One Book, One Chicago: Augie March

The reason I picked this one should be obvious (from the beginning of Chapter VII):

From here a new course was set–by us, for us: I’m not going to try to unravel all the causes.

When I face back I can recognize myself as of this time in intimate undress, with my own and family traits of hands and feet, greenness and grayness of the eyes and up-springing hair; but at myself fully clothed and at my new social passes I have to look twice. I don’t know how it all at once came to me to talk a lot, tell jokes, kick up, and suddenly have views. When it was time to have them, there was no telling how I picked them from the air.

The city college Simon and I attended wasn’t a seminary in charge of priests who taught Aristotle and casuistry and prepared you for European games and vices and all the things, true or not true, actual or not actual, nevertheless insisted on as true and actual. Considering how much world there was to catch up with–Asurbanipal, Euclid, Alaric, Metternich, Madison, Blackhawk–if you didn’t devote your whole life to it, how were you ever going to do it? And the students were children of immigrants from all parts, coming up from Hell’s Kitchen, Little Sicily, the Black Belt, the mass of Polonia, the Jewish streets of Humboldt Park, put through their course sifters of curriculum, and also bringing wisdom of their own. They filled the factory-length corridors and giant classrooms with every human character and germ, to undergo consolidation and become, the idea was, American. In the mixture there was beauty–a good proportion–and pimple-insolence, and parricide faces, gum-chew innocence, labor fodder and secretarial forces, Danish stability, Dago inspiration, catarrh-hampered mathematical genius; there were waxed-eared shovelers’ children, sex-promising businessmen’s daughters–an immense sampling of a tremendous host, the multitudes of holy writ, begotten by West-moving, factor-shoved parents. Or me, the by-blow of a traveling man.

Normally Simon and I would have gone to work after high school, but jobs weren’t to be had anyway, and the public college was full of students in our condition, because of the unemployment, getting a city-sponsored introduction to higher notions and an accidental break into Shakespeare and other great masters along with the science and math leveled at the Civil-Service exams. In the nature of the case it couldn’t be avoided; and if you were going to prepare impoverished young folks for difficult functions, or if merely you were going to keep them out of trouble by having them read books, there were going to be some remarkable results begotten out of the mass. I knew a skinny, sickly Mexican too poor for socks and spotted and stained all over, body and clothes, who could crack any equation on the board; and also Bohunk wizards at the Greeks, demon-brained physicists, historians bred under pushcarts, and many hard-grain poor boys who were goint to starve and work themselves bitterly eight years or so to become doctors, engineers, scholars, and experts. I had no special eagerness of this kind and never had been led to think I should have, nor gave myself anxious cares about being revealed a profession. I didn’t feel moved to take it seriously. Nevertheless, I turned in a faritly good performance in French and History. In things like Botany, my drawings were cockeyed and smudgy and I was behind the class.

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