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Socrates envisaged a time when we would forget how to remember.

From Daisy Dunn’s review of Puchner’s The Written World: Socrates envisaged a time when we would forget how to remember. The Iliad, the Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Indian epic Ramayanahad been preserved through an oral tradition that seemed destined to perish through overreliance on papyrus. Akhmatova remembered because she had to but Socrates simply chose to. He is one of many great thinkers to have earned a place in Puchner’s book on…

You come very close to successfully combining argument and explication here…

I recently came across a box of old writing, including a binder where I had saved some undergraduate papers.   When returning a Beowulf paper for a Brit Lit survey, my instructor had stapled a page of hand-written notes that began, “You come very close to successfully combining argument and explication here, much closer than most papers in the class.”   What I’m asking my students to do is not…

Details from the author’s life are not the magic ticket to “correct” interpretations in literature class

Students who are new to college literature classes often value literary biography very highly, expecting that one of their tasks is to spot one-to-one relationships between the literary texts and the personal lives of the authors. For instance, from the two Sylvia Plath poems that use Nazi imagery to describe troubled relationships with paternal figures, they begin their literary interpretation with the assumption that Plath’s real-life father was an SS…

How reading fiction can help improve our mental health

In general, I avoid clicking on any headline with the weasel words “can” or “might.” However, I did enjoy this reflection on the positive impact of literary reading. I’m teaching a compressed online literature course, so that involves re-reading the literary works I assigned, as well as engaging with what my students write about those works. I’m reading ahead to prep for my spring courses, but in addition to the…

The Case Against Reading Everything

Right now, I’m teaching “American Lit 1915-Present” for the last time. It’s the companion course to “American Lit 1800-1915,” which I’ll also never teach again. They are required courses for English majors who need to cover American Lit, but they were also designed to serve as electives. My colleagues and I have trouble covering the depth that we know our English majors need, without overwhelming students who are just looking to sample a bit of AmLit to fulfill a course requirement. So we’ve revamped both these courses, starting next fall. One new course will be “American Lit 1776-Present,” which will obviously cover fewer works than we can fit into 2 terms, but the benefit is we can be confident that any student who’s taken the course will have a clearer understanding of the scope of American literature. Another new course will be “Topics in American Literature,” which will allow us to go into some depth, without needing to cover a little bit of everything. I’m thinking of picking the focus “Literature and Government,” which could include “Rip Van Winkle,” All the King’s Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Invisible Man (Ellison, not H.G. Wells) and Farhenheit 451.

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A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens

Saving this for next term’s “History and Future of the Book” course. Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performance tended to suffer. For example, from our review of research done since 1992, we found that students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length. This appears to be related to the disruptive effect that scrolling…