Thursday, August 12, 2010

Name Two

I have a couple of books on my nightstand – Middlemarch (George Eliot) and A Thread of Grace (Mary Doria Russell). In all honesty, The New Yorker, Heimskringla or The Lives of the Norse Kings, and my quad scriptures are also by my bed, but this isn't about any of those.

I am part of a little book club on GoodReads called the Transatlantic Bibliophiles. It's a lovely little group that Di started. This summer, the chosen book was Middlemarch by George Eliot. A classic. A very looong classic. Now I loved Bleak House, and that was 900 pages, so I do not have anything against long books. This one, however, has seemed to drag on a bit. It is a classic and people love it. That's what I hear, anyway. Everyone loves it.

Well, as a collective, we just could not muster the stick-to-it-tive-ness needed to finish Middlemarch as a group. I'm still determined to finish it, but I have turned in my library copy (after renewing it twice) and now I'm reading it on my phone. Lots of page turns, but quite convenient. I'm about 45% of the way through, so I'm getting there.

We've moved on to our current book: A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. Set in Italy during World War II, it offers a glimpse into the world in that time and place. A juxtaposition of the kindness of strangers and the horrors of war. It is a much faster read and I am quite enjoying it.

At one point in the story, a father and daughter are hiding in the mountains, hungry, cold, and frightened. Someone leaves them some food and the daughter is ecstatic and hollers a thank you to the hills. Her father is furious, even though their location is obviously already known. He rants about how the peasants hate them:

“The people in these mountains are illiterate peasants! They're ignorant, Claudette. Priests have been filling their heads with Christ-killer lies all of their lived!... They think we poison wells! They think we murder babies and use their blood to make matzoh! They hate us--”

“Name two.”
Albert blinks.

Whenever we said 'they,' Mama told us to name two.” Claudette divides the lump of cheese, handing half to Albert. “Mama said if you can't name two actual real people, then you're just being prejudiced. So name two peasants who hate us.”

This “name two” has really stuck with me. How often we hear sweeping generalizations about all of this kind of person or all of that kind of person. I hang out with Dad while he watches Fox News, and all of the personalities use sweeping generalizations.

Whoops. Well, actually, I can name two, so that sweeping characterization stands.

The next time I say “they” all do this or that, I am going to pause to see if I can name two.

I'll start with trying to name two people who love reading Middlemarch. Maybe I will be even one of them – in 400 pages or so.


Diane said...

What a perfect response to make, especially to my children. Or myself.

Shady Grove said...

I hope you don't mind that I've been kibitzing on your family blog. I've really enjoyed reading it. This entry especially is inspiring. I think I might quote "name two" to my students.


Suzy said...

I tried that with Dad the other night. He as able to list 2 Fox News shows and a handful of commentators. I was foiled.