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University Diaries…

… has spent much of today cleaning her house. She’s almost finished. At some point this evening, she hopes to post on the following subjects:

1. Tea. Christopher Hitchens has something to say about the subject, and it is of course a category on this blog, since UD is a mad tea drinker. She pens poems to it… New Years stir deep thoughts, and some of the deepest thoughts have to do with tea. I’ll also say a word or two about this Hitchens interview .

2. Having read Tony Judt’s Memory Chalet while I was in Cambridge and Vermont (Judt has much in common with Hitchens; maybe I can fold my Judt remarks into the tea post.), I’ll post some thoughts about that.

3. This one’s short, so I’ll just post it here:

After only a year, Yeshiva University has lost (fired?) its first chief investment officer. With an overpaid president, a board of trustees only recently boasting the Madoff/Merkin investment partnership, possible clawback action from Irving Picard, and an internecine, no comment, corporate culture, Yeshiva has a lot of problems. To lose a CIO so quickly looks like another problem.

4. Oh and you know what else? See that post a few posts under this one about whooshing up experiences? I think I had one at the New Year’s party I went to.

Nothing obviously dramatic about it, but I had a rather long conversation with a fourteen-year-old girl named Liv. Liv lives (that was fun to type) in Norway, but is immensely fluent in English; and Liv loves (that was fun too) to read novels.

“Jane Austen and the Brontes – I don’t like them.”

The outrageous confidence with which Liv said this comported strangely with her thin high little girl voice.

“Why not?”

“People don’t really change in those novels. My favorite novel is The Secret Garden. So many people change! Mary Lennox, and Colin, and Colin’s father… ”

“I love that novel too. We have a copy at our little house in the country, and I have a tradition of taking it off the shelf first thing when we get there and reading it again … I think you might be right about the Brontes — roughly speaking anyway. Austen’s another story – people change like mad in Austen. Try Pride and Prejudice.”

“They might change – but they don’t change in a big way. And in The Secret Garden, it’s not just people. It’s places! The garden is all dead, and then it’s all flowers …”

“I see what you mean…”

We went on like that at length, finessing the matter of personal and earthly transformation and its relation to literary quality, and I guess the whooshing up moment came for me when I realized I’m talking literary criticism with a fourteen-year-old from Norway and she’s making an intriguing point and we’re batting it around…!

Maybe it’s wasn’t whooshing so much as welling – a welling up of pleasure at the sight of UD as a fourteen-year-old with blond hair at a New Year’s party… Because Liv was like me at that age.

And a welling up of emotion not only at a kind of self-recognition, but at my gradual realization that I had found and was now delicately exploring real literary sensitivity in Liv, and that her forms of sensitivity were fascinating and moving.

Margaret Soltan, January 3, 2011 5:35PM
Posted in: blog

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3 Responses to “University Diaries…”

  1. GTWMA Says:

    Please fix the link on your tea poems! Since I just gave my daughter her very own tea pot, with a selection of teas from our local tea shop and a book called “Tea” by Christine Dattner for Christmas AND she’s a mad reader and writer, I’d love to share those with her. She’s like you and Liv, I suspect.

    At one of my college awards dinner which she attended because I was being recognized, she brought her Jane Austen to read during the boring parts, and then engaged my dean in a long discussion of her literary likes and dislikes. Now, I have to update my dean on her current reading regularly; I also had an earful about the misogyny in Homer’s Odyssey at dinner the other night!

    Whenever I get depressed by the anti-intellectual trends in universities and American society, I’ll remember the young people like my daughter and Liv out there.

  2. Ellie Says:

    I’d be quite interested to hear your thoughts on similarities between Judt and Hitchens, (other than their both being Americanized Brits who have written movingly about disease and mortality). I admire both tremendously, though I can only gather they weren’t fans of each other. (Googling both brings me to http://www.slate.com/id/2152032/) Though, I suppose Hitchens’s Slate column is the usually the least interesting thing he writes…

    Anyway, happy new year.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Hi Ellie: Happy New Year back. Yes, I’ve been thinking along those lines — the things the two have in common. I’ve spent part of today taking notes on Judt’s book, The Memory Chalet, and I’ll be writing a longish essay about him (bringing in Hitchens to some extent) tomorrow.

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