I fear this message may help you less than it reveals about my own approach.
But this is Inkshed, eh? And perhaps it will be of some use to you
I haven't taught "Writing about Literature" or "Literature and Compostion" in
a couple of decades, but I did recently teach a big first-year lecture course
called "Introduction to Issues in Literature and Culture" in which I taught
several novels. This course has has 250 students in lecture, who are divided
into groups of 15 for discussion tutorials led by TAs; it is one option under
the university's "general education" requirements, so a fairly representative
group of 1st year students take it. The students are very mixed ethnically
sizable minority of them are taking the course only to meet a requirement. As
I taught it, its primary theme was about how some stories (literary and
otherwise) are more than just stories, how they construct and mediate our
experiences, how they serve to pass cultural values and ways of living from
generation to generation, etc. (I agree incidentally about the pitfalls of
teaching anything already taught in the local high schools; some teachers do
wonders, but many students acquire a strong distaste for certain "canonical"
literature--that's why I teach _Medea" instead of a Shakespeare play in this
Anyhow, the novels I use are:
Coupland, Douglas. Generation X. St. Martinís.
A recent Harlequin (taught together with the film, "Titanic")
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Glennis Byron. Broadview.
A few students, all male I believe, objected to having to buy the Harlequin
because it wasn't "high culture," but stimulated excellent discussions about
how stories work culturally. I approached it primarily as symbolic action,
asking what these romance novels do to and FOR their readers (why Harlequin
book club readers seem to read about 6 per month). If time allowed, I would
have liked to teach the Harlequin in tandem with a Louis L'Amour western
the two women can be quite similar to the ones in the Harlequin, but the hero
chooses the one who is less "civilized" but can cover his back in a
stampede. "Titanic" I presented along with Michael Jordan TV advertisements
built around the slogan, "Just Do It"
_Generation X_, which for most of my students was about the generation of
older siblings, interested them in part for that reason. It is also useful
discussing how a signifier's signification can shift from one generation to
next, and what that has to do with changing social circumstances and changing
_Dracula_ is always a hit, especially the ways in which the novel is so
different from all but the earliest movie version.
I also taught a number of poems (including Atword's "Progressive Insanities of
a Pioneer"), distributed as courseware along with some background articles,
couple of plays:
Euripides. Medea. Penguin Viking.
Pollock, Sharon. Walsh. Talon.
_Walsh_ works really well, and there is lots of short articles (including a
recent one in _Canadian Geographic) and some video about this story and its
transformation into a play.
I should admit that I have grave doubts about "Writing about Literature"
courses when they are taught for students not planning to take many more
English courses and by instructors who know more about (and are more
comfortable with) literary criticism than with teaching writing. As various
people have pointed out, the "English essay" is not very representative of
academic/intellectual writing in general. And too many instructors who know
little about composing spent way over half the course discussing the
(as "preparation for writing"), relatively little class time helping students
develop writing abilities.
Incidentally, "first year students" being hugely variable, it would help to
know a bit about the students who take this course in northern BC, whether
tend to be self-selected English/Arts majors, what their reading background
etc. I would find it useful, for instance, to know what were the most
novels they read voluntarily (i.e., not for a course).
At 09:52 AM 3/31/00 -0800, you wrote:
>For a first-year, writing-about-literature course, what novels would you
>choose--what novels do students "really get into"?
>University of Northern BC
>3333 University Way
>Prince George, BC V2N 4Z9
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(Prof.) Richard M. Coe
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6
To leave the list, send a SIGNOFF CASLL command to
[log in to unmask] or, if you experience difficulties,
write to Russ Hunt at [log in to unmask]
For the list archives and information about the organization,
the annual conference, and publications, go to the Inkshed Web site at