MontClairVoyant: When Longer Fiction Faces Eviction, That Creates Lots of Friction

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Can you give an example of how dumbed-down Montclair’s new middle-school English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum may get with its call to read fewer complete novels while studying more short fiction and disembodied book excerpts?

Sincerely,
Unpopular With Teachers

Students perusing the Rochester-as-gypsy scene without reading the rest of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” might think Rochester also crooned the Cher song “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves” at Tierney’s.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

It’s no coincidence that “Cher” and “Charlotte” start with the same two letters! Can you provide more dumbing-down situations that could occur with this unfortunate “standards”-driven curriculum change?

Sincerely,
I Got You, ELA

If students read only the “Anne of Green Gables” scene in which Anne mistakenly serves her young friend Diana currant wine instead of alcohol-free raspberry cordial, they’ll figure L.M. Montgomery was mocking Montclair’s scarcity of liquor licenses.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Actually, Montclair students are smart, and they WON’T react the way you’re saying, but I get your satirical point. So, with Isabel Allende scheduled to speak in our town Nov. 8, what about her novel “The House of the Spirits”?

Sincerely,
Madge Ickrealism

When students learn that the Clara character possesses paranormal powers, they’ll know without reading the rest of the book that she’ll go trick-or-treating this month on Montclair Avenue — Halloween central!


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

In the first “Harry Potter” book, we meet Hermione on the train to Hogwarts. If that’s the only part of J.K. Rowling’s series Montclair students read, what would they think?

Sincerely,
Nearly Readless Nick

That Hermione transferred to the Montclair-Boonton Line, and became the ONLY student in our school district who wants more homework.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

What if students read just the hurricane scene in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” — in January?

Sincerely,
Gail Forcewinds

Given that hurricanes don’t happen in the winter, they’ll realize the storm in Hurston’s book is fictional.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

You seem to know a lot about novels. Do you read many of them?

Sincerely,
Cy Liss-Marner

Yes, and I write a weekly literature blog, and wrote a 2017 literary-trivia book I’ll be selling at our local library’s Indie Author Day this Saturday, Oct. 14. Montclair has MANY great authors, and, in the interests of diversity, I thought the event should also have a not-great author (me).


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Well, if you’re going to get personal, I hear your older daughter is getting married this Sunday, Oct. 15. Where did she get her great Montclair education that included LOTS OF COMPLETE NOVELS?

Sincerely,
A Prose Is a Prose Is a Prose

At Edgemont, Renaissance, and Montclair High — Class of 2007, the year millions first read “Harry Potter and the Deathly Curriculum.”


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Then, on Monday, Oct. 16, there could be more discussion of the new ELA curriculum at the Board of Education meeting. Will you be part of what will ideally be a large turnout?

Sincerely,
Parking Is Free!

Hope so, but James Baldwin, George Eliot and John Steinbeck won’t speak. Not only are they deceased, but it’s hard for long-form authors to make a comprehensive public comment in just three minutes.

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Another reason it’s good for students to read a decent number of school-assigned novels is that many students (and many adults such as myself) read a lot of shorter stuff online. It’s nice to stretch our brains at times with longer stuff. 🙂

  2. Dave – James Baldwin is in “Another Country”, Steinbeck in somewhere “East of Eden”, and George Eliot is tending to his / her “Mill on the Floss.”

    Meanwhile, the Montclair BoE tried contacting Jack Kerouac, but no one told them he was “On the Road.”

  3. That was GREAT, silverleaf!

    Or, shall I say, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” two months before “The Winter of Our Discontent” and five months before “Middlemarch” that that was GREAT, silverleaf!

    Thanks!

  4. Thanks, Dave. Seriously, the hurricane scene in Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” both beautifully written and heartbreaking.

    Moral of story: Best keep away from stray dogs. Atticus had to shoot one in TKaM.

  5. You’re welcome, silverleaf.

    That IS quite a hurricane scene — and, yes, Tea Cake was not lucky with that rabid dog, and the canine in “To Kill a Mockingbird” was unlucky, too.

    Makes one long for more uplifting dog appearances in novels such as “Sounder,” “Call of the Wild,” “White Fang,” “Lad: A Dog,” etc.!

  6. Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” also comes to mind, though Asta the Fox Terrier in Hammett’s “The Thin Man” may very well be my favorite. That’s one smart dog!

  7. Yes! A great standard poodle in that Steinbeck book! (Hmm, that reminds me that I mentioned “standards” of a different kind in my column. 🙂 )

    I’ve read some Hammett (“The Maltese Falcon”), but never read “The Thin Man” or saw the films — making me culturally deprived. 🙂 I should read the novel for Asta alone!

  8. Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” a model of 20th century American detective fiction. He had stormy 30 year on and off relationship with Lillian Hellman. Perhaps his terrier Asta didn’t quite get along her “Little Foxes.”

  9. Ha! Terrific Hammett-Hellman quip, silverleaf!

    “The Maltese Falcon” IS a tremendous novel — one of my favorite detective stories along with Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Wilkie Collins’ “The Moonstone,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Gaudy Night,” Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” and the work of Sue Grafton and Walter Mosley, among others.

  10. Well, Dave, once the hotel is up, us locals can all experience our own version of the classic ‘Inherit the Wind Tunnel’. OK, I know it’s a just screen play, and not a novel, but, whatever.

  11. That’s hilarious, Spiro! 🙂

    Heck, Bloomfield Avenue in general could become a wind tunnel after the hotel and other way-too-big projects are built. Assuming cars could even move on that future-crammed street, maybe the wind could push those vehicles along, saving a bit on gasoline costs…

  12. LOL, silverleaf! You are on a roll!

    Then there’s the ninth-story rooftop bar.

    Not that I’ll ever stay in that hotel, but, if I did, I’ll avoid the Heathcliff Suite…

  13. Another great literary reference, silverleaf!

    The Brontes died young; overdevelopment never dies. 🙁

    (Actually, Charlotte Bronte’s widower lived until 1906!)

  14. good ones silverleaf , speaking of wuthering reviews: “I have just returned from a visit to the Bloomfield Avenue Hotel – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with” .

  15. Underdevelopment . . . we can only hope, Dave.

    Have your read “The Fountainhead”? Seems the modernist Roark would have approved of that cement bunker on the far end of South Mountain Avenue.

  16. Ha, Spiro! There’s nothing better than 19th-century language juxtaposed against depressing 21st-century realities. Well played!

  17. silverleaf, I’ve never been able to bring myself to read anything by Ayn Rand, though I know I should to get more insight into that type of thinking. (Although one unfortunately gets plenty of insight into that type of thinking these days just listening to people like Paul Ryan… 🙁 ) But, yes, from what I’ve heard about him, the Rand-created character you mentioned would be pleased with some of the current sights in Montclair. 🙁

  18. Silverleaf: Howard Roark might have dynamited much of the recent work on Bloomfield Avenue, just as he dynamited Cortlandt Homes in the book. He hated design by committee, and that’s pretty much what ValleyBloom and the Hotel look like. He would have approved of some that cool midcentury modern stuff up on Highland Avenue, however.

  19. Spiro, if there’s any (fictional) dynamiting to be done, not before 8 a.m., please. 🙂

    And, yes, some of the new downtown structures do seem like design by committee — or maybe it’s also a matter of unfortunately building as inexpensively as possible.

    My apologies for interrupting your conversation with silverleaf.

  20. Dave – Any work by Rand not easy to get through, that’s for sure. I’ve been working on “Atlas Shrugged” since college. Try the film adaption of “The Fountainhead” w. Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal.

    STQ – A point well made. Roark, much like FLW on which his character is based, was very much his own man. For better or for worse, it nearly ruined him. Yes, some of those cantilevered properties on Highland are very cool indeed.

  21. silverleaf, I’ve indeed heard that Ayn Rand’s work is difficult. I haven’t hesitated to occasionally read other authors’ challenging and/or very long novels (“Middlemarch,” “War and Peace,” “The Brothers Karamazov,” “Moby-Dick,” “Don Quixote,” “The Goldfinch,” etc.), and I’ve read many novels by authors I disagree with politically. But somehow I just can’t open a Rand book. Impressive that you’ve kept trying with “Atlas Shrugged”!

  22. Just stubborn, I guess. “Ulysses’ and “Heart of Darkness” also. Anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez no walk in Anderson Park.

  23. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is indeed no walk in Anderson Park (ha!). I did finally read “One Hundred Years of Solitude” three or four years ago and, other than the confusion of some similar-sounding names, found it very compelling and even entertaining. “Love in the Time of Cholera” is more straightforward, and also quite good.

    I’ve read “Heart of Darkness,” but never had the guts (yet) to try “Ulysses.” I do think James Joyce’s “The Dead” is a fantastic short story — very melancholy but very readable.

    Getting back to “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” that could describe any person attending a century of developer fan club meetings. 🙂

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