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Dave from Phila

Regarding your discussion about wanting your young writers to find their own voice - it is the same with teaching young musicians composition. You teach them the "rules" of harmony, counterpoint, etc. and their efforts largely sound like music already composed. Then, you tell them to break the rules in just the right places so they can find their own voice. Fascinating process.

Oh - and don't hold it against me, but I happen to be the Artistic Director of a concert choir. www.TheChoristers.org

Loved your line, "they keep interrupting with promos for TV shows I think could be used by the police to break reluctant witnesses." Gave me a belly laugh!

Dave from Phila

Oh - I forgot. While I was reading the draft of the review for "Saving Mr. Banks", I was thinking the author is a high school student. I was stunned to discover she is a 5th grader. Maybe there is hope for the future after all.

Mike Peterson

She's the one whose mother I told I was confident they weren't ghosting her work because they wouldn't have the nerve to make her sound like that. Her mother said she just disappears into her room for awhile, then comes out with a story and says "What do you think?" And they say, "um ... that's nice."

I have a couple of those each year. It makes life a lot of fun, but it also makes me feel a real sense of responsibility to teach something valuable.


In University, one professor made a point of having the first book be one he found rather banal to help get things stirred up in the second class and make sure that everyone understood that he was fine with people not liking books on the book list, providing they could still discuss it and debate on the themes.


I don't watch the NFL much, but the sporting events I do watch, I do so with remote in hand. I used to have TiVo and now have a cable dvr.

I did watch an NFL game yesterday -- I first let the game record for a while so that I could fast forward through the crap.

Unpatriotic and subversive, I know, but wothehell, as one blogger says.

Mike Peterson

As I was thinking what a good guy he was, I thought of my own department, where readings in various minor classes -- the novel, poetry, drama -- were at the discretion of the prof, but the major piece, a twice-weekly two-hour Great Books seminar, had a list set by the department.

I suppose with seniority you could get out of teaching a particular year's seminar, but if you bailed on the seniors because you didn't want to teach William James, you'd also miss out on teaching Gulliver. I don't imagine anyone did (at least not for that reason -- they may have tried to avoid being bathed twice weekly in the wisdom of the sophomores).

And I have to say, I never got a sense that the prof didn't find a lot to work with in a particular book, nor that we were required to like the books in seminar. I think the department managed to pass along a strong sense that bad work doesn't survive long enough to end up on a list of classics.

It was, on the other hand, fairly plain that, if you took the novel course from Dr. Cronin and you did not feel that Ulysses was pretty wonderful, you really really really needed to keep that opinion to yourself.

Brian Fies

So you're an editor in the mold of Charles Foster Kane, who completed his opera critic's scathing pan of his (Kane's) wife's operatic debut after the guy got too drunk to finish it himself. Good to know....

I had an English teacher once who said I'd come to the exact opposite-of-the-intended conclusion about an assigned book but defended my opinion so well she had to give me full points. Good teacher....

The "find your own voice" thing is hard, and partly because writing ornamental bullshit can get you very far in life. Especially smart kids. I think I've mentioned before: in some alternate universe I'm an English teacher who strips down my students to plainly stating what they mean using clear declarative sentences, then slowly builds them back up one adjective or subordinate clause at a time. Thus I change the world.

Lost in A**2

Mr. Peterson, I don't know why, in all you wrote above, this stuck with me, but there it is: upward mobility in the middle ages was not as hard then as it is now. I just recently read "The Birth of the West," which included the history of the peasant who became pope.

Mike Peterson

Interesting, and sent me to Google. I didn't find anything to suggest it was easier to rise then -- "rags to riches" stories being the exceptions I mentioned the other day in suggesting that too many privileged meet only the formerly poor who have triumphed against the odds and are now feted as "proof" that the system is not unfair and that poverty is an issue of character.

I'd like to know more about Sylvester II, because he sounds pretty amazing, but I do note that the only source I found that was specific about his birth said we really don't know anything except that he was lower class. Given the structure of the time, that wouldn't necessarily put him in the mire and he might have been, for instance, the son of a craftsman or even a servant within the house of the local lord. (Here's that link: http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Biographies/Gerbert.html)

Still, had his parents been anyone of any note, it would likely be recorded: Michelangelo's father was a banker-turned-bureaucrat, Leonardo was the illegitimate but (all but legally) acknowledged son of a minor noble. In some eyes, then, Michelangelo would still be considered base-born, but it's not the same thing as being a peasant in the sense of carrying a hayfork in a Bosch painting.

The question in my mind was how he was able to enter the monastery and then rise to the level wherein influential men began to take notice of him and assist his subsequent rise. Does Collins know more?

(I'll certainly grant that pointing out that he lived at the edge of the Dark Ages rather than in Medieval times proper would not exactly advance my thesis, by the way.)


In terms of book and game reviews, are you saying that both boys and girls tend to be less than candid, but in gender-linked ways? That is, the boys by tending to turn up their noses and the girls by tending to look for the pony? My first thought was that you meant turning up their noses to be a measure of frankness - but perhaps you are saying that that can also be an approval-seeking (or perhaps protective)response? In many of the teen groups I've worked with, saying something publicly positive often takes courage/integrity, too.

Mike Peterson

Both boys and girls are often quite positive, but the boys don't hesitate to find fault when it's there and are quite straightforward when they do. If it's bad, it's bad.

The girls seem always to undercut their negative comments with "but on the other hand" good things. Sometimes that's "balance" but often it feels like trying to be polite. As the young folks say, "polishing a turd."

But I'm speaking of really negative reviews -- they're pretty even on doling out either faint praise or moderate misgivings for stuff that falls short without actually crashing.

Lost in A**2

So I went back to the library and got the book. In Chapter 16, "Gerbert, the Magician of the Millennium," Paul Collins writes, "Undoubtedly one of the greatest polymaths in European history, Gerbert was born about 945, most likely of free-peasant stock. His birthplace was somewhere near Aurillac, although no one knows the exact site. The monk Richer of Saint-Remi, a former student, says in his Histories that Gerbert was Aquitanus genere, 'born in Aquitaine,' possibly a tiny village named Belliac. There is some evidence that his father's name was Agilbertus" (pp 363-4).

Mr. Collins continues, "Exactly how and when he entered the strictly observant monastery of Saint Gerald in Aurillac are uncertain. He may have taken up an offer to study in the monastery school, or he may have been offered by his parents as a boy oblate" (p 364).

I guess my point was that then as now, now as then, exceptions are exceptional. That is, talent will out.

Mike Peterson

Indeed -- my grandfather was plucked off the slag heap by the local school superintendant and the mine manager, who arranged for him to finish school and attend the University of Wisconsin on pretty much of a full ride, back in the early days of the 20th century.

I asked him what his father thought of it all, and he said he thought it was a waste because, when he got out, his father would have no contacts for him to take advantage of. So that immigrant dock worker wasn't so dumb either, but he did live long enough to see his boy as a mine manager.

Wonder if Gerbert's folks got to see the outcome of his vault from obscurity?

Lost in A**2

Oh, my. Yes. Shades of "The Bell Curve." ;)

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