Monthly Archives: July 2009

My Three Sons and the Mystic Power of 3

  Yesterday I was talking to my wife about our children—who, at 27 and 25, I admit are no longer children.  Being the proud parents that we are, we were noting with wonder how they are identifying their gifts, building upon their strengths, and developing into fully self-actualized human beings.  As we talked, however, we […]

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Father-Daughter Separation Dramas

  My wonderful daughter-in-law Betsy, in response to one of my posts about father-son relationships, began meditating about father-daughter relationships on her own blog. We agreed that, while the dynamics are different, in one way they are similar: daughters like sons must establish separate identities, a process that is difficult and often involves a struggle. […]

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Literature about Health Care Reform

  At present I am one of those liberals in a high state of anxiety about the prospects of Obama’s attempts to bring us universal health care.   I find myself careening through the highs of hope and the lows of fear.  I watch the political proceedings minutely, then turn away discouraged, then read some columnist […]

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On Elves and a Botched Love Letter

Since I’ve been writing a lot about the longing for lost innocence in the past few weeks, I’ll share a couple of personal stories about the subject.  Included are a traumatic creative writing experience that drove me away forever from writing serious poetry again and a very strange moment in my courtship of the woman […]

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On Literary Names and Destinies

Reynold, “Portrait of Sterne”                                   Just as I was born into a literary name, so were Darien and Toby.  Before telling the story, I will follow up on the allusion in my last post to Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy […]

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On Being Named after Christopher Robin

  As I have been writing about fathers and sons in the past few posts, I shift today from my position of father to that of son and to the literary origins of my name.   My father named me after Christopher Robin and recently told me that he envisioned having the kind of relationship with […]

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Father-Son Conflict: The Comic Version

  In yesterday’s post I began giving an account of a car conversation I had with my two sons regarding stories that explore father-son relationships, as well as my desire for a story in which fathers and sons collaborate to handle the world’s challenges.  Darien, my older son, felt that the archetypal conflict as it […]

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Is Father-Son Conflict Inevitable?

I had an interesting conversation with my two sons yesterday as we drove them and my daughter-in-law to the Portland airport, marking the beginning of the end of our summer vacation.  The conversation began with me wondering why there weren’t works of literature that accurately capture the kind of father-son relationship that I feel that […]

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The Greater Meaning of Family Gatherings

  We have just finished up our Maine family reunion at the family cottage, and I’ve been trying to think of literature that deals with reunions.  A book that comes to mind is Wallace Stegner’s fine novel Passing to Safety, which opens and concludes with a reunion in a New England summer home.  Reflecting upon the […]

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Miniver Cheevy, Child of Scorn

Since I’m vacationing in Maine, I’m featuring a Maine poet in today’s post.  My cousin Dan Bates, a lawyer who lives in Gardiner, is a passionate lover of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poetry and has turned me on to him.  (Robinson isn’t the only noteworthy poet from Gardiner: Julia Ward Howe, who wrote “The Battle Hymn […]

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Summer Reading in Maine

This post is coming to you from Maine, where we have arrived for the Bates family reunion that we hold every three years. Before turning to books and the special quality that reading acquires in the context of a summer vacation, however, I hope you will indulge me as I describe the Bates Family Cottage. […]

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Prancing Poetry and a Child’s Imagination

Last week I gave a list of my favorite children’s books when I was young.  My father, who is a poet along with being a French professor, read us poetry as well as fiction (each night, one story or chapter and one poem for each of my three brothers and me), so I thought I’d […]

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Literary Salons with One Who Is Dying

I have written about my close friend and colleague Alan Paskow, whose lungs (although he does not smoke) have been attacked by an aggressive cancer.  One response of the community has been to gather for literary salons every two or three weeks.  Anywhere from 15-20 people attend each one, despite busy schedules.  In attendance are […]

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The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

  I promised to post one of these days on Wind in the Willows, and all this talk of intimations of immortality has put me in mind of two remarkable chapters in that book.  What does Wordsworth mean by our “obstinate questionings of sense and outward things,” of our feelings that we are “moving about […]

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How Lost Innocence Can Breed Monsters

Continuing the theme of lost innocence leads me to a discussion of Stephen King, America’s master of horror. Whether you like him or not, King is the bestselling author in the world because he taps effectively into our collective nightmares. One of these nightmares is over losing touch with our childhood innocence, and there is […]

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Coping with the Loss of Childhood

As I have been writing on dreams of lost innocence and the challenges of growing up, I thought I’d write on one of the great poems on the subject. In “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” Romantic poet William Wordsworth wrestles with his deep sense of loss. (You can read the entire poem […]

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Michael Jackson and Peter Pan

  “I am Peter Pan,” Michael Jackson reportedly once said, and of course he chose to name his ranch Neverland. In this second of my two posts marking Jackson’s death, I thought I would reflect upon why J. M. Barrie’s fictional creation meant so much to him. Peter Pan: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up […]

Posted in Burnett (Francis Hodgson), Carroll (Lewis), Milne (A. A.), Nabokov (Vladimir) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Poetry for Mourning Michael Jackson

I am one of those strange people who has lived much of his life without a television, so I was unaware of the phenomenon of Michael Jackson for much of my life. But my family acquired a television in 1991, and even though Jackson was no longer in his glory years, his music videos still […]

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The Magic World of Children’s Lit

William Kristof, the much traveled Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, wrote recently about the disturbing way that children’s IQ scores often drop over summer vacation. The cause is lack of intellectual stimulation. The problem is more severe with poor than it is with middle class kids. As an antidote, Kristof offered […]

Posted in Berna (Paul), Burnett (Francis Hodgson), Carroll (Lewis), Day-Lewis (Cecil), Doyle (Arthur Conan), Dumas (Alexander), Homer, Kipling (Rudyard), Lewis (C. S.), MacDonald (George), Milne (A. A.), Nesbitt (E.), Orczy (The Baroness Emmuska), Tolkien (J.R.R.), Verne (Jules), White (T.H.) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Applying Kipling’s “If” to Wimbledon

An exhilarating and exhausting week at Wimbledon has come to an end with an exhilarating and exhausting match between Swiss player Roger Federer and American Andy Roddick. Roddick was once my favorite player and Federer is my current favorite so I felt torn as I watched the longest match in grand slam history. It came […]

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Gatsby in Iran: A Dream Betrayed

The Iranian authorities allowed Nafisi to teach “The Great Gatsby” because they regarded it as an expose of American materialism and decadence. And certainly it has that dimension. But Nafisi focused more on how the work explores the betrayal of dreams. Both countries have experience with that betrayal.

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Iranian Women Identifying with Lolita

The kicker in the book title Reading Lolita in Iran is the shock of imagining people risking their freedom to read Nabokov’s scandalous masterpiece about an elderly writer who falls in love with twelve-year-old “nymphet” Dolores Hayes. What would anyone get out of that experience? The surprises keep on coming in Azar Nafisi’s book as […]

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Reviewing Lolita in Tehran

  Yesterday’s mention of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books gave me an excuse to go back and reread that marvelous book. The work embodies the central premise of this website: that literature can come to our aid when we need it most, helping us negotiate even the most difficult of […]

Posted in Austen (Jane), Fitzgerald (Scott F.), James (Henry), Nabokov (Vladimir), One Thousand and One Nights Author | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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