Category Archives: Uncategorized

Religion in Class? Teach It, Don’t Preach It

Is academe biased against religion? Maybe to a degree, but religious background is essential for understanding most of the literature we teach.

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How Nazis Used Art’s Soft Power

Hitler and Mussolini took the arts seriously and tried to use them to extend their power. They had mixed results.

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A Ninth Century Prayer for Yom Kippur

A 9th century poem honoring Yom Kippur.

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Free Speech on College Campuses

Pew says that millennials are more in favor of policing offensive speech than other groups, which helps explain some of the commotion on college campuses. I seek to understand why and how to use literature to address it.

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The Crushing Pain of a Heart Episode

Giles Corey from “The Crucible” came to mind when I started experiencing what felt like a heart attack. I’ve been admitted to Washington Hospital Center, but they now think it’s something less drastic (!).

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Reasons to Read

Will Schwalbe, author of “Books for Living,” has a great list of reasons to read.

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Gogol Would Understand Trump

I may just have discovered the ultimate literary parallel for Donald Trump: Gogol’s Nozdrev from “Dead Souls.” Reading about Nozdrev helps us understanding our fascination with Trump.

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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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Most Impactful Books for Every Country

For fun, someone has created a map in which the most impactful works of literature are shown for almost every country in the world. Many of the selections are debatable but the map is good for starting conversations.

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Lit, An Antidote to Authoritarianism

Literature’s universalism functions as an antidote to the exclusionary politics of figures like Donald Trump and Marine LePen.

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Freikorps Fantasies and Trump’s Policies

David Brooks of “The New York Times” wonders whether Donald Trump’s policy preferences all come down to a preference for masculine hard over feminine soft. Klaus Theweleit’s study of fascist fantasies in the 1920’s describes such tendencies.

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Not a Reader (and Proud of It)

What do a president’s reading habits say about his/her vision of America? Obama’s celebration of a diverse America is the vision of a voracious reader. Trump’s shallow narrative is the vision of one who doesn’t read.

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Obama Calls Upon Us To Be Wiglaf

Putting the president’s farewell address last night in terms of Beowulf, Obama was calling upon us to be Wiglaf. Wiglaf is Beowulf’s nephew who, after having lived a comfortable life during Beowulf’s reign, realizes that Beowulf can’t solve all his problems. He must step up himself to save the country from the dragon.

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My Next Project: How Lit Changed History

I lay out the parameters of my current book project, “How Literature Changed Western History.”

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For the Final, We Shall Be Tested on Love

Thomas Centolella applies the language of testing to love in this witty and moving poem.

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Good Readers Make Good Presidents

Continuing with the favorite literature of our presidents, here is Eisenhower through Obama.

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Looking Back: Trump & Clinton in Lit

I look back at all the literary comparisons I’ve made for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton over the past year and bring you the list.

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Nobel Laureate Wrote Archetypal Ballads

Among Nobel laureate Bob Dylan’s notable accomplishments is the ability to write archetypal ballads like “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts.”

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A Pure Heart To Speak without Fear

Spiritual Sunday, Anticipating Yom Kippur I have been reading up on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement when Jews gather to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness. Yesterday I came across Avodah: Ancient Poems for Yom Kippur. “Avodah” is the name of the Yom Kippur service. According to editors and translators Michael D. Swartz […]

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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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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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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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The Simple Creed: Man’s Duty to Man

This poem about the Good Samaritan by Australian working class author Henry Lawson depicts the Samaritan as a figure from the outback.

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Envy, the Sin That Blinds

In this week’s poker essay by novelist Rachel Kranz, envy is described as the one deadly sin that gives no pleasure at all.

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Push a Button, Get a Free Short Story

Grenoble, France now has vending machines that dispense free short stories.

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Diana Wynne Jones’s Feminist Fantasy

Diana Wynne Jones’s “Fire and Hemlock” draws on the Tam Lin story to give women a model for heroism that counters the role assigned to them in traditional fairy tales.

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Fantasy Lit Changes How We Behave

A fascinating conference essay on “The Fantasy Reader: An Empirical Sociological Approach” looked at the different ways that fantasy literature can tangibly impact our lives.

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Bernie Is Peter Pan, Hillary Is Wendy

Bernie Sanders is the adventurous Peter Pan, Hillary Clinton is the cautious and pragmatic Wendy. Which candidate you prefer may be related to which character you like better.

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I Will Survive…by Reading Novels

Fiction is a survival tool according to an article in “The Chronicle of Higher Education.”

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Literature and Climate Change

Thoughts about the genre label “cli-fi” and an annotated list of past posts about literature and climate change.

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Lit Is Aristotelian Road to Happiness

Psychologists say that a strong sense of narrative identity can lead to the profound sense of happiness described by Aristotle. Literature helps us make sure we have available to us the best narratives.

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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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