February 27, 2006

Literary Pursuits

(February 24th was Happy 1 Year Blogger-versary to US!)

The SF Chronicle Book Page had a great little review of Monkey Town by Ronald Kidd. It's a retelling of the 1925 Scopes trial during which the town of Dayton, Tennessee put science teacher John Scopes on trial for teaching evolution in their public school, as seen through the eyes of Frances, the 15-year-old who has a mad crush on him.

Wow. What a stroke of genius it was for Kidd to take on this topic. He claims to have gotten the idea from the son of a woman who lived in Dayton at the time. He took advantage of her memory and recreated a wonderfully imaginative yet historically accurate tale of the town, the time, the craziness of the religious fanatics and the breathless reporters. It evokes a sort of Southern coming-of-age feel that brings to life Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan and the irrepressible and often quoted H.L. Mencken.

It's a great time for the YA set to be reading about this as the debate over evolution continues, since many of them who actually notice there's a debate have no idea what all the fuss is about. The funny thing is, this novel is all about that -- the fuss. The whole thing was thought up as a publicity stunt. But what a great one! The words of the trial are still debated today.

I am always intrigued by the length and breadth of the stories we have in our country, and by the stories that we choose to tell. NPR has a little story spot in their Morning Edition on Fridays, and it's a treat to hear the stories people record for them - really, give them, using the medium of sound to offer the public a piece of their lives. StoryCorps is a national project to instruct and inspire people to record each others' stories in sound, and if you've got a minute, or an hour, sit and listen. The stories always strike such a chord in me -- hearing the voices of the lives of others gets the writing juices flowing. They are multi-ethnic, multicultural, they are stories of the past, of the present, and dreams for the future. They're just little squares in the quilt of the world, told sometimes through tears, or in disjointed conversation... but the story's the thing, people. Some amazing stuff that reminds me of the projects done in the 1960's by college-aged historians trying to make sure the tales of slavery, and the Appalachian and Dust Bowl stories didn't get lost from our history forever.

Another great public venue for books - not YA, but just for hearing excerpts of stories - is Writer's Block, the Bay Area public television podcast space for local writing.


a. fortis said...

I agree--StoryCorps is cool. Also, Monkey Town sounds like a great book - I'll have to look for it! Thanks!!

Kyra said...

Thanks for the note on StoryCorps - sounds intesting. Look forward to hearing some of the stories.

Best, Kyra