Who Would Have Thought It?

Who Would Have Thought It?, indeed. María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s novel was published (anonymously) in 1872 to dismissive notices from the few reviewers who bothered to discuss it. In 2009, it has just been reissued as a Penguin Classic. The novel’s first reviewers, quoted in the Penguin introduction by Amelia María de la Luz Montes, opined that Who Would Have Thought It? “does not ask the most implicit belief…

2009 Book Awards Roundup

‘Tis the season for book awards. Below is a list of the major awards, mostly for literatures in English. Where winners have been announced, I’ve included them, but the lists of award finalists are great places to find new avenues for reading. • American Booksellers Association: Indies Choice Book Awards • Caldecott Medal 2009 Winner: The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes (Houghton Mifflin Co.)…

Halloween

My favorite Halloween poem by one of my favorite poets: All Saints Eve – Bruce Bond Here where the last of October tears at the tiny hinges of its great machine, where all the ten thousand TV’s stare dazed as clear stones, lit with some bad dream or other, some gang hit or dilapidated condo, the fatal rubble of a ground floor, we dress up our children like the dead,…

Words we use thinking we know what they mean when in fact they mean something quite different

Apologies for the long title, which is almost a post in itself. I wish there were a word (and there probably is) for the linguistic category I want to discuss: those words that we use thinking we know what they mean only to find out, sometimes after many years and multiple degrees, that they mean something quite different. I am not referring here to malapropisms: comedic confusion of one, generally…

Whither the Nobel Prize in Literature?

Last week, the German-speaking, Romanian-born novelist Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I had never heard of Herta Müller, which is not very surprising. If all the great world writers I’ve never heard of were laid end to end, they would reach from here to Romania. But come to find that nobody I talked to that day had heard of Herta Müller, including our Europhile ENGL 3362 “History…

Your Brain On Literature

Last week the New York Times reported a recent study on brain function published in the journal Psychological Science. This study, conducted by Travis Proulx from the University of California, Santa Barbara and Steven J. Heine from University of British Columbia, sought to examine how the brain responds to unusual, surprising, or disturbing experiences – the kind of experiences that would provoke sensations of shock, fear, or unease. According to…

The New Fabulists

Does even the idea of reading one of those contemporary, New Yorker-ish short stories about yet another middle-aged couple with a wounded relationship make your eyes close and your snoring begin? Well what if a UFO suddenly landed in the pristinely-landscaped front yard of that middle-aged couple’s suburban New Jersey house? Or if a ghost suddenly turned up and impregnated the mild-mannered wife while the husband, unaware, kept right on…

Knick Knack Know How

Recently I have been spending a lot of time listening to nursery rhymes. It’s been at least three decades since I last paid attention to most of these songs, and I certainly didn’t notice the first time around how very odd many of them are. Take “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring,” for instance: It’s raining; it’s pouring. The old man is snoring. He went to bed and he bumped his head,…

Literary Triskaidekadecennary: Wallace Stevens

American poet Wallace Stevens was born on 2 October 1879, which makes today his triskaidekadecennary. (Before you reach for your dictionary, I just made that word up. As a triskaidekaphile, I think there should be a lot more words for multiples of thirteen.) Because he was born 130 years ago, not 65 years ago, Stevens never held an academic job in creative writing. While writing the most distinguished poetry of…