Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Reluctance to Reread Favorite Books

I finished reading The Temple of Gold and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yeah, it had its shortcomings and disappointments, but for a first novel by a 26-year author it was a great read. It was one of those books that leave a lot of ideas rolling around in one's mind and had me eager to discuss it with someone. But since I don't know of anyone who read the book, I enjoy the "virtual book club" of reading reviews on Amazon or Good Reads.

Among the comments on Good Reads was one left by Linda Robinson back in February 2010. She awarded The Temple of Gold the full five stars and posted the below comment:

I read this book in 1970, and it had an enormous impact on me. I'm not going to read it again because I don't want it out of time. J. D. Salinger just died, and I won't reread Franny and Zooey either. I'd rather remember them both as the most amazing books I've read in my life and leave the books and their brilliantly timely authors there.

Robinson's reluctance to revisit old favorite books left me vexed. On the other hand, I sympathized with her reluctance. Like most longtime readers, she has undoubtedly been burned by going back to a youthful treasure and finding fool's gold. Such an unhappy experience happened to me a year or so ago when I reread Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse. I first read it around the age of twenty and recalled it as a profound work that deftly contrasted the life of religious faith with the life of secular indulgence. It inspired me and encouraged me along the pilgrim's path. My original copy long gone, I serendipitously chanced upon the same mid-70's Bantam paperback edition at Half Price Books one day and was overcome with nostalgia. It was like meeting an old friend. Of course I snapped it up and looked forward to rereading it, naive fellow that I was. Reading it proved to be a chore, disenchantment growing with every page. "What was so great about this book?" I asked as I plodded along, waiting for the profundidty I was so confident was in there somewhere. I never found it.

Do I regret rereading it? No. Once the initial "bummer" passed, I spun the experience as an indicator of how far I've come--in life and in literary appreciation. It also gave me a sense of urgency to reread my sentimental favorites, to weigh them in the scales and see if they're found wanting.

And that is what brings me to Salinger. Goldman's Temple of Gold is compared right on the front cover blurb to Salinger. And virtually every reviewer feels an obligation to acknowledge the similarities. I was just last Thursday in my Western Lit Survey course bemoaning how few students read or are even aware of J.D. Salinger, a man with whom every English major circa 1990 was well versed. When Salinger died in January 2010 I looked to commisserate with my Creative Writing students, but only one had heard of him and none had read him. What happened? When did young people stop reading Salinger? Or maybe I should ask. when did Salinger stop speaking to young people? Could it be that what spoke to the disaffected youth of earlier generations is irrelevant to the students of today, who as a rule don't read a great deal and when they do tend to read Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight?

All of which is to say that I'm committing to rereading the Salinger canon over the Christmas break. Unlike the Good Reads reviewer, I don't want to cling to romanticized memories when it comes to books. I don't want to be championing false gods to my students. While talking about Salinger to my students, I was startled to realize that the one and only time I read Catcher in the Rye was in the mid-1980s. I did reread Salinger's short story "A Good Day for Bananafish" last year and found it held up over time, so my hopes are high for a happy reunion with Holden Caulfield and the distinguished Glass family.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Playing Hooky, Looky Booky!

Giving my World Civ I students a work day left me footloose and fancy free this afternoon. Idle time and a crisp $20 bill in my wallet will invariably find me in the stacks at Jackson Street Books. I always intend "just to look," but who am I kidding? After 40 minutes of browsing the paperbacks on the back wall I left thirteen bucks poorer and four books richer:

(1) The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. I love Bellow--Mr. Sammler's Planet my favorite thus far--and I buy up any I find that I haven't read (which are many). This is early Bellow from 1953. I found for three bucks a 1965 Crest Book printing that appears to have been unread. Cover blurbs are from  forgotten and fast-fading names like Clifton Fadiman, Robert Penn Warren, and Alfred Kazin. Augie March is now published as a Penguin Classic and is free from such crass commercialism (though I admit I prefer literary classic paperbacks from before they were anointed Literature, such as the 1960's Bantam paperbacks of Steinbeck's works).

(2) The Hot Gates and Other Occasional Pieces by William Golding. Golding, "author of 'Lord of the Flies,'" as the cover reminds readers, is a genre of book I've come to love: the essay and article collection. I've sought out all of John Updike's collections (still need Higher Gossip, however), and from a flip-through Golding looks like a good addition to my groaning shelves. I have Golding's Lord of the Flies and Pincher Martin, but--like so many of my books--I haven't read 'em... yet.

(3) The Temple of Gold by William Goldman. A new author find of 2012! This is one of those serendipitous stumblings upon that only happen when one is idly looking over the shelves. My eye caught a paperback of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and I thought that might make a good read. I was disappointed to see it was just a screenplay of the film by William Goldman. William Golding I know, Oscar Goldman I know, but not William Goldman. I found this, his first novel from 1957, in a nice condition black-spined 35-cent Bantam paperback (A1834 4) dating to 1958 and for only $4.00.

(4)  The Thing of It Is... by William Goldman. This is Goldman's 1967 novel and I must confess that what provoked me to pull it off the shelf was its provocative cover boasting a rather risque painting by James Bama, whose covers for Bantam's Doc Savage paperbacks I've long adored. The inside cover description sold me on it, especially this line: "The Thing of It Is... Amos McCracken's very precious, very precocious daughter just happens to look like Edward G. Robinson." Yeah, this sounds like a book I'll enjoy. This copy is a little shelf-worn but nonetheless a still nice Bantam paperback (S3706 6) dating to July 1968 when it cost its original reader a mere six bits. I got it for $3.00 and am delighted.

I started reading The Temple of Gold on my hourlong bus ride home and was immediately drawn into it. I'm up to where young Raymond Euripedes Trevitt and his pal Zock run away to Chicago. There they sit and weep through three back-to-back screenings of Gunga Din. Raymond recounts Gunga Din's heroic climb to the top of the temple of gold from where he warns the British soldiers of an impending ambush. And that scene provides the book its title.

Before 3 o'clock today I wasn't aware of this author, so I feel as if I've met a fascinating new friend. Here's hoping this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, to quote another old movie.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

48 Spoons

"I have measured out my life in coffee spoons."

That deceptively simple and seemingly banal observation, as any English undergrad worth a battered Penguin paperback should know, is from T.S. Eliot's celebrated 1915 poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." That line sprang into my undercaffeinated mind a few moments ago as I spooned a mountain of Folgers Crystals into a styrofoam cup of boiling water. And that coffee is so good on a cold, late-November morning. A life measured out in coffee spoons isn't necessarily a bad life.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Earth Day at Grace University: April 19, Admin 217, 12:30-2:00

The Humanities Dept. is holding a small but sincere Earth Day event on Thursday, April 19, 2012, from 12:30 to 2:00. Come on over to Admin 217 and enjoy some popcorn, M&Ms, a soda and a screening of the 2010 documentary BAG IT.

There will be free literature and information to take as well as drawings for prizes, including a copy of THE GREEN BIBLE.

You will also have the chance to sign on and become a charter member of the Grace Ecology Club (which stands in desperate need of a snazzier name).

Hope to see ya there.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The EN 101 Back-To-School Book Bonanza!

Well, it hadda happen. This past Sunday's paper was stuffed with ads for "back-to-school" sales, so I guess it's time to admit that our carefree summers are on the wane and that the first day of school is just a flip of the calendar away. For the ambitious among you,  it's not too soon to start thinking about buying your textbooks for your fall courses.  Please find listed below the Fall 2011 textbooks for EN 101: College Composition, which, depending on your section, will be taught either by Danna Swartz or Gary Peterson.

Should you choose to buy your books through Amazon, please click through the links here and the Grace University Humanities Department will receive a small "kickback" that in turn will be used to purchase materials through Amazon for the betterment of the department and its students (for example, buying books for our library and/or the soon-to-be-announced book discussion club). also offers students a free year of Amazon Prime, which I encourage you to look into (there's a link on the Amazon homepage). Benefits include free two-day shipping.


The Writer's Reference and Exercises for A Writer's Reference are required for all three sections of EN 101.

Danna Swartz also requires the MLA Handbook, Seventh Edition.  

Gary Peterson also requires Simple & Direct and How to Read a Book.  

You are welcome to buy earlier editions of the Adler and Barzun books because the changes over the decades have been  negligible. I also list the MLA Handbook as an optional text, so if you find one cheap, it is also well worth picking up.

If any question, by all means please contact either Danna Swartz ( or myself, Gary Peterson (

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Grace Student Jason West Leading Worship at The Hub: July 12, 19, 26, 2011

If the summer's heat and humidity have your mind softened and spirit sagging, I heartily recommend the remedy detailed below.

PASTOR JAY WEST from Anointed 2 Go Multi-denominational Ministries will be teaching a three-session seminar titled "Biblical Sense and Non-Cents in Tough Economic Times" at THE HUB, located at 10599 Burt Circle (in the Old Mill Area above and behind the Crowne Plaza Hotel in midtown Omaha).  These classes will be offered on three consecutive Tuesdays--July 12, 19 and 26--and each service will begin at 7:00 p.m. with vibrant, anointed worship led by JASON WEST, followed by a teaching time of approximately 40 minutes, and conclude with effective prayer ministry as needed. 

This class is more about "TRUST" and not specifically finances. Our goal is to bless and encourage the Omaha community, recognizing that as the people trust God more, then the church has a greater capacity and more influence and our city is transformed.  You are welcome to bring your own liquid refreshment.  Note: Child care will not be available at these meetings.  Questions? Please contact Jay West at  For more information on THE HUB, visit

Pastor Jay West is a longtime friend, dear brother in Christ and a gifted teacher. His son Jason West, who will be leading worship, will be coming to Grace this August and will be a welcome participant in our Monday/Wednesday 2:00 session of Freshman Comp. If you haven't met Jason, or been blessed by his music, there are two compelling reasons to take a Tuesday evening trek over to Omaha's answer to IHOP--THE HUB!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Collector's Item First Post!

Welcome to the unofficial 'blog of the Humanities Department of Grace University. Like Rod Serling on the Twilight Zone, I will be the front man here, leading you through the fascinating worlds of literature, the arts, religion and philosophy.

This site will also serve to notify students of the many goings on at Grace, especially those masterminded by or stamped with the imprimatur of the Humanities Department.

Finally, this 'blog will serve as a one-stop shop for all your Fall 2011textbooks! The faculty voted to allow each department chair to establish affiliate accounts with that will allow a percentage of your textbook purchases to come back to the department, which in turn will be returned to you in the form of materials we can purchase for our library or for each department's holdings.

You are encouraged to check back regularly. I am eager to host guest 'bloggers from among our students and faculty and to provide an outlet for Grace's many Humanities professors, whether on staff and adjunct.