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Lie to Me: Fiction in the Post-Truth Era

I’m trying to remember what it was like, a few months ago when I was thinking about picking “fake news” as the topic for a media course, when I was briefly worried I wouldn’t be able to find enough background reading on the issue. I’m no longer worried about that. (I am, however, a lot more worried about fake news.) The problem with our “post-truth” politics is that a large…

Take my feedback if you want to pass.

As my students in a compressed online course start writing a term paper, I ponder the importance of feedback. I can’t force them to read it, but I do intend to give it. Should they choose to ignore it, I simply have to evaluate their work fairly and, if they ask for an explanation, encourage them to go back and read the feedback I’ve already given. From my perspective, I can…

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English Is the Language of Science. That Isn’t Always a Good Thing

English speakers tend to assume that all the important research is published in English. More than half of the non-English papers observed in this study had no English title, abstract or keywords, making them all but invisible to most scientists doing database searches in English. […] This problem is a two-way street Not only does the larger scientific community miss out on research published in non-English languages. But the dominance of…

Emily Dickinson’s Singular Scrap Poetry

There’s never enough time to cover Emily Dickinson in an AmLit survey course. Only ten of her poems were published in her lifetime, all anonymously; publication was, as she put it, as “foreign to my thought, as Firmament to Fin.” Not that she intended her poems to go unread—she often sent them in letters to friends, sometimes with other enclosures: dried flowers, a three-cent stamp, a dead cricket. She also…

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I Never Would Have Guessed I Would Be Able to Complete a Close Reading

I started my American Literature class by assigning students to listen to 40-minute audio lectures that provided context and walked them through the literary texts we were to discuss in class. As the semester drew on, I had students write podcasts to introduce texts to each other, and by the end of term I was asking students to read scholarly articles in which literary scholars aren’t introducing the texts to…

Avoiding Spoilers Gives You a Superficial Appreciation of Art

I very much appreciate that nobody spoiled Star Wars: A New Hope, or Star Trek Beyond. But even after we learn for the first time what happens to Ebeneezer Scrooge, or Bilbo, or Alice, or Jesus, the good stories still retain their cultural power. Stories are much more than plot. [A]rtistic appreciation, which reviewers are tasked with cultivating, should mean more than stoking anticipation for a surprise ending. As reviewer…

This is How Literary Fiction Teaches Us to Be Human

Practicing empathy through drama and poetry and art and games and face-to-face conversations and human acts of all kinds matters. This article covers the specific social benefits that come from reading literary fiction. Film critic Roger Ebert called movies the most powerful empathy machines, but someone with the right knowledge base can say pretty much the same thing about other genres. What we can say about the virtues of movies…