Monday, September 12, 2011

Cranky Yankee

Danny has been reading Spirits of '76 by, Eric Sloane. This is not a simple read, for children or adults but well worth the effort. The reading itself isn't terribly difficult, however the ideas presented require, in fact they deserve, more than a quick skimming for major points. As an adult reading Spirits of '76 with a child, I've been pressured to examine my own thoughts regarding the spirits of respect, hard work, frugality, and others.

Spirits of '76 has been a wonderful starting point for conversations I needed to have with Danny that are uncomfortable. I'd rather explain, "where babies come from" than have to explain regarding corporations as individuals, planned obsolescence, government waste, and the limits of wealth. Danny had a difficult time understanding that 100 million dollars isn't that different than 200 million dollars save for it becoming a full time occupation caring for that money. This would be positively radical were Sloane alive, and suggesting that today. In the 70's you could still argue against obscene accumulation of wealth.

I won't lie, Spirits of '76 is written in a moralising tone. Were this book by anyone else, I'd have changed gears, and assigned a different reading. Because Spirits of '76 is by Eric Sloane, I've given the volume the benefit of the doubt, being familiar with his artwork and other books. When Sloane rails against degenerates that don't appreciate the value of hard work, he isn't screaming about his tax dollars being wasted on the dole for the impoverished. I suspect Sloane would rail just as strenuously against investment bankers, millionaire CEO's, and the like. This isn't an easy concept for a child to understand, and I dare say many adults I know would find it equally difficult to wrap their heads around. Spirits of '76 challenges the reader (rather, confronts the reader) to examine their accepted, normalised, "correct thought", by way of the 18th century ideological field.

Spirits of '76 has provided me with an opportunity to introduce Danny to other, "cranky Yankees" as we like to call them. We've started reading Thoreau's, Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, which I had not planned to include in the school curriculum, but felt obligated to do so as it fits so well with the ideas being covered by Sloane. I use "cranky" as a sincere compliment. While I could easily imagine Andy Rooney saying many of these things-in fact, I can almost hear him as I read, muttering, "Well why do you suppose that is?" in some sort of exaggerated outrage, Sloane clearly is not Andy Rooney. Spirits of '76 is not the complaining groans of an old man frustrated that he can no longer find black and red ribbon for his Underwood typewriter. Sloane might have grumbled about the disappearance of typewriter ribbon, but for the sake of the people who manufactured it, the way the words had to be carefully thought through, and typed in the absence of a backspace and delete key. Sloane would appreciate the value of a well-typed, error-free page-Rooney just wants you off of his lawn.

What Spirits of '76 is not, is a volume of flag-waving, thoughtlessly blind patriotism. Rather, Spirits of '76 is a book that affords the reader an experience so very rare of late-understanding the Colonial imagination, and considering the impact two centuries later without promoting an agenda. I dare say, if Sloane had an actual thought-out agenda, or stance it might have been against stupidity. Sloane isn't hitting you over the head until you agree with him-he's hitting you over the head until you stop mindlessly spouting ideas divorced from their meaning. Sloane expects you to think as you read, and if after careful thought you conclude you've arrived at nothing to conclude, well that took some serious consideration as well. Sloane doesn't have all the answers, nor does he require such of his readers. One could never find a publisher willing to take on a book like this today, when thanks to the entertainment "news" media everyone is expected to have an opinion on every imaginable subject lest they be perceived as ignorant, or weak.

Spirits of '76 is well written and beautifully illustrated. Good reading copies are available for around a dollar (I paid .25 cents at the library sale). Indeed, you could spend a dollar on something that would be more enjoyable in the short term such as a stick of candy, but in the spirit of frugality, what you take from Spirits of '76 may be of greater value, and long term enjoyment. I suspect Danny will return to it over the years, approaching the ideas presented with new found maturity, and lived experience. At least that is my hope.

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