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The Literary Novel as Genre

Friday, February 5th, 2010

I just read an interesting blog post, (which, btw, is more worth reading than my summary of it) describing an almost comical overstatement made in a review of a “literary novel” published in Britain.  The Book, The Opposite House, by Helen Oyeyemi was asserted by this reviewer as being the first book to address the effect that migration could have, not just on migrants, but on their gods (or God) as well.  However, this assertion overlooks a book, American Gods by Neil Gaiman (a book and author which/who I cannot recommend enough), which, six years prior addressed the same idea, and did so in a notable, widely read and critically acclaimed way.  The overall point of the post was that people writing, reading and reviewing “literary novels,” which are here defined as a group of books being published by a small, elite publisher in britain, miss understanding their own works when they dismiss more low-brow writings.  The literary novel became a genre, rather than a group of particularly worthy books within the larger body of works within the greater body of books.

And while this post caught my eye particularly because I have a bias toward hearing people praise Gaiman’s works, it serves as a useful reminder that we (or maybe just me), as English majors, or minors, or as literary elitists occasionally need to pull our heads out of our academias long enough to notice the rest of the world — if only to be able to better, and more completely explain why the thing we read, write and talk about, are so good.  If criticism and high-brow art cannot recognize what else is going on in the literary world, how can they hope to justify their existence, muchless explain their relevance?

This is one place where I must commend the GC English department.  It has been expanding its offerings and including in its intellectual pursuits topics such as Science Fiction and Graphic Novels (comic books, if you aren’t familiar with the more fancy-pants name).  And recently heard rumblings that a Fantasy class may also be in the works (who knows, maybe American Gods could be a text book?)  I think that these classes not only do a great job of bringing additional interest to the English department from students who otherwise might not give English a second glance, but it also does a good job to reground people who have been too long in the more traditional English department classes and have maybe started to lose track of what else gets written.

Our Spam is Hilarious

Monday, February 1st, 2010

spamThis isn’t a particularly deep point, but I would like to highlight just how funny doing this blog can sometimes be.  I get too see all the trashy spam that we prevent from appearing.  But, considering that this is… well… an English blog, you might think that the spammers might try a little harder not to be such offensively poor writers.

We received a spam comment on a rather old post a bit ago that I would like to republish, though with the actual links taken out.  so here it goes.

That’s hot article about this topic. That is good to discover the essay writing service that can make the essay writing or custom essays. Moreover, people would like to search for essay writer.

Ahhh, I know I would trust them with my essays.  Looks like they have good, substantive and stylish writing down.  Also, considering that the comment was placed in a post about Goshen Adventure Comics I think it will be clear to any reader here that they also do incredible transitions and thorough Research.  Good job guys, keep up the good work.

Is Meaning Meaningful?

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Sunset Boulevard

After watching an old, black and white movie with a friend, we got to talking.  Was it a good movie?  Was it good only by the standards of the time, or of today as well?  I said that the movie felt a little too slow-paced.  And further, I said that the meaning was a bit too straightforward, that I felt as though the movie could have been about half as long.  My friend?  He couldn’t have disagreed more.  And his reasoning, was that, yes, the pacing is different from what we are used to today, but that every scene was internally significant.  That, yes, the meaning would have been the same, but that the experience of watching the movie would have been different.

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The Role of Uglyness

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

One thing that I always find challenging is artistic ugliness.  For example, I hesitated, if only for a moment, before publishing “You Who Wronged“  The last stanza made me uncomfortable.  “And you’d have done better with a winter dawn/ A rope, and a branch bowed beneath your weight.”  Now, certainly within the context of the poem this stanza is warranted, and not only that, not nearly as harsh as it might seem.  It is given as a warning to tyrants being judged by history, rather than a declaration that anyone should kill themselves.  But somehow, the starkness of those last two lines, published in this piece in the sunny context of Goshen, in which much ugliness is either denied, removed or ignored, just felt… wrong.  Somehow, in a place where I don’t see people smoking cigarettes, I don’t expect to read a poem that seems to be threatening suicide.

But I think ignoring these things, the ugly and the sinister and the wrong, wouldn’t be doing the world justice.  Sometimes, to give the good, the pure and the holy the reverence that they are due, one must necessarily contrast it to things which are not.  Conflicts give art their driving force.  Music without any dissonance cannot resolve or progress.  A pretty painting is usually boring.  And a novel without a tension, conflict or a villain is nigh unreadable.  I just think that in order to make the world a better place, it must be acknowledged for all its ugliness.  Phil Stoesz’s perspective in the Record concluded with a sentence I think sums up my feelings on the issue pretty well.  “In my opinion, art is great, but art that makes you cringe is awesome.”

That said, I don’t think that this is the only opinion possible about this.  Since Plato wrote The Republic (and perhaps before) there have been people arguing that in order to make society and culture better, we need to promote the good, and let the bad go unacknowledged.  I guess I just come out on the side of thinking that even if this might be correct, it might also be rather boring.

The From the Trenches: Teaching English

Thursday, October 29th, 2009
Elizabeth Beachy (noticeably absent in this picture: teaching or children)

Elizabeth Beachy (noticeably absent in this picture: teaching or children)

Elizabeth Beachy, a Senior English Ed. major, has been working long and hard teaching English to those little snot-nosed (adorable) punks (children) at school.  I asked her to relate some of her experience.  This is what she wrote:

I am currently student-teaching at Goshen Middle School with the incredible Ann Carboneau (GC English alumna 2003) as my cooperating teacher.  I have two sections of 7th grade High Ability English and two sections of 8th grade Honors English.  It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career.

This past summer, I attempted to mentally prepare for my semester at GMS. However, after a few moments of processing, I typically came to the conclusion that I was extremely nervous. As it turns out, I’ve been less nervous throughout my student-teaching experience than most of my semesters taking regular courses at Goshen College.  My field placements in local schools and classes prepared me very well for this.  To say the least, I have been having a blast!

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Book Suggestions

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

This is an area to discuss and suggest books to other avid readers.  Please comment adding your book suggestions with a brief description.  I’ll start with a few of my favorites, including a few that I’ve read recently.  The last three listed here are favorites that I found through guidance of great English teachers and professors.

5178PSZYN6L._SS500_The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – Probably doesn’t need much of an introduction, but this book series set the bar (really, really high) for modern fantasy.  Anyone who has seen the hobbits, orcs, elves and others on the silver screen owes it to themselves to experience the magic where it began.

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Get Published!

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

Broadside002 Just like the poster here says, only with Capital letters and an exclamation point.

I think this great opportunity is often overlooked by up and coming writers at Goshen.  I mean, really, you can get published.  Looking to to build a writer’s portfolio?  Looking to show the world how awesome your writing is?  Looking for bragging rights?  We can help you with that.  Broadside publishes short pieces of poetry or fiction that get printed on a placard which is then mailed to subscribers on campus.  Or, if you fancy longer work, Pinchpenny produces and sells small books of original, student-made works.  In both cases, the result is the same.  You get published.  Which really does deserve an exclamation point.  If you are interested at all please contact one of the English department faculty or email emilyjt@goshen.edu.

This is especially worth noting right now, because Broadside is currently hosting contest with cash prizes.  YES, you read right, cash prizes!  (sorry, I’ll cut it out now.)  But it is true; if the fame and glory of getting published aren’t enough for you, broadside is holding a contest for max. 500 word pieces (poetry, prose, haiku… you name it) that begin with the phrase “There didn’t seem to be a way out.”  You choose where the story goes from there.  And yes, 1st place wins 100 dollars, and second place wins 50.  But don’t discount eternal fame and glory.

And seriously… Cash prizes.

Sorry, Dear Readers

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

I feel that it is necessary to apologize for abandoning you.  You may have noticed my absence in recent days.  (I know, who ever heard of a blogger not posting regularly?)  Unfortunately, my computer decided that the week preceding midterms was a good time to die.  And, with my computer so went my access to the internet.  Hopefully things will be a little more consistent from now on.

Choosing Carefully

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

I often feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of great books to read.  Part of the reason that I wanted to be an English Major in the first place is that I wanted someone to tell me which to read, because I couldn’t make up my mind.  And for the longest time, I felt that this was somehow shameful.  We are taught to not judge books by their covers, and as I alluded to in The Academic vs. the Purely Edifying, I at least feel that we often judge books differently by what we have already heard about them from others.  But I don’t think that is all bad.  You read stuff like this, saying that you really can’t get even close to even a small fraction of all the books in the world, and it puts things in perspective.

You have to decide what you want to read somehow.  The cover, what your friends tell you, or, in the case of English Majors, what generations of people who have built piles of critical opinions establishing a canon of worthwhile texts tell you.  I think it’s fair to say that the second two ways of deciding are probably better than the first.

The Academic vs. the Purely Edifying

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

twilight-book-coverI was having a conversation about (what else?) Twilight with a fellow English Major when we hit an interesting snag.  What were we looking for in the book in the first place?  I said that, while enjoyable, I really couldn’t respect Stephanie Myer’s work too much because I find the writing to be a bit graceless, and not particularly thematically interesting.  I found what my friend said to be very intriguing.  “I can separate between things that I would read for an English class and things that are—things that are purely edifying.”

So here’s the question, and one that I really don’t have an answer to.  Can anyone, you, me, an English Professor,  can separate and distinguish between an academic and a purely leisure text?  As I see it, you can only make that distinction when you have already made up your mind before you have begun to read something.  If I thought that Twilight was going to be the greatest literary masterpiece of all time, I would read it in a very different way than if I thought it was a fun, quick-read teen romance.  This isn’t quite judging a book by its cover, but rather by the things that friends, peers, and the media tell you about a book.  Which really just raises a whole load of questions about the books we read, how we read them, and why.  (If that makes you a little uncomfortable and unsettled, welcome to the club.)

If you have any responses to this, or any other post, please let me hear them.  Maybe you agree with the person I was talking with, and think that I’m completely wrong.  If so, I’m sure it would be interesting to hear from you.  Either comment here on the blog, or, if that feels too public, feel free to shoot me an email at jacobs11@goshen.edu and I can think on what you say, or publish it anonymously if you are alright with that.  The point is, I would love to hear some feedback and dissent.  Or assent.  That’s good too.