In Plain Engel-ish

The Wonder and the Wound

It was impossible not to be reminded this September of the twentieth anniversary of 9-11, such a dreadful but necessary commemoration. And yet little has been said about a much more obscure but inspiring anniversary this year — the thirtieth anniversary of the “Second Russian Revolution” when Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev triumphed over the old-line communists in August of 1991.  As the author of the most famous novel about the French Revolution, Charles Dickens would no doubt have been fascinated by this revolution too. And I'm convinced that had he seen the pictures of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin...

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Bye and By

I do have a terrific memory for events of my early childhood, but even I can’t remember back to age two when I first started jabbering words and phrases (yes, yes, I know — I have yet to stop since then). How I would love to remember the glee I must have felt when I first mastered that early magical double-word with its own cool gesture: “Bye-bye!” — complete with the accompanying funny, energetic wave.   Those other early double syllables that we all utter — Ma-Ma, Da-Da — might make our parents swoon with pride, but "Bye-Bye" gives us wee ones our...

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My Reflective Glory

I’m no Shakespeare, but lecturing on him at hundreds of school assemblies has given me a deeper appreciation of the audience problem he faced. As you know, he had to please Queen Elizabeth (and later King James), as well as the other noble “cultural elitists” who attended his plays. But he also had to entertain the woefully uneducated Groundlings who stood on the ground (hence their name) directly in front of the proscenium and who, occasionally in their excitement, would even slobber on the stage (hence our noun slob). A sure sign of Shakespeare’s genius is the fact that both Elizabeth and...

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Pudding Dickens In His Proper Place

In the mid-1980’s, a British pub-restaurant was about to open here in Raleigh called “The Dickens Corner.” I had recently started my citywide reading club devoted to You-Know-Who. I had named it the rather religious-sounding “Dickens Disciples” (denomination? Charles, of course) and publicized it so heavily in the area that the owner of the new restaurant called me asking for Dickensian names for some of the items that would soon appear on his menu.     He already had concocted an Oliver Twist Olive Tapenade and a Tiny Tim Turkey Tetrazzini but confessed that his favorite Dickens character was the heroine of A...

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Shakesp-Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Perhaps this month’s 9-11 twentieth anniversary made you also remember those other Defining Moments and recall exactly what you were doing at a time of shocking historical change. For my generation, it was President Kennedy's assassination; for my parents' generation, it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor; for my grandparents it was more the Great Crash of the stock market in 1929.  Does it seem odd that these defining moments, which we remember as personally as we do nationally, are all catastrophic—planes flying into skyscrapers, the assassination of a young president, the sudden sinking of our Pacific naval fleet? Are we ever asked to recall...

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