My Three Book Projects

Hans Holbein the Younger, “Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam Writing”


I hope readers will forgive me if I have appeared slightly out of it this past week. Moving into my mother’s guest house—which meant moving a lot of stuff out and even more stuff in—is consuming all my energies these days. (The house is very small, with unfinished plank walls making up a bedroom, a living room, a tiny kitchen and a tiny study.) I end each day exhausted.

I can report, however, about my  three planned book projects. Driving a 24-foot truck for twelve hours without access to books on disk (my normal driving drug) meant that I had time to reflect upon titles, chapter breakdowns, and even some of the text. Here they are, in order of when I expect to complete them.

Using Literature to Understand Donald Trump

Many have been trying to make sense of Trump’s remarkable takeover of first the Republican Party and then the United States. As regular readers of this blog know well, I believe that literature provides particularly powerful insights into our current political situation. I will comb through all the posts that I have written about our president and the rise of the extreme right and then write the book.

Some of the posts I will simply republish, providing context in short prefaces. Others I can imagine revising, perhaps commenting on how our understanding has evolved. I plan for there to be chapters on Trump, on Trump’s enablers, on Trump’s followers, and on Trump’s opponents.

I would like to complete the project by the end of June. For speed’s sake, I will self-publish the book through Amazon, which will allow me to update it as events unfold. There are different ways to bear political witness, and this is my way.

The Green Knight’s Guide to Grieving: Lessons Learned from a Century that Endured the Black Plague

This is a project that I have long envisioned, and I finally will have the uninterrupted time to write it. As I’ve observed in the past, I find Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to be an extraordinary work, especially in the the pagan fertility god’s interactions with Christian Camelot. The poem is filled with the many different ways that we deny our mortality, and the Green Knight (as I see him) serves as wise life coach. That Gawain doesn’t learn all the Green Knight’s lessons makes the poem all the more real.

Though I have thought long and hard about this project, there’s still a fair amount of historical research that I must undertake. Perhaps I will submit the manuscript to a publisher in mid-autumn.

Unacknowledged Legislators of the World: How Poets Have Changed the Course of History

I’ve written several times about this project, which is the most ambitious of the three. I’ve already composed a long introductory survey of how thinkers throughout the ages have theorized about literary impact. While driving down to Tennessee, however, I decided on the four cases studies thatI will examine in depth.

Shakespeare, who was “not of an age but of all time,” shaped how people saw reality in any number of instances. Rather than choosing a single play, I will relate a series of stories about how Shakespeare changed the grounds upon which people operate..

So did William Wordsworth, who will be my second case study. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre will be my third, given how her novel influenced (at different points of history) unionizing governesses, the suffragette movement, and 1970s feminism. Finally, I will look at how Lucille Clifton has given a number of oppressed groups a voice, including African Americans, women, and abuse victims.

I spent time writing sections of the book in my head as I drove down. Now I just need to find time to begin composing on my laptop.

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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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