Category Archives: Reading


20 Funny: The August Version (Part 1)

George Carlin (HBO photo by Paul Schiraldi on New York Times site. Click to get to source page.)

1-3. “Regardless of what other people say, my tendency to overreact and lose all perspective makes me a theatrically interesting person”; “Because I unfairly demand too much of myself, today I will allow myself to act in distinctly untrustworthy and irresponsible ways”; “I take pride in the fact that my personal power comes from my innate sense of insecurity.”

–Ann Thornhill and Sarah Wells, from Tod…


My Husband on Emma Stone’s Bed in ‘Spider-Man’

Let me clarify that: my husband’s book–Poetry, An Introduction (fifth edition), published by Bedford/St. Martins–appears briefly but decidedly  in the scene where Spider-Man first shows up at her bedroom window. As the good high school student Stone plays, she has a couple of books displayed prominently on the bedspread and TA-DA! Michael’s is one of them.

I was delighted by the prospect of seeing this shot the moment a friend from marketing told us about it; I dragged us both to an early show. …


Top 20 Smart & Witty Lines for July 2012

1. “I have never allowed my schooling to interfere with my education.” Mark Twain

2. “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  Mark Twain

3. “I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.” Gilda Radner

4. . “Why are they called illegal immigrants? They’re undocumented workers. If someone broke into my house and vacuumed my rug, I might be puzzled. But mad?” Wanda Sykes

5. “Laughter rises out of tragedy, when you need it the most, and rewards you for …


MacFarlane’s ‘Ted,’ Waugh’s ‘Sebastian,’ and Betjeman’s ‘Archie’




Grown men with teddy bears? A new movie with Mark Wahlberg? The 1981 Granada series with Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons? A heartbreaking poem about a teddy bear– mentioning Adler, Jung and Freud in its final stanza?

Okay, so my first thought, when faced with grown men and furry toys, is of the terribly well-groomed Aloysuis belonging to Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited.”

Then I think immediately of Archie, a.k.a. Archibald Ormsby-Gore, the strict Baptist teddy bea…


When Did People Stop Whistling?

Remember Harris Mackim from Catcher in the Rye? You probably don’t remember his name. I didn’t either and I spent years of my adolescence reading and re-reading Salinger.

But if you read the book even once, you probably remember Mackim as ”very intelligent and all, but … one of the biggest bores I ever met. He had one of these very raspy voices, and he never stopped talking, practically. He never stopped talking, and what was awful was, he never said anything you wanted to hear in the first pla…


Reading, Writing, and Envy

(Photo by NeoGaboX via Flickr/CC)

I owe a great deal to envy. The first piece I ever sent out for publication I wrote only because a girl I went to college with had two poems printed in a small literary journal that I happened to come across in a tiny bookstore on St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan’s East Village.

There I was, flipping through these thin pages after cranking out another paper for graduate school, and there was her name in print. It tripped some internal alarm signal, her name in prin…


Commenting, Moderation, and Provocation

Not everyone writes to provoke, but provocative writing is common in the blogosphere, including the segment of blogging for traditional news and opinion outlets. Editors’ goals for bloggers resemble their aims for columnists. Generally they want to hire someone whose edginess is both deniable and claimable—not one of our reporters, but one of our loosely affiliated thinkers.

That dynamic tension is mirrored in commenting policy.  Most provocative bloggers push buttons and boundaries in order to…


Summer Reading 2012

Grades are in; graduation photographs are posted on Facebook. Amanda Tinder Smith, erstwhile graduate candidate, is now Amanda Tinder Smith, Ph.D.–and will be starting work as a faculty member at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in the fall. Sam Ferrigno, B.A., has an internship at Yale University Press, where he’ll get to know Niamh Cunningham, who not only works at YUP but has completed the first year of her M.A. program in English at Yale. Next fall Lisa D is starting her M.F.A. at Colu…


Celebration of Life, Loss of Innocence, and ‘Out of Africa’

In my upper-division literature classes, we always end up talking about those astonishing moments when characters understand that their fates are indeed in their own hands, and we also end up spending lots of time discussing those equally shattering moments when characters lose their innocence. Sometimes these moments coincide in a narrative–or in a life. Often they do not.

Greta Scheibel, who graduated from UConn a few years ago, joined the Peace Corps, and is now Executive Director of United P…


12 Things Tenure-Track Faculty Can Learn From ‘The Hunger Games’

"During my comprehensives, they barely touched on Trollope. You're screwed, Katniss." (Still from official "Hunger Games" movie site. Click on the pic to get there.)

I saw The Hunger Games and hated it. The film version of The Hunger Games was more sentimental than Titanic, more misleadingly tough-chick than Pretty Woman, and less well-written than Happy Feet.

But I do believe that there are lessons to be learned from the movie, important ones, and ones, most crucially, that will make the cinema…


A Dartmouth ’79 Discusses That ‘Rolling Stone’ Article About Hazing

When I wrote my book about what it was like to be a student at Dartmouth—Babes in Boyland: A Personal History of Coeducation in the Ivy League—I wrote it from the perspective of someone who was an outsider: as a working class, Italian-French-Canadian kid whose parents had not graduated from high school and who had no idea what she was getting herself into when she signed up to start college in Hanover, NH. Recently out in paperback, Babes has done pretty well for a woman’s memoir, received surpr…


New Novelist, Great Book: Carole DeSanti

Yes, I know you’re busy and that already have plenty of books to read, but—trust me on this one—you must get a copy of Carole DeSanti’s new novel The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. All right, so don’t trust me: trust Publishers Weekly , Valerie Martin, Deborah Harkness, Sarah Blake, Mireille Guiliano, and Fay Weldon, all of whom love the book.

Weldon says DeSanti has written ” a book to you make you think,” calling it “a magnificent novel in scope and achievement” where “death does its worst, pas…


Teacher, Student, High School, College

So, in terms of teaching high school English how would I, someone who’s been teaching upper-division English literature classes for 25 years and has won the major teaching award at my university, do?

As a first year high school English teacher from one of the great Western states–I’m calling myself Cat Ballou here, although the TFA calls me by another name–I can give you a few pointers.


Not so hot.

First of all, you didn’t have a posted objective or demonstration of learning…. So…


Professor, What Do You Want on the Exam?

(image by Flickr/CC user o5com)

You come to me as if I could offer you a recipe or a secret formula for success. I can’t. I see from the expression on your face that you doubt me; you believe that I could indeed offer you a template and that I’m choosing not to. You think I have an ideal essay written in my head and that your job is to get as close to that ideal as you can.

You’re wrong. There is no phantom blue book in my imagination with all the best essays up against which yours will be jud…


Goodbye, Anthony Shadid…

A dear college friend died yesterday while serving as a correspondent in Syria, reporting on the rebellion against the Syrian president.  He was 43.  The world knows Anthony as a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for International Reporting, whose stories painted a broader picture of the beauty and terror in war-torn countries in the Middle East.  He reported on war and conflicts in lands that now hold vital interest for the world.  Through Anthony’s reporting, we came to learn about the stru…


Screaming Mimi, the White House Intern

Here’s my new goal: I want to write a tell-all book and be widely celebrated for how well I keep secrets.

That’s a trick I’d really love to a master, like sawing the last thin remnants of a reputation in half and having it appear whole.

Yes, of course, I’m talking about Screaming Mimi, the JFK intern who decided to wait until everybody was dead (guess daughters don’t count, huh, Mimi?) and write a book with information nobody can prove but that fascinates us all. It doesn’t say much for he…


More on Dickens

One of the readers of my piece yesterday on Dickens has sent me a list of words that came from Dickens and are now in the English language. These are:

Wellerism, from Sam Weller, Mr. Pickwick’s servant (in Pickwick Papers), meaning making fun of clichés often by taking them literally. For example (when serving lunch): “Now, gen’l’m’n, ‘fall on, as the English said to the French when they fixed bagginets.”

Fagin, from the receiver of stolen goods (in Oliver Twist), meaning an adult who instructs…


Privacy vs. Piracy

I asked my undergraduate assistant Sam to find out some information about terrariums (hey, I’m paying him out-of-pocket and besides, it’s for my next Hartford Courant column).

In an almost immediate response, Sam’s plaintive voice cried  from across the room, “Have you seen this weird ad on Wikipedia?”

Wikipedia is blocking access to its English language version in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act which, the Wiki folks argue, will lead to “Internet censorship” and “will cripple the Internet…


Rereading Jane Eyre

Every year, I travel back to a time and place I’ve never been, but feel incredibly familiar with—the landscapes and relationships crafted by Charlotte Bronte, in Jane Eyre.  Right now, I’m finishing another reread.  Like many, my first brush with the novel occurred during childhood—my favorite passage was the exchange between Jane and Mr. Brocklehurst, the sanctimonious clergyman in charge of Lowood, a boarding school for indigent girls—where he asked, if she was to avoid going to hell w…


Advice, Please! What’s the Best New Year’s Poem?

Roxanne Coady, owner of one of the world’s best independent bookstores, R.J. Julia’s, and a dynamic, brilliant woman who makes it her personal responsibility to get people reading (, e-mailed me the following question: “Every year I send out a NY poem—one that’s smart or witty and inspiring without being sappy. After years of having no problem discovering exactly the right piece, I’m having trouble finding one. Any ideas?”

Roxanne is not the kind of woman you want to let…