Monthly Archives: January 2013

The American South, Trapped in the Past

The reactionary South is like Emily in Faulkner’s story, clinging to a dead love while the world moves on.

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A Millennial Reads Jane Austen

In this millennial’s reading of Jane Austen, she is somewhere between feminine and feministy.

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Takers vs. Makers in “Things Fall Apart”

Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” has an urgent message for us in today’s political battles.

Posted in Achebe (Chinua) | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sweethearts Now Cleared for Combat

Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam War story about a woman who goes rogue has things to teach us about the recent suspension of the Pentagon ban on women in combat.

Posted in Conrad (Joseph), O'Brien (Tim) | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

First Snowfall, A Moment of Grace

For Mary Oliver, the season’s first snow fall raises existential questions and then answers them in its own way.

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Armstrong, a Knave of the First Rate

John Wilmot would label Lance Armstrong as a “knave of the first rate” for his doping and bullying.

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Wilmot Understands Our Gun Obsession

John Wilmot would understand the obsession of America’s gun extremists.

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No Longer Rolled by the GOP

Like Ellison’s Invisible Man, Obama may have started off naive but he’s wised up.

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Why Roe v. Wade? Read “Cider House”

John Irving shows the horrors that can happen when abortion is not available.

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Obama’s Star, Beowulf’s Sword

Obama’s “star that guides us”–the ideals in “The Declaration of Independence”–are, in “Beowulf,” the sword used to kill Grendel’s Mother.

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Inauguration Poet, Classic Immigrant Story

Richard Blanco’s poem “América” shows that he is well chosen as this year’s inauguration poet.

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Toasting with the Wine of Cana

Richard Wilbur cites the wedding of Cana in his own wedding toast.

Posted in Wilbur (Richard) | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Belichick and Saban: Infernal Machines

Belichick and Saban resemble Jean Cocteau’s “Infernal Machine” and Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit.

Posted in Cocteau (Jean), O'Connor (Flannery) | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Poetry Is Stupid (But Will Save Your Life)

Reading poetry is a life insurance policy for when things go bad, Housman tells us.

Posted in Housman (A. E.) | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Only Comic Satire Can Do NRA Justice

It takes a Joseph Heller or a Jonathan Swift to capture the craziness of the NRA.

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Narrative Drama, Key to Good Teaching

To teach your discipline, turn to compelling narratives.

Posted in Mantel (Hilary) | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

My Heart Leapt Up

A rainbow sighting led to a discussion about how humans often turn to nature for guiding metaphors.

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Jane Austen Has Something for Everyone

No two students respond to Jane Austen the same.

Posted in Austen (Jane) | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Comfort of Axe Biting into Wood

In “Tinkers,” Paul Harding talks about the spiritual meaning of the aches and pains in a cold morning.

Posted in Harding (Paul) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Ravens Say “Nevermore” to Opponents

The Baltimore Ravens may be the only professional team named after a poem. The words fit the team.

Posted in Poe (Edgar Allan) | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reading to Feel Accepted in a Strange Land

Last year, when the book discussion group that I moderate was participating in America’s Big Read program, I was referred to this essay written for the occasion by the Indian-American literary critic Parul Sehgal, an editor at The New York Times Book Review. I particularly like how she describes feeling accepted by books, even though she […]

Posted in Dubois (W E B), Wright (Richard) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Readers Hold the Key to a Book’s Meaning

Increasingly scholars are looking at what books do to us and what we do to books.

Posted in Trollope (Anthony) | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“Vanity Fair” Explains AIG’s Ingratitude

AIG may join a suit against the government for the “onerous terms” of the 2008 bailout, making relevant a Thackeray portrayal of ingratitude.

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Right Wing, Incompetent Hostage Takers?

The GOP holding the debt ceiling hostage could end just as badly as the kidnapping plot in “Ransom of Red Chief.”

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George Knightley as a GOP Moderate

Mr. Knightley chastises Emma because she undermines their class superiority. The GOP establishment is worried about something similar.

Posted in Austen (Jane) | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Uncontrollable Mystery on the Bestial Floor

A Yeats poem about the Magi helps us transition out of Christmas and back into our work lives.

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If They Lose, Irish Can Turn to Poetry

Even if they lose the national championship game, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame have Ireland’s poetic legacy to fall back on.

Posted in Joyce (James), Swift (Jonathan), Yeats (William Butler) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Civil War Was Fueled by Poetry

Scholar Faith Barrett shows how the War between the States was a “poetry fueled war.”

Posted in Howe (Julie Ward), Stowe (Harriet Beecher) | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

For Core Standards, More Lit, Not Less

The Common Core State Standards deemphasize literature. In fact, we need more literature taught.

Posted in Austen (Jane), Lewis (C. S.) | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

The NRA’s Modest Proposal

The NRA’s call for armed guards in every school sounds like Swift’s “Modest Proposal”–only the NRA is serious.

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A Haiku for New Year’s Perspective

Kobayashi Issa’s New Year’s Day haiku provides a healthy perspective.

Posted in Issa (Kobayashi), Milton (John) | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments


  • 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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