#Autofiction: The Topeka School
- Author: Ben Lerner (1979)
- Title: The Topeka School
- Published: 2019
- Genre: autofiction
- List of Challenges 2020
- Monthly reading plan
- Reading time: 10 hrs 30 min
- #Obama’s reading list 2019
- Trivia: finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
- I am trying to reading as many books
- as I can on #Obama’s reading list 2019.
- There are a few books I have pre-scanned
- that do not appeal to me…so I’ll skip those.
NOT READ —>“The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: Zuboff
NOT READ —>“We Live in Water: Stories,” J. Walter (White)
NOT READ —>“A Different Way to Win: J. Rooney
NOT READ —>“Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
NOT READ —>“The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America From 1890
- When I saw The Topeka School on Goodreads.com
- …I knew I was in for a challenge.
- There were many negative reviews!
- Score 2 – 1833x (…and counting)
- Score 1 – 602x (…and counting)
- I thought….” fools rush in where angels fear to tread…”
- Wish me luck…..
- The Topeka School is set in the late 1990s in Topeka, Kansas.
- It is a very complex family saga.
- Three intertwined narratives:
- Adam, his parents, Jonathan and Jane and misfit Darren.
- Note: this is fictionalized autobiography
- It is helpful if you know something about Ben Lerner’s life. (Google)
- Characters Jane and Jonathan are modeled on
- …Lerner’s own parents! Harriet and Stephen
- …clinical psychologists at the world-renowned
- …Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas
- Adam is representative of the author, Ben Lerner.
- It takes a very, very profound mind to write a book like this!
- Harriet Lerner (feminist, clinical psychologist)
- is one of the…most important influence on her son’s writing.
- Note: reading this book
- …is physically and mentally exhausting!
- It took me 3 days because
- …I had to pause and digest the intense writing:
- …dreams, stream-consciousness, philosophical issues,
- …feelings of floating about life, dizziness,
- …backstories of several minor characters
- I can understand that some readers
- …are just are overwhelmed by this book.
- That can explain the many 1 and 2 scores.
- Note: if you want to read this book
- ….you must be committed to finish it.
- There are 4 alternating narratives.
- I decided to do something different:
- I read each narrative in its entirety
- …not alternating.
- In this way I tried to keep my
- …focus on one character at a time.
- Shifting POV….would make this book more difficult to finish!
- This is not an easy narrative!
- But…good books are often a challenge.
- 4 sections Adam = 4,5 hrs reading time
- 7 sections Darren = 2,5 hrs
- 2 sections Jonathan = 1,5 hrs
- 2 sections Jane = 2 hrs
- I thought this would be THE most important subplot
- that would bring the others together.
- I was wrong.
- Foil for the main character Adam.
- Inarticulate, compelled to use actual violence (rage)
- Social misfit adopted by Adam and the “cool kids”
- Part mascot, part clown.
- He is treated with cruelty and confused affection.
- This character is a symbolic role (discover in the book)
- …who serves for closure, bookends the story.
Adam: (voice of author)
- Pretentious student – very articulate, increasing his level of “cool”
- prize winning debater – anxiety-ridden,
- …callow, and too clever for his own good.
- Uses his linguistic prowess as a weapon!
- He can destroy (rage) in a debate (the spread) or
- He can seduce with poetry.
- What is the spread?
- Term used in debating to indicate that one
- makes more arguments, give more evidence
- …than the other team
- can respond to within the allotted time.
- difficult to keep track of Adam’s (author’s)
- …bizarre thoughts, revelations
- Core message:
- Feelings and language
- Jane: ( = Harriet Lerner)
- The stupid mistake psychologists make….
- We thought that if we had a language for our feelings
- …we might transcend them.
Strong point: commentary of society
- Ben Lerner gives some analysis of modern society
- ..that hits me with an antiseptic sting.
- He describes men as
- lost boys of privilege
- they are emptied out, mass men without mass
- perpetual boys, Peter Pans
- man-children since America is adolescence without end.
- He describes men as
- lost boys of privilege
- they are overfed; in a word starving
- the vacuum at the heart of privilege
- cannot be filled with stuff…
- the violence will recur periodically, like cicadas.
Strong point: Lerner writes what he knows….the world of debating champion!
- Lerner give the reader a glance behind the curtain
- …before the debate begins
- Debate coach Evanson….insights into
- why US elects Texans who went to Yale (Pres Bush)
- Rhodes Scholars from Arkansas! ( President Clinton)
- “Interrupt your highbrow fluency
- ….with bland sound bites of regional decency.”
- “Serve into the folksy…and then BAM
- I want you all business again,
- back to wunderkind analysis and
- the movements we practiced.”
- …gestures, lean the body into the speech, pace the floor.
- The reader experiences the ‘debate championship’
- from two sides:
- Adam on stage (chapter Adam – The Cipher)
- Parents in the audience (chapter Jane – Paradoxical effects)
- …the blending and blurring of their voices