From the category archives:


News on Writing and Reading

by Dr Davis on September 2, 2015

“Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write”

No matter the quality of your prose, the act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits, like long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.

By writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events, participants were significantly more likely to have fewer illnesses and be less affected by trauma. Participants ultimately spent less time in the hospital, enjoyed lower blood pressure and had better liver functionality than their counterparts.

It turns out writing can make physical wounds heal faster as well. In 2013, New Zealand researchers monitored the recovery of wounds from medically necessary biopsies on 49 healthy adults. The adults wrote about their thoughts and feelings for just 20 minutes, three days in a row, two weeks before the biopsy. Eleven days later, 76% of the group that wrote had fully healed. Fifty-eight percent of the control group had not recovered. The study concluded that writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress.

I’m not sure I am totally surprised, but I do wonder what kind of shape I would be in if I didn’t write.

Great News for Those Who Read Actual Books
The following is a fairly serious issue, especially for someone–like me–who created iBooks for my literature course.

While e-readers try to recreate the sensation of turning pages and pagination, the screen is limited to one ephemeral virtual page. Surveys about the use of e-readers suggest that this affects a reader’s serendipity and sense of control. The inability to flip back to previous pages or control the text physically, either through making written notes or bending pages, limits one’s sensory experience and thus reduces long-term memory of the text.

This is also interesting:

Slow-reading advocates recommend at least 30 to 45 minutes of daily reading away from the distractions of modern technology. By doing so, the brain can reengage with linear reading. The benefits of making slow reading a regular habit are numerous, reducing stress and improving your ability to concentrate.

Regular reading also increases empathy, especially when reading a print book. One study discovered that individuals who read an upsetting short story on an iPad were less empathetic and experienced less transportation and immersion than those who read on paper.

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Why Folks Avoid Literature

by Dr Davis on September 1, 2015

girlwithabook via art inconnuThe authors says it’s all about us. If the readings were interesting, the students would be there.

What can students learn from literature that they cannot learn elsewhere? Why should they bother with it? For understandable reasons, literature professors assume the importance of their subject matter. But students are right to ask these questions. All courses are expensive, in money, time, and opportunity costs.

No, the real literary work is the reader’s experience.

This means the first thing a teacher needs to do is help students have the experience the author is trying to create. There is no point in analyzing the techniques for creating an experience the students have not had.

Students need to have such experiences, and not just be told of their results. It is crucial for them to see how one arrives at the interpretation and lives through that process. Otherwise, why not simply memorize some critic’s interpretation?

Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature



by Dr Davis on June 30, 2015

Metaphors are not just for literature anymore.

The Guardian has an article on the Glasgow University research work on 13 centuries of metaphors. The map is cool, though the description is limited.

However, you can read the @MappingMetaphor blog and find details. The newest post on fear is interesting.

Indonesian Metaphorical Conceptualizations of Anger: Does Anger Taste Delicious or Disgusting? By Tessa Yuditha

Indonesian also has its own metaphorical expressions. Some of conventional Indonesian metaphors include Dia menjadi kambing hitam dalam kasus itu ‘He became the scapegoat in that case’, Jatuhnya harga saham membuat dia bangkrut ‘The fall in stock price made him bankrupt’ and Kata-katanya membuat aku meledak ‘His words made me blow up’.

The Guardian has an article on educational metaphors. I used this in a class recently and would like to discuss it again more thoroughly. Something that was particularly interesting to me:

“My teacher is an old cow.” What does this mean? How would you respond, as a teacher, if this were said about you?

The New York Times article This is Your Brain on Metaphors is also interesting. It says that your brain sometimes/often interprets metaphorical things literally.

In a remarkable study, Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto and Katie Liljenquist of Northwestern University demonstrated how the brain has trouble distinguishing between being a dirty scoundrel and being in need of a bath. Volunteers were asked to recall either a moral or immoral act in their past.


Awesome Syllabus

by Dr Davis on February 3, 2015

WH Auden syllabus 6000 pgs

This is a page from W. H. Auden’s one-semester course that he taught in the 1941-1942 school year at University of Michigan. There were 6,000 pages of reading.

I liked what a (non-academic) friend posted as a comment: “I had a professor tell me once that universities all knew the same ‘dirty secret’: that if you can read, you can teach yourself. Reading voraciously is the key. ‘By including such texts across disciplines – classical and modern literature, philosophy, music, anthropology, criticism – Auden seems to have aimed to educate his students deeply and broadly.’”

Image is from the NY Daily News.


HOF: Proofreading

by Dr Davis on December 29, 2014

Forumite azuzu: Sorry to confuse you! I will make sure i prof-read what i write and make sure it sounds right. You awnsered all my questions and i will see you at class tomorrow.

Forumite chaosbydesign: Prof-read: To read something and imagine it being said in your professor’s voice. The more errors, the more disapproving the voice will be. (This email was read with a very disapproving voice.)

Forumite profreader: I couldn’t have said it better myself.

from the CHE fora


Holiday Reading

by Dr Davis on December 27, 2014

I have read 35 novels this break. All for fun, which means short, light, and happy-endings. Well, except for one. It wasn’t particularly long or heavy, but the happy ending was incomplete–that is, everything wasn’t happy ever after.

I have now read sufficient numbers of light reads that I am ready to get back into something more substantial.


CHE Fora HOF Reading

by Dr Davis on December 13, 2014

computer and glasses closerThe Chronicle of Higher Education fora Hall of Fame has given me some interesting post-final-grading entertainment and ideas. As I read, I will continue to post these.

Note: I am reading backwards through the HOF because… because I am reading backwards.


Fiction Readers Make Better Lovers

by Dr Davis on November 30, 2014

mic dot com people read fictionThe article on doesn’t actually say that.

It does, however, say that “Fiction readers make great friends as they tend to be more aware of others’ emotions.”

Brains are changed when people read!


SCMLA: Close Reading Toolkit

by Dr Davis on October 25, 2014

Jennifer Sapio
Close Reading Interpretive Toolkit: Transforming how we teach close reading

Graduate student at University of Texas at Austin
Tasked to think about traditional large lecture format, try flipped classroom techniques

Close reading interpretive tool

text associated instructions
handout of crit steps

video, 1 minute, background
3D images
students rush to judgment—How does it connect to my life?
But we want the students to go through the process to examine the text in order to discover how a text creates its meanings.
How does a text create its meanings?

“When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” (1867) by Walt Whitman –steampunk?

1. Paraphrase
2. Observe –as many observations as possible. They don’t have to justify why they notice something.
Poem is single sentences
1st 4 sentences start with When
shift from quantity to quality (proofs, figures, charts ?mystical, time to time)
3. Contextualize –important, keeping history in mind illuminates
Whitman’s Transcendentalist beliefs
4. Analyze—return to observations, justify, which are most important? Which can string together?
Fourfold When helps convey the static quality of the data-stuffed lecture. Tedium, boring, …
Mood shift from quantity to quality
5. Argue—synthesize an interpretation, one argument built on the evidence gathered in previous steps
6. Reflect
Why is it important that the poem is a single eight-line sentence? And what are we to do with the fact that the astronomer received “much applause” from the audience? Do these facts support our interpretation or challenge it? …

Students at UT are able to access with Get started and electronic id.
Everyone else, adapt this process in paper copy. Did paper for two years until site up.
Database of short passages, searchable.
Students are able to keep the passage at the top of the screen on every step.
Can move between the different steps and able to review and submit.

Gave students a pre-test. No content or skills instruction.

Cold reading poem pre-test they had never seen before. Average was 4.59.
Cold reading poem at the end of the semester. Average was 7.02

STEM students felt this was “more accessible and more objective” because before “English seemed frustratingly abstract” Jason Escandell (TA F2012)

Why is contextualize after observe?
Been talking about it for 3 years.
Not tied to the language of the text. We could contextualize at the beginning. Or at the end to add contextual frame.

After observe and before analyze.

Give students opportunity to make observations without any justification.
By placing contextualize between, hoped it would emphasize the difference between observe and analyze.


Bacon-Smith on Cosplay

by Dr Davis on October 14, 2014

These are notes from chapters 2 and 3 in the book, specifically related to cosplay (walking the halls and attending panels in costume). Recall that chapter 3 (31ff) primarily is discussing Worldcon, though other conventions and the cosplay there sometimes fits too.

steampunk_icon_for_Safari_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d4zhax0Bacon-Smith, Camille. Science Fiction Culture. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2000. Print.

When Boskone (Boston convention) had problems and was uninvited from its venue “costuming was discouraged” (19).

Elisabeth Carey … “Some of the fans … couldn’t see why the paramilitary costume and the Trek costume got different reactions.” (19) from the hotel staff and non-convention guests

9Worlds 2014 Lady Elsie-6237defined one of the subsets of true fans as “Those who form their primary fan identity around a particular science fiction activity or product, such as costuming or folksinging or television science fiction” (32). Says these folks see Worldcon (and presumably other cons) as “a convenient place to gather and share their own part of the science fiction continuum” (32).

Those who form their main fan identity as above “find their solidarity based on the products of the science fiction industry” (33).

“The first line of defense, clothing, reflects the specific communal enterprise of science fiction.” (34)

“Clothing functions internally for the community itself to establish a visible marker of group inclusion/exclusion, and to allow for the expression of individual identity within the allowable parameters of the community” (34).

“creates a visible boundary that shuts out the mainstream culture” (34)

“… many fans add a detail or two from a variety of costume like options to signify the wearer’s particular interest.” (35)

“the participant who wears science fiction fashion [jeans or dirndl skirt and tee] rather than a full costume seems to be expressing primary identification with the group rather than with a personalized vision of a character” (35).

Some of the professionals, who generally dress more formally, also add an element of costuming. Maureen McHugh wears an ear clip. Steven Brust wears a cavalier’s plumed hat (wears all the time, not just at cons). (35)

“Costume marks the territory of the convention as more clearly “other” than science fiction fashion…” (35)

“costumes appear in a wide variety of styles and carry a range of potential meanings that cannot be decoded simply by reading the clothing. To understand costume, we must look at both the coding on the body and the intention of the costumer, which may remain hidden.” (36)

“The costume itself always provides a visual referent, sometimes to a specific character or situation, but almost always to a specific genre, subgenre, or special interest. Costumers walk the convention site like the living books…” (36)

“For many conventioneers, particularly newcomers who have not yet been completely enculturated into their own social networks, the boundary that costumers defend holds them safely inside–safely because their growing ability to read the costumes demonstrates their growing enculturation. Making this easier, costume has engendered a variety of classification systems, including, most importantly, genre.” (36)

9Worlds hexadecimal 2014-6181“Fantasy, science fiction, and historical are the three main costume categories” (36)

“Monsters are often created by young men…” (36)

“For the person who creates and wears the costume, the purpose and meaning can be varied and complex. Participants may costume as an artistic endeavor, as play, or as an expression of a commitment to a special interest or a personal perception of the past or the future.” (36)

“costume is a declaration of solidarity with others who share the fantasy and its presence in great numbers in the convention site creates a visual boundary for the frame of the event” (37).

An entry point into fandom can be through the aesthetic of costume. (47)

Masquerade at Worldcon
The masquerade (costume contest) “has increasingly come under fire by long-time fans. Resentment of the event arises out of the clash of meanings the masquerade presents” (56).

For fans who see fandom as “small, long-distance community of likeminded readers… the masquerade is a waste of resources. It draws and audience that this group perceives as primarily passive receivers of a produced show rather than the active participants these core members value.” (56)

“members of the community for whom costuming provides the primary fan identity have … added to this sense of division” (56)

“For a community suffering the effects of sudden growth and the loss of homogeneity, the masquerade became a ritual of inclusion for socializing newcomers as well as a source of affirmation for many long-term participants.” (57)

“As a ritual of inclusion, it turns the crowd into fandom” (57).

Costume is not the end of Masquerade. Must have performance as well. “the totality of the performance is required for full aesthetic effect” … “not just a pretty piece of clothing but a fully developed concept represented by the costume” (57)

a very cold Weepng Angel RonThis is not always understood by newcomers and sometimes the Masquerade costumes at non-Worldcon conventions are not the best costumes there and also are not presented within a skit or with acting. Sometimes the conventions encourage this by PA announcements inviting folks to sign up for the costume contest.

RMCF (Rhetorical Memory Cosplay Fandom)