Three-ish years ago, the mayor of Chicago decided that all people in Chicago should read books together. So he instituted the One Book One Chicago program, wherein he picks one book for the city to read twice a year. Being a Great Books school, Shimer of course doesn't miss out on this, and we usually do theater activities around the choice of the book.
We don't just do typical shows of the book, though. Last year one of the selections was The Crucible, by Arthur Miller; instead of the play, which was the easy example, we did readings from the court hearings of the House of Un-American Activities Committee, calling forth people who were blacklisted--actors, singers, artists, everyone in between--to testify against communists during the height of the Red Scare. Another selection was Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff--Shimer put on a slideshow based around his work The Painted Word. We try to do things differently--look at the themes in different contexts, connect the literary to the literal.
This semester, though, all the reading is coming straight from the book. It's a work that speaks for itself.
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, is set in Chicago, told through the voice of a young Latina girl growing up in the poorer ethnic neighborhood of the city. The story is written in short, page-long chapters, so several of us will trade off on reading vignettes from the story that follow people and themes throughout the book.
I'm one of the people doing the readings, and I hadn't read the book before, so when I went to the first rehearsal I had no idea of what to expect. But it grips you. The story told is particular, but the feelings expressed in it are universal. The people there are described with the briefest of sentences, but they are always chosen so precisely that you instantly get a deep sense of the character. It's not a happy story. While it's about childhood and growing up, it doesn't sugarcoat memories. Some of the things alluded to made me want to cry.
I think my favorite part is about a girl named Sally. Sally is a young girl, probably not even twelve years old, who wears make-up like Cleopatra and leans on the fence at school and has a father who beats her.
"Sally, do you sometimes wish you didn't have to go home? Do you wish your feet would one day keep walking and take you far away from Mango Street, far away and maybe your feet would stop in front of a house, a nice one with flowers and big windows and steps for you to climb up two by two upstairs to where a room is waiting for you. ...You could close your eyes and you wouldn't have to worry what people said because you never belonged here anyway and nobody could make you sad and nobody would think you're strange because you like to dream and dream. And no one could yell at you if they saw you out in the dark leaning against a car, leaning against somebody without someone thinking you are bad, without somebody saying it is wrong, without the whole world waiting for you to make a mistake when all you wanted, all you wanted, Sally, was to love and to love and to love and to love, and no one could call that crazy."