Devotees of children’s literature have received an unexpected lift from the nearly simultaneous release of the new film of Charlotte’s Web, based on the story by E. B. White, and Miss Potter, a biography of Peter Rabbit’s creator, Beatrix Potter. Each in its way is a charmer.
A dead girl lies in a grassy field. Her blood-soaked body has started to decompose. Who is she? How did she get there? Was the killing a crime of passion or opportunity? And who committed the heinous act?
How can children read, with words wobbling any way they feel like? Spelling shows up as speling, and spelin spills to spleen. Stolen bases slide to stollen basis. There’s no Too Far, no leash to keep the feral hound from escape, no property line between ideas, no surveyor to fasten edges.
And if Johnson doesn’t finish soon, words might wander further into wildness, soar like index cards in a hurricane, and scatter like so much litter. Or worse— careen like bullets into meanings, blowing every deal to pieces.
If he finishes, you could be stuck in a poem entirely on spelling, longing for rescue from the strait- jacket they tied us into so we can read and write this. How fragile the guide rope of logic seems between us! How tenuous sweet mutual understanding!
Sam Johnson, in your stained shirt, big as Fleet Street, rehearsing for the thousandth time your smudgy slips of paper, you’ve never finished anything on time, you rarely finish. This is a prayer for you. But shall I bless or curse?
Now forty winters have besieged this brow that bears the mark of ashes once again, its shallow furrows yielding to time’s plow as, on command, I turn and turn again. With every year the mark goes deeper still and stays there longer than the year before, reminding me, despite my flesh’s will, there comes a spring when I’ll be marked no more.
Yet still I bow and part my graying hair to make way for the dust that makes us all, the mortal touch, the cross traced in the air, the voice that tells me to regard the fall that each of us must know before we rise and raise unwrinkled brows to greet God’s eyes.
Psalm 96 issues an invitation repeated throughout the Old Testament: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” Today’s Christian musicians follow that call into vistas that David could never have foreseen, from Celtic folk to speed metal to reggae.
There are no plumy accents when traveling by coach, just ordinary people going about extraordinary lives. The bus grinds through small, forgotten villages, stops for elderly women with rheumy eyes dragging plaid shopping trolleys, stops for old men under flat woolen caps, hearing aids at odd angles whistling in their hairy ears, stops for weary young mums with impossibly complex prams. We bump by sodden fields of sheep, into market towns no longer proffering produce, only plastic. Yet three times on this journey I have seen standing stones, great, gray plinths alone in fields, reminders of time immemorial, reminders there is more than what appears to be. They watch us hurtle by.
“Our best college students are very good at being critical. In fact being smart, for many, means being critical,” says Wesleyan University president Michael S. Roth. In the last half century an emphasis in education on inquiry has been reduced to exposing error and undermining belief. Not only does this stance not get college graduates very far later in life, “fetishizing disbelief as a sign of intelligence” has diminished our culture. Liberal learning, argues Roth, should have an equal commitment to finding meaning in culture and becoming absorbed in creative and compelling work (New York Times, May 10).