When I was in 10th grade, I decided to write a book report as a book “review.” I wanted to be a writer, and this exercise allowed me to pretend that I was. The Catcher in the Rye had been published in 1951, but I wrote my review in the mid-60s as if the book was a new release and I was writing for the Times Book Review.

Today I rediscovered this piece, written in my curly teenage cursive, chock full of cross-outs and carats, in an old steno notebook. It’s quite astute–if a bit clunky. Hey, I was 15! (Note my many digs at “society.”)

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
(Little, Brown)

This controversial new novel offers a poignant character study of a lost, disturbed, sensitive young man. The novel, which has caused a veritable sensation in the literary world, tells in first person narration of Holden Caulfield’s view of the world he’s living in–an impersonal and seemingly pointless society, one that fails to reach the boy or offer him anything truly meaningful.

Sixteen-year-old Holden tells his story from what the reader gathers to be a sanitarium. His tale is an account of his two-day adventure, from the time he walks out of his prep school and including his encounters in New York with assorted characters, such as taxi drivers, elevator operators, a prostitute, nightclub players, a girlfriend, and small girls on roller skates.

10thgradebookreportWhile Holden tells of wandering wayward through the streets of New York City, the reader learns that he, who has rejected what has been offered him–schooling, money, position–and who seems to take little indeed, is actually starving for meaning in life, a meaning which society seems to have encumbered rather than aided.

The story is told in Holden’s own coarse vernacular, totally frank and uncensored, which produces a story only for the mature reader, but which is totally effective in offering a clear perspective of the boy. Mr. Salinger employs such touching humor that he creates one of those rare works which has the reader laughing out loud and weeping, alternately. With his profound sensitivity but frank perceptiveness, Holden strips the people and things he sees of all pretension. We laugh at the coarse bareness and realism of his viewpoint in spite of ourselves; we find him “hitting close to home” repeatedly.

The novel is laudable from another point of view, aside from its profound characterization. It evinces the sad guilt of our society, a society that can strip a boy of all drive and ambition and replace it with loathing and revulsion toward its hypocrisy. This is the society that distracts and controls to the point where Holden’s only ambition is to be standing on a cliff preventing children from falling over as they play in the proverbial field of rye from a Robert Burns poem. When his sister asks him what he’d really like to be, Holden says, “I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

The novel is not totally pessimistic or without hope, however, and not distorted in its sense of values. One concludes the novel with the impression that though Holden is emotionally disturbed and lost, [he] may not be irretrievably so. The Catcher in the Rye is excellent in all aspects, and worthwhile to the modern reader of fiction. This, J. D. Salinger’s first novel, may well prove to be the first of many fine works by the author.


Over Mother’s Day weekend I painted this rose as a tribute to my mother, who is with me in spirit every day, and to all my favorite moms.


Inspired by a photograph by Joel Meyerowitz, who, over 16 years, took a series of images of the same place and published more than 40 of them in his book, Bay/Sky.



Are two crows meant to be together,
as they wheel across the sky,

Tracing the same loop-de-loop,
up, down, and around—
the leader seeming to beckon,
seeming to say,
Come, come away with me
and we shall married be?

Is this crow the only crow
for that?

Some people say
that everything
happens for a reason.

I say

why invoke the rational
to validate the divine?

I say

that the crow follows
not another crow
but an ancient internal command
to do what crows do.

I say

that geese don’t honk
because they love Jesus
but because they are geese.

Miracle enough.

Please don’t say “between you and I.” It hurts my brain. And it doesn’t make you sound more refined, it only reveals your grammatical ignorance.

Most of us were taught in school that when a pronoun is the object of a preposition, it takes the objective case; me, not I. Okay, maybe you don’t remember objects or cases, so try this:

Think of a simple sentence such as, “He jumped on me.” You would never think to say “He jumped on I,” right?

Now reverse the pronouns in “just between you and I,” and you’ll hear how silly it sounds:

“… just between I and you.”

You wouldn’t say that (I hope).

Bonus point
The same principle applies to a pronoun that is the object of a verb. The confusion arises when there is more than one object, as in: “She was very good to my mother and me.” Some people think they’re using more elevated speech if they say, “She was very good to my mother and I.” Not so.

Again, use the “reversal” technique. You wouldn’t say, “She was very good to I and my mother.” So don’t say “… good to my mother and I.” Just between you and me, it ain’t good grammar.

Questions? Send me an email message at hannahbenoit14 @ gmail.com.

Latest painting

Click to enlarge.

Laptop Device

Girl-ReadingLaptop Device

A book does not require a password
with at least eight characters,
one uppercase letter,
a number and a special character
A book provides its own characters,
usually far more than eight,
and most of them very special.

A book is no diva:
it will not tell you
that it is busy writing scripts
or that a page cannot be found (404 error).
A book does not number its errors, and
it keeps all its pages in one place,
handily bound together,
so none can stray.

A book is not case sensitive,
nor sensitive at all.
You can dog-ear its pages,
write in its margins,
fling it across the room,
neglect it for weeks,
use it as a door stop,
press flowers between its pages,
rest your coffee cup upon it
(leaving a brown ring),
and even then,
its feelings will not be hurt.

If you drop a book,
its screen will not shatter.
Its battery will never die,
and it will not lock you out,
nor get too hot to hold,
except during the sex scenes.

A book will not tell you it is a Read Only file,
denying you permission to write to it.
So feel free to write to it,
preferably a love letter
or a thank you note
for being the perfect laptop device.

August 2014

Found Poetry

I happened upon a tiny (3 1/4″ x 5 1/2″) bird guide from 1906 titled, Land Birds East of the Rockies, from Parrots to Bluebirds, by one Chester A. Reed. It was published by Doubleday and presented in an illustrated cardboard slipcase.

Birds-titmouseThe “216 Illustrations in Color,” also by the author, charmed me. So did the language, which reads like poetry and is somehow flowery and Zen-like at the same time. Mr. Reed’s writing is direct and succint, but laced with diction and turns of phrase that sound quaint to today’s ears (“a trifle of orange on the forehead,” “dashing after insects,” “They are said to be fond of orange juice,” “the ruffians of the family,” and so on.

After reading some of these beautiful descriptions aloud to David, I decided to reformat some of them as verse, altering them with only minor tweaks of punctuation and careful omissions (forgive me, Mr. Reed). Et voila! Found poetry. Here is one:

Tufted Titmouse
Baelophus bicolor.    6 inches

Head crested,
forehead black,

They swing from the ends of twigs
in all manner of positions
and creep about trunks,
peering in crevices of the bark
for insects.

Their eggs are laid
in soft nests
of down and feathers
in hollow stumps.

Their notes
are loud, clear whistles.

Father-son interview

Sometimes it pays to be a pack rat.

Last weekend I started weeding through some of my personal papers as I get my house ready to sell. There is so much stuff that one can easily sink into paralysis, but spring is approaching; I know it’s time to buckle down. Going through every single thing, one at a time, is not easy, but I can’t let anything go without touching it.

Among the mountains of file folders and photographs, recipe clippings and random notes, I came upon some of the kids’ old homework papers. One of my son’s assignments, dated Sept. 10, 1998, was titled “Interview with Robert Lavelle.” The fledgling 8th graders had been asked to interview a parent about his job and how he made use of math in his work. It began:

Mischa: Robert, what’s your job?

Robert: I’m the director of publishing, education and new media for a documentary production company.

Mischa: Do you use mathematics in your job? If so, in what capacity?

Robert: I use math regularly in my job. I use it when doing budgets to decide on the feasibility of a project, to keep track of the expenses, and to project the revenue for my department.

The interview continues, with Mischa asking Bob what math courses he took in school, and whether he wished he’d taken more. Bob says he wishes he had.

Mischa’s final question: What advice would you give to a student today?

Bob’s answer: Think for yourself, be an individual, and remember that struggling for success and trying to enjoy life are not the same thing. Sometimes you have to choose between the two, and when you do, always choose to enjoy life.

The teacher’s comment, in red ink: “Good advice.”

My friend Donna is thinking about starting a gardening design and maintenance business. She should totally do it, because she’s loaded with talent. I’m toying around with logo ideas for her. This one was quick and dirty. Not so bad, though.

It can be scary to take the leap into unknown territory, even when you really, really love something. How to market yourself? How drum up business? I’m hoping I can help her with some of the collateral material so she can focus on doing what she does best–designing and planting gardens.