August is, despite its brightness, the 3 am of the year. Most everyone is in some kind of sleep, occupational sleep, summer sleep, cultural sleep. I'm teaching a summer class on the short story to high school students, but mostly they just want to talk about Stephanie Meyer's Twilight books. They no longer want to talk about Harry Potter, although they're all experts and scholars on the subject--they're like old academics who could, if forced to, lecture for months about deconstruction or structuralism, but have moved on. No, they want to talk about Twilight, and do so with a weird gleam in their eyes and giddy catches in their voices.
Meanwhile I place these short stories before them, and they turn out to have read many of them before, though when asked about them, they get key details wrong, or switched around. It doesn't bother them. Bartelby the Scrivener is suddenly down for whatever, and Sonny in Sonny's Blues is now a guitar player who meets the devil at the crossroads.
But if a student gets a detail of Twilight wrong, or even right, an enormous quarrel begins and won't end until someone is sullen.
Me, I hate a vampire story. And I'm tired of superhero movies.
"And I confess I find it hard/ speaking to people/ who are fond of outer space," wrote the poet Stephen Dunn in "Turning Forty."
But who am I to complain. In high school I read mostly Stephen King and Ayn Rand because nobody was around to suggest anything different, and my own taste was too slow in developing to warn me away.
Where does that turn happen, away from crap to works of real value?