ENG/WGS 337: Women Mystery Writers
Instructor: Jacqueline Zeff
W: 4-6:45 p.m.
Women have had a complicated relationship with detectives and detective fiction, depicted frequently as victims or femme fatales. But not in their own tales of murder and mayhem. While “horsing around,” women writers of crime fiction dominate the best-seller lists and expand this most popular form of fiction reading, transforming and destabilizing the traditional male detective and enriching our discussion of social issues such as female independence, gender and crime, racial justice, power and the amateur, and environmental activism. Three short papers, a midterm, final take-home exam, and an original five-minute mystery.
“It’s fun to horse around with danger.”—Sue Grafton
Born in rural Pennsylvania, and spending most of his life in semi-rural eastern settings, Updike originally hoped to become a cartoonist, edited the Harvard Lampoon, then worked for The New Yorker, but became one of the greatest and most prolific interpreters in fiction of the experience of ordinary, middle-class American men. His “Rabbit” Angstrom series of novels (1960-90) traces the life of a one-time high school basketball star from early adulthood to death over three decades and are probably his greatest achievement, chronicling American life and concerns over that time.
Couples (1968), set in the early 1960s, examined what Time magazine called “The Adulterous Society,” as traditional American values butted up against post-World War Two affluence. The Witches of Eastwick (1984) controversially linked women’s liberation and the supernatural in a satirical novel eventually made into a movie starring Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Cher–and Jack Nicholson as the Devil.
Outstanding among American novelists of his time, Updike won every major and minor American literary award. He was notable for his beautifully written prose and his lifelong religious faith. (post by Fred Svoboda)
Today is the 212th birthday of Charles Dickens, novelist extraordinaire. Dickens wrote 14 novels between 1836 and 1865, in the process becoming one of the most famous writers in the world. His novels have never been out of print, his name has been transformed into an adjective for describing complex, multi-layered narratives, and he had more than a little to do with the modern conception of Christmas. If all you know about Dickens is that he invented Ebenezer Scrooge, here’s a bit more.
- Despite his reputation for happy endings, Dickens’ novels can hold their own against anybody’s for psychological darkness.
- Dickens was fascinated by altered states of consciousness and learned how to hypnotize his friends.
- His novel David Copperfield was Sigmund Freud’s favorite, provides the stage name for a popular illusionist, and contains a character, Uriah Heep, who is the source of the name for a British band of the late-sixties.
- Henrik Ibsen’s famous play A Doll’s House takes its title from words used by a character in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. Speaking about her marriage, Bella Wilfer says “I want to be something so much worthier than the doll in the doll’s house.”
- Our Mutual Friend also contains dialogue that provided an early working title for T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”: “He do the Police in different voices.”
Charles Dickens – he’s in the middle of everything!
English Department Administrative Assistant and CAS Staff Coordinator Karen Davis has been recognized for her excellent work with a Sterling Staff Award. As Karen’s anonymous nominator wrote, “Karen works tirelessly to make CAS a better place to be. She has such institutional knowledge and is the ‘go-to’ person for answers for questions. I admire Karen’s professionalism, her ethics, and her efforts on behalf of the CAS personnel.” We in English heartily agree. There’s much, much more to what Karen does, always drawing on her energy, her wisdom, and her dedication. Congratulations, Karen!
NOVEMBER 1, 2013
The Department of English at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor has announced plans for a one-day conference on November 1, 2013 in honor of Robert Hayden, the distinguished poet and educator who received an M.A. degree from the University of Michigan in 1944 and returned to teach at the university in 1970 as Professor of English until his death in 1980.
Hayden has emerged as a major figure in American literary history. He is the leader, along with Gwendolyn Brooks, of the generation of African American poets that emerged in the 1940s to achieve widespread critical attention and a massive presence in anthologies and textbooks. He served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (the position now known as Poet Laureate of the United States) from 1976-1978. The U.S. Post Office issued a postage stamp in 2012 to honor his achievement.
The keynote address of the conference, to be held in the Rackham Amphitheater, will be delivered by Harryette Mullen, Professor of English and Creative Writing at UCLA, a Guggenheim Fellow (among other honors), and a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her volume of essays and interviews, The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be, appeared in 2012.
Professor Mullen will be introduced by A. Van Jordan of the U-M faculty. A panel discussion in early afternoon will include Mullen, Linda Gregerson (of the U-M faculty), Lawrence Joseph, a Detroit native and the preeminent Arab-American poet of our time, and Frederick Glaysher, editor of Hayden’s Collected Poems and Collected Prose. Robert Hayden is a character in Glaysher’s recently published epic poem, The Parliament of Poets. Laurence Goldstein, Professor of English and co-editor (with Robert Chrisman) of Robert Hayden: Essays on the Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2001), will serve as panel moderator.
In late afternoon, MFA students will read from and speak about Hayden’s poems, along with other participants in the conference.
November 1 Timetable:
10 a.m. Keynote address by Harryette Mullen
12-1:30 p.m. Lunch at various restaurants around campus
1:30-3:00 p.m. Panel discussion
3:00-5:00 p.m. Readings and remarks by audience members
2012-13 got too busy for us all to find the time to check in with you. But here we are, a few days before “summer” comes to UM-Flint! For this go-round, we asked ourselves what we were most determined to read this summer, and then each suggested a must-read title for you. Below you’ll find evidence that English teachers really do like books, along with an essential reading list for the beach. See you next year!
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. Sure, the movies were great; the book is even better. The surface story is a good saga, but the deeper meanings (hope in the face of despair, sacrifice, friendship, environmentalism, and the value and price of freedom) make this book a timeless classic. I’m reading Tolkien again because I’m working on two papers for publication. No matter how many times I read it, I always find new things I want to research and write about. Now THAT is a mark of good literature!
For students: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, which tells the story of the two men (a physician and a minister) who tracked the 1854 Cholera outbreak in London to its source: one well in Soho. It reads like a murder mystery but is a great illustration of how society influences the way we think, the use of the scientific method, the evolution of cities, and how all these things still influence us today.
I’m determined to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain because I’m interested in the intersection where introverts and extroverts meet, work, and live.
I would love my students to read Slowness by Milan Kundera. Though not necessarily his best book, I think it is increasingly prescient for our time and it is an enjoyable read.
I’m determined to read: The Woman Who Died A Lot: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde. I’ll leave it to the Cleveland Plain Dealer to describe why: “In Misery, Stephen King compares the euphoric feeling writers experience in creative bursts to ‘falling into a hole filled with bright light.’ Avid readers also know that feeling: A good story temporarily erases the world. British novelist Jasper Fforde has expanded on King’s simile in a wonderful seven-book series of novels featuring Thursday Next. Enormously knowledgeable about literary history, Fforde scatters nuggets for nerdy readers like me. By the end, all of Fforde’s myriad particles of plot, accelerated by his immense skill and narrative sense, collide, producing pyrotechnics and a passel of new particles to propel his next tale. I love the Thursday Next books, and when a new one appears, I don’t fall but leap into this bibliophile’s Wonderland.”
The book I’d love students to read this summer: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Because this is how I fell in love with Jasper Fforde, his love of language, his ability to tell a good story and turn even the silly into something smart. Because reading and writing are, at heart, fun.
The book I’m determined to read this summer is The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. The book details the development of a whole community of women (as in, there was an empty area in Tennessee where they created a “city”) during WWII to work on the bomb…but they didn’t know that was what they were doing. I simply am intrigued by the topic and am trying to read more non-fiction.
The book I’d love my students to read this summer is Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer is a superb writer – his use of humor (especially his humor), history, experimentation with structure and language and development of character would (I think!) grab some students who don’t find reading fiction enjoyable.
Mary Jo Kietzman
A 9-way tie! Janet Adelman, Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in The Merchant of Venice; Henry David Thoreau, Walden; Stanley Cavell, The Senses of Walden; Charles Dickens, David Copperfield; William Blake, Milton; and in the Bible: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings.
For students: Shakespeare, King Lear … so they are ready for the English department production!
This summer I am reading: On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche, because I am thinking about modernity as an epistemology that developed, in part, as a reaction against medieval assumptions about knowledge and metaphysics.
For students: Not Nietzsche, but J. M. Coetzee’s 2013 novel, The Childhood of Jesus because Coetzee is incredible and this book looks really disruptive
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis. For a long time I’ve wanted to read Proust’s modernist masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, in its entirety. I read Swann’s Way years ago but never moved on to the other six books. I’ve heard such good things about the newish Penguin translation (starting with Lydia Davis’s volume) that I’m trying again.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. When I ask students, even M.A. students, if they’ve read this great novel, almost no one says yes. It’s pivotal! It’s wonderful! It’s time to read the book that mixes a plot concerning the poor fit between romantic daydreams and middle-class life with one of the most dazzling displays of narrative technique ever laid down anywhere. (Lydia Davis, a fabulous writer herself, has translated this one too.)
One book I’m determined to read: How Writing Came About, by Denise Schmandt-Besserat, because of my increasing interest in the history of writing alongside an already persistent interest in what we gain/lose in the move from handwriting to typing and texting.
One book I’d love for students to read: Crimes Against Logic, by Jamie Whyte, because of the importance of understanding, dissecting, and taking down dishonest and illogical arguments made by those in positions of power.
I’ve always been curious about why I react negatively to certain fonts. A New York Times article on fonts led me to Simon Garfield’s Just My Type last summer. This summer, I’m planning to read Stephen Coles’ The Anatomy of Type.
It’s not a book but I hope students will read the posts on Language Log. It’s a great blog by multiple linguists who comment daily on language-related issues.
My planned reading this summer: Transatlantic by Colum McCann, due out in June. The book mixes history and fiction in following three crossings from the U.S. to Ireland over 150 years, from Frederick Douglass to Senator George Mitchell, and promises to be very interesting. McCann, in addition to crafting exquisite narratives, is one of the premier stylists writing in English today. McCann was born in Ireland and is now a citizen of this country, and his grounding in — and fascination with — both cultures shows through in his writing.
Continuing the theme, I would recommend to students McCann’s earlier Let the Great World Spin, which was a highly deserving winner of the National Book Award for 2009. He calls it his “9/11 novel” despite the fact that the events of 9/11 never appear. The lives of a disparate group of people—bereaved mothers of soldiers killed in Vietnam, a mother and daughter pair of prostitutes, artistic poseurs, a ruined Irish monk and his brother—are tied together by the events of the August day in 1974 when Phillipe Petit walked a wire between the Twin Towers. I read the evocative opening of Petit making his stroll in thin air, was instantly hooked, and never got unhooked. It is an amazing performance.
A book I’m determined to read this summer: Ian McEwan, Atonement. I’ll be spending some time in Britain this summer, and I like to read British authors while I’m there, particularly contemporary “greats.”
A book that students should read this summer: Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. You might as well take the summer to ponder some big, and possibly disturbing, ideas. And if you’re going to do that, go really big.