Dr. Seuss and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By Kathleen L. Housley

mr-brown-can-buzzI am reading a biography of the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged in 1945 for his role in the plot to kill Hitler.

Suddenly the door opens and my two-year-old grandson, Alex, bounces in. Seeing the book, he attempts to climb into my lap so I can read to him as well. I put down the biography, pick him up, and select Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, which is in the pile of books beside my chair along with Bonhoeffer’s Ethics and Letters and Papers from Prison, shifting instantly from the lead-weight of Nazism to the whimsy of Dr. Seuss.

Mr. Brown is an imitator extraordinaire of sounds. He can moo so well that a wide-eyed cow with blue horns looks on in stunned amazement. He can make the tick-tock sounds of a clock so convincingly that the clock changes its angle of repose out of respect. He is adept at the buzz of bees who, like the cow, look happily surprised by hearing their own sound emerge from a human mouth. [Read more…]

Auden’s Love of Neighbor

This is my one hundredth post for Good Letters. What a privilege it has been to write for these readers (you readers) all this time. I treasure the stimulating conversations we’ve had through the comments, and the cyber-friendships I’ve made among Good Letters writers and readers.

To mark my one hundredth anniversary, I looked back at what I’d written for my very first post in 2008. (Of course I had no idea until I opened the document; I can’t remember what I’ve written—or read—a month ago, let alone five years ago.) Ah, it was on W.H. Auden.

I was curious: what about Auden had interested me then?

In The New York Review of Books, I’d read a review-essay, “Auden and God,” by Auden’s literary executor, Edward Mendelson. The book under review was Arthur Kirsch’s Auden and Christianity.

Mendelson praised Kirsch’s book but (as often in NYRB essays) scarcely referred to it in his own informative overview of Auden’s religious life. Though I’d long known about Auden’s Christianity, something about Mendelson’s presentation of it so stimulated me that I was zinging as if I’d slogged down four cups of coffee (though I’d had none: doctor’s orders). [Read more…]

Teaching and Seeing

Not yet a month into the semester, my students and I move cautiously around one another like two parties in an arranged marriage, still unsure of what kindnesses or cruelties the other is capable.

They are in remedial English and suspect they are not natural writers; I am a novice instructor and suspect I am not a natural teacher. Secretly we each hope the other will prove us wrong.

I leave my house in the morning two hours before the first class meets. I walk half a mile to the bus depot and wait for my ride to the train station, where I sit for half an hour before spending twenty minutes on the train. When I get off the train I have another twenty-minute walk to our classroom where I arrange the tables, open the blinds, and pick any stray pieces of paper off the floor.

By the time they arrive, I’ve been traveling toward them for a long time. [Read more…]