Blog #34: A father essay by Michael Rosen, and my Guardian faux pas

Today’s Guardian has a father essay by Michael Rosen. The essay is wonderful, both for the sensitivity and tenderness with which Michael evokes his dead father, and for the way in which Michael celebrates reading and the ways in which reading deepens and enriches our worlds. With Dickensian skill Michael yokes his memories of his father to a reading of Great Expectations, and by the end of the essay the father is as memorable and as timeless as Pip, Miss Havisham or Trabb’s boy.

In Rosen’s telling of his father’s story, we are transported from a lamplit tent in Yorkshire to a grave in dreary, Boston cemetery; and then, in the exhilarating leap of a single sentence, back to the lamplit tent again. Book and life are intertwined in ways both simple and complex. Rosen understands how, “[p]art of the power of stories is the way in which we can see facets of this or that fictional person in the people we know, and scenes from the fictional world have echoes in the events of the real world.” In his essay, Great Expectations performs the same function as Life on the Mississippi does in Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.

Part of Rosen’s skill lies in his silences, in the way in which he leaves us free to hear echoes from our own world. The Boston grave, for instance, is reached by walking past tattoo parlours, car dealerships, and waste depots. The grave itself is marked with the number 666. While much more than Magwitch lurks in the shadows, the essay transcends the darkness with a civilizing light. Through the essay, we enter other minds and other worlds so as to make sense of–and perhaps alter–our own.

And the Guardian faux pas? After reading Rosen’s essay, I was quick to post a comment and, of course, I linked the comment to this site. Within three hours I received forty-four hits, and then, suddenly, the hits stopped coming. When I investigated, I found a moderator had removed my comment because it didn’t abide by community standards. My comment had been judged “obviously commercial and spam-like.” True, yet not true.

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