and this really opens everything up.

working in the kitchen

Originally uploaded by Mantooth
the younger boy loves working in his Target toy "kitchen."


Originally uploaded by Mantooth
I just like this picture--the intensity of his focus on his construction is admirable.

Monday, October 22, 2007


As I plan for a class on the immigrant experience in literature that I'm teaching in the fall, I'm forced to actually READ some of the novels and other books that I put down on my course proposal. First among these is Junot Diaz's DROWN, a story-cycle or episodic novel or story collection (it's one of those THINGS THEY CARRIED-type things) centering on the experiences of a young Dominican man living in the U.S. I've looked forward to Diaz's stories appearing in the NEW YORKER, when they (infrequently) do; his voice is vibrant and energetic and quite powerful, in addition to being just plain funny at times. DROWN is very much a first book; it's thin at times, and easy at times, and the prose seem so much more labored than does his most recent writing. That said, it's excellent: it's tight, it moves smartly as it goes from rural D.R. to the suburbs of New Jersey and Long Island, where the protagonist/narrator is employed delivering and assembling high-end pool tables. (This story is the highlight of the book for me.) In terms of "the immigrant experience," though, the only bit of the book that worked for me is the last story, "Negocios," a long piece about the experiences of the narrator's father, who emigrates from D.R. first to Miami and then to Washington Heights, where he takes another wife and slowly loses touch with his original wife and children (who remain on the island).

Reading DROWN reminded me in many places of Edwige Danticat's BREATH, EYES, MEMORY, which I read long ago, and I think I've got to look at it again. Another novel that deals with similar issues, if in much less harsh and underworldy light, is Julia Alvarez's HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS. I'm going to re-read those and see if they'll work.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

the marathon

After an exhausting return trip--12.5 hours door to door, all with cranky and restless little ones--we are just back from Portland, where I ran the Portland Marathon on Sunday. It's my third, and I managed to beat the time goal that I thought I wouldn't even come near. Although the Portland marathon isn't the immense event that the New York marathon is--or even the Los Angeles marathon--it's a very nice event. I don't love the course--there's a long, pointless out-and-back along a desolate stretch of industrial docklands, and PDX's equivalent of "Heartbreak Hill" is the ramp leading up to the St. John's Bridge, with no real reward afterwards--but I do love Portland and was pleased that the hardest miles--22, 23, 24--were mostly downhill. I needed that. And hey--at least it wasn't the Chicago Marathon, which took place the same day. Their temps: in the eighties with humidity. Portland: about 60, cloudy, even a little sprinkle. Nice.

All in all it was a productive trip. I found a copy of the Northwestern/Newberry edition of MOBY-DICK at Powell's Books' Hawthorne store, and the Sun and Moon Press edition of Zola's BELLY OF PARIS--a book about the Les Halles marketplace that is quite rare in English, but that is being reissued in a new translation by Oxford at the end of this year, I'm assuming because of the new vogue for farmers markets, celebrity chefs, and so on. I also finally got to have a workout at the great Multnomah Athletic Club, where my father has maintained a membership for decades. (I went to college in Portland, but never entered the MAC Club.) The boys saw their grandparents, too.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

the apostrophe

Originally uploaded by Mantooth
Oh, Pittsburgh. Yinz don' knah hah tah punchuate.

My wife asserts that the dropped apostrophe is a stylistic choice--after all, they drop it TWICE here. But I don't think so: sure, dropping the ' in "don't" is pretty common in text messaging, but dropping the apostrophe in "it's" makes it not just a misspelling but a different word. Jagoffs.