Plugging the holes in a spotty education.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Solitary Man

The other day I was standing at the bus stop reading a book. A co-worker came by and asked what I was reading that day. I knew he wasn’t expecting to be impressed since the last time he ventured to ask that question I was reading Dean and Me (A Love Story) by Jerry Lewis.

My co-worker, thinking me that pop culture kind of gal, raised his eyebrows when I held up the cover for his inspection. He’s awestruck, I thought. “Robinson Crusoe,” he said “I read that when I was a sophomore.” I resisted the urge to bean him with the book, both because it was a small paperback and wouldn’t have done much harm and because I had just gotten to the part about the cannibals. I needed to see what happened next.

That’s right. I have a Shame-Faced Admission™ to make: I didn’t read Robinson Crusoe in high school. Hadn’t read it a word of it until now.

So why wasn’t this classic book on the sophomore curriculum at Saint Agnes Academic School?

1) Saint Agnes was a girls’ school and perhaps the sisters thought of this as a boys’ book. I can understand why. There’s all kinds of manly business, like shipwrecks and chopping down trees.

2) Maybe the sisters didn’t like Defoe’s attitude toward Catholics. There are some knocks against Papists and the Inquisition. Not that the Inquisition was held in high esteem by Roman Catholics in Queens in 1978, but we didn’t need some long-dead English Protestant to remind us about it.

Of course, there are reasons Robinson Crusoe, originally published in 1719, should have been on the reading list.

1) No sex. Not even the thought of it passes through Robinson Crusoe’s mind in almost 30 years on the island. Not that I’d have liked to hear details of his fantasy life, but in all his desire for human companionship, he never longs for that particular joy a female could bring to his domestic bliss. You can bet my classmates would have had a heated discussion over that topic.

2) Sophomores could stand to learn about self-sufficiency. Robinson Crusoe has that in spades. He can bring home the bacon (OK, goat) and fry it up in the pan. He can build anything out of anything, or nothing. He’s a sticks-and-stones MacGyver.

As Crusoe whiled away his years on the island I was sure I’d get bored but somehow that never happened. Defoe gets you on Crusoe’s side very quickly. I became fascinated with what he was thinking and doing. There was no way I was going stop reading and leave him alone.

Speaking of Crusoe’s thinking, you couldn’t get more pragmatic. The man was his own cognitive psychologist. Crusoe would make Albert Ellis proud with his accepting the way things are and moving ahead with what needs to be done. No time for whining, or wondering what would have happened if, or blaming his parents, his shipmates or the shoddy workmanship of the boat. Nope. He gets some sleep, sees what he can salvage off the boat and doesn’t dwell on the past.

That might be the only lesson I can take from the book. I have to admit I’m no closer to knowing how to build a fire or locate a sea turtle’s delicious eggs. God helps those who help themselves indeed, but what about those who have been helping themselves to whole roasted chickens at the supermarket? I fear we’re on our own.


Anonymous Ms. Smartyboots said...

I never read Robinson Crusoe either...I also managed to escape reading Jonathan Swift--although that one I'm actually kind of sorry for. I did read Treasure Island, though, and now I'm wondering how they all compare and if I'd be able to keep them straight if I read them now...

Also, *resolves to learn how to use her stove rather than buying bento for dinner every night*

8:58 AM


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