Updiking the Ante: A disturbingly close reading

Edmund Wilson once wrote, “Doorbell broken–please knock.” How might this sentiment be applied to Cheever’s Neddy Merrill, who finds himself looking through the windows of his own deserted house? Compare Neddy Merrill’s feelings at that moment to the feelings of, for example, a fictional Assistant Professor after a humiliating and unfair performance review by the head of the English Department. Describe the head of the English Department. How pompous do you think he would be? Would he be fat and smell of adult diapers? —Jim StoddardUpdiking the Ante: A disturbingly close reading (Modern Humorist)

A great parody of a set of discussion questions. I was always uncomfortable with discussion prompts that beg the question and narrow the focus of inquiry. In some cases, if you’re introducing a text specifically in order to teach a point that the students will need to know later, discussion questions can save a lot of time. But since I’m more interested in teaching the skill of critical reading than in teaching a set of facts for students to memorize, I’ve shied away from discussion questions. I’m rethinking that decision, since some students who really do feel at sea appreciate getting a little help.

When I was a kid, I once saw a nature show that featured two hatching eggs. A hand came and removed the shell of one of the birds, but the other was left to struggle out of the shell on its own. The bird who fought its own way out of the shell exercised its muscles in the process, and was able to stand on its own and move around much sooner than the bird that got the “benefit” of the shortcut.

Of course, it’s probably fallacious for me to put too much emphasis on the implied analogy, but this really is the image that comes to mind when I think about creating more of the worksheets and study guides that my students got used to in high school.