Oh, How I Miss Lit Class

The one (academic) thing I miss the most about university is Lit class. For two reasons:

First, I had to read one book a week (and in that one mad semester where I took two literature courses,  I had to read two). I would actually have a good excuse to put all my other chores aside and read. I would position myself comfortably on the couch with a cup of tea – or in the colder seasons, with a cup of hot cocoa – and read.
My husband (then boyfriend) would come home from work and say, “I thought you had to study?”
“Hmm,” I’d mutter, “I am… Oh, and can you fix dinner, I have to finish this book by tonight.”
It was great. Now I’m happy if I find the time to read one book a month.

Second, in a compact one-hour (or sometimes two-hour) lecture, the professor would tell us about the author, which always included interesting trinkets of information not found on Wikipedia. Then the book would be placed in its appropriate time frame to be compared to other works, and its significance analyzed.

It’s still possible to get a taste of this experience (with the classics) when I buy a version that has a literary essay introducing the book. Although I need to be lucky that it’s both a well-written and accessible essay, as this isn’t always the case. Also, I’m never sure why it’s placed at the beginning of the book – before the story. I mean if I’ve never read the story, then it’s one big spoiler and I don’t get half of what they’re going on about.

I know I don’t actually need to buy this version of a classic since there are hundreds of literary essays on the Internet, but let’s face it, I’m just lazy. Besides, time is limited and I don’t want to waste it reading a dozen or so bad essays before I find a good one. That’s why it was great to have an academic present the information – someone who’s probably read a good chunk of  literary essays on a book, filtered out and selected the most relevant or interesting information for his students.

As it is, I simply enjoy the classics in the way I suppose they were meant to be enjoyed. I read them and take from them what I can, without any knowledge of the author, the time frame or their literary significance.



11 thoughts on “Oh, How I Miss Lit Class

  1. Having a penchant for sharing the “goodies” about the author, background, intertextuality, and the like with my students, only to detect from their body language they either a) found the information as thrilling as watching paint dry or b) annoyed by the yet another onslaught of information–so I curtailed these “insights” and had them work in groups. Recently I found out through a parent how much one of the students truly enjoyed learning about all the extras. Perplexing since this particular student was one of those more interested in other endeavours than listening. So I appreciate your view. Maybe I will include sidenotes again, and just ignore the random inattentiveness of some students.

    1. I loved my lit profs. The ones who breathed Faulkner and Joyce into the air of the classroom, air that we then inhaled. Demanding perfectionists, they were. And the one who introduced me to lit theory and helped me make some sense of some pretty dense texts. Oh, how I miss them. So please keep sharing with your students, even if you think you’re leaving no trace.

    2. Definitely give the students that extra. Why should the disinterest of some students spoil it for those who really do appreciate it? If you can add your own enthusiasm to the info than it will definitely leave a trace.
      In my classes there was always a handful of students who would, outside of class, proudly admit that they simply read the cliff notes. And this at university level! What a shame, I always thought. But that really, really is their loss.

  2. Is that how your Lit. classes went? Then, lucky you!! My aim is to major in lit, but the lit classes held at my college are mind-blowingly…well…boring. It’s almost as if the professor KNOWS that more than half of the class is absolutely uninterested in the subject (which is true….*sigh*) and doesn’t really put much heart and effort into teaching. I’ve always had to learn about the author/poet myself. Worst part is that a simple format of a literary analysis hasn’t been taught to us yet, which is saying something considering that this is the second year. All of us were so lost when we told to write one for our assignment. It’s ironic how Indians think speaking in English would immediately boost your status, yet they have total disregard towards Eng Lit. Or, is it that the two aren’t connected in the first place?

    1. Yes, I was very lucky. There are some really good lit professors at Leiden University who really put in lots of effort preparing for class – and just as important – gave the lectures with such enthusiasm that it was hard not to love the books they taught, even if I had disliked it while actually reading it myself.

  3. I agree. I would like to have continued lit classes for the rest of my life. I keep getting these offers for “audio lectures” in the mail. Don’t know if they’re worth it. I’m also thinking about checking out free online lit lectures. Let me know if you run across any.

    On another note: you and your colleagues are invited to “Show Us Your Shelves.” Check out my, Dogpatch’s or Call of The Siren’s blogs for a little library voyeurism. Fiction Fan has just posted as well. Hope to see yours soon!

    1. I believe Sofia has experience with audio lectures. I’ll ask her and if she has perhaps she can respond or even write a blog post on it.

        1. Hi Jilanne, Vanessa told me you guys were discussing this so I thought I’d add my two cents 🙂
          I’m really into learning online and audio lectures, I like Coursera for free online courses, and though not free, The Teaching Company (TTC) has really good audio lectures. Hope this helps

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