Monday, July 24, 2006

Is our college students reading?

Ken Wingate hopes not. Because then their minds might be exposed to bad thoughts.

When Wingate, who is on the South Carolina Commission for Higher Education, learned that incoming Clemson University freshmen would be required to read Ann Patchett's "Truth and Beauty" this summer, he did what any good God-fearing conservative would do: He paged through the book looking for the dirty parts. And then he wrote a letter (PDF link) to the president of Clemson University, objecting to the reading requirement on the grounds that

"I think it affects students in a negative way," Wingate said. "It creates an air of sexual discussion that is being forced upon the students. It talks about sexual activities and practices that are over the top in terms of their graphic nature"

Ooohh, "Over the top" sexual practices? What could these be? Mr. Wingate kindly details them in his letter. Such as:

After a brief courtship with a man twice her age, Lucy has sex. “She was twenty-two and thrilled to be relieved of the burden of her virginity.” (p. 8 )

My God . . . the depravity!


”the night before one of my students had read a story about shaving his testicles while talking on the phone to his mother.” (p. 162)

OK, maybe that last bit IS a little over the top.

A year or so ago, I had read an excerpt of Truth and Beauty in Allure magazine, of all places, and found it very moving. It's the story of Patchett's friendship with the difficult and troubled Lucy Grealy; here's a description from Patchett's website:

Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy met in college in 1981, and, after enrolling in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, began a friendship that would be as defining to both of their lives as their work was. In her critically acclaimed and hugely successful memoir, Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer, the years of chemotherapy and radiation, and then the endless reconstructive surgeries. In Truth & Beauty, the story isn't Lucy's life or Ann's life, but the parts of their lives they shared. This is a portrait of unwavering commitment that spans twenty years, from the long, cold winters of the Midwest, to surgical wards, to book parties in New York. Through love, fame, drugs, and despair, this book shows us what it means to be part of two lives that are intertwined.

This is a tender, brutal book about loving a person we cannot save. It is about loyalty, and about being lifted up by the sheer effervescence of someone who knew how to live life to the fullest.

That's what I took away from the excerpt I read. But of course, Ken Wingate only saw a dirty book.

God forbid he should ever get his hands on Othello or Madam Bovary, huh?

Anyway, after reading the Allure excerpt, I meant to buy the book when it came out and read the whole thing. Then I forgot about it. Thanks to Mr. Wingate's little crusade, I've been reminded and I'm going to go buy a copy this weekend.

More here and here, at Crack the Bell.


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