Friday, August 8, 2014

Read now: You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik

You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik
Publisher: Europa Editions
Publication Date: August 30th, 2011
Page Count: 320 
Source/Format: Library book! 
Keywords: student-teacher affairs, ex-pats, heroes

The list of books I need to read in this life time could probably circle the earth at least six times. I'm constantly adding things to my TBR list and it's hard to keep up. But when a friend texts me and says, "you need to read this book. I couldn't put it down," then that book gets a priority position on my list, and so is the story of how this book came into my life. 
William Silver is the teacher every student could want to have. He's young, charismatic, and handsome. He treats his students like adults and exposes them to real world concepts and ideas. He's invited to their parties and called by first name. But being that kind of teacher opens the door to magnetic wanted and unwanted attention. Among those students is Gilad, a disillusioned student who has become numbed to the thrill of moving from country to country with his family. The person to reawaken him is William Silver. Gilad is thrilled by having a teacher like William who trusts him and other students with complex ideas. He's inspired by his control over a room. All he wants is to gain recognition from William. And then there's Marie, a friend of a student of William's who meets him on an alcohol-fueled evening at a party. Marie finds herself swept up his charisma, and tangled up in his life. These three characters narrate as their infatuations turn into obsessions, and realize it's only so long before the perfect pedestals they stand on begin to crack.
All that attention, it's hard to resist. And if you're honest, you acknowledge that before you ever became a teacher you imagined your students' reverence, your ability to seduce, the stories you'd tell, the wisdom you'd impart. You know that teaching is the combination of theater and love, ego and belief. You know that the subject you teach isn't nearly as important as how you use it. 
What you need to know...
I mentioned in my reading habits tag that I have a horrible habit of reading Goodreads review for a book, sometimes before I even start reading. Such was the case with You Deserve Nothing, when a top reviewer posted a link to this article on Jezebel. This novel's most intriguing storyline is the relationship between William Silver and a student at his school, Marie. Much of this novel's praise came from the bold perspective on this taboo relationship. However, the author himself has allegedly found himself in hot water at a previous teaching position for his relationship with a student, and the real 'Marie' says that a lot of Marie's dialogue or anecdotes comes from real things she has told Maksik, and he exploited these things. Basically: the author could potentially be a creep. That being said, You Deserve Nothing still had me riveted and offered me a slew of things to think and reflect on.

What this book forced me to think about...
1) Hero worship: I've read a quote in various forms from many people that essentially says: the best thing you can do to preserve your heroes is to never meet them. Mr. Silver becomes a hero to Gilad. Gilad loves every word out of William's mouth, even the ones he doesn't agree with. William in general is a hero to a lot of his students, and his held on the top tier of teachers. But having such high expectations of someone you get to see every day is a dangerous practice, because eventually they are going to fall down and your view of them cracks. I think every character in this novel experiences this in one way or another.

2) Expectation vs Obligation: When You Deserve Nothing starts to reach that magical moment when everything is humming and threatening to break at any second, Will's students begin to question whether or not he can practice what he preaches. Will argues that he has never been obligated to be anyone's idol or model of perfection, but his students argue otherwise. As a teacher, there shouldn't be any obligation. It comes with the territory of putting yourself in charge. This made me think more about what I am obligated to do or be for other people versus what other people think are expected of me.
She stiffened. "Will," she said. "I will not permit you to use our classrooms to question God's existence, logic, or nature. It is one thing to discuss a character in a work of literature, it is quite another to treat the God of the Old Testament as a fictional character. This is dangerous territory. You have moral responsibility to protect your students, to steer them through works of literature, to help them see clearly. That's it, Will. That's your job. No more."
"Laetitia, I disagree." 
3) Existence. Many of William's teachings are based in philosophy, and his required reading includes a lot of existential theories and essays. William and Gilad also witness something that forces them to evaluate the fragility of human existence in general. It's some deep shit that had me pondering the ins and outs of my existence while also being thoroughly hooked in the story.

I could go on and on about this book, but then I would start to get spoilery and I don't want to ruin this book for anyone. This book was one of the best I've read in recent memory. This book made me think. It challenged my beliefs and ideas, and I was inspired by how well each narrator told their stories. The strikingly beautiful ideas that are discussed, and the borderline poetic way each character looks inside themselves to try and figure things out, kept me hooked on every single page. Plus, it's based in Paris! I especially loved that this book took us into the life of an American living in Paris without relying on big time landmarks to get the vibe in there. There was Parisian youth, riots, morning stops at the cafe, etc. I inhaled this book from cover to cover. Seriously beautiful, guys.

Question of the day: What is the most thought-provoking book you have recently read? 

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