Monday, June 21, 2010

Nonfiction for a Change

I'm usually engrossed in a novel or two a week during the summer, since fiction is my favorite, but this summer I've veered toward some other options. I had downloaded a copy of Francine Prose's book Anne Frank back in November after attending the NCTE convention in Philly, but I just got around to reading it on my flight home from Turkey when I just couldn't hang in there with Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I had read one of Prose's books on writing, lent to me by a student in my creative writing class a few years ago. This book takes a fresh look at Anne Frank's famous diary from a literary perspective.

In this book, Prose first disabuses readers of the idea of this book as a one-draft stroke of young prodigy. Evidence of revision, among other things, proves that Anne had intended her writing to have a broader audience that "Dear Kitty." The resulting book by Prose offers something for a wide audience as well. She looks at the book, the play, and the movie that resulted, as well as much of the controversy involved in each. For writers, the book reemphasizes the value of revision and of a sense of one's readers. The last part of the book deals with ways for teachers to use the book--at all education levels. This was for me one of the most valuable sections of Prose's work, but I needed to read the preceding chapters to make this last most useful.

I was reminded of a work of fiction I had encountered a few years ago, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, a work of fiction based on the flawed assumption that Peter might have survived and come to American, choosing to pass as a Gentile--even to his own wife--until the diary's publication strikes him mute. I had also read a most clever essay by David Sedaris first in the New Yorker then in one of his books in which he describes the dilemma of looking for a new apartment and deciding that Anne Frank's house was the perfect place for him to live. He manages to balance his pointed humor with very poignant response to the truth of her story.

The Diary of a Young Girl (which, by the way, was not her chosen title) is one of those classic works that not only stands up to rereading after one's school years, but absolutely demands it. (I put The Good Earth, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Once and Future King in that same category.) The book doesn't change over time, but as a reader matures and experiences life, the book takes on a richer, fuller meaning. Prose has certainly enriched that experience for her readers.

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