1. If Dave Barry's annual holiday gift guide doesn't make you laugh, your sense of humor has fled the territory (click here). Now I'm desperately trying to figure out who on my list needs a Barry Manilow coloring book; Dave Barry suggests giving it to a young adult who refuses to move out of the house:
Imagine the look on some lucky young person’s face when he or she unwraps this item, along with a pack of crayons (not included) and you say, quote: “If you think this Barry Manilow coloring book is exciting, just wait until you hear his music!” Then you turn on your stereo system (not included) and the room fills with the scintillating sounds of “Copacabana” or one of the many other Barry Manilow hits from the past two centuries. Pretty soon that young person will develop an appreciation for good music. Either that, or that young person will move out of your house. Either way is good.I don't know about the Man-Bun Ken Doll or the Star Wars lightsaber barbecue tongs, but maybe we can get some Shakespeare insult bandages for our department office!
2. Everyone's twittering about Kristen Roupenian's "Cat Person" in the New Yorker (read it here), a bit of short fiction about a train-wreck of a relationship (if you can call it a relationship). Days after reading the story, I finally realized who it reminded me of: Henry James.
There is nothing the least bit Jamesian about Roupenian's style, but James pioneered the kind of limited perspective she employs, and like Roupenian's main character, James's protagonists make unfortunate relationship decisions based on inadequate information. If Winterbourne could have stalked Daisy on Facebook instead of relying on rabid gossip, he would still have dismissed her as nothing more than a "pretty American flirt" (just as Roupenian's Robert dismisses Margot, except Robert uses more pungent language). Similarly, Isabel Archer prefigures Margot when she ignores all her misgivings about Gilbert Osmond, filling in the gaps in his character with her own romantic inventions. The difference, of course, is that Margot escapes after one horrible date while Isabel is stuck with Osmond forever.
3. I don't have a whole lot to say about Julie Beck's "The Secret Life of 'Um'" (read it here), except, um, yeah. If using a lot of vocal filler suggests that one is "really playing an important role in the smooth operation of the conversation machine," then I'm well equipped to keep the gears turning.
4. Nina Handler's essay "Facing My Own Extinction" made me very sad (read it here), dealing as it does with a college's decision to discontinue the English major. But this paragraph especially struck me:
The belletristic tradition is obsolete, and those who once imparted the art of rhetoric now strive to teach basic literacy. English, once a backbone of the university’s structure, has become a little-used organ with only vestigial value — the appendix of academia.The "appendix of academia"! I'm feeling it: nobody quite understands why we still exist, so it's easy to suggest surgical removal. It hasn't happened here but many of us who teach in English departments can hear the surgeon scrubbing up in the next room and fear that it's only a matter of time before we end up on the operating-room floor.
But not today. Today we have work to do, like trying to explain to a student why infer and imply are not interchangeable. It's a tough job, but, um, somebody has to keep the wheels turning. (Maybe some Barry Manilow will help...)