Monday, September 20, 2010

Topic: End of This Blog

I want to explain the purpose of this blog.

It is addressed to young people who are thinking about becoming English majors in college.

Make no mistake. Becoming an English major is a business. As much information as you can gather will put you ahead of the pack—of other English majors. You have no time to “sit down and read a good book.” Becoming an English teacher at the high school or college levels is a competitive business. The more you know about teaching reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, speaking and literature will give you an advantage in your interview.

With regard to literature: I remember one of my English professors telling me and my fellow English majors that in the “old days,” people who majored in English had read all of the works that we were reading now for the first time—before they majored in English.

In a sense, this blog, “10-Second Lit,” is one step in preparing to achieve the same background as former, better-read English majors. In one place I have assembled brief reviews of major literary works in chronological order. I don’t know if such a compilation exists commercially, but it certainly didn’t when I started out as an English major. That is why I compiled it. Thus, you will have a capsule version of just about every major literary work from the Ancients to the late twentieth century. Sure, the snippets I give you don’t tell you very much, but they are intended to give you the essence of the works in a sentence or two.

Your next step would be to read the much lengthier summaries in Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, the Oxford Companions, etc. and, finally, to read the works themselves as part of your English program. Your final step will be to read the literary critics.

An additional reference work essential for the English major is a dictionary of literary terms. The one I used was JA Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary Terms, Penguin Books, Ltd. 1979. An updated version will be found on 

And then, there is teaching reading, writing, grammar, spelling, vocabulary and speaking. To gain some ideas on teaching these elements of English, try my book Teaching English, How To…., 2004, Xlibris. In it I write about what I have learned after 35 years as a high school and college teacher and K-12 English supervisor for 20 years. I offer plenty of techniques.

To keep abreast of ideas on these topics in the field of English education, read the journals of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and of the International Reading Association (IRA). Some of the more interesting journals include, from the NCTE, Language Arts (elementary school) Voices from the Middle (middle school), English Journal (high school and middle school), Research in the Teaching of English, College Composition and Communication, Teaching English in the Two-Year College, College English, and English Education (for pre-service English teacher trainees). From the IRA are The Reading Teacher, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy and Reading Research Quarterly.

To read these journals profitably without wasting time, read the first and last paragraph of each article. If you know enough just from the first and last paragraph, briefly summarize the main idea and go on to the next article. If you have questions about details of the ideas in the article, read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph and then summarize. Seldom will you need to read the entire article. It would be a good idea to keep a journal in which you reflect on the implications of the ideas in the article for you.

Want to be a successful English major? I’ve just told you how, beginning with this “overview” of literature in this blog that gives you the background of the development of literary works from the Ancients to the end of the 20th century. 

I’ve told you what no one ever told me about succeeding as an English major.
Becoming an English teacher is a business. And, if my experience is worth anything, it’s loads of fun. 

The blog begins with my introduction published on January 4, 2009.


1970: Count Julian

Purpose of this blog: Brief summaries of World, British and American literary classics for English majors.

Juan Goytisolo. Spanish. 1970. Novel. Count Julian. Attacks every aspect of traditional Spanish orthodoxy: Franco, bourgeois pretensions, Catholic Church.

Comment: This is as far as I go. RayS.

Friday, September 17, 2010

1969: Ada.... to Slaughterhouse Five....

Purpose of this blog: Brief summaries of World, British and American literary classics for English majors.

Vladimir Nobokov. Russian/American. 1969. Novel. Ada; or Ardor: A Family Chronicle. Set in Amerussia. Memoirs. Incestuous love affair. Allusions and themes draw on literature, science fiction, art, etc.

John Berryman. American. 1969. Poetry. The Dream Songs. Monologues by persona of modern man. Intense reactions to death, love, fame, creative activity.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. American. 1969. Novel. Slaughterhouse Five or the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. Survives Dresden mass bombing, kidnapped by aliens. Fourth dimension where time is eternal present. Back on earth, travels in time, past and future, and relives wartime horrors.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

1968: Armies of the Night to The First Circle.

Purpose of this blog: Brief summaries of World, British and American literary classics for English majors.

Norman Mailer. American. 1968. Nonfiction. Armies of the Night. History as novel. Account of massive anti-Vietnam War march on the Pentagon in October 1967.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Russian. 1968. Novel. Cancer Ward. Cancer ward widely interpreted as symbolizing the Soviet state. Patients come to terms with death.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Russian. 1968. Novel. The First Circle. Life in ;prison for educated people who carry on scientific research while serving long terms.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

1967: Grain of Wheat to One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Purpose of this blog: Brief summaries of World, British and American literary classics for English majors.

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. KIenya. 1967. Novel. A Grain of Wheat. Days just prior to Kenya’s independence. Relations of four people to the hero of the revolution hanged by authorities.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Colombia. 1967. Novel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Seven generations of a founding family of isolated mythical town of Macondo. Tragedy of family inclined to pleasures of incest and solitude.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

1966: Paradiso.

Purpose of this blog: Brief summaries of World, British and American literary classics for English majors.

Jose Lema Lezma. Cuban. 1966. Novel. Paradiso. Development of the poetic vision; chronicles experiences in Havana, 1900-1920.

Monday, September 13, 2010

1965: Ariel to Two Views

Purpose of this blog: Brief summaries of World, British and American literary classics for English majors.

Sylvia Plath. American. 1965. Poetry. Ariel. Charts pathological aspects of era and of the poet herself. Metaphors of horror. Love songs to death.

Jerzy Kosinski. American/Polish. 1965. Novel. The Painted Bird. Small boy’s odyssey through Eastern Europe during WWII; absence of dialogue. Explores the primitive elemental forces in man.

Uwe Johnson. German. 1965. Novel. Two Views. Alternating man’s and woman’s point of view of relationship. Symbolizes impossibility of real communication between the two Germanys.

Friday, September 10, 2010

1964: Dutchman to Weep Not, Child

Purpose of this blog: Brief summaries of World, British and American literary classics for English majors.

Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones). American. 1964. Play. Dutchman. Subway car. Black man. Seductive white woman. Goads him to fury. Kills him. Another Black gets on and the same sequence follows.

John Osborne. British. 1964. Play. Inadmissible Evidence. Nightmarish descent to mental breakdown of a solicitor, deserted by everyone in his professional and private life.

Frank O’Hara. American. 1964. Poetry. Lunch Poems. Random excursions through New York City during lunch hour. Cityscape. Influenced by the action paintings of Jackson Pollock.

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Kenya. 1964. Novel. Weep Not, Child. Period before and during the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya, 1952-1956. From point of view of youngest son whose dream of a better life is shattered by tragedies occasioned by the struggle for independence.