We are proud to announce the publication of our newest Ploughshares solo, “Found Wanting: A Memoir of Misreading,” by Robert Howard. The Ploughshares Solos series allows us to first publish longer stories and essays in an affordable digital format, then in our annual Ploughshares Solos Omnibus Collection. For more information and some great reading material, check out our previously published Solos. Check in every month from August to May for new reading material!
About “Found Wanting: A Memoir of Misreading”
When Robert Howard is assigned James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in his Catholic high school, his teacher, a Jesuit priest, announces, “Other people may read about it, but you are LIVING it!” Not surprisingly, the young Howard, growing up in 1970s Detroit, feels an intense identification with Joyce’s protagonist, Stephen Dedalus. Although separated by an ocean and almost a century, they share troubled family lives along with a tormented relationship with faith and sexual desire. After re-reading Portrait in middle age, Howard looks at his two very different responses to the novel, and what he noticed and didn’t notice when he was young. “Found Wanting” is part literary memoir, part reappraisal of a literary classic, and part skeptical look at the idea of art as a pathway to personal transformation.
This Solo is available on Kindle for $2.99.
Here’s an excerpt from the Solo:
Even the book’s difficult passages stood as a mute symbol for the intellectual sophistication that I hoped someday would be mine.
Reading Portrait helped me believe that it could be mine someday because it suggested that something like my own life could be the subject of literature, of art. Partly it was the Jesuit connection highlighted by Father Polakowski’s line about “living it.” Partly it was the simple fact that the book is a classic coming-of-age story featuring a Catholic male adolescent. The scenes from Joyce’s book spoke to me personally in a way that previous texts in the class had not. The famous Christmas dinner at the Dedalus home with its explosive conflict over the fall of the Irish politician Parnell became the model for every political argument I had (or wished I had) with my parents and relatives about civil rights, the ’67 Detroit riot, or the Vietnam War. Stephen’s courageous protest against his punishment by Father Dolan at Clongowes (three strikes of the pandy bat on each hand) fed my teen-age dreams of standing up to unjust authority and coming out on top. The sermon on hell by Father Arnall during the retreat at Belvedere College was close enough to all the scary sermons on sin that I heard in grade school to evoke a shiver of recognition, even as my post-Vatican II confidence that those awful days were gone for good made it seem comic. And that alluring question posed to the adolescent Stephen Dedalus by Belvedere’s director of studies—“Have you ever felt within yourself…a desire to join the order?”—reflected my own fascination with the Jesuit mystique, a fascination that Stephen’s decision to reject the director’s implied invitation did absolutely nothing to disrupt.
Most of all, I loved Portrait for its main character—and, in particular, his stubborn sense of being destined for great things, his quest for membership in an elite of the intellect and the imagination. I dared to see myself in Stephen Dedalus, and reading the book was like discovering my own fragile and hesitant wish to become someone special transformed by the idealizing aura of art.
About The Author
Robert Howard is a veteran writer whose work spans the spectrum from journalism to business writing to literary criticism. “Found Wanting” is his first foray in creative nonfiction. Mr. Howard is the author and editor of three books. His reviews and essays have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, the Boston Review, and PsyArts, an online journal for the psychological study of the arts founded by Norman Holland. Born in Detroit, Michigan. Mr. Howard is a summa cum laude graduate of Amherst College and did graduate work in history and sociology at the University of Cambridge and at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France. He has won awards for his writing from Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and the United Steelworkers Press Association. He has also been a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an affiliate scholar at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute. Mr. Howard lives in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. To learn more about his work, visit his personal website, www.roberthoward.com.