As foretold yesterday – here is the preview of the second class I will be taking this summer entitled: Rewriting a Life: Teaching Revision as a Life Skill. Part of the course description reads: Through daily reading, writing, and rewriting, we will examine the usefulness of Kenneth Burke’s rheteroic for writers and teachers of writing and literature, particularly his images of life as “a rough draft” and a “project” in composition and his theory of writing and reading as an act of identification.
This sounded SO interesting to me. I love to read, I love to write, and I am a very introspective person. However, in reading the 8 required books, I am starting to think that this is more of a creative, fiction-writing class than what I had originally thought. I am quite anxious/nervous about this course, as I do not think I am creative enough to develop fictional narrative — but I am determined to get the most that I can out of the class. The books that we will be studying in this course are:
A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines. This is the only novel that I have not completed yet (but will do so prior to the first class). I intentionally saved this book for last because it is the first book we are supposed to discuss and I wanted it to be fresh in my mind. Initially I was very confused: each chapter is told from a different character’s Point of View — and there are a LOT of characters. The reader experiences the ordeal as it unfolds, so without background information I found it difficult to understand what was happening until about page 30. After that point, however, I felt I knew enough information that I have since become engrossed in this fictional narrative involving Louisiana race relations.
What Narcissism Means to Me by Tony Hoagland. This is the other book that I have not yet read – although it is less than 100 pages long and filled with contemporary poetry. A genre of literature that I most unfamiliar and tend to do better when I focus intently on the subject matter. I anticipate that we will discuss this as a class early on.
The Story Behind the Story compiled by Peter Turchi and Andrea Barrett. This is a collection of 26 short stories that also include the author’s insights and inspirations for that particular story. I read all of the authors’ “behind the story” essays, and I skimmed through most of the short stories. I thoroughly enjoy reading how writer’s write — so the essays were of great interest to me. I must confess that some of the short stories did not appeal to me at all; some were ok; and some were brilliant. I am very anxious to see how we incorporate the information from this book in our class discussions and writing assignments.
In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien. This was my favorite novel of the group. I had not read the author before (I think his most famous work is The Things They Carried), and I was not sure that I would enjoy this one. However, the characters are well-developed and the focus is not so much on the Viet Nam war, but rather how that event was just one of many defining moments for the main character. This is a novel that is character driven, but with plenty of drama and suspense.
The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter. This is another author with whom I am unfamiliar. I still haven’t decided how I feel about this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the first third (graduate students struggling for identity and relationships in an intellectual society) and I liked the middle third. The ending was confusing (I think that was intentional – though not sure) and when I am unclear on the meaning of the book, that translates to poor self-esteem (“I must be stupid” – “I’m sure everyone else understood this” – “What is wrong with me? and I call myself an English teacher”) So….I am most fearful of this class discussion (not sure I will have much to contribute) while at the same most interested to hear the insights of others.
Home by Marilynne Robinson. I purchased Gilead several years ago, but never got around to reading it. When I learned that Home was a required book, I decided to read Gilead first. I am glad that I did. Home is a stand alone book, but I think I was able to glean more about the characters from having read Gilead, and I think I also learned more about the author’s writing style, having read both books back-to-back. Personally, I enjoyed Gilead more than Home. I think I enjoyed the aging pastor’s point of view and the fact that he truly seemed to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. I enjoyed the character relationships more in Home, but I found the aging father figure to be almost hypocritical – which bothered me. I am anxious to see how this book will be discussed in class – especially since it recently won the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This was the first book that I read for this course and I completed the book over Spring break. I did not take adequate notes for a class discussion (I learned over time how to fine-tune that process), so I will definitely have to re-read the book again. I do remember that my overall reaction was DEPRESSING. I was amazed how many different ways the author could depict gloom, black, gray, ash, and depression. The story focuses on the relationship between father and son in the aftermath of a disastrous event (we are never really told what happened – or why. We know the story takes place in America, but we do not know if the disaster was worldwide or not). While their world is destroyed, their relationship is sustained by a love and mutual respect for one another. Again, I am very curious to hear class discussion on this 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, and to see how the instructor will ask us to use this book in our personal writing endeavors.
There are 2 non-fiction books that we will be reading and studying throughout the course. The first one is entitled, Crafting a Life in Essay, Story and Poem by Donald M Murray and the second one is You Must Revise Your Life by William Stafford. I skimmed through both these books and found them quite enjoyable and resourceful. Both authors seem so genuine: fully of sage advice and compassionate encouragement. I am hopeful that these books reflect the character of my instructor. In that case, I know that I will be stretched to the limit – but in a way that will be edifying, encouraging, and ultimately, rewarding.