Silly time waster
further proof that I have a head full of useless knowledge

Tapping the collective mind

First, two knitting-related links: a cunning hat and a freakishly compelling anatomy exercise.

Second, the tapping-the-collective-mind bit:

Bear with me. The set-up will take a minute.

This "spring" term, which starts in January and should really be called the "deepest, darkest winter" term, I'm teaching Advanced College Writing at Hartwick. Yeah, I was surprised, too. Turns out they like me there. They really like me. Wacky.

Anyway, I got to thinking about what I'd actually teach. In some ways, it's a lot like the Composition class I already teach. I get to pick my own text and loose theme, then make them write until their fingers bleed. It's great fun, although the eight billion papers that I have to grade can start to wear me down, especially by the end of the term, when I realize that I'm simply just picking up their bad habits and not really helping them move past said bad habits. Or so it feels by the end of the term. When my head clears, I can see improvements, which is all anyone can ask for.

I digress.

The Advanced College Writing course, far as I can tell, is similar in structure. I pick the books and theme, then make them write until their fingers bleed. But in an advanced way, rather than a rudimentary way.

I've been at a loss for what book(s) to use. The anthology of non-fiction essays that I like for the Composition class -- the text is *75 Readings Plus* and contains essays by the likes of Sedaris and Lethem and Didion -- isn't quite challenging enough. Plus, if the truth be told, two consecutive semesters with the same essays might make me scream. But I couldn't come up with a theme for next term. Until this a.m. in the shower, when I was making a mental list of the books I'd like to make students read. Yes, this is what I do in the shower. Doesn't everyone?

The list was fairly short. I chucked out my favorite book ever, which is DFW's Infinite Jest (yes, I am that pretentious), simply because it would be too damn much to deal with. But after a few missteps -- like Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation and Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn -- I hit upon an idea. I've been meaning to re-read Slaughterhouse Five, which would be perfect for the class. This led me to thinking about doing something like Allegheny History Prof. Stephen Lyons used to do, which was to assign a book and a paper question per week, require x papers per term and see what happens. His classes, if I may be so bold, were some of the best I ever took. It's saying a lot. I'd wager that any Allegheny class could be among the best offered at any like college in the country.

I'm digressing again. Sorry.

My point:

I've started assembling a list of (mostly) books that I could use. I doubt that I can get through a book a week like Lyons did, but I would like to have at least ten different titles related to the theme I've stumbled upon (see if you can guess it) and that showcase a wide variety of approaches. They seem to be falling into nice pairs in terms of sub-themes, but I'm not married to that. Here's where I am so far:

-- Ian McEwan's Atonement
-- Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth

-- Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five
-- (movie) Kiss of the Spider Woman

-- Haldeman's Forever War
-- Heinlein's Starship Troopers
-- Swofford's Jarhead
-- Scalzi's Old Man's War

-- (movie) Serenity
-- (movie) Star Wars

I'd like to generate more titles, simply so that I can get a better idea of where to go with this. Most of this is a working outline deal. I have no idea how many will make the final cut, but would appreciate input from all and sundry.



Two thoughts:

One. JE took his first foray into letting a few of his students teach and conduct yesterday. He has 300 chorus students and simply had to give himself enough of a break from teaching six hours a day to do paperwork on the little buggers. They were really bad, but the choirs made progress anyway. So maybe have them peer review through a few drafts before bothering to read anything. Many find that rewriting truly is the secret to better writing.

Two. Shame by Salman Rushdie might fit in with the Slaughterhouse Five/Kiss of the Spiderwoman group and it’s not ridiculously long.

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