Monday, April 25, 2011

And, so it begins: Essay Reading Challenge 2011

This week I'm taking a break from reading (frankly, I'm not quite finished with Loving Frank, I'm still reading Vanity Fair and all three books, counting The Imperfectionists, have really left me in a melancholy funk).

I'm dipping into my essay challenge by reading 10 choice essays from The Conscious Reader 6th Edition. It is the book from which a) I developed my blog name and b) our AP Lang and Comp teacher teaches).

Anyway here are the essays:

1] "Who Do You Think You Are?" Garrison Keillor p74-78
Type Diction and Tone, Identification
Driving Question Is the distant future inscrutable for you?
Message "'I'm going to go to college,'" I stated. My sister laughed: 'Who d'ya think you are?' She was right, I didn't know."

Being from a small town, I totally understand how Keillor felt growing up. His anecdote about "Song of Myself" reminds me of the time we almost didn't sing "Imagine" because it says "Imagine no more Heaven" and people couldn't seem to see past that line to see the beauty of the song.

2] "The Anger of a Child" Adrienne Rich p176-178
Type Analysis
Driving Question What might you think of as you recall an episode in your childhood in which you felt anger at your parents? 
Message "Soon I would begin to understand the full weight and burden of maternal guilt, that daily, nightly, hourly, Am I doing what is right? Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? The institution of motherhood finds all mothers more or less guilty of having failed their children..."

I do not think it is true that every mother "has known overwhelming, unacceptable anger at her children", but am beginning to understand the passion and the sacrifice every mother must make in raising her child and the burden society puts on mothers when their children fail.

3] "The Angel in the House" Virginia Woolf p277-281
Type Argument and Persuasion
Driving Question In what ways may women still encounter obstacles to truth?
Message "It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her--you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it--in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all--I need not say it---she was pure."

I find it interesting that in somes way for a woman to become something more than 'a mother-woman', she must kill her Angel in the House. She is not allowed to be both, good at her profession and a loving and doting mother and wife. You would think that with all the advances the world has made that things would be better and the angel wouldn't have to die. but you only have to see how professional women have to give up some of their profession to assist their families or give up their families to break through the glass ceiling. This not only makes me sad, but it makes me angry, as well.

4] "Learning From Disney and Dickens" John Gardner p495-501
Type Personal Reminiscence
Driving Question Explain why Gardner lists Disney in the same breath as God and Dickens. How are Disney's cartoons related to art? 
Message "For me at that time Disney and Dickens were practically indistinguishable. Both created wonderful cartoon images, told stories as direct as fairy tales, knew the value of broad comedy spiced up with a little weeping."

If you think about it, while old Disney cartoons (the ones to which Gardner is referring to in his childhood) are full of violents, smoking and other 'inappropriate' behaviors and ideals, those of us who have had the honor of having family members who show us these lovely cartoons have paved the way for us to have open minds to learning and adventure. What a great idea to think that Disney cartoons help us to appreciate The Bible and classic works of literature.

5] "Science Fiction: Imaginary Worlds and Real-Life Questions" Noel Perrin p548-553
Type Argument and Persuasion, Diction and Tone
Driving Question Should science fiction be part of the curriculum of a given English department?
Message "In fact, science fiction has become the chief refuge for metaphysics. It is where you go in literature if you want to hear people openly and seriously talking about meaning, and especially meaning a world increasingly made and controlled by ourselves."

I teach a science fiction unit in my honors class, this essay sings of the reasons why, oh and I also added several books to my TBR pile.

6] "Talking Black" Henry Louis Gates, Jr. p999-1006
Type Diction and Tone
Driving Question Can we, as critics, escape a "mockingbird" posture?
Message "While it is true that we must, as Du Bois said so long ago, "know and test the power of the cabalistic letters of the white man," we must also know and test the dark secrets of a black discursive universe that awaits its disclosure through the black arts of interpretation. The future of our language and literature may prove black indeed"

Maybe I'm missing the point but I thought the whole idea was just to be American and in being American from the United States of America mustn't we have an ideology and interpretation of culture and text that's American, devoid of color? It seems that Gates would like us to take steps back in order to find our black voice and culture. I'm not sure I'm up for that deal.
Talking Black

7] "Life Is Sacred: That's the Easy Part" Ronald Dworkin p1084-1087
Type Argumentation and Persuasion
Driving Question Is it true that "the crucial question is not whether to respect the sanctity of life, but which decision best respects it" in arguing for or against abortion and euthanasia?
Message "It is inevitable that free people who really do believe that human life is sacred will disagree about how to live and die in the light of that conviction, because free people will insist on making that profound and self-defining decision for themselves."

I believe in a woman's right to choose, although I believe morally and ethically that abortion is wrong mostly because of partial birth abortions and fetal reduction. To take morality out of this debate and see it as only a black and white 'when is human life sacred?' issue assumes that we (as humans) make informed decisions all of the time.

8] "You Have to Know What Your Values Are" Alan Alda p1081-1083
Type(s) Analysis, Definition
Driving Question How would you place your values in hierarchical order? How will they serve to give meaning to your life? 
Message "If we put a high value one decency, if we put a high value on excellence and on family, if we love the people we share our lives with--our wives and our husbands, our children--and if we don't shortchange them for a few bucks, if we can love the work we do and learn the skill of it, the art of it, if we can give full measure to the people who pay us for our work, if we try to not lie, try not to cheat, try to do good just by doing well whatever we do then we will have made a revolution."

If I'd heard this commencement speech, I would have stood up and taken notice. I'm taking notice now! I've never thought of writing down a list of what I think I value and measuring that against what I spend my time doing--brilliant!

9] "The Quiet Movement of American Men" Betty Friedan p317-328
Type Identification
Driving Question How do dependency and need affect men's attitudes toward women and women's feelings about men?
Message "The practical problems remain, emergin more clearly now from the fog of reaction and backlash. As men seek for themselves the liberation that began with the women's movement, both men and women have to confront the conflict between their human needs--for love, for family, for meaning in work and purpose in life--and the demands of the workplace as it is structured today."

I have enough arguments with husband to know that this lady, although this was written in 1981, isn't lying. Of course, that was 30 years ago and still men and women seem to be fighting the good fight.

10] "Dearest Scottie" F. Scott Fitzgerald p179-181
Type Letter
Driving Question Is it true that the young can't believe in the youth of their fathers (or mothers)? 
Message "You have reached the age when one is of interest ot an adult only insofar as one seems to have a future. The mind of a little child is fascinating, for it looks on old things with new eyes--but at about twelve this changes. The adolescent offers nothing, say nothing that the adult cannot do better."
I think that Fitzgerald forgot that in admonishing your offspring you never EVER bad-mouth the other parent in the hopes that your child sees the light of day. He also seems to have forgotten his own short-comings and failures or atleast wants to blame them on everyone, but himself.

I will fill in information on the ten as I read them through-out the week, so stay tuned.
COMPLETED 5/1/2011


  1. This sounds like a fascinating collection! I linked to your post on the main Essay Challenge post.



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