I have a student, call him Karl, a self-described Marxist. Karl has read the first two volumes of Capital, and, given the clunky translations I’ve seen, that’s no mean feat. Within an hour of meeting him, Karl insisted on telling me that capitalism was doomed because it “fundamentally exploited the masses.”
Our relationship developed through questions, “do you think there might be any middle ground between private enterprise and public good?” (no, he didn’t), and conversations about books. Karl lent me his copy of Che Guevara’s Bolivian diaries. I gave him historian Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes, a magisterial history of the twentieth century.We talked Dostoyevsky. I wanted to know his thoughts about Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov. Karl is not so doctrinaire as to withhold praising a bourgeois author; the Russian master passed muster.
Karl is home now, graduated from the boarding school where I taught him, busily working through the reading list he pestered me for in the final weeks of class. He emailed recently saying he’d report on his progress before heading off to college.
Intellectually precocious, what marks Karl as truly unusual among peers is his habitual reading of books for pleasure. I have reached a point in my career, coinciding with norms of twenty-first century adolescence, where an inveterate reader stands out as obviously as the face-painted Goth I encountered in classrooms back in the…