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My Six Lit Pix

It turns out I am drawn to characters who suffer. Better them than me, I guess.

Ever since you started reading this blog, you’ve been thinking: Mike, tell us, just who are your favorite literary characters? Well, as one of the Little Rascal characters once said, “Isthmus be your lucky day.”

To the list! Go!

Conor Larkin, from Trinity, by Leon Uris. I read this book the summer after I graduated from college, and it is the only 900 page book that I have reread in its entirety. For me, this book was revelation about what it means to be Irish. Larkin is what I never was: big, strong, quiet and heroic. He had the capacity to endure great suffering and deprivation, and to love passionately a love he could never have.

After I read the book, I resolved to name my first son Conor, assuming that identity could be destiny. I ended up being blessed with an Emma and a Kate; still, Conor Larkin did more to inspire me to become a man, a certain kind of man, than anyone I knew in three-dimensional form.

Alyosha Karamazov, from The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Amid a sea of turbulent characters, Alyosha stands alone as a constant, reliable model of unconditional love. If it weren’t for the fact that he is so humble, so gracious that nobody can disappoint him, everyone would disappoint him. He loves God as much as life itself, yet never chides his atheist brother or threatens him with the consequences of unbelief, never scolds his rash, emotionally and physically violent brother Dmitri, but stands by him through all his trials. When a group of boys throws rocks at him, he takes them under his wing and stands with them hand in hand at the novel’s inspiring ending.

As a teacher I consciously try to be Alyosha, though I don’t always succeed. Sure, it creates the impression that I’m unconcerned with deadlines and the other details of infrastructure that keep high school classrooms from collapsing on themselves, but whatev. Alyosha wouldn’t get bothered by judgment when he knows his heart is in the right place.

Inman, from Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. I was living the twentysomething life with my buddies, but one Labor Day weekend, I got so wrapped up in this book that I stayed home by myself instead of going to the beach because I couldn’t leave Inman as he trekked across North Carolina on his nineteenth century Odyssey. Inman had endured insult and two literarily symbolic deaths, and had renounced violence in a violent world on his way home to Ada and the kind of love that Dostoevsky describes as equal parts passion and compassion. If any character ever deserved a happy ending, it was Inman.

And – SPOILER ALERT! – what does Charles Frazier do? He kills him! After a while, I realized why it was necessary (unlike – SPOILER ALERT! – Hemingway’s murder of Catherine Barkley, for which there was absolutely no justification), but that didn’t make it hurt any less. I can still see myself sitting on that couch in our Chickahominy duplex, dumbstruck. I was too selfish to care about actual human beings, but I was crushed by Inman’s death. If that wasn’t bad enough, Hollywood had to add insult to injury by casting Jude Law in the movie. Jude Law! Please, don’t get me started.

Outside the First Triumvirate, the Second Triumvirate:

James Jarvis from Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton. After his son, who lives hundreds of miles away in Johannesburg, is killed by the son of one of James’ neighbors, James goes on his own journey of discovery and forgiveness. By the end of the novel it is James who repays his neighbor by teaching him and his people how to sustainably farm the land, and providing the money to rebuild his church.

Balram Halwai, from The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga. Maybe it’s because we’re reading Grendel now in my AP classes, but my mind can’t help but wander fondly back to the narcissistic, psychopathic protagonist of this story. Balram’s balance of self-pitying victimhood, misguided intelligence and charm makes him exactly the kind of maniac you’d love to be around for your amusement, provided he didn’t kill you.

Amir, from The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. I don’t know how Hosseini does it, but he makes me really uncomfortable while forcing me to keep reading. Amir messed up, big time, when he was younger, and spends his adult life trying to atone for his actions. Through a journey of thousands of miles, a cathartic beating at the hands of the criminal who had initiated the horrible chain of events in the story, and his insistent love for a wounded child, Amir finally finds redemption. Thanks, Debbie Westfal, for the recommendation.

Yeah, there are themes in here, but don’t psychoanalyze me, man. Instead, share your favorites.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Michael Dinan (Editor) February 02, 2012 at 01:12 PM
1. Mac from John Steinbeck's "Cannery Row; 2. Jude Fawley from Thomas Hardy's "Jude the Obscure"; 3. Guido Brunetti from Donna Leon's Venice mystery series; 4. Harry Angstrom from John Updike's "Rabbit, Run"; 5. Huckleberry Finn
Ty Webb February 02, 2012 at 05:24 PM
1) Jughead from "Archie Meets Kiss" He taught me more about eating and napping around hair bands than anyone I know. Except for Carl Spackler. 2) BaZooka Joe. He showed me how to wear a turtleneck properly. 3) Kim Kardasian, from Kardasian Konfidential. Taught me how to me a lady the way Henry Higgins never could.
Mike McAteer February 03, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Michael, you've definitely given me some books to consider; I might be mature enough to appreciate Updike by now, and I'm going to get back on a Steinbeck kick now that Bo McGinniss has me reading East of Eden. Ty, I've always thought that you should be an answer on the US citizenship test - anyone who doesn't know who you are doesn't know what it is to be an American. You do have a pool, right?
Michael Dinan (Editor) February 04, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Have you ever read "Cannery Row"? I'm a big fan of your blog and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it, Mike.
Mike McAteer February 06, 2012 at 07:58 PM
I always feel a little awkward copping to the books I haven't read - some people tend to be surprised that an English teacher of all people hasn't read every book - and Cannery Row is on that very long list. For whatever reason, most of my reading in the last few years has been more global, and except for a flurry of Cormac McCarthy - The Road, No Country for Old Men and Blood Meridian about two years ago - the Americans I've read have been expats like Aleksandr Hemon and Gary Shteyngart. Over school vacation next week, I'll read East of Eden, and Cannery Row might be next on my list. Over the years, I've tried to write my thinking about what I've read, so if you're interested, you can sift through the minutia about my vacations and find the book posts at mcateersblog.blogspot.com, or the abridged version I use with my classes at mcateerswordsblog.blogspot.com.
Sheryl Shaker February 06, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Maybe you should be less ambitious and read novellas. Have you read The Uncommon Reader? Or The Reluctant Fundamentalist?
Dr. Laurel Schwartz February 07, 2012 at 03:48 PM
How about "Wuthering Heights"? That's too great a book to just be a girl thing.
Cathryn J. Prince February 08, 2012 at 10:15 AM
Scout "To Kill a Mockingbird." Ren "The Good Thief" Elijah Yancy "Gloryland" 2nd Lt. Waino Mellas "Matterhorn" Hawk-eye (Natty Bumpo) "The Last of the Mohicans."
Michael Dinan (Editor) February 08, 2012 at 11:56 AM
If Mark Twain saw Huck Finn on the same list as Natty Bumpo http://bit.ly/bQJIou ...
Cathryn J. Prince February 08, 2012 at 04:54 PM
That article is about Deerslayer and not Last of the Mohicans. And even if Twain would argue the same about the latter, I stand by my choice, I loved the novel, even if Twain felt it to be less than perfect.
Mike McAteer February 08, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Seeing Scout is giving me a "Doh!" moment. How could I have forgotten Atticus Finch?!
Mike McAteer February 08, 2012 at 10:43 PM
I'd rather have my choice be both, Sheryl. So after East of Eden, which of those two should I read first? A quick look at what's on Amazon has me thinking The Uncommon Reader, but only for its relative brevity.
Cathryn J. Prince February 08, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Let's just say you were overwhelmed by all the possibilities.:) I think it's hard to narrow down the list. And now that you mention it, I should have put Atticus Finch on my list too.
Michael Dinan (Editor) February 08, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Just realized I only used 5 of my 6 nominations. Atticus Finch is a great choice. But I'm going to go with Francie Brady from Patrick McCabe's "The Butcher Boy" -- the one and only!
Cathryn J. Prince February 08, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Oh me too! I get one more! Okay, I used Scout, so I need someone from another book...I'm going to go with Helen in "The Lotus Eaters' She struggles with the meaning of her profession - war photojournalist during Vietnam. No pat answers in the book.
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Warren Allen Smith August 25, 2013 at 04:50 PM
Don't forget the Holy Bible, one of the funniest books of all! Whales swallow people. One mustn't lust after thy neighbor's ass. A New Yorker author I interviewed told me her dad on Sundays put her on his knee and read aloud with laughter. The Koran has the Sun going around the Earth. Will books save us humans? See my blog: Warren Allen Smith

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