Monthly Archives: December 2010

Can Art Perform in the Face of Death?

Film Friday – 2010 in Review One of my favorite holiday films is the comic melodrama Family Stone (2008), the story of a family’s Christmas reunion. Despite their determination to put on a happy front, the family must face up to a number of underlying tensions. Foremost among these is the mother’s terminal cancer, which […]

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Lit and Shared Political Conversations

2010 in Review Politically speaking, 2010 was a loud year for the United States, with many partisan voices in full throttle for much of it. There was also some substance. Here’s a look back. The most cataclysmic event was the January 14 Haitian earthquake, which prompted me to reflect on how literature is always inadequate […]

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Moments of Perfect Being Lie All about Us

2010 in Review The 1981 film science fiction film Escape from New York shows an entire city transformed into a maximum security prison from which no one can leave. Kurt Russell, of course, tries. The 1990 Bill Murray film Quick Change has three bank robbers successfully pulling off a heist in New York and then […]

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Obama, Idealist or Realist?

2010 in Review There was an interesting dust-up last week amongst conservative intellectuals following the release of some more Richard Nixon tapes. Henry Kissinger can be heard making the following cold-blooded remark about Soviet Jews in 1973: “Let’s face it: The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign […]

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So You Screwed Up–No Big Deal

Ten members of the Scott Bates clan have gathered in my parents’ Tennessee house, and two more, along with two beagles (Kipling and Beckett), are on their way. While the Christmas festivities have for the most part been joyous, we have had one moment of friction. Luckily, literature came to our aid. I keep the […]

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Inside These Wrappings, a Brighter Life

Spiritual Sunday Yesterday we had a white Christmas in Sewanee, Tennessee, where I am visiting my parents.  The world was brown when we went to bed and white when we awoke.  The symbolism of Christmas snow lies in the promise of wiping everything clean and starting anew.  Grace appears to enter our fallen world. That’s […]

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A Roc for Christmas (Annual Bird Count)

Sports Saturday I don’t know whether bird watching is officially considered a sport but, what with Christmas falling on a “Sports Saturday,” let’s say it is.  That way I have an excuse for writing about the annual Christmas bird count. Every year, between the middle of December and the first week in January, bird watchers […]

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Our Greatest Christmas Movie

Film Friday It’s Christmas Eve, which gives me an excuse to write about what I consider cinema’s greatest Christmas movie: Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a Wonderful Life is a variation of the archetypal Christmas story, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Both feature extraterrestrial spirits. Scrooge is shown how the world will become […]

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War or Lucasta: Which Is Worthier?

“You are off to blog rather than snuggle with your wife?” asked my wife incredulously as I slipped out of bed trying not to wake her. Which of course brought to mind a poem that I could blog about: To Lucasta, Going to the War By Richard Lovelace Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind, […]

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Harry Potter, Teenage Hero’s Quest

During Christmas week we get to imagine being children again so I’ve decided to write about student responses to Harry Potter.   Members of my British Fantasy Literature class could write essays on any work of fantasy as long as they applied the tools and perspectives we developed in the course. Michelle Steahl and Evan Rowe […]

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Sir Gawain through the Eyes of a Marine

One of the most interesting essays I received in my just completed early British Literature survey came from a young Marine. Jon Gott was fascinated by what he calls Camelot’s “band of brothers.” His essay was about how Gawain handles the tests that he is subjected to in the 14th century romance Sir Gawain and […]

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Steinbeck’s Agony (A Reminder to Chill)

My novelist friend Rachel Kranz recently sent me an article by novelist William Kennedy about John Steinbeck’s self-doubts as a writer. She herself has been wrestling with self-doubts, even though she has a completed manuscript of what I think is a remarkable work, and the article lets her know that she is not alone. It […]

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What Can I Give Him? Give Him My Heart

Spiritual Sunday Snow currently blankets southern Maryland as we enter the final days leading up to Christmas, making this the perfect time to print Christina Rossetti’s gorgeous poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” I love how it begins with hard and cold images and concludes with a simple gift of the heart. Although God is worshipped […]

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Bill Belichick as Professor Moriarty

Sports Saturday The New England Patriots are dominating the National Football League once again, and as an Indianapolis Colts fan I find this development depressing.  Over the past decade the Colts and Patriots have had the game’s fiercest rivalry, and fans of each team routinely root against whichever team is playing the other.  I am […]

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Lives Impacted by Film, Part II

  Film Friday Last Friday I reported that Julia and I were on our way to a dinner with our film group and that we had an assignment: to come up with 3-5 films and explain how they had impacted our lives. The evening was a smashing success, and I recommend the idea to others. […]

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Midwinter Transformation: A Poem

A cold snap has hit the American east coast, including Maryland, and we are experiencing what Christina Rossetti calls “bleak midwinter,” with temperatures moving down into the teens. To cheer myself up, I turn to one of my father’s Christmas poems. My father has been writing these poems annually for years. He sends them out […]

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Ask Jane: Expert Relationship Advice

“My idea of good company,” says Anne Elliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, “is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.” To which her cousin replies, “That is not good company, that is the best.” I feel that I have emerged from the best of company as my Jane Austen […]

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Which Fairy Tale Covers Essay Grading?

‘Tis the season to be grading, fa la la la la, la la la la.   Last week I treated you to my stories about student essays.  Today you get to hear thoughts on the subject from Jason Blake, our correspondent in Slovenia.  Jason here searches for an archetypal narrative that will do justice to […]

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On Obama, Lincoln, and Compromise

Saturday’s New York Times had a column by African American novelist Ishmael Reed attacking those leftists that are excoriating President Obama for his willingness to extend the Bush tax cuts in return for a second stimulus package. What particularly galls Reed is that many of these critics refer to themselves as Obama’s base (as in, […]

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Consolation Prize: Mary, Queen of Heaven,

Spiritual Sunday Today, as a member of my church choir, I participate in our service of Lessons and Carols (an indication that they will let anyone sing, especially if he is a guy). One of our featured songs is a lyric that I teach in my medieval literature survey. “Adam Lay Bound” is a beautifully […]

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What to Make of a Diminished Peyton

Sports Saturday “The question that he frames in all but words,” Robert Frost writes in his “Ovenbird” sonnet, “is what to make of a diminished thing.” This poem has always had a special place in my heart.The ovenbird is not a bird that sings when June is bustin’ out all over.Rather, it is a “mid-summer and […]

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Five Films that Changed My Life

Film Friday I belong to a film group that every six weeks or so assembles to eat snacks and watch a movie, which we then discuss. We generally watch something out of the mainstream—as our host Jim Bershon (he with the big screen) puts it, “If there’s a line around the block, we don’t want […]

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How to Write a “True” Essay about Lit

When I wasn’t teaching class yesterday, I was continuing my marathon essay-grading session. I took a break to write today’s post, however, and used a well-known poem by Langston Hughes to reflect on what I was asking my students to do. In “Theme for English B,” the only black student in a college composition course […]

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Essay Grading and the Great Wall of China

At this time of year, I sometimes wonder why I signed up for this gig. Stacks of ungraded essays are strewn “far and wee” across my study, and only the knowledge that I have completed my student essays in the past assures me that I will make it through this batch. In my hour of […]

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An ABC of Children’s Books

As we enter the holiday season, you can expect a number of posts on children’s books.  I have mentioned several times how one of my father’s great joys when we were growing up was reading us the books he had loved as a child.  We got extra reading around the Christmas season.  Here’s a poem […]

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Fantasy Portals to Other Worlds

I have a special place in my heart for The Magician’s Nephew, chronologically the first of the Narnia series. When I was a child, I was especially fascinated by “the wood between the worlds.” This is a quiet forest in which can be found innumerable pools, each of which is the entrance to a world. […]

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God Calls to Us in the Night

Spiritual Sunday My basketball player who is writing an essay about Henry Vaughan (see my post on him and the poem “Cock Crowing” here) has me thinking about light and dark imagery in the poetry of this 17th century mystical Anglican. Usually Vaughan associates God with light, as in “Cock Crowing” and “The World” (which […]

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Dancing in Jane Austen’s Day

Sports Saturday I realize that social dancing isn’t normally regarded as a competitive sport, but I have a dance story I want to share so I’ll bend the rules of “Sports Saturday.” This one involves an afternoon of dancing where my Jane Austen seminar learned a number of the steps that her heroines engage in. […]

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Burlesque and the American Dream

Film Friday In memory of a friend who died this past March, this past weekend Julia and I went to see Burlesque, the new Christina Aguilera/Cher film. The friend was Maurine Holbert Hogaboom, who in 1934 made her way from a tiny east Texas town to New York by way of burlesque. The Great Depression […]

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The Divine Comedy, Doggerel Version

For a change of pace as we enter the Christmas season, I share here a light, witty, and very smart poem by my father on Dante’s Divine Comedy. The poem grew out of research that he was doing on Guillaume Apollinaire, the French poet who has been his scholarly subject. Don’t worry if you don’t […]

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Mark Twain Made Humor Matter

It is Mark Twain’s unrivaled ability to combine both laughter and enlightenment that makes him continually relevant.

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  • 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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