Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chickpeas, H&M sweaters, and mediocrity

-What does one do with partially-soaked chickpeas? I went a bit crazy (like, 30 cents worth of crazy) at the bulk section of Whole Foods, and am trying to decide if this recipe would make going out in 20-degree weather for parsley and mint worthwhile. But I have trouble coming up with recipes that don't end in, '... and then you put it on top of pasta.'

-If this is one of them designer-collaboration extravaganzas, how is it possible that I used to own one of the very same sweaters, or one remarkably similar, from H&M, I think one in Chicago, until the $6-ish garment turned into thrift-store material?

-Why, Philip, why? OK, so beyond the fact that I was not wild about this book, there's the limitation of the autobiography and semi-autobiographical novel that I suppose could be called the A-Student Limitation. (See also.) So often, we get to hear about the life of the student who always felt different from everyone else (up to this point, all can identify with the sentiment) on account of he was simply more brilliant than everyone else, a fact recognized by his performance on exams, and questioned only by ill-intentioned if not bigoted teachers and school administrators. The genre of good-little-boy autobiography is interesting, I guess, insofar as it allows us to see limitations present at various times and places, keeping the excellent from reaching their full potential and all that. But the internal angst of the student who's never so much as seen an A-, whose exam came second only to Sartre, it gets old. But so, too, does the look-how-far-I-fell memoir, of getting kicked out of school, of near-fatal overdoses, and so forth. Just as it does not make people dull that they've excelled in school, failure does not imply a fascinating life story - often just a boring old refusal to hand in homework on time. What would be fun would be an autobiographical novel or, why not, autobiography of mediocrity, of the A-/B+ student.

16 comments:

PG said...

Aside from the pink dress, pretty much everything there has horizontal lines. And the pink dress has the inspired notion of running big fluffy pink things vertically along each hip. I don't think I'll be patronizing this collection.

Cheryl said...

How about this for the chickpeas: http://danatreat.com/2009/12/what-i-make-when-i-dont-want-to-think/?

Cheryl said...

Oh, and this: http://www.thewednesdaychef.com/the_wednesday_chef/2009/03/heather-carluccirodriguezs-chana-punjabi.html. Slightly more work, but worth it.

Sigivald said...

Soak them more and make hummus?

I second the idea of chana, though. Stuff's delicious.

Isabel Archer said...

Eh, I have some weakness for the A student memoir genre -- and had even more weakness in that direction in high school. I liked reading about people like me. And I suspect former annoying A student types form a disproportionate share of the book buying market..

I'm trying to think of good examples of fiction and memoirs about mediocre students. Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt is coming to mind as the best example, though there must be others...

Phoebe said...

PG,

I love horizontal stripes, but it probably comes with the French-grad-student territory. These particular garments, eh.

Cheryl,

These sound good! May have to try one of them soon... Also considering a tagine...

Sigivald,

But what does one do with the inevitable massive amount of leftover tehina, should one buy tehina? Just make more hummus? If I'd liked the last round I made myself, I might, but Hummus Place is just so convenient...

Isabel Archer,

You're right about who reads books, although there are probably more B+ types among readers, proportionately, than successful writers, even just limiting this to literary writers.

Personally, I'm a bit of both - I was a mediocre-to-good student in high school (i.e. what showing up and turning something in got you), until senior year when I realized it was advantageous to care about school, and then stayed with that route from college on. I don't know how to phrase this without it coming out like 'some of my best friends are/were A students,' but... it's true! And the popular myth that poor performance in school - or better yet, dropping out altogether - is evidence that one is an interesting person is idiotic. But - and maybe this is just a function of where I went to high school and that everyone there was smart-as-defined-by-an-SAT-type-test - there were cliques whose very purpose was to be A students, and it wasn't even about an A, but whether one had a 97.64 or a 99.22 in a given semester. If I could read the memoirs of anyone from my class, these wouldn't be my first choice.

PG said...

Fiction about mediocre students: Of Human Bondage; the Harry Potter series. Even fiction about good students does better when it shows them struggling with some subjects, however; e.g. Anne of Green Gables having trouble with geometry.

PG said...

Oh, and I am not opposed to horizontal stripes on others; I think the French sailor look is cute. They're just one of those standard no-nos for people who worry about looking fat.

Phoebe said...

PG,

I think it's a given that all women - and most men past the legal drinking age - worry about looking fat. Speaking for those who wear such stripes, we try not to think about that aspect. (This, minus the hat and the shiny buttons, is how I'd been planning on styling the $5 jeans.)

This has reminded me of what I meant to write before re: the A-/B+ memoir - I think this interests me because I will always have an 'inner' mediocre student, the way it's said that those who were overweight in adolescence have 'inner' fat kids, no matter how slim they may later become and remain.

Andrew Stevens said...

Updike's Rabbit Angstrom novels are a fictional biography of a mediocre student who was a high school basketball star. He never goes to college, but he also doesn't fail out of high school or anything, and eventually enjoys modest success running a car dealership. A more mediocre (and, frankly, unlikable) protagonist is hard to imagine.

There's little question that Updike was heavily influenced by Babbitt (in fact, it's likely that's how Rabbit got his moniker), mentioned by Isabel Archer above, so it's not clear that this is actually a different example.

Phoebe said...

There's mediocre and then there's good-but-not-great - perhaps these need to be looked at separately? The protagonist of L'Education sentimentale is famously mediocre, but mediocrity in literature usually implies semi-failure or everyman-ness, whereas what I'm picturing is more like non-excellence, the student who gets 'very good' not 'best in class' but also not a C (or today's equivalent).

Andrew Stevens said...

That's pretty specific. I'm going to give PG the prize then. Of Human Bondage and the Harry Potter books fit your description to a tee. Philip Carey and Harry Potter are both good students, but hardly the top of their class.

Matt said...

I suspect former annoying A student types form a disproportionate share of the book buying market..

Really? By far the biggest market is for things like cheap romance novels, cheap detective novels, action thrillers, etc. I'd guess that it's mostly "average" people buying those books, and they make up a huge percentage of the book market.

Isabel Archer said...

Harry Potter is an interesting example because, while the protagonist is a mediocre student, it also features a well-developed character who fits the annoying A student archetype (Hermione.) Buffy the Vampire Slayer is similar in this regard. Buffy herself is shown as a mediocre student (despite her improbable acceptance at Northwestern), but sidekick Willow's bookishness is shown as essential to carrying the Scooby Gang's missions. I always appreciated having Hermione and Willow there to empathize with...

Phoebe, what's interesting about your comment is how people's sense of scholastic self-identity gets set young. Despite my annoying A student ways in high school and before, I was closer to good but not great levels of performance in college and law school. That had much to do with the unusual environments I was in. But I still empathize more with the Hermione types when I encounter them in fiction.

PG said...

I have started "Twilight" (having vowed to read it this weekend while under the influence of tequila Friday night), and the heroine seems like a mediocre student in Phoebe's sense of the term, i.e. in advanced placement and doing well academically, but not particularly interested, from what I can tell, in learning because she likes to learn. (Thus very different from the Hermoine type.)

Anonymous said...

Most novels by mediocre writers are, by default, autobiographies of mediocrity, though probably more mediocre than the specific category Phoebe suggests.

--E.H.