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Monday, Mar 4, 2013
A newly available syllabus from a 1994 class taught by David Foster Wallace shows a great willingness to engage with mass-market fiction on a critical level.

Over at the head-dizzying emporium of good things known as Open Culture, Josh Jones recently dug up a marvelous example of syllabussing (aka, the art of creating a class syllabus; spectacular word) from the late David Foster Wallace. From 1993 to 2002, while becoming the nation’s go-to literary wunderkind, Wallace also taught at Illinois State University.


His syllabus for the Fall 1994 intro class “English 102-Literary Analysis: Prose Fiction” eschews the books we’re all used to from college English lit classes (Zora Neale Hurston, Gabriel Garcia Marquez) in favor of an eclectic mix of mass-market fiction, ranging from Stephen King’s Carrie to Jackie Collins’ Rock Star.


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Tuesday, Jan 8, 2013
The Oxford Dictionary of Reference and Allusion is a welcome addition to a dwindling reference book collection.

I was wondering recently if anyone still used actual, physical reference books when Oxford Press sent me the new paperback edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Reference & Allusion. I had no idea there was such a thing, but I love it! I’m always stumbling over some reference, either to some classical book I should have read in high school or some big deal movie character I never heard of. This dictionary totally answers that problem.


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Thursday, May 10, 2012
This kid in my class was only 11, but there was a sort of world-weariness about him. Life was tough. Where the Wild Things Are reminded him of his former innocence, even as it spoke to his inner fierceness.

Though I remember happily leafing through Chicken Soup with Rice as a kid, and I certainly owned my fair share of Where the Wild Things Are editions, my favorite Maurice Sendak memory is ultimately of someone else’s reading experience.


From an author’s perspective, I must have been a pretty easy conquest of a child—a natural bookworm who’d throw herself at anything with pages, an eager student. I was easy to engage. But the amazing thing about Sendak is that he got to the reluctant students, too—the ones who were angry about rules and their moms and the sorry state of the real world. At least, he spoke to one of my students like that.


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Tuesday, Aug 30, 2011
The years spent as a reporter painting the scene in Parisian cafes and on tuna fishing boats in Spain sharpened Ernest Hemingway's ability to carefully, confidently build a story.

Between third class train rides and afternoons at the racetrack, Ernest Hemingway filed “Living on $1,000 a Year in Paris” with an editor at the Toronto Daily Star in 1922. After a stint as a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star—where he was inevitably “forced to write a simple declarative sentence,” he later explained— the young writer was offered a job at the Canadian paper in 1920. Hemingway then took on a correspondent role at their Paris office and moved to France after marrying Elizabeth “Hadley” Richardson.


In less than 600 words, Hemingway tallies in “Living on $1,000 a Year in Paris” the considerable lengths to which he and his wife could go with the Canadian or American dollar in France’s capital city at the time. It’s due to “prices not having advanced in proportion to” the dollar’s “increased value.” Meals are compared to the “best restaurants in America” in his piece, and the lodging is “comfortable.” These are indeed the spare declarative sentiments of a dry newspaper report, and it’s a bit short for what appears to be a meaty collection of nonfiction at Byliner.com, where “Living on $1,000…” was submitted for perusal in early July of this year. Part social network, part digital publisher, Byliner launched in June. It connects readers to writers, but also to other readers, who are free to browse the hub’s digital archives for worthwhile narratives as well as submit links to stories not already collected at the site.


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Thursday, Jun 9, 2011
Classic children's heroines Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm share nearly the same story, but from two different points of view -- and it's those differences that turn out to be most interesting.

I’m on a course of children’s literature lately, and have just finished Kate Douglas Wiggin’s celebrated Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Also New Chronicles of Rebecca, which tells additional stories within the timeframe of the original.


There I am, reading along, enjoying the new insights that emerge when you reread a childhood favourite… when it hits me: this all sounds familiar. Very familiar. To wit:


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