Sunday, September 1, 2013

Looking for Alaska

Spent several hours yesterday and today reading Looking for Alaska, by John Green, a YA author I previously did not know whose name came up a couple of times when I asked students in my junior class who they liked to read. It's a novel set at an Alabama boarding school. The main character/narrator is Miles Halter, a 16-year-old student who transfers into the school from what we are given to understand was an unhappy situation in public school. He quickly becomes part of a small group of friends whose central figure is a beautiful, charismatic, and deeply conflicted girl named Alaska Young. The novel thus far is both realistic, funny, and smooth, and full of the kinds of episodes that feel at first surprising and then, in retrospect, inevitable. Miles is a good kid, trying to navigate a complex environment more or less on dead reckoning. There's a passage I like early on where the world religion teacher, giving his orientation speech on the first day of class, articulates what strikes Miles as being the essential questions:

This year, we’ll be studying three religious traditions: Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism. We’ll tackle three more traditions next year. And in my classes, I will talk most of the time, and you will listen most of the time. Because you may be smart, but I’ve been smart longer. I’m sure some of you do not like lecture classes, but as you have probably noted, I’m not as young as I used to be. I would love to spend my remaining breath chatting with you about the finer points of Islamic history, but our time together is short. I must talk, and you must listen, for we are engaged here in the most important pursuit in history: the search for meaning. What is the nature of being a person? What is the best way to go about being a person? How did we come to be, and what will become of us when we are no longer? In short: What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it? (Kindle Location 541)

 I'll have more to say about this book when I finish it. But for now, I'm liking it a lot.

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