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 writing, grammar, vocabulary, 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. 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.
There’s so much literary criticism, how do you read all of those articles and books? You don’t read everything, that’s for sure. In articles, read the first and last paragraph. If you have questions, read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph. Rarely will you need to read the entire article.
Books? Read the foreword or preface to gain the main idea of the critic’s point of view. Read the first and last paragraphs of each chapter to gain important details of that main idea. Raise questions and read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph in chapters that have struck you as being of greatest importance.
Sometimes, reading the preface or foreword will be all you need to read. Sometimes the first and last paragraphs of each chapter will be all you need to read. Sometimes you will need to read the first sentence of every paragraph in a chapter, while continuing to read if you are caught by the idea. Sometimes—but rarely—you will need to read the entire book.
An additional reference work essential for the English major is a dictionary of literary terms. The one I used was JA Cuddon, A Dictioary of Literary Terms, Penguin Books, Ltd. 1979. An updated version will be found on Amazon.com.
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.
And then, there is teaching writing, grammar, 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.
Becoming an English teacher is a business.