Anachan's Corner

One woman's journey through marriage, motherhood, and the classroom…

Adventures in the Online Library

Written By: Anachan - May• 14•17

Not too terribly long ago, I picked up a library card from our local library.

“Now, Anachan,” you’re probably saying, “you’re telling me you teach English and encourage students to read, and you don’t even have a library card yourself? What kind of hypocrisy is this?” Well, honestly, when I say “local” library, I mean one which is about an hour away from my home. It is in the town where I work, but it is not usually open when I have the time to go there. In addition, I have access to the high school library when I want many books, so there really had been no need.

But when a good friend became the head librarian, I learned from her Facebook posts that the library not only had physical books, they also had access to an on-line lending library through the state of New Mexico.

Now that was interesting. Books I could read without having to make it to a physical location to check out or return? I decided to give it a try.

With library card in hand, I logged on and browsed the selections. I was surprised to find that George R. R. Martin was listed among the “New Mexican” authors listed on the front page–surprised, but not tremendously excited, as I really don’t have any interest in reading the Game of Thrones series, despite my tendency to gravitate toward fantasy. I recognized other New Mexican authors, such as Tony Hillerman, who writes decent enough police mysteries, set in the northern half of the state. My mind satisfied with “Gee, whiz” facts, I finally searched for the book I’d really come to find: Hillbilly Elegy, which had been recommended to me by a friend.

No such luck: There was a waiting list. I put my name on the waiting list, then browsed what was available now . . . and found Reading Lolita in Tehran.

Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir by Azar Nafisi, who had been American-educated, then returned to Iran to teach university courses. She witnessed and lived through the events of the cultural revolution in the late 1970s and had to deal with changes in dress, attitudes, and behavior forced upon her and upon other citizens by the new regime. The book covers many of her and her students’ experiences from the time of the cultural revolution, intertwined with the account of a clandestine class she organized in her own home for a few select young ladies. She discusses the themes of several English-language books they covered, comparing them to her and her students’ situation in their own country.

It is a well-written book, although it may be slow-moving for those who are not bibliophiles. As I have had only a bit of exposure to the events of the cultural revolution in Iran through Persepolis, an autobiographical work by Marjane Satrapi in the form of a graphic novel, the topic of Iranian women coping with the situation in which they found themselves already held some of my interest. In this, the book does not disappoint.

But what I did not expect was the desire I now have to seek out some of the novels mentioned by the author and become more familiar with them. While I have no particular desire to read Lolita (still), and while I’ve only recently reread The Great Gatsby, and so have no need to read it again, I have done searches on books by Henry James and quotations by Friedrich Nietzsche. I expect I will have added to that list by the time I finish the book.

My one disappointment is that I cannot discuss this book with my husband. He has an innate sense of hatred for injustice, particularly injustice that he cannot fix. And so, while he is usually willing to discuss almost any book or article or almost anything else I want to discuss, this is the one kind of topic which he will beg I not speak of with him. Having gone through Arabic language classes at the Defense Language Insitute back in the late 1980s, he insists that he already knows the terrible things which the Islamic regimes have done in the Middle East and he does not want to dwell on them.

While I wish I could speak of the events in the book to him, to admire a turn of phrase or to organize my thoughts, if nothing else, I do understand. There are things on which I cannot dwell and will avoid like the plague, things which do not disturb him. Some people think that married couples should do everything together, but I consider it one of the compromises of marriage that married couples should not insist on doing everything together. And so he doesn’t insist that I watch certain dramas which take the viewer deeply into the minds of evil killers, and I do not insist that he watch shows or read books about injustice. (Note to self: Maybe I ought to remove “To Kill a Mockingbird” off our Netflix list . . .)

Because it is May–every U.S. teacher’s most stressful time of year–I have only made it halfway through Reading Lolita in Tehran and will need to renew it when the loan expires. I’m looking forward to the further discoveries I will make as I progress through to the end.

An Illustration or Two . . .

Written By: Anachan - Apr• 15•17

Recently, I pointed out several instances in which knowing references to Shakespeare could help someone understand certain cultural allusions. In the last couple of weeks, my class has run into a couple of situations where knowing Biblical references was useful.

Recently, for example, when my sophomore students finished their reading of Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story “By the Waters of Babylon.” I asked them why the author had named this story by this title.

“What was Babylon?” After some discussion, I reminded them that the Babylonian empire had taken the Old Testament inhabitants in Jerusalem into captivity. I then pulled up Psalm 137:1 on my projector and read it aloud: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”

“So, given what you know about this quote, what do the people in the story have in common with the Biblical people? Why did the author make this the title of this story?”

After that, it was obvious. The people in the Bible mourned what they had lost when they had been taken captive, and the people in the Benet’s story mourned the technology and knowledge which had been lost when the previous civilization had been destroyed. The students were able to understand that the seemingly enigmatic title had a deeper meaning, if one knew the Biblical reference.

The other example was actually due to a question one of my freshman students asked me: “Miss, is there some kind of measure of love?”

I thought about it and quoted to him, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

His face burst into a big grin. “That’s good, Miss!”

“Bonus points if you know where it comes from,” I said, with a mischievous smile.

He called on several of the surrounding students in his effort, but though they named several sources, I still smiled and shook my head. As one student was starting to surreptitiously search out the quote on her iPad, another student suddenly called out, “Shakespeare!”

“Nope!” I replied.

The original student’s face lit up. “The Bible!”

“There you go!” I said. “It’s from the New Testament.”

He grinned. “You told us,” he explained, “that many of the things people quote come from Shakespeare or the Bible. I figured since it wasn’t from Shakespeare, it might be from the Bible.”

“Right you are!”

He smiled and nodded significantly. “Good quote.”

This Easter season, many of my students will celebrate in their churches the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Bible. And, perhaps, the quote I mentioned will come up in the sermons or worship services they attend. I am thankful for the account in the Bible of the Atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I am thankful for this time to especially remember what we should be remembering all year long.