Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Visiting Writer

The author of our common text came to campus recently and did some presentations and such. He did a great job talking about writing and about the book we've been reading, and was incredibly generous to our students in signing copies and answering questions.

But I kept having this feeling that I was watching Bobcat Goldthwait doing Garrison Keillor; you know that sort of wincing thing that Goldthwait does, as though he's expecting to be hit upside the head at any moment? Except now think of him doing Keillor type stories about the upper midwest, but with fewer Lutherans and more snow mobiles.

People from the Northwoods have a particular accent. For example, you can instantly tell I'm not from the Northwoods because I say "Northwoods." People from here say "Thwoods." Our speaker went from a lower midwestern accent at times (think American Broadcast News accent), to an exaggerated Northwoodsian accent, depending on what he was talking about. Interesting code switching in fast mode.

I'm still torn about using this book as our common text. I don't think it works well for me as a model for teaching college writing, nor as something I really want students to spend a lot of time doing close analysis with. I love teaching Shakespeare and talking about gender constructions and such, but Shakespeare's been dead a long time, so he's not being a sexist now.

This book, though, has four female characters with names, pretty much; there are other female characters, "the slattern," "[male name's] wife," "girl," and so forth. Two of the named women die (framing the opening and closing of the book, and important because they're survived by father and husband, it seems, since the text focuses on the men anyway), one of them gets put down for "wearing men's clothes." Men, though, actually have names and are represented as important in their own right. Shocking, I know.

But the most irritating moment? One of my colleagues did the introduction, and in the process talked about how students shouldn't be forced to read books that aren't about themselves. They should only read books about themselves.

Dude, I wanted to shout, this book is incredibly white, straight male centered. Do you really think that this one's about every one of our students? And do you really think that putting down one of the more important authors in English lit (not Shakespeare, either!) in order to laud the local guy has a lot of validity?

I didn't shout, though. Nor did I ask the visiting writer about the sexism in his text.

See, tenure didn't completely destroy all my social skills after all!

And yes, I got my copy signed. I'm torn. (Hey, if I could get my Shakespeare text signed, I totally would!)


  1. I'm on the committee that chooses our common book, and wonder if anyone has good suggestions? We used Atul Gawande's _Complications_, which was wildly successful and Gawande was incredibly gracious.

  2. Anonymous4:13 PM

    What a weird thing, on multiple levels, for your colleague to say. What a weird assumption about who your students are, but also, what strange assertions to make (by implication) about the purposes and processes of reading!

  3. Only read books about themselves? Now what now?