Monthly Archives: July 2017

Our Most Prescient Sci-Fi Writer?

A “New Yorker” article argues that Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Seed” wins out over “1984” and “Handmaid’s Tale” in “the ongoing contest over which dystopian classic is most applicable to our time.”

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The Pearl of Great Price Within

Jesus used the image of a “pearl of great price” to convey his sense of heaven. Hilda Doolittle uses it to convey her own sense of transcendence in a fine poem about shells.

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GOP “Moderates,” the Hollow Men

Despite brave talk from a number of so-called Republican moderates, only Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins stood up to their party in an attempt to save healthcare. Time to read “The Hollow Men” again.

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Even Iago Should Not Be Tortured

Examining an upcoming trial by people who were tortured during the George W. Bush administration, Ariel Dorfman examines the face of Iago and the satisfaction we take at the tortures that await him.

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A Little Bit Chipped Off in Brilliance

D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Hummingbird” works as a kind of trance, out of which we must be jolted lest we be swallowed up.

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Does School Teach Kids to Hate Reading?

An elementary school teacher is accusing traditional teaching assignments of killing kids’ natural love of reading. Is he right?

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Flattering Trump Is Like Wallowing in S***

Donald Trump is surrounding himself with flatterers. Dante has a graphic account of where such people end up in Inferno.

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Let Me Not Love Thee If I Love Thee Not

George Herbert, never afraid to go toe-to-toe with God, grapples with his tormenting faith in “Affliction (1).”

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Jane Eyre on Caring for the Sick

As I support people who are sick and aging, I turn to Jane Eyre as a model of one who considers such activity to be, not a self-sacrifice, but a gift to herself.

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Ferreting Out Trump’s Purloined Letter

Why does Trump seem to get away with his brazen flirtation with Vladimir Putin. Maybe he’s like the nefarious D– in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.”

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A World of Books amid a World of Green

Treat yourself to two delightful poems about books and gardens by the Victorian/Edwardian poet Richard Le Gallienne.

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Mourning Jane Austen’s Early Death

Despite the feminist revolution, many people still Jane Austen, who died 200 years ago, as a shy and retiring writer. In point of fact, she was probably very ambitious and wanted to make a lot of money. If this comes as a shock, check your stereotypes of women.

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Caves of Ice, Prophecies of War

Scientists are detecting faster-than-predicted melting of the Greenland glaciers, which would lead to catastrophic sea level rise. Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” with its caves of ice and prophecies of war, comes to mind.

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Please God, Prepare a Fruitful Place

William Cowper has a lovely poem about the parable of the sower and the seed. Cowper wrestled with crippling depression and was afraid that his heart was too stony to receive God’s grace.

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Trump’s Unseen Playmate Jim

Trump apparently has an imaginary friend Jim who no longer likes Paris. Robert Louis Stevenson has a great poem about an imaginary friend.

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Federer, Unlike Ulysses, a Family Man Hero

Time and again with Roger Federer, thinking he is nearing his end, I have cited Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” He keeps proving me wrong. One reason may be because he has a different relationship with his family than Tennyson’s protagonist has.

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Sustaining Narratives Can Become Traps

In Atwood’s “Life before Man,” a little girl turns to “The Wizard of Oz” to make sense of a chaotic life. Later in life, she learns that she must abandon this narrative that sustained her.

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Is Chick Lit Bad for You?

Some see mass produced fantasies for women, including “chick lit,” as damaging. Some who defend them put down critics who wish such readers would choose better literature. I examine the arguments in today’s post.

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Trapped in the Marriage Plot?

Are even great novels like “Emma,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Jane Eyre,” and “Middlemarch” complicit with patriarchy? Some feminists argue that this is in fact the case.

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Once There Was Light

I turned to Jane Kenyon’s “Having It Out with Melancholy” when a friend’s illness suddenly took a turn for the worse.

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Lit Frees Us from Our Mental Ghettos

In a fine “New Yorker” article, Shakespearean Stephen Greenblatt argues that Shakespeare was incapable to showing anything less than the full humanity of his characters, even the villains. He thereby liberates us from our “mental ghettos.”

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Brecht Explains Castile Shooting

To understand why cops continue to shoot innocent people of color and why juries acquit them, Brecht has the definitive explanation in his play “The Exception and the Rule.”

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Lucille Clifton’s Cancer Poems

In her 1980s cancer poems, Lucille Clifton captures a range of feelings, ranging from confusion to anger to acceptance.

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Dear Trump: America Contains Multitudes

To celebrate July 4, do not listen to Donald Trump, who preaches paranoia and exclusion. Read Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” His America contains multitudes.

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The Meadow-Scented Month July

In this Boris Pasternak poem, July is compared to a unkempt and untidy summer lodger, who enters our house and interrupts our carefully regulated work routine.

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Born with a Knife in the Heart

Israeli poet Haim Gouri reflects upon the story of Abraham and Isaac and concludes that the descendants of people persecuted “are born with a knife in their hearts.”

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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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