Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Grammar Lessons"

Michele Morano is an assistant professor of English at DePaul University and the author of essays that have appeared in journals and anthologies that include Best American Essays 2006, the Georgia Review, the Missouri Review, Under the Sun, and The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction.

Her new book, Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain, was published last month.

She applied the "page 69 test" to it and reported the following:
I’ll admit I was skeptical of the Page 69 Test, especially since it takes me to an essay called “On Climbing Peña Ubiña,” which I don’t think of as representative of the collection as a whole. And yet, when I look more carefully at what’s happening on that page, I have to admit that it does contain a lot of the thematic and emotional elements of the rest of the book. The scene is this: during a year when I was living and teaching in Spain, I went on a mountain climbing trip with a university group. The climb was much more difficult – and dangerous – than anyone expected, and it took twice as long as we’d planned. So on our way back down the mountain, we decided to save time by “sledding” on our backs:

Two by two, people line up and take off until everyone has gone except Jose and me. “This will be great,” we reassure each other, waiting until the people below us are clear of our path. I’m trying to summon my courage, to lie down and let gravity take me where it wishes. I want to prove to myself that I’m as brave as I’d like to be, as fearless and secure as I was just three weeks ago. And Jose may be trying to do the same, to let go of what he suspects and I’ll soon learn: that Yolanda’s trip to England is the beginning of the end for them. Like me, Jose may be taking deep breaths and trying to keep the panic at bay, reconciling himself to a future in which he might have only himself to rely on.

We lie down at the same time and shove off. It’s a great ride, although my cloth jacket slows me some, and when I finally reach the bottom, my clothes – right down to the underwear – are soaked through. But I feel exhilarated. We all do. We’re wet but not too cold, and we start talking about the bottles of bourbon back at the lodge and the sidra, hard cider, waiting at the bar in the town below. We hurry through the long, sloping meadows, egging each other on until someone suggests that we try running downhill, leaning back to maintain our center of gravity. What’s the worst that can happen? someone shouts, and now it’s Enrique who cautions us to slow down and be careful.

This scene laces the seductive pleasure of living in Spain with the underlying sorrows that, for me at least, often shade the most memorable travel experiences. So in one sense, I guess it does offer readers a sense of what to expect from the rest of the collection.

I’ve heard that Wayne Booth used to instruct his students to pay attention to what was happening exactly halfway through a piece of literature. When I apply that principle and go to the middle page of my book, I’m happier than when I go to Page 69. Might there be a Middle Page Test?
Learn more about Grammar Lessons at Morano's official website.

Read Morano's entry at the "Writers Read" blog.

--Marshal Zeringue