Better Living through Lit, the Book

Rembrandt, An Old Woman Reading


I can announce that I’ve completed the revisions of my current book project (!) and am now awaiting feedback from some trusted sources. I celebrate by sharing the table of contents, which has been through various iterations over the past ten years. Feedback welcome.

And whew!

Better Living through Literature: A 2500-Year-Old Debate
Every art contributes to the greatest art of all, the art of living.
                                                                    —Bertolt Brecht

Table of Contents

Part I – Introduction

Part II – Better Living through Literature in Theory
Prehistory: Storytelling, the Key to Species Domination
Plato: Poetry, a Threat to Justice and Virtue
Aristotle: Poetry, Truer Than History
Horace: Instructing While Delighting
Sir Philip Sidney: Poetry as a Guide to Virtue
Samuel Johnson: Shakespeare as a Faithful Mirror of Manners and Life
Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poetry as a Force for Liberation
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Literature as a Portrayal of Real Conditions
Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung: Literature as a Blueprint to Self-Mastery
Matthew Arnold: Poetry, Civilization’s Savior
W. E. B. Du Bois: Literature’s Hidden Biases
Terry Eagleton: Literature and Classroom Socialization
Bertolt Brecht: Art as a Hammer to Shape Reality
Frantz Fanon: Post-Colonial Literature, a Form of Combat
The Frankfurt School: Literature That Protests One-Dimensional Society
Hans Robert Jauss: Literature That Expands Horizons
Rachel Blau DuPlessis: Literary Endings, Marriage or Death
Allan Bloom, E. D. Hirsch: Literature as Essential Being
Wayne Booth: Literary Works as Best Friends
Martha Nussbaum: Literature, Indispensable Tool for Citizenship
Psychological Studies: Empirical Evidence of Literary Impact

Part III – Better Living through Literature in Practice
How Jane Eyre Has Made the World a Better Place
Jane Austen on Pop Lit: Enjoy but Be Wary
Assessing Literature’s Personal Impact


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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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