Monthly Archives: August 2010

Growing Past Gothic Fantasies

Mysteries of Udolpho On Friday I made the claim that zombie movies provide young people with a way to react against the numerous stratagems that our society uses to manipulate them, whether through advertising or celebrity hype or political appeals. What I said about zombie movies could also be applied to Twilight and Harry Potter and other […]

Posted in Austen (Jane) | Comments closed

Yes, Doubters, Lit Packs a Punch

Last week a couple of readers questioned, quite rightly, my sympathetic posting of the following quotation by Polish poet and essayist Zbigniew Herbert: History does not know a single example of art or an artist anywhere ever exerting a direct influence on the world’s destiny – and from this sad truth follows the conclusion that […]

Posted in Herbert (Zbigniew), Kranz (Rachel) | Comments closed

Hear the Words under the Words

  Spiritual Sunday I’m trying not to overreact to the anti-Muslim sentiment blowing through the United States at the moment. I keep telling myself that there is a core decency to Americans and that most are not stampeded into hysterical hatred by demagogic political and religious leaders. Although the United States has not always welcomed […]

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Never Favre from the Madding Crowd

Sports Saturday He’s baaaak!  The fabled quarterback who has played more consecutive games than anyone in the history of football, the prima donna who each offseason plays maddening games with the football world about whether or not he’s retiring, the holder of virtually every scoring record who last year had his best season ever, the […]

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Thru Zombie Flix, Our Kids Fight Back

Night of the Living Dead  Film Friday Many of my students are fans of zombie movies (of all things). The genre has, in fact, taken off in recent years—a sure sign that one can never predict which symbol systems are going to grip our minds from one moment to the next (and why movie making […]

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Barack and Huck, Babo, Hamlet, etc.

I’m fascinated by the way that literature has helped shape and guide different American president, a subject I’ve written about in the past. Thus I was thrilled to stumble across a Barack Obama reading list compiled shortly after his inauguration. I don’t know how I missed it. According to the website The Curious Autodidact (great […]

Posted in Augustine, Bible, Doctorow (E. L.), Hughes (Langston), Jefferson (Thomas), Malcolm X, Melville (Herman), Nietzsche (Friedrich), Twain (Mark), Uris (Leon), Warren (Robert Penn) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Back in the Day, We Parsed Sentences

Time was when grammar was king in the public schools. It didn’t seem to matter whether a student’s writing was interesting but whether it was correct. Then came the “process writing movement” and (in the lower grades) the “creative spelling movement.” The design was to unlock the writing energies that were being stifled by an […]

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Art Has “No Direct Influence” on Destiny

Polish poet, essayist Zbigniew Herbert I was channel surfing last night and saw an old C-Span episode (from 2003, I believe) discussing William Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner. The author was present (he died in 2006), and I was interested in his contention that his book was all but banned by African American Studies programs […]

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Christian Nazis Seeking to Be Cleansed

I learned this past summer how, following the Holocaust, a number of former Nazis were able to embrace Christianity without their churches expecting them to repent. It sounds as though some of these men were able to feel cleansed of their sins without doing much in the way of serious soul searching. The issue raises […]

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Out of Near Death, a Vision of Love

Spiritual Sunday Thanks to all of you who wrote this past week following the twin blows of my uncle’s death and news of the severity of Alan’s latest cancer diagnosis. The discussion in response to Thursday’s post about which goes deeper, self or love, brought to the periphery of my mind a catechism in which […]

Posted in Julian of Norwich | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Where Are the Players of Yesteryear?

Sports Saturday Mais où sont les neiges d’antan? François Villon There’s not much going on in the sports world at the moment. Soccer’s World Cup now seems like a dream, the last major golf tournament has been played (with Tiger magic seemingly on indefinite hold), and football, basketball, hockey, and tennis’s U.S. Open await in […]

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How to Film Austen Heroines Saying Yes

Amanda Root as Anne Elliott  Film Friday One must show a great deal of sensitivity in how one films a Jane Austen heroine accepting a marriage proposal. That’s because the author never shows us the acceptances directly. Although I am generally not a great fan of filmed versions of Jane Austen novels, I have to […]

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Which Is Deeper, Love or Self?

I haven’t talked in a while about my friend Alan, who has experienced cancerous tumors in his neck, eyelid, lungs and brain. In each case they were either removed or radiated, allowing us to go on hoping that all would be well. Alan, after all, has already lived a year and a half longer than […]

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Big Sis, Baby Bro

The relationship between a big sister and her baby brother is special. In fact, it’s archetypal. It doesn’t matter if she is in her 80’s and he is in his 70’s. Somehow he is still “little bro,” and when she can’t protect him the universe seems to have gone horribly wrong. These thoughts came to […]

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A Whale Poem to Lift the Spirits

A Scott Bates whale poem to lift your spirits.

Posted in Bates (Scott) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Moving beyond August Madness

Alexander Pope, taking his cue from the Roman poet Juvenal, knew what a crazy month August could be. In The Dunciad the end of civilization occurs in August, coinciding with the rise of the “dog star” Sirius: Now flam’d the Dog Star’s unpropitious ray, Smote ev’ry brain, and wither’d every bay [poet]; Sick was the […]

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God’s Plenitude: A Nest Full of Stars

Spiritual Sunday Recently I asked Ugandan Farida Bag, a regular reader of this website, whether it was appropriate to wish her a Happy Ramadan, the month-long Islamic observance that started this past week. She sent back the following lovely letter, along with a food poem. Farida’s appreciation of the poem serves as evidence that the […]

Posted in Berry (James) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Stephen Strasburg Is Pitching Hope

Sports Saturday There is nothing like a brilliant rookie pitcher to breathe life back into the game of baseball. Living less than two hours from our nation’s capital, I’m in the midst of the unbridled excitement over the Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg had a bad outing as he came off Injured Reserve this past […]

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Jane Austen’s Emma as Teenpic

Alicia Silverstone in Clueless  Film Friday I’m currently preparing to teach a first year seminar on “Jane Austen and the Challenges Faced by Regency Teenagers.” For years it didn’t strike me forcefully enough that most of Jane Austen’s heroines are either teenagers or recent teenagers. That’s because (1) Austen heroines seem fully adult and (2) […]

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Tom Sawyer’s “Behavioral Disorders”

Educational experts have long been concerned about the large numbers of underachieving boys in our school systems. My wife, once a public school teacher and now a member of our Education Department, provided me with some of the explanations. She notes that, of the three learning styles—aural, visual, and kinesthetic—the first two tend to get […]

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed

American TV, the World’s English

Image from Poltergeist  I am pleased that Jason Blake, who teaches English at the University of Ljubljana, is becoming a regular contributor to this website. As an English speaker living in Slovenia, Jason is particularly sensitive to questions of language. In the following essay he triggers memories for me when he talks about how television, […]

Posted in Mikes (George), Nabokov (Vladimir), Shakespeare (William) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Laura Ingraham Is No Jonathan Swift

Since I wrote about Swiftian satire yesterday, I was interested when a current political satirist was contrasted with Swift in yesterday’s Washington Post. Laura Ingraham has a new book out which purports to be the secret diaries of Bo, the White House dog.  In his review Steven Levingston concludes that, while the book is sometimes […]

Posted in Swift (Jonathan) | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Mothers “Dropping” Babies?!

First, congratulations to Elena Kagan for being the fourth woman chosen to the U. S. Supreme Court. I have written about Kagan’s love for Pride and Prejudice here, as well as the reasons why, given a choice, it’s better to have a Pride and Prejudice lover than a Wuthering Heights lover on the Court (click […]

Posted in Swift (Jonathan) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

The Holiness of Ramadan Fasting

A Ramadan poem by Rumi.

Posted in Rumi | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Absolutely Nothing Beats a Triple

Sports Saturday Last Sunday was a very good day for Colorado Rockies player Carlos Gonzalez. He hit for the cycle (a single, a double, a triple and a home run), a feat that has occurred only 291 times in the history of baseball. Furthermore, the home run was of the walk-off variety, occurring in the […]

Posted in Roth (Philip K.) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Escape from Adulthood

Film Friday In the spirit of the final weeks of summer when Americans are going to the beach and visiting theme parks, I thought I’d turn to a thoroughly enjoyable film where a magical transformation takes place at a carnival. The film is Penny Marshall’s Big (1988), starring Tom Hanks as a 13-year-old (Josh) who […]

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Learning to Live with E-Readers

Gustave Dore, Don Quixote  An e-reader has entered our family. Here’s how it happened. My son Toby is studying for his English Ph.D preliminaries and wanted to spend a month reading 19th century British works in the family Maine cottage. He was accompanied by his girlfriend Candice, who is writing qualifying essays for her dissertation. […]

Posted in Cervantes (Miguel de), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Seductive Balzac in Communist China

Sometimes, it seems, we have to be deprived of literature to learn how powerful it is and how much we need it. Yesterday a colleague wrote about a former Chinese student of hers who, along with other Young Pioneers, discovered a secret treasure trove of books from the west during the dark days of the […]

Posted in Sijie (Dai) | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Lit vs. China’s Cultural Revolution

Sometimes, it seems, we need to take a step out of our own liberal society to remind ourselves just how precious the classics are. During last year’s protests in Iran, I wrote a series of posts (starting with this one) on the potential for literature to be a force for liberation. Barbara Beliveau, a member […]

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Fighting Crime through the Classics

Reader Farida Bag sent me a link to an article from the London Guardian about literature being used to rehabilitate prisoners in Texas. The program, called Changing Lives through Literature (here’s the link to their website) has been racking up impressive results: Of the 597 who have completed the course in Brazoria County, Texas, between 1997 […]

Posted in Dickens (Charles), Hemingway (Ernest) | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

From Spiritual Hunger to Obesity Epidemic

Spiritual Sunday My wife Julia has been telling me about a book that she’s reading, Geneen Roth’s Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. The thesis of the book seems to be that overeating, like other compulsions and obsessions, is a means of escaping a spiritual emptiness. Or to put it another […]

Posted in Kazantzakis (Nikos), Oliver (Mary) | 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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