Playing Favorites

In the previous post, Jackie Stodnick stated that the most common question she’s asked is how she ended up working on what she works on. I’m rarely asked this question — probably because I work on American literature — and I’m American — and women’s writing — and I’m a woman. I think people presume that my identity perfectly explains my area of expertise — and there may be some…

News Flash! Neuro Lit Crit is IT!

I’m always a little wary when the media declares the next new thing in literary criticism. After all, journalists have delighted in the past in telling us that 1) literature is dead and 2) literary theory is really dead. Most of the major newspapers enjoy regaling their readers with articles that mock the absurdities of contemporary literary criticism — for example, in their annual “Can you believe they crazy things…

Bad Books

Recently The American Book Review released an article titled “Top 40 Bad Books,” in which a host of literary critics were invited to identify “bad books.” Some of the contributors went with the obvious: Bonnie Wheeler (SMU) listed Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code – which seems just a little bit too easy. Marc Bousquet (Santa Clara) listed David Horowitz’s right-wing screed, One Party Classroom, and Liedeke Plate (Radboud Universiteit) Pride…

Bidding for Books

This weekend I had a new experience: bidding on Ebay for an antiquarian book. One of my graduate students informed me that a book by the eighteenth-century author, Susanna Rowson, was for sale on Ebay. I was amazed! True, Rowson is not well known outside of academic circles and, as a result, does not have the cultural cache of her contemporaries Benjamin Franklin, Washington Irving, or others. But, surely an…

What’s in a Name?

Your career choice, place of residence, and spouse, apparently. I recently ran across the phenomenon known as “egotism” or sometimes “implicit egotism,” which is the statistical probability that the letters that form your name will in some way correspond to or predict what career you go into, where you will live, and who you will choose for a spouse or partner. In a thumbnail: People named Dennis or Denise are…

English Majors vs. Park Benches, or Further Adventures in Myth Busting

In continuing the discussion initiated by Laura Kopchick on “myths” surrounding literary studies and writing, I turn my attention to myths about English majors. English majors are, of course, the butt of many jokes in contemporary culture. Q: What’s the difference between an English major and a park bench? A: A park bench can support a family of four. Storyteller Garrison Keillor has made jokes about English majors a staple…

Thanksgiving Poem

This is Thanksgiving Week — and what better than a poem that inspires the deepest gratitude? This is one of my favorite poems and certainly a poem of thanksgiving, but it describes a very simple, quiet, solitary day — a day very unlike the busy, noisy, bustling one that most of us will be having this Thursday. Yet, in the midst of the feast, between football games or puzzles, during…

Libraries: An Argument

Suzanne E. Thorin, dean of libraries at Syracuse University, made the news last week when she declared “Let’s face it: the library, as a place, is dead … Kaput. Finito. And we need to move on to a new concept of what the academic library is.” Thorin made these startling comments at the 2009 Educause Conference, sparking a lively debate amongst the conference participants that has now been taken up…

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.)…

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…