Monthly Archives: August 2016

Politically Incorrect Okay for Hemingway?

If Bill Gorton, a positive figure in “The Sun Also Rises,” is politically incorrect, does that mean that Donald Trump is correct in his attacks on PC? Award-winning high school teacher Carl Rosin tackles the issues by contrasting Gorton and Trump.

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Doctors Need Lit To Stay Human

A doctor argues that continuous reading of literature is essential to keep doctors balanced and to help them deal with the problems that come with the profession.

Posted in Dickinson (Emily), Fowler (Jaren Joy), Kazuo Ishiguro, Murakami (Haruki) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How Trump Echoes Marc Antony

A New York Times article argues that Trump is using rhetorical flourishes like those that Marc Antony uses to defeat Brutus in Shakespeare’s play. His key strategy is casting himself as authentic against the inauthenticity of politicians.

Posted in Shakespeare (William) | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

On Forgetting Old Students

Sometimes as teachers we forget students that we impacted greatly. Thomas Hardy’s Jude learns this when he looks up his old teacher Phillotson.

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When Christianity Becomes a Money Cult

A new book, “The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream,” brings to mind Howard Nemerov’s poem “Boom!” The book’s author argues that prosperity theology is not an aberration but was present from the beginning of American Puritanism.

Posted in Defoe (Daniel), Eliot (George), Nemerov (Howard) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Walmart Practices a Tom Sawyer Economy

Walmart relies on American taxpayers to subsidize its work force. This is being called “a Tom Sawyer economy,” an allusion to the fence whitewashing episode.

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Welcome Class of 2020 (and Others)

A letter to incoming college students, with a tip of the hat to Montaigne, Williams Wordsworth, and Lucille Clifton.

Posted in Clifton (Lucille), Montaigne (Michel de), Wordsworth (William) | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Teachers, Don’t Nip Their Buds

In “Songs of Experience,” William Blake worries that authority figures will nip the promise of budding schoolboys. “The Schoolboy” serves as a timely reminder for all teachers.

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Lochte, White Privilege, & the Giving Tree

Alexandra Petri of “The Washington Post” makes brilliant use of “The Giving Tree” as she examines the recent shenanigans of Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, As Petri sees it, Lochte is protected by white privilege and would be facing far different consequences were he a person of color

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Our Stoned Girls and Boys

As America undergoes a major opioid epidemic, it is worth looking back at two Lucille Clifton poems about how drugs were blighting the lives of young black men and women in the early 1990s.

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Kranz & Muriel Spark on Insulting the Aged

Today I share a poker post from my 61-year-old novelist and poker playing friend Rachel Kranz, about the indignities of being called “young lady” while at the poker table. Muriel Spark similarly objects to the indignities heaped upon those who are aging in her novel “Memento Mori.”

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Finding God within Our Hearts

Dinah Morris delivers a touching sermon on the township green in “Adam Bede.”

Posted in Eliot (George) | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Selling Your Child on Idealism

Should parents, knowing what the world is like, encourage their children’s idealism. Maggie Smith takes on this question in an entertaining poem.

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Jon Stewart Resembled Jonathan Swift

Jon Stewart stepped down from “The Daily Show” just over a year ago. At the time, he was our Jonathan Swift and, like Swift, he was not afraid to satirize satire itself when it became too puffed up.

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Is Your City Dying? Bring in Poets

James Fallows of “The Atlantic,” visiting decaying cities that have turned themselves around, discovered that the arts, including literature, have played a key role in the transformations.

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Trump as Melville’s Confidence Man

Why, in the words of Nicholas Kristof, do we think of Hillary as “a slippery, compulsive liar” and Donald Trump as “a gutsy truth-teller.” Herman Melville gives us a compelling explanation in “The Confidence Man.”

Posted in Melville (Herman) | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

On Walls: A Letter to the Incoming Class

Talk about walls and keep people out of America is beginning to seep down to high schools and colleges. It is therefore important that students understand how walls operate. Daniel Defoe and Lucille Clifton has some useful insights into how walls both make us safe and entrap us.

Posted in Clifton (Lucille), Defoe (Daniel) | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wander Slowly through the Forest

In this nature poem Mary Oliver tells us to open ourselves to “God or the gods,” to listen for “the words that will never leave God’s mouth,” to linger in the wind and the rain and to wander slowly through forests,

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U.S. Police, Tear Down These Walls

the Justice Department has just reprimanded the Baltimore for the metaphoric walls it has set up between its police department and its African American citizens. Gloria Naylor in “The Women of Brewster Place” writes about a literal wall, as well as dreams of tearing it down.

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Novels with Waterfalls and Secret Caves

When I was growing up, the adventure books that I read influenced how I regarded and interacted with nature.

Posted in Perkins (Lucy Fitch), Tolkien (J.R.R.), Wordsworth (William) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trollope & Trump’s Congressional Enablers

By continuing their support for Donald Trump, GOP leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are choosing their party and their careers over country. In doing so, they resemble Anthony Trollope’s Sir Timothy Beeswax, Conservative leader in the Palliser novels..

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On Trump’s Cheap Nuclear Bomb Talk

With Donald Trump talking so casually about the use of nuclear bombs, it is important to remind ourselves how horrific they are. This power Carolyn Forché poem opens our eyes.

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Literature as a Public Event

In my Theories of the Reader senior seminar, I will have my students study a literary work that became a public event. In today’s post I list a number of possibilities.

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Powerful Stories Change Lives

The Bible is powerful in large part because of its gripping stories. Sir Philip in his “Defense of Poesy” uses the story of King David and the Prophet Nathan to argue for “poetical invention.” There is a truth that goes deeper than factual truth.

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Palestinian Poet Compared to Hitler

Israel’s rightwing defense minister recently compared Palestine’s national poet to Hitler. A close look at a poem by Mahoud Darwish helps us understand why.

Posted in Darwish (Mahmoud) | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

And on Her Stomach Was a Scar!

When my wife shows me her scars yesterday from a successful gall bladder operation, I was wafted by to one of my favorite childhood stories: Ludwig Bemelmans’s “Madeline.”

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Is Trump Running a Red Queen Race?

Turning to Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” political scientist Jonathan Bernstein says that Donald Trump is in a “Red Queen Race,” forced to be ever more outrageous just to keep the spotlight on himself.

Posted in Carroll (Lewis) | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Butler’s 1998 Sci-Fi Novel Predicted Trump

Black sci-fi author Octavia Butler predicted Donald Trump through her depiction of a rightwing demagogue in her 1998 novel “Parable of the Talents.” Her figure even promises to “make America great again.”

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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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