Monday, December 22, 2008

Books Read, 2008 - Ones I Didn't Like - 1

As I've written in previous blogs, I keep a personal "commonplace book" in which I write about the books I read and record the sentences and paragraphs I underlined. I try to read at least a book a week, and this year I read fifty-five.

I'll begin with books I really, really didn't like:

Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander:

Auslander was raised as an Orthodox Jew with a yeshiva (religious school) education. The book is his screed against his upbringing. It is supposed to be funny, and in places, it is. But overall, this is an angry, ugly book.

He details his early rebellion against kashrut [the laws that govern what an observant Jew can and cannot eat] by sneaking off to eat non-kosher foods, his love of pornography, and most of all, his disgust with the concept of God as the Being who metes out punishment for every little violation of Jewish law.

What is clear is that Auslander never had a religious experience. If a religion is nothing more to you than restrictive rules, I suppose one response is Auslander’s.

Perhaps my response would be different if I were younger, or if were a born Jew. But I am neither and I found this to be an unpleasant book.

In the Shadow of Fame: A Memoir by the Daughter of Erik H. Erikson by Sue Erikson Boland

This was an odd book. I was looking forward to reading it because I’d read Robert Coles's book on Erikson, as well as Erikson’s books on Martin Luther, Gandhi and his book on childhood and society, These books were important to me in my own attempts to forge my identity.

His daughter’s book addresses the disparity between her experience of her father and that of the many who idolized him. The Erik Erikson who wrote with such insight about childhood was not much of a father. The disparity between her father’s image and his actuality as a father leads her to what becomes her life’s work - an analysis of fame and how people project onto the famous their need for heroes.

I didn’t find what she had to say about fame, the famous and projections to be very original or insightful. And, though she wrote more than once that she loved her father, the love does not come through. That Erikson was not as good a person as his words did not surprise me or bother me. But she does not include any of his words, and perhaps there was a good reason.

Once she was going to deliver a paper about her father to a group of colleagues, a paper that eventually led to this book. She began by playing a videotape of her father speaking. Too late she realized that she had lost her audience because they were totally captivated by her father. If she had included excerpts from his writings in this book, readers might not have believed her words about him. But including some of her father’s words would have given a more balanced experience of him.

When I finished the book I wondered why she'd written it, or, perhaps more important, why she published it. I sure she would find it ironic that all she accomplished for me was to make me want to look again at his books and Coles's biography to see what I'd underlined in them, and I recall that I underlined a lot. Erikson's writings were crucial in my journey to defining myself.

She does admit, however, that her older brother, Kai, had a very different relationship with their father because Kai became a prominent sociologist, and he could talk with his father about things that interested them both. I would have found the book to be more honest if she could have acknowledged that she was writing as much, if not more, about herself and not her father.

Reading the book I could not help trying to imagine what one of my children might write about me, if their memories of me as a father would be a record of all I did not do that they wished I had? In so many relationships, the hurts we experienced live within us for decades, and the joys, that were part of the same relationships, are scarcely remembered, or, if remembered, have little meaning for us.

I hope that my children will be merciful to my memory, when that is all that remains of me, that they will know that I did my best. And if my best was not good enough for them, that is neither my fault nor theirs. This is merely what it is to be human.

1 comment:

joshua said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.