What the USA is Reading


The link below is to an article that looks at what the USA is reading during the coronavirus pandemic.

For more visit:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/2020-book-trends/2020/09/02/6a835caa-e863-11ea-bc79-834454439a44_story.html

‘Quarantine envy’ could finally wake people up to the deep inequalities that pervade American life



Envy is one of the seven deadly sins – the worst of them all, according to the ‘Canterbury Tales.’
Richard Donaghue/EyeEm via Getty Images

Jessica Rosenfeld, Washington University in St Louis

In recent months, mental health experts have been drawing attention to what they’ve dubbed “quarantine envy.”

Many people, they note, have been sizing up the extent to which they’ve been affected by lockdowns and economic hardship. Who still has a job? Who gets to work from home? Whose home is spacious, light-filled and Instagram-worthy?

The start of the school year adds another layer of comparison. Parents stuck in a small apartment with two kids forced to learn remotely might feel pangs about the fact that their friend’s kids get to attend a private school in person.

What should we do with these unpleasant feelings? Should we repress them or reason them away? Are they too shameful to be shared?

Envy is one of Christianity’s seven deadly sins – the worst of them all, says the Parson in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” But my research into the long history of envy shows that the emotion has many sides to it.

Some are certainly destructive. But envy can also be useful. The “sin” can help us better understand ourselves and the world around us – and it can be a key driver of social change.

Tales of envy

Envy has a bad reputation. Everyone feels it at one point or another, although we often don’t want to admit to being truly envious of others – harboring the kind of envy that gnaws at us and makes us feel inferior.

One man – representing envy – stands with his palms out and one eye blinded. The other – greed – has both his eyes blinded.
A 15th-century illustration of a classic fable of envy and greed.
Morgan Library

Portraits of envy can show it as an astonishingly malicious emotion. One version of a popular fable tells the story of an envious man and a greedy man being given a single wish. The one condition is that the person who does not get to choose the reward will be given double what the other man wishes. The greedy man quickly asks that the envious man be given the choice; the envious man then wishes to be blinded in one eye.

In William Langland’s poem “Piers Plowman,” the personification of Envy confesses that all he wants is for his neighbor, “Gybbe,” to have something bad happen to him; he wants this even more than he wants cheese (which is saying a lot, if you ask me!).

In these stories, envy is typically defined as wanting misfortune for others, longing to feel superior in some way or at least making them just as miserable as you are.

Late medieval literature is also filled with stories that point to envy as a source of violence.

The chronicler Jean Froissart describes the social unrest associated with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 as a consequence of the envy the commoners had toward the nobles and the rich.

Here – and elsewhere – envy is a label used to diminish the political claims of a particular group of people. In 2012, Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of practicing the “bitter politics of envy.” In this way, criticism of the rich or powerful, or wanting the wealthy to be taxed more to fund public services, brings accusations of petty envy and resentment.

When envy spurs social change

Modern understandings of envy are also related to other kinds of negative feelings, like anger that someone has undeserved wealth or frustration that certain groups are hoarding money, power, or privileges.

Here is where envy can take a turn that can lead to better outcomes. Envy can be productive when it is not directed at one person in particular but is instead directed at the way society is structured.

Economists and political scientists increasingly recognize that reducing inequality can be an end in itself. Envy – even the kind of nakedly competitive envy that seeks to damage others for no personal gain – can work to regulate inequality that has grown too wide.

Political scientist Jeffrey Green defends policies driven by a “reasonable envy” that targets the well off, even if there is no expectation of gain for everyone else. For example, he says that capping wealth might lower the material welfare for all, but this would be worth the reduction in inequality, since excessive or unjust inequality can lead to instability and feelings of disempowerment among ordinary citizens.

Economist Robert Frank prefers taxing consumption to reduce “luxury fever,” in which competitive spending escalates wildly, especially among the super-rich, leaving less money for individuals and the government to spend on essential services.

Personification of envy, wearing a veil and green dress, sits on a bench with her arms folded.
An illustration of the personification of envy from a medieval manuscript.
The Morgan Library

In their new book, “The Economic Other,” political scientists Meghan Condon and Amber Wichowsky open with the line, “The human imagination is an engine of comparison.”

In their studies, they show that politics is driven by the social imagination – and Americans have fewer opportunities for comparison because of increasing class segregation in our society. Middle-class and poorer Americans see the wealthy online and on TV but not in everyday life. The authors believe policies might become more just if there were more opportunities for “upward comparison” – if everyday Americans could simply see, in their day-to-day lives, the extent to which the wealthy lead extravagant lives. Their research suggests that envious comparison would lead to more support for government spending on welfare, Social Security and education.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

Dwelling with envy

Aristotle has a much more specific – and negative – definition of envy. In his view, the emotion is directed toward our equals. We become envious when our neighbors have something we desire and believe we deserve, and when we feel it is our own fault that we do not have that good thing.

He distinguishes envy from other comparative feelings like emulation, indignation or pity. These kinds of distinctions are helpful, because thinking carefully about emotions can give us information about ourselves and our environment. Some philosophers describe emotions as reasoning tools, a shortcut to filter copious amounts of information.

In a time of quarantine – when comparisons often involve who has the best version of being alone – dwelling with envy can open our eyes to ourselves and the world.

Do these negative feelings say something about ourselves? Are they specific to another person? Or do they reflect an unjust system?

Can these disparities change? If so, what could bring that about?

Trying to manage or avoid envious feelings doesn’t allow us to answer – or even ask – those questions.The Conversation

Jessica Rosenfeld, Associate Professor of English Literature, Washington University in St Louis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Quarantine envy’ could finally wake people up to the deep inequalities that pervade American life



Envy is one of the seven deadly sins – the worst of them all, according to the ‘Canterbury Tales.’
Richard Donaghue/EyeEm via Getty Images

Jessica Rosenfeld, Washington University in St Louis

In recent months, mental health experts have been drawing attention to what they’ve dubbed “quarantine envy.”

Many people, they note, have been sizing up the extent to which they’ve been affected by lockdowns and economic hardship. Who still has a job? Who gets to work from home? Whose home is spacious, light-filled and Instagram-worthy?

The start of the school year adds another layer of comparison. Parents stuck in a small apartment with two kids forced to learn remotely might feel pangs about the fact that their friend’s kids get to attend a private school in person.

What should we do with these unpleasant feelings? Should we repress them or reason them away? Are they too shameful to be shared?

Envy is one of Christianity’s seven deadly sins – the worst of them all, says the Parson in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” But my research into the long history of envy shows that the emotion has many sides to it.

Some are certainly destructive. But envy can also be useful. The “sin” can help us better understand ourselves and the world around us – and it can be a key driver of social change.

Tales of envy

Envy has a bad reputation. Everyone feels it at one point or another, although we often don’t want to admit to being truly envious of others – harboring the kind of envy that gnaws at us and makes us feel inferior.

One man – representing envy – stands with his palms out and one eye blinded. The other – greed – has both his eyes blinded.
A 15th-century illustration of a classic fable of envy and greed.
Morgan Library

Portraits of envy can show it as an astonishingly malicious emotion. One version of a popular fable tells the story of an envious man and a greedy man being given a single wish. The one condition is that the person who does not get to choose the reward will be given double what the other man wishes. The greedy man quickly asks that the envious man be given the choice; the envious man then wishes to be blinded in one eye.

In William Langland’s poem “Piers Plowman,” the personification of Envy confesses that all he wants is for his neighbor, “Gybbe,” to have something bad happen to him; he wants this even more than he wants cheese (which is saying a lot, if you ask me!).

In these stories, envy is typically defined as wanting misfortune for others, longing to feel superior in some way or at least making them just as miserable as you are.

Late medieval literature is also filled with stories that point to envy as a source of violence.

The chronicler Jean Froissart describes the social unrest associated with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 as a consequence of the envy the commoners had toward the nobles and the rich.

Here – and elsewhere – envy is a label used to diminish the political claims of a particular group of people. In 2012, Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of practicing the “bitter politics of envy.” In this way, criticism of the rich or powerful, or wanting the wealthy to be taxed more to fund public services, brings accusations of petty envy and resentment.

When envy spurs social change

Modern understandings of envy are also related to other kinds of negative feelings, like anger that someone has undeserved wealth or frustration that certain groups are hoarding money, power, or privileges.

Here is where envy can take a turn that can lead to better outcomes. Envy can be productive when it is not directed at one person in particular but is instead directed at the way society is structured.

Economists and political scientists increasingly recognize that reducing inequality can be an end in itself. Envy – even the kind of nakedly competitive envy that seeks to damage others for no personal gain – can work to regulate inequality that has grown too wide.

Political scientist Jeffrey Green defends policies driven by a “reasonable envy” that targets the well off, even if there is no expectation of gain for everyone else. For example, he says that capping wealth might lower the material welfare for all, but this would be worth the reduction in inequality, since excessive or unjust inequality can lead to instability and feelings of disempowerment among ordinary citizens.

Economist Robert Frank prefers taxing consumption to reduce “luxury fever,” in which competitive spending escalates wildly, especially among the super-rich, leaving less money for individuals and the government to spend on essential services.

Personification of envy, wearing a veil and green dress, sits on a bench with her arms folded.
An illustration of the personification of envy from a medieval manuscript.
The Morgan Library

In their new book, “The Economic Other,” political scientists Meghan Condon and Amber Wichowsky open with the line, “The human imagination is an engine of comparison.”

In their studies, they show that politics is driven by the social imagination – and Americans have fewer opportunities for comparison because of increasing class segregation in our society. Middle-class and poorer Americans see the wealthy online and on TV but not in everyday life. The authors believe policies might become more just if there were more opportunities for “upward comparison” – if everyday Americans could simply see, in their day-to-day lives, the extent to which the wealthy lead extravagant lives. Their research suggests that envious comparison would lead to more support for government spending on welfare, Social Security and education.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

Dwelling with envy

Aristotle has a much more specific – and negative – definition of envy. In his view, the emotion is directed toward our equals. We become envious when our neighbors have something we desire and believe we deserve, and when we feel it is our own fault that we do not have that good thing.

He distinguishes envy from other comparative feelings like emulation, indignation or pity. These kinds of distinctions are helpful, because thinking carefully about emotions can give us information about ourselves and our environment. Some philosophers describe emotions as reasoning tools, a shortcut to filter copious amounts of information.

In a time of quarantine – when comparisons often involve who has the best version of being alone – dwelling with envy can open our eyes to ourselves and the world.

Do these negative feelings say something about ourselves? Are they specific to another person? Or do they reflect an unjust system?

Can these disparities change? If so, what could bring that about?

Trying to manage or avoid envious feelings doesn’t allow us to answer – or even ask – those questions.The Conversation

Jessica Rosenfeld, Associate Professor of English Literature, Washington University in St Louis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Little Free Libraries and Coronavirus


The link below is to an article that looks at the role of Little Free Libraries in the coronavirus pandemic.

For more visit:
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2020-08-20/little-free-libraries-in-the-time-of-covid

Poets and novelists have been writing about life under COVID-19 for more than a century



Literature from long ago speaks to the human experience of plague.
Marco Rosario Venturini Autieri/Getty

Rachel Hadas, Rutgers University Newark

Pondering the now no-longer Dixie Chicks – renamed “The Chicks” – Amanda Petrusich wrote in a recent issue of the New Yorker, “Lately, I’ve caught myself referring to a lot of new releases as prescient – work that was written and recorded months or even years ago but feels designed to address the present moment. But good art is always prescient, because good artists are tuned into the currency and the momentum of their time.”

That last phrase, “currency and momentum,” recalls Hamlet’s advice to the actors visiting the court of Elsinore to show “the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” The shared idea here is that good art gives a clear picture of what is happening – even, as Petrusich suggests, if it hadn’t happened yet when that art was created.

Good artists seem, in our alarming and prolonged time (I was going to write moment, but it has come to feel like a lot more than that), to be leaping over months, decades and centuries, to speak directly to us now.

‘Riding into the bottomless abyss’

Some excellent COVID-19-inflected or anticipatory work I’ve been noticing dates from the mid-20th century. Of course, one could go a lot further back, for example to the lines from the closing speech in “King Lear”: “The weight of this sad time we must obey.” Here, though, are a few more recent examples.

Drawing of Parisians in front of closed store in 1914
Marcel Proust wrote that in wartime Paris, ‘all the hotels … had closed. The same was true of almost all the shops, the shop-keepers … having fled to the country, and left the usual handwritten notes announcing that they would reopen.’
L. Bombard, from L’Illustrazione Italiana/Getty

Marcel Proust’s “Finding Time Again,” an evocation of wartime Paris from 1916, strongly suggests New York City in March 2020: “Out on the street where I found myself, some distance from the centre of the city, all the hotels … had closed. The same was true of almost all the shops, the shop-keepers, either because of a lack of staff or because they themselves had taken fright, having fled to the country, and left the usual handwritten notes announcing that they would reopen, although even that seemed problematic, at some date far in the future. The few establishments which had managed to survive similarly announced that they would open only twice a week.”

I recently stumbled on finds from the 1958 edition of Oscar Williams’ “The Pocket Book of Modern Verse” – both, strikingly, from poems by writers not now principally remembered as poets. Whereas a fair number of the poets anthologized by Williams have slipped into oblivion, Arthur Waley and Julian Symons speak to us now, to our sad time, loud and clear.

From Waley’s “Censorship” (1940):

It is not difficult to censor foreign news.
What is hard to-say is to censor one’s own thoughts,-
To sit by and see the blind man
On the sightless horse, riding into the bottomless abyss.

And from Symons’ “Pub,” which Williams doesn’t date but which I am assuming also comes from the war years:

The houses are shut and the people go home, we are left in
Our island of pain, the clocks start to move and the powerful
To act, there is nothing now, nothing at all
To be done: for the trouble is real: and the verdict is final
Against us.

‘Return to what remains’

Photo of novelist Henry James
In an 1897 novel, Henry James wrote ‘She couldn’t leave her own house without peril of exposure.’
Hulton Archive/Getty

Dipping a bit further back, into Henry James’ “The Spoils of Poynton” from 1897, I was struck by a sentence I hadn’t remembered, or had failed to notice, when I first read that novella decades ago: “She couldn’t leave her own house without peril of exposure.” James uses infection as a metaphor; but what happens to a metaphor when we’re living in a world where we literally can’t leave our houses without peril of exposure?

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

In Anthony Powell’s novel “Temporary Kings,” set in the 1950s, the narrator muses about what it is that attracts people to reunions with old comrades-in-arms from the war. But the idea behind the question “How was your war?” extends beyond shared military experience: “When something momentous like a war has taken place, all existence turned upside down, personal life discarded, every relationship reorganized, there is a temptation, after all is over, to return to what remains … pick about among the bent and rusting composite parts, assess merits and defects.”

The pandemic is still taking place. It’s too early to “return to what remains.” But we can’t help wanting to think about exactly that. Literature helps us to look – as Hamlet said – before and after.The Conversation

Rachel Hadas, Professor of English, Rutgers University Newark

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 is a year for the history books, but not without digital archives



Canada lags behind some countries with preserving public digital records.
(Flickr/BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives Canada), CC BY-NC

Ian Milligan, University of Waterloo

A seasonal change is in the air. With a minimal amount of nostalgia about the dwindling days of this unique summer, let’s turn to how we can make the most of the rest of 2020 — clearly a year for the history books.

As a historian, what concerns me is: What will our history of this unprecedented year look like in a quarter century? As the world is reshaped by COVID-19, as well as ongoing protests on a nearly unprecedented scale against racism and police brutality in the United States, Canada and around the world, it’s clear that this will be a year for future historians to make sense of.

A child today will be a historian of 2020 in the future. What sources will they turn to? How will they verify scattered memories? How will people tell the story of the tumultuous times that we’re living in today? 2020 may be a year for the history “books” but of course, the record we leave behind will be digital in manner.

But right now, Canada, unlike many other countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Denmark and others, doesn’t mandate its national library to capture a comprehensive digital record of Canadian life. This needs to change so we can ensure historians of the future have all the sources possible to write a rich, equitable and robust historical record.

Social movements, virus

From the role of video and social media in sparking and documenting protests to companies and educational institutions that moved online en masse in a matter of days this past March, 2020 will be a year that will be understood through digital media.

With coronavirus isolation, digital media has been enormously important for our interactions with colleagues, friends and loved ones.

Some trends: Zoom’s daily meeting participants went from 10 million in December to 300 million in April and we “doomscroll” through social media feeds before bed. As The New York Times explained: “The virus changed the way we internet.”

Corner outside of a tall glass building.
Today, archival work means considering digital records. Here, Library and Archives Canada’s Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Que., seen in May 2012.
(David Knox. Library and Archives Canada, IMG_1982 /Flickr), CC BY-NC

Minute-by-minute information

Because in part the British Library is empowered to collect millions of their web pages every year through the use of “legal deposit” power, a historian in the U.K. will have a rich record to explore.

For example, what did Britons think of senior adviser Dominic Cummings’ 418-kilometre trip from London to Durham while his wife was unwell? A researcher will be able to visit the British Library (in most cases, an in-person visit is required due to legal reasons) to consult not only social media feeds of everyday researchers, but news websites, U.K. blogs and beyond.

They will be able to draw on nearly everything published on the U.K. web in 2020. Right now a researcher can already view thousands of pages — and, most importantly, these are stewarded by the British Library for future preservation.

Legal deposit

This information will be accessible to our future researcher thanks to the power of legal deposit. Legal deposit is defined by the International Federation of Library Associations as a “statutory obligation [that] requires publishers, distributors and, in some countries, printers, to freely provide copies of their publications to the national collection,” and is a power that builds the collections of national libraries including Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

What this has meant in practice is that when a book or publication is published, there has been a legal requirement to deposit the book with a national library.

What happens when a publication moves online? What about blogs? Should they have a similar responsibility to deposit their material? And, critically, does a national library have a duty to preserve this information at scale?

The British Library has, since April 2013, been “entitled to copy U.K.-published material from the internet for archiving under legal deposit.” In practice, this means that it annually archives websites of the U.K.; it also supplements this archive through curated collections such as the earlier mentioned one around global pandemics. Those tweets, blogs, health websites and so on all form part of the historical record — and once archived, there is no legal ability to retroactively delete them.

Crucially, sweeping collections of material under legal deposit means that material is being amassed that does not seem important today — but could be invaluable to a historian in years to come.

Canada should aggressively follow

The remarkably forward thinking Library and Archives of Canada Act of 2004 gives Library and Archives Canada similar powers. One section of the act, for example, gives the institution the power to take a “representative sample of the documentary material of interest to Canada that is accessible to the public without restriction through the internet or any similar medium.”

These laws, however, aren’t used to their fullest. Canada’s national library doesn’t carry out a comprehensive snapshot of the entire Canadian web domain, meaning that countless voices will be lost for future historians.

A finger pushing a digital button with documents behind it.
The notion of legal deposit could be expanded in Canada to cover a comprehensive snapshot of the entire Canadian web domain.
(Shutterstock)

This is not to paint too dire a picture. Library and Archives Canada does a great job of capturing material of interest. During COVID-19, it has selectively captured some 38 million digital assets related to COVID-19 by July 2020, which add to their robust web archives including the Government of Canada web archive, which collects and maintains a comprehensive record of federal government’s websites.

Increasingly, it’s making collections, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s collection, available online. In doing so, Library and Archives Canada is explicitly noting its collecting powers under the 2004 act, suggesting an increasing willingness to share these materials.

We should laud this great work, and use it as a launchpad for the comprehensive collection of all Canadian material.

Patchwork collecting: not enough

While Library and Archives Canada has been collecting material for COVID-19, including social media hashtags as well as media and non-media related websites, even 900 websites being regularly collected is patchwork compared to the sheer amount of information published by Canadians online every day.

To do justice to what’s happening around us, and to make sure that historians of the future can understand this moment, the institution and policy-makers need to move quickly.

We need to aim to collect the entire Canadian web domain on an ongoing basis, both during and after COVID, to enable future researchers to understand our country. This will require additional funds to Library and Archives Canada. But, at what better time?The Conversation

Ian Milligan, Associate Professor of History, University of Waterloo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sharing Books During the Pandemic


The link below is to an article that considers how to safely share books during the coronavirus pandemic – how to disinfect books, etc.

For more visit:
https://bookriot.com/how-to-disinfect-books/

The Importance of Bookshops in the Pandemic


The link below is to an article that looks into the importance of bookshops in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more visit:
https://www.readitforward.com/authors/the-importance-of-bookstores-during-the-pandemic/

Reading during coronavirus: books can be triggering, but difficult texts teach us resilience, too



Shutterstock

Kate Douglas, Flinders University and Kylie Cardell, Flinders University

We teach English at university. Our weekly engagements include navigating unnerving plot twists, falling in and out of love with iconic characters, and evaluating the complexities of language and genre.

Reading challenges how we think. Each week, in English classes, we explore some of the most significant issues and representations affecting various historical periods and cultures.

In the first semester, our reading list included classic works of literature that deal with themes including mental illness and psychological as well as physical isolation: Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Then COVID-19 happened.

News reports began circulating on what professors were reading for refuge during the pandemic. An article in the New Yorker pondered why “anxious readers” might be soothed by Mrs Dalloway. This is a text that, in the past, has seen students request trigger warnings for its of “examination of suicidal tendencies” which “may trigger painful memories for students suffering from self-harm”.




Read more:
When literature takes you by surprise: or, the case against trigger warnings


Our teaching suddenly moved online, which created an even more unsettling set of conditions. We were teaching literary texts representing various kinds of trauma to students coping with a range of new (or exacerbated) issues due to sudden loss of employment, social disconnection, anxiety and fear.

Would reading these difficult texts prove to be a solace for our students, a timely example of the social role of literary storytelling, or a trauma all of its own?

What are difficult texts?

Great stories move and they challenge. They draw attention to diverse social and cultural issues and to the transformative potential of empathy. But they can also be difficult and there are a range of reasons why.

The challenge might be intellectual. Or the text confronting on a psychological or emotional level.

A lot of literature is perceived as perpetuating racist stereotypes. Until quite recently, a good deal of canonical literature excluded the perspectives of women. This is something Woolf has written extensively about and that we can see at work in Mrs Dalloway. Part of her novel’s radicalism is its transgressive (for its era) narrowness of scope: a day in the life of a woman.

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar explores mental illness, and could be triggering for some readers.
Flickr/kristina, CC BY-ND

And of course, there are themes in literary texts that are in themselves inherently challenging or traumatic: war, racial violence, and misogyny are staples in Shakespeare’s plays.

In identifying difficult literature, the goal posts shift: what was confronting to past generations may not remain true for current readers. So too, what was acceptable to readers of a certain era may no longer be acceptable in the 21st century.

Universities have seen an escalation of interest in content and trigger warnings. Viewpoints have run at both ends of the extreme. Content warnings are either coddling the minds of the “snowflake generation”; or one step away from censorship. Others consider warnings as essential in protecting students from psychological harm.

As literature scholar Michelle Smith notes, it seems widely accepted a lecturer should give a warning before showing a graphic visual scene. However, the argument trigger warnings should accompany written literature that represents difficult or challenging subject matter has been met with more scepticism and opposition.

This places a great deal of responsibility on teachers to decide where to draw the line.

Teachers face the ambitious balance of wanting to protect our students from representations that might be too difficult and trigger unwanted emotional responses, alongside a desire to expose students to complex representations, and histories — for instance of inequality, discrimination, racism and sexism.




Read more:
If you can read this headline, you can read a novel. Here’s how to ignore your phone and just do it


We use the term “trauma texts” to explore how new literary subjects and voices have emerged in the 21st century. Trauma texts reveal literature’s potential for direct and active political and cultural engagement. When we take these texts into the classroom, we ask students to accept difficulty into their lives (if they can), and to witness complex lives and histories in nuanced, critically engaged ways.

Teaching in the time of COVID has re-energised these ongoing debates. For instance, there is an opportunity to recognise (with renewed vigour) how a reader’s individual experience shapes how they approach a particular literary text. We have developed new understandings of how literary texts operate in moments of great cultural or social upheaval.

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway is a radical text for its times.
Flickr/Wolf Gang, CC BY-SA

Iso-lit reading during COVID

In our research and practice we have found many positive outcomes when we teach difficult texts in university English. Our students appreciate the texts we teach address recognisable real-world problems.

These books offer opportunities for readers to show empathy, witness injustice and reflect on the ethics of representation. They offer skills (critical reading and thinking, debate, negotiation) that are transferable to diverse work contexts. They come to understand the value of literature (broadly conceived), and the wide cultural and political influence it may have.

Research has shown reading difficult texts with students requires care, and an awareness of how to approach content and trigger warnings. As life narrative theorist Leigh Gilmore reminds us, when we bring trauma texts into the literary classroom, we should teach as if someone in the room has experienced trauma.

The classroom needs to be a safe space.

In teaching difficult texts, it is a reasonable expectation we provide information (in advance) to students regarding any difficult content. We need to open a dialogue between student and teacher and this needs to be maintained throughout the semester so we can offer ongoing support.




Read more:
What my students taught me about reading: old books hold new insights for the digital generation


As well as empowering our students, this approach provides us with an opportunity to reflect, dynamically, on why we want to teach these texts.

In previous research we have argued that in English, we want to encourage students to confront new ideas and to be challenged by what they read. This is integral to the university experience. We are asking students to be generous readers who have the capacity to look inward and outward.

Now, more than ever we need tools to read and respond to human experiences of crisis and pain. Reading difficult literature is one way by which the eternal and ongoing responsibility of humanism can be fulfilled.The Conversation

Kate Douglas, Professor, Flinders University and Kylie Cardell, Lecturer in English, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.