Sunday, July 4, 2021

"Best Class You Never Had"

Jim Cullen is the author of numerous books, including The American Dream and Those Were the Days: Why All in the Family Still Matters. He has taught at Harvard, Brown, and Sarah Lawrence College, and is a member of the faculty of the newly established Greenwich Country Day High School in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Cullen applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Best Class You Never Had, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book captures a fairly typical moment. Best Class You Never Had is a genre hybrid -- a history of the United States told in the form of classroom dialogue, and embedded in a storyline about a veteran teacher finishing the last of his 40 years at Seneca Falls High School -- the high school is fictive, but of course Seneca Falls (site of the famed women's suffrage conference) is not. Seneca Falls is also the inspiration for the movie It's a Wonderful Life, and the story is sprinkled with Easter Eggs that refer to it.

From page 69:
Adams recorded the scene of his night with Franklin in the autobiography he began writing after his forced retirement from politics following his failed bid for re-election in 1800. I see him at his estate, Peacefield, in Quincy, Massachusetts, an old man remembering himself as a younger one, with Franklin, who had been dead for ten years, alive and likeable. I imagine him chuckling at Franklin, and himself, as he remembers sharing that bed. I’m thinking that the memory of that night brings him pleasure and maybe even comfort in the long twilight of his life. Writing it down gives him something to do.

You two have a bus to catch. Now go savor the company of each other.

Sadie: Thanks, Mr. L.

Emily: Yeah, thanks.

Thanks, Mr. Adams. Thanks, Mr. Franklin. See you tomorrow.
In this passage, two students who are about to catch a school bus home check in on their teacher, Kevin Lee, to ask about an off-hand reference he made earlier to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin sleeping together, which in fact they did on the night of September 9, 1776, when they were delegated with negotiating a deal with the British government to end the Revolution -- they rejected a deal -- and shared a bed at an inn in New Jersey. In this passage, Mr. Lee imagines John Adams remembering that moment, based on his diaries. Adams came to resent Franklin, who maneuvered to have him sent home when the two were serving in diplomatic roles in Paris during the Revolution, but on that night he was amused by Franklin's theory that the best way to avoid a cold was to keep the bedroom window open, not closed.
Visit Jim Cullen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue