Favorite books for summertime reading

It’s summertime, so my blog productivity has slowed as the thermometer inches into the 90s. Davidson College asked for Summertime Reading Picks, and since I managed to come up with a few, I thought I’d post them here to generate the specter of activity. But don’t be confused by Cassatt’s lovely pastel drawing (left): the books recommended here are not suitable for reading aloud to small children! Irene Nemirovksy, Suite Francaise. A historical novel that was interrupted by history, Suite Francaise […]

A Final Word

  I took a Russian literature course in college taught by a visiting professor from what was then the USSR. With an authoritarian teaching style that was a marked contrast to the American liberal arts approach I’d become accustomed to, he interrogated us with questions like, “What’s the one word to describe Raskolnikov?” A student brave enough to posit an answer was pronounced, “WRONG.” I sat in silence, fearing humiliation and fuming at the poetic injustice of a question that […]

Pushkiniana: “that’s a story”

  Our Moscow guide speaks excellent English, with a delightfully idiosyncratic vocabulary. He speaks of “impudent” paintings and “violet” buildings in the skyline. As we approach the White House, he quips, “the closer you get to the government, the more forbidding the signs.” He’s studied English all his life, but he acquired his marvelous vocabulary from an elderly Englishman who hired him to teach him Russian in the early 1990’s, when the USSR had dissolved and Russia was opening up […]

Microaggressions and the Need to Know More

Microaggressions are in the news, nationally and locally. In a recent New York Times piece, “Students See Many Slights as Racial ‘Microaggressions,’” Tanzina Vega describes microaggressions as “the subtle ways that racial, ethnic, gender and other stereotypes can play out painfully in an increasingly diverse culture.” The concept isn’t new. It was developed in the 1970s by Dr. Chester M. Pierce, a professor of education and psychiatry at Harvard University, to describe the “subtle, cumulative miniassault that is the substance of today’s […]

Speak to me : Take my hand : What are you now?

When I FaceTimed with my mom on January 5th—her 75th birthday—she was surprisingly “good.” I put that word in quotations marks because I’m uncomfortable with the moral judgment it seems to place on the natural course of her disease. Yet that’s the word that come to mind, and she was really, pretty good: she knew it was her birthday, she said she was 75, and she asked me (un-prompted), “What’s Matt doing?” The question meant that she not only knew […]

Are You My Mother?

This photo was taken in October 2013, the last time I saw my mother. She looks just like herself, doesn’t she? That’s because I had just washed and styled her hair for her. (Although Dad had been reminding her to take showers, I’m not sure if or with what she’d been washing her hair.) I also picked out her outfit and helped her put it on in the right order. (She’d put on the wool cardigan without a blouse under […]

Fecturing: the female equivalent of mansplaining?

I was introduced to the term “mansplain” by a colleague who posted a Facebook link to Academic Men Explain Things To Me. This Tumblr blog is a repository for anecdotes and complaints from academic women who have been the recipients of patronizing, infantilizing, or downright rude behavior from their male colleagues—that is, “mansplaining.” According the Urban Dictionary, “mansplain” means: delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the […]

The Strange, New World of Alzheimer’s

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease almost two years ago, and her cognitive functions have declined steadily ever since. The disease is relentless, incurable, and inscrutable, but—as my friend Kelly Chaston said of the nonsmoker’s lung cancer that took her life when she was only 48—her illness is not a tragedy. More than 5 million Americans over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s, and my mother is one of the lucky few who, like Kelly, has excellent health care, […]

What Does the Fox Say? Onomatopoeia & the myth of pure language

This weekend my sons have been belting out lines from the Norwegian duo Ylvis’s viral video, “What Does the Fox Say?” Fortunately, a student in my seminar had introduced me to the video last week, so I was able to impress my sons by joining in. “You know that song?” Zac asked incredulously, to which I replied, “Joff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff!” Like 3 million others, I found the video to be funny and infectious—an irresistible sing-along song the likes of which I haven’t enjoyed since […]

Playing in the Dark with Whitman

Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” is a powerful elegy for Abraham Lincoln—a personal remembrance that also serves as a national memorial, uniting a deeply divided nation in a communal song of praise and mourning. As much as I love this poem, however, I am troubled by it. In sections 5 & 6, Whitman pans out to give us a vast panorama of the U.S., describing the land, cities, lanes, woods, fields, orchards, and streets through which Lincoln’s coffin […]