Saturday, November 15, 2008

Words I Had to Look Up: Tendentious

From the OED: Having a purposed tendency; composed or written with such a tendency or aim.

1900 T. DAVIDSON Hist. Educ. I. iv. 70 Xenophon's Cyrop√¶ a mere edifying, tendentious romance, intended to recommend to the Athenians the Spartan type of education. 1905 Times, Lit. Suppl. 28 July 239/2 He [Zimmer, in ‘Die Keltische Kirche’] thinks that the legend of St. Patrick was tendencious, springing up to support a special ecclesiastical thesis. 1909 C. LOWE in Contemp. Rev. July 42 A false and tendencious account of what had taken place.

Hmmmm... the OED isn't exactly clear on the meaning. Merriam-Webster is better when it offers biased as a synonym.

Great Books, anyone? Or perhaps just coffee and the paper?

An engaging New York Times review looks at the concept of Great Books. Like so many useful links, I found this one on Arts and Letters Daily. It is a review of A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books by Alex Beam(PublicAffairs 2008). If you look up the book on Amazon, you'll find an interesting review by Max Weismann, co-founder of the Great Books Academy, who pointedly calls the work an ad hominem attack, which it may be (I won't opine until I read it).

I used to teach a literature course at Georgetown called "What It Means to be Well-Read," which tackled a similar topic -- how different eras and generations considered gentlemen and later ladies to be educated. Instead of doing what many of my fellows back in grad school did by picking apart the canon and finding things wrong with it (every canon is flawed, and so what?), instead we explored other eras' definitions of what constituted a must-read. We looked at times when Latin and Greek were required to be considered literate (albeit at fairly low levels bordering on the aphoristic), at the concept of a "lady's education," and we explored how different generations discarded their forebears' assumptions and replaced them with equally fragile ones of their own. Students loved it, and we had a lot of fun reading some of the required gems from the past that have now been lost (has anyone memorized Tennyson lately? Indeed does anyone memorize much of anything in school anymore? And why not?).

Reviews of the Beam book seem mixed, possibly because (as we discovered in our course together) many of us like the idea of Great Books, and someone has to help us figure out what to read. There is simply too much published in any generation not to take an educated approach and attempt to agree on certain works that endure beyond their moment. Great Books concepts may have their flaws (most notably: bowlderization, censorship, sexism and racism), but even worse is the opposite approach where all books are considered Equal, and where one discards all judgments and leaves young minds to wander without guide or historian. With 30,000 new books published every year in the U.S. alone, somebody has to figure out some way to make sense of it all.

Dana Luciano wins the MLA First Book Prize

The book is Arranging Grief: Sacred Time and the Body in Nineteenth-Century America from NYU Press. Congratulations, Dana, and what a wonderful accomplishment. I just returned from a visit to NYU Press, where they are delighted about this.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Booklab author lands on radio!

One of the unsung things we do at Booklab is guide authors to broadcast their writing on public radio. I used to work in radio (first at my university station, WTJU in Charlottesville; then at WUNC, an NPR station and the home of NPR's Southeastern Bureau in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and finally at WGMS, an all-classical station in Washington, DC), and I'm an occasional guest on radio, including shows like Talk of the Nation or One Union Station, or most recently Georgetown Forum, hosted at WAMU. A couple of years back I began coaching writers to get their own work on NPR member stations, and we've had several hits. Just today, a Booklab author (a retired physician) wrote to say that he had just returned from recording two pieces at an NPR member station in Roanoke, Virginia. This is a wonderful way to build a literary platform, and to cultivate radio listeners who may turn into your literary audience as well.

The photograph above is from the archives of WUNC, a radio station where I learned so much, and that I still love. Donate to your favorite radio station today...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is anyone out there a public intellectual? Anyone?

Daniel Drezner has an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about whether the role of the public intellectual has truly waned. Personally I'm pessimistic, especially when it comes to women, but his piece interests me on a number of levels, not the least of which is his catalogue of who's writing, and his defense of blogs. The paperback of his book -- All Politics is Global -- arrived in September from Princeton University Press. Here's his bio from Cato Unbound, the blog from the Cato Institute.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Photos from Laura Benedetti receiving the Flaiano Prize

When Laura Benedetti's book The Tigress in the Snow: Motherhood and Literature in Twentieth-Century Italy (University of Toronto Press, 2007) won the Flaiano prize, she attended the ceremony in Pescara, Italy, on July 6, 2008.

On the left is Laura at the Theater Gabriele D’Annunzio. On the right is Canadian novelist Alice Munro who also won the prize. There were other winners, including Russian film director Eldar Ryazanov.

Named after author and screen-writer Ennio Flaiano (1910-1972), this international prize recognizes achievements in the fields of cinema, theater, creative writing, and literary criticism.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Touching Johns Hopkins video about a true bookman

I always love to see someone with so many books that his entire collection could become a library. Thomas Jefferson was one such (and his collection formed the basis of the University of Virginia library, and also the Library of Congress). Richard Macksey of Johns Hopkins is another. This engaging video tells more.