Monday, August 20, 2007

Classical Education

I have no idea who Scheherazade is, and I’m pretty sure this is a problem.

At various points over the past year, I’ve been impressed by my need to “bone up” on my knowledge of the classics, as in, I got caught with my pants down in one too many literary discussions with folks much more well read than I.

The magnitude of the affair came to light when I innocently attended a luncheon several months back and somehow wound up co-teaching a writing seminar with an author who may or may not have been named Buckaroo.

Now, Buckaroo was a man of great literary acumen, capable of wielding references to Faulkner and Hemingway with the same skill that you and I might handle a butter knife.

I got excited when he mentioned C.S. Lewis, but Mr. Buckaroo wanted to delve into The Space Trilogy and The Great Divorce and other of Lewis’ meatier works that I have on my shelf in an untouched boxed set, right next to my well-worn Narnia volumes.

No match for Buckaroo, I went home to read magazines. Unfortunately, I stumbled upon an article in one of my writing magazines that leaned heavily on references to classical literature to illustrate points. Updike was quoted heavily, as well as several selections from The Grapes of Wrath, along with large doses of Scheherazade, whoever he is.

Recalling a failed dinner conversation involving Gatsby a few weeks prior, I plucked a dog-eared copy of Fitzgerald’s capstone work from my shelves. It was time to expand my literary horizons. I went with The Great Gatsby, because as I explained to my sister, at trim 180-medium type pages it’s a “celebrated, yet manageable work.”

A week later, I was tossing about references to Gatsby’s shirts and Fitzgerald’s thematic use of the concept of time. How quick! How effective!

Wasting no time, I pressed on to Walden. Around chapter three, my graduate school application was due, and I stalled out.

But I figured that a master’s program in English was bound to, you know, remedy the situation.

So it was with a sense of excitement last week that I perused the reading list for the upcoming semester. Don Quixote! Great classical fare! Searching my mental database, I remembered some sort of humorous battle with an army of windmills, and I thought I recalled some wooing of women.

At the Barnes and Noble on Saturday, I spotted Don Quixote among a display of classics. Eagerly, I grabbed a copy off the top of the stack—until I realized that the single copy in my hands was the stack.

Don Quixote is a formidable work. 900 pages. Small print. Glancing across the display, I spotted Don Juan, and realized he was the Don responsible for the wooing of women—evidently working quickly, too, judging from the slim spine.

I fear that leaves Quixote with only windmills; although you never know—-maybe somewhere in those 900 pages he’ll meet Scheherazade.


Jen said...

This degree program sounds challenging.. but I know that if anyone can do it you can! Your only problem will be the growing magazine stack. Perhaps they have cliff's notes magazines.. that could be the answer to your problems.

Catherine Wannabe said...

I believe your brother-in-law read Don Quixote in Spanish. Could be worse!

Steve said...

I once heard a pastor say that the difference between doing something that God wants you to do and doing something that you just want to do is that a God sized calling will provoke feelings and questions like, "how in the world am i going to do this ?" Looking at your situation, I think it's safe to say that you pursuing this masters degree is definately a God sized calling, and you know what, that's an exciting thing, just think of all the amazing new things you are going to learn and see as you branch out into new literary works.


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