What ‘Willy Wonka’ Taught Me About Being Well-Read

Many of my fellow college students enjoyed one last wild beach trip over Labor Day weekend. My holiday weekend, on the other hand, consisted of a bit less beach—ok, no beach—fewer parties—fine, zero parties—but much more Gene Wilder. So who really had the better time? Between U.S. Open tennis matches, I was able to re-watch … Continued


More ‘Harry Potter’ Mischief Is Coming Soon

I’m afraid I have some bad news. Some really terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news. It has been announced that two more Harry Potter books will be released later this year. The nightmare continues! Let me explain why the Boy Who Lived has made me the Boy Who’s Livid. I actually rather liked the … Continued


Stop Dumbing Down Books for Teens

During my senior year AP English class in high school, we read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It was brutal. I thought I was a pretty good reader because I had worked my way through most of Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and Leo Tolstoy, but I struggled to get through Heart of Darkness. To … Continued


Why Are Schools Abandoning Literature?

I recently spent time with a class of fourteen-year-olds, talking about words, specifically words strung together to form speech. I started out by asking them whether they thought words could make people act in a particular way. “Can words lead to action?” I asked. There was some thinking and mulling over. We spent several weeks … Continued

Books, Culture

Can Harvard Solve the Problem of Religious Illiteracy?

When Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the 1838 graduating class of Harvard Divinity School, he began with an invocation: In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life. The grass grows, the buds burst, the meadow is spotted with fire and gold in the tint of flowers. The air is … Continued


Jack London’s Wilderness Was Not a “Safe Space”

  Many American students will read at least one of Jack London’s classic novels in their teens—but whether they will be ripe for the rough and often brutal slice of Americana that London offers up is another matter entirely. For a contemporary culture that likes to challenge social norms—albeit increasingly from within protected “safe spaces” … Continued


How Have our Heroes Changed?

The fourteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this past Friday was a somber reminder to Americans of the first responders and their heroic sacrifice on that terrible morning. Three hundred and forty-three firefighters perished that day, as well as sixty police officers and eight paramedics, all rushing to the aid of others with a disregard … Continued

Books, Culture

Why College Kids Are Avoiding The Study Of Literature

from Commentary: Go to just about any English department at any university, gather round the coffee pot, and listen to what one of my colleagues calls the Great Kvetch. It is perfectly summarized by the opening sentence of the philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s recent book: “We are in the midst of a crisis of massive proportions … Continued

The Daily Scene

The Rise of “Aliteracy”

There is a new buzzword reemerging in reading circles—“aliteracy,” which means being able to read but rarely choosing to read. The backstory on aliteracy is the rise of the screen age. We’ve all read about the trends: Kids are spending too much time sort of reading (but not anything remotely profound), kind of writing (but … Continued

Books, Culture, Parenting

The Imagination is the Ultimate Diversity

Last month in Minneapolis, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs held the largest annual literary conference in North America, with more than 12,000 writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers gathering for four days of networking, readings, panels, and lectures. The social news and entertainment website BuzzFeed decided this was a good opportunity to stir … Continued

Books, Culture