DEEP SUMMARY - Why We Read - Shannon Reed



Here is a summary of the review passages for Shannon Reed's book Why We Read:

  • The reviews praise the book for its delightful reminiscences of Reed's love of reading and for reminding readers of the books that have stuck with them over a lifetime.

  • Reed gives grace to love the books we love and shares tender memories of why certain stories remain in our hearts.

  • The warm, authentic voice in these essays invites readers into Reed's literary universe while also encouraging readers to expand their own.

  • It is described as a rare thing - both a joy to read and potent inspiration to revisit formative books from one's reading journey.

  • The title is both a question and declaration, and Reed offers a variety of perspectives on why we read through exploring her own experiences.

  • It illustrates that reading is too complex to be pinned down and is better viewed as a process undertaken freely.

  • The book offers an entertaining, life-affirming, and funny exploration of why readers always have a book within reach.

  • It is a deeply delightful book that will remind readers that nothing is better than the pleasure of reading.

In summary, the reviews praise Shannon Reed's book for its warm, personal stories about the enduring joy of reading that will inspire readers to revisit books from their own lives.

Here is a summary:

The passage describes the author's experience and love of reading from a young age. Some key points:

  • She cherished her first library card at age 5/6, which gave her independence and access to more books.

  • At age 8/9, she had an encounter where a boy tried to steal her book bag at the library. She fought him off to protect her books.

  • At age 14, her family had moved and enjoyed visiting their local library nearby, where she continued reading extensively.

Overall, the passage reflects on formative experiences that fostered the author's strong affection for reading from childhood. It conveys her passion and protectiveness for books, and how the library was an important place that fueled her love of reading over the years.

Here is a summary:

The passage describes the narrator's long relationship with libraries from childhood through adulthood. As a teenager, they win a job as a library page where they learn to love helping patrons and recommending books. They continue to find solace and belonging in libraries throughout various life changes and moves, whether it's the college library, their local public library, or the beautiful Jefferson Market branch in New York City. Libraries consistently provide community, familiarity, and inspiration throughout the narrator's educational and career pursuits as a teacher. However, the disarray of the high school library they encounter as a new teacher is a stark contrast and sign of neglect. Overall, the passage illustrates how libraries have been lifelong anchors of stability, intellectual growth, and joy for the narrator.

Here is a summary of the key points:

  • The passage describes the author's experience visiting libraries at different points in her life, from childhood to present day.

  • As a student, she recalls faculty staying late twice a year to grade exams in the library while snacking. She misses that atmosphere.

  • In her early teaching career, she tries to bring students to the local library but one student rightly points out it is inadequate compared to a "real library."

  • At age 36, she frequents the beautiful Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library near where she lives.

  • At 38, she visits the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh during a college visit and is impressed by its resources and connection to writer August Wilson. This helps sway her choice of graduate program.

  • As an established author now, she continues to find comfort and community in visiting libraries, missing it greatly during the pandemic when access was limited. She spots her own book on the shelves, feeling pride and belonging.

The passage reflects on the pivotal role libraries have played in the author's intellectual and personal development at different life stages.

Here is a summary:

The passage discusses the joy of becoming immersed in book series as a child, when readers would lose themselves in long strings of interconnected stories. Some popular series mentioned include Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys.

As an adult, the author nostalgically reminisces about finishing entire series, though acknowledges it could be stressful waiting for unfinished works to conclude. Series today are generally better planned out in advance compared to early 20th century works that seemed written primarily to capitalize on prior success.

Overall, the passage expresses fond memories of youthful escapism through series reading, as well as appreciation for well-crafted modern sagas that sustain immersive fictional worlds over multiple books. Though individual works may vary, series remain appealing for drawing readers deeply into imagined stories and characters.

Here is a summary:

  • The passage discusses the author's dislike for assigned reading in middle school, high school, and college English classes. They felt obligated to read everything but rarely enjoyed it.

  • As an academic now, the author recognizes many teachers and professors also disliked assigned reading as students. It's the nature of assigned work to be hated sometimes.

  • English classes especially receive blame for unpleasant required reading. Students took the reading personally even if other subjects' material was also dull. Literature was supposed to be enjoyable according to centuries of pleasure readers.

  • However, assigned classics like "The Highwayman" and others often failed to engage the author and other students. Works that may have been liked otherwise were ruined by obligation.

  • The author argues assigned reading can ruin reading for pleasure. It creates duty rather than discovering works willingly for enjoyment. Though hard work was done, resentment of requirements remained from student days.

So in summary, the passage reflects on how mandated academic reading from one's school years, especially in English classes, can negatively impact the pleasure of reading due to feelings of obligation rather than choice.

Here is a summary:

  • The author expresses how they disliked having to read books for school because it took away the enjoyment and felt like a chore with worksheets and assignments afterward. They enjoyed reading on their own to lose themselves in the story.

  • Many classmates stopped reading altogether to avoid the school assignments. The author was still able to enjoy reading but saw it as something they had to do for school separately from real reading.

  • Now as a teacher, the author assigns reading but without worksheets or quizzes. They try to select well-written books and discuss them as a class to make it enjoyable. Peer pressure and community help encourage reading.

  • To the author's surprise, bringing students back to enjoying assigned reading has been a pleasure. Students will often get immersed in books and finish them quickly when not pressured by assignments.

  • Even though the author disliked it as a student, assigning reading can introduce students to new books and perspectives they may not explore otherwise. It's a way to potentially catch students before they stop reading completely.

  • For people who don't want college credits, the author suggests occasionally assigning books to yourself that you feel you should read, as you may be surprised by works you end up enjoying more than expected.

    Here is a summary:

  • The author introduces an alter ego named Shanogas, inspired by Cate Blanchett's Lord of the Rings character, who wants people to read freely without rules or restrictions.

  • Shanogas has observed humanity "fumbling around as readers" due to too many self-imposed rules, partly from well-meaning influences like parents and teachers.

  • Some examples of "rules of the Good Reader" according to Shanogas are: reading fast, never needing to reread, looking up every unknown word, always finding books superior to movies, never using plot summaries or SparkNotes, and instinctively understanding themes.

  • There are also rules about what genres or authors are acceptable for "Good Readers" to enjoy, such as avoiding audiobooks, romances, YA, mysteries, erotica, or certain authors. Rereading familiar favorites is also frowned upon.

  • Shanogas' message is that people should read however and whatever they want without worrying about imposed rules of what makes a "Good Reader." They should feel free to enjoy reading as they individually prefer.

In summary, the author introduces Shanogas to argue against self-imposed rules around reading and encourage people to read freely according to their own preferences and enjoyment.

Here are a few key points about learning from and appreciating history:

  • Traveling to historical sites and museums allows you to experience pieces of the past firsthand and help bring eras you've studied to life. It can spark new questions and areas of interest.

  • Reading primary sources from the time period in question, like letters, diaries, newspaper articles, can offer unique insights beyond textbook summaries. Hearing from those who lived it is invaluable.

  • Understanding the cultural, social and economic contexts of the past helps explain why things were the way they were. It prevents presentism, or judging past times by modern standards.

  • Recognizing how the past has shaped the present gives a greater sense of continuity and shared human experience across generations. Our world is very much the product of what came before.

  • Learning from history's mistakes and accomplishments can guide decision-making today. There are always lessons to take from triumphs and failures of previous eras.

  • Appreciating history makes us more aware of changing viewpoints and progress over time. What was accepted then may not be now, and vice versa. This builds compassion and nuance.

  • Engaging with history locally, nationally and globally helps us see connections between peoples across distances. It fosters cross-cultural understanding.

    Here is a summary:

The author reflects on family road trips they took as a child across the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. These trips provided many formative experiences, including feelings of bonding, adventure and exhaustion. As children, they had to entertain themselves for hours without technology in the back seat.

One highlight was visiting places related to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie books, which deeply influenced the author as a child. Visiting the original site of the Ingalls family dugout helped the author understand just how poor and precarious their lives really were, in contrast to the idyllic portrayal in the books and TV show. Seeing this provided important context and shaped the author's understanding.

More broadly, visiting various locations provided cultural and historical context that enriched the author's appreciation of other works they enjoyed as a child, like Anne of Green Gables. They believe these cross-country trips were educationally valuable compared to more structured, entertainment-focused family trips of today.

Here is a summary:

  • The story describes a preschool classroom where the teachers, Marie and the narrator, have grown tired of re-reading the book "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" to the students due to how often they request it.

  • Marie hides the book on a high shelf, but the students eventually request it again during story time. Marie hints at other book options but the students are insistent on "Old MacDonald".

  • Marie and the narrator try to steer the students toward other books like Farmer Duck instead, but the students catch on that they are avoiding "Old MacDonald" and start searching for it.

  • The teachers are worried the students will find the book Marie hid, exposing their attempt to stop reading it so frequently. The story depicts the challenge of managing preschoolers' reading preferences and trying to introduce new books.

So in summary, it's about two teachers who get fed up with one book being over-requested, try hiding it, but the students catch on and want it anyway, putting the teachers in an awkward situation.

It sounds like the teacher's reading of Where the Red Fern Grows had a profound emotional impact on the classroom. Powerful stories can stay with us and teach important lessons about life and relationships, even if some details are sad. While children may not fully understand death at a young age, sharing tears together over a meaningful story can build empathy and connection between classmates. Overall it seems the teacher created a caring environment where it was okay to feel and students supported each other through difficult feelings. Memories like that might shape one's view of both literature and human relationships in a positive way.

Here is a summary:

  • The author discusses how the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program encouraged children to read more books in exchange for prizes like free personal pizzas. While well-intentioned, it had unintended consequences for the author.

  • As an avid reader from a young age, the author was highly motivated to earn as many free pizzas as possible through the program. This led them to develop the habit of "reading" books very quickly by scanning each page without truly comprehending or retaining what they read.

  • No one recognized that the author wasn't actually reading closely. They continued to get good grades, so the superficial reading method went unaddressed. It carried over into leisure reading and assignments in high school.

  • It wasn't until graduate school that the author broke out of this superficial reading habit. They attribute developing this bad habit to being overly motivated by the BOOK IT! program's pizza rewards, rather than reading for reading's own sake or comprehension.

  • In summary, the author discusses how well-meaning programs like BOOK IT! could unintentionally teach children superficial reading habits if they prioritize quantity of books over quality of engagement and understanding.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • The author took a required class in Dramatic Criticism that focused heavily on theory and reading critical texts about dramatic theory. However, the author realized they had not actually read the primary texts being discussed - they had only skimmed them.

  • As a result, the author performed poorly on tests asking them to identify and explain quotes from the readings. This revealed that the author was not as strong a reader as they had thought.

  • The author realized they needed to slow down and actually focus on comprehending the material, not just skimming pages. They started taking notes, keeping reading journals, and tracking what they read.

  • As a professor, the author had to closely read student work to provide feedback. This further motivated them to read assignments carefully rather than skimming.

  • In summary, the author learned through this experience that they needed to change their reading habits from quick skimming to slower, more focused reading in order to properly comprehend and retain what they read. This made them a stronger reader over time.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • The teacher gave students a test on The Diary of Anne Frank that asked them to identify the "main point" of the book. Many students simply wrote about Anne making out with a boy, showing they didn't actually read it.

  • The teacher was disheartened that students didn't seem to enjoy reading and only cared about grades. She tried initiating a class discussion to get at deeper meanings.

  • At first the discussion wasn't very engaged. But one student said Anne showed bravery, which got others to open up more.

  • The teacher asked if students would have been as brave as those who hid the Franks, which prompted defensive yes answers.

  • One brave student admitted she wouldn't have hidden them because she valued her own life. Others agreed they wouldn't be that brave either.

  • This sparked a more meaningful discussion about courage and morality. The teacher realized tests don't truly measure understanding - discussion and personal reflection do. She learned not to expect pat answers and to invite deeper thought instead.

In summary, the teacher realized standardized testing was limiting real engagement with literature, and opened up more by facilitating open-ended discussion where students could reflect honestly on complex issues.

Here is a summary:

The passage discusses some of the challenges and anxieties that can come up in facilitating classroom discussions about literature. Leading discussions requires carefully listening to many students, ensuring all voices are heard, and keeping the conversation on track. However, the teacher finds discussions rewarding as it allows observing unique student interpretations that surprise and enlighten them, even for books they've taught multiple times.

The passage then shifts to discussing some common fears and misconceptions people have around reading. The author recounts personal experiences where they pretended to understand literary references they hadn't actually read. They explain how failure feels unacceptable, so people avoid trying books that seem intimidating or criticize themselves harshly after misunderstanding something. Overall, the passage argues people should not be afraid to take risks in reading unfamiliar works or admitting gaps, as misunderstandings are part of the learning process and discussions can enhance understanding. Fear of failure or judgment can narrow one's reading experience unnecessarily.

Here is a summary of the key points:

  • The author discusses how reading plays silently to oneself doesn't fully capture the collaborative, performative nature of theater. Plays are meant to be performed or at least read aloud.

  • As a theater student, they struggled to visualize all the technical and acting elements when just reading silently. Seeing a production brought the text to life.

  • Yet in education, plays, especially Shakespeare, are often just handed to students to read silently. This is doing a disservice, as the plays were written to be performed.

  • The author acknowledges they too have taught Shakespeare this way in the past and wondered why students weren't more enthralled.

  • Their main point is that plays, and especially Shakespeare, should be read aloud in classrooms rather than silently. This helps capture the collaborative, performed nature of theater and allows the text to come alive for students. Reading silently fails to fully convey what the playwright intended.

So in summary, the piece argues for the benefits of reading plays, and especially Shakespeare, aloud in educational settings rather than the common practice of silent, independent reading.

Here is a summary:

The story talks about the author's experience as an English teacher connecting one of her students, Carla, to public libraries as a resource. Carla loved books but their school library was limited. When Carla complained she couldn't find a classic she wanted to read, the author suggested trying the public library. However, Carla said she "didn't mess with the public library" because she thought she couldn't afford to use it.

The author realized Carla did not know public libraries are free to use. After informing Carla that library cards are free and books can be borrowed at no cost, Carla was excited to go to the public library. The next day, Carla eagerly showed the author the stack of books she found at the library - a mix of genres that represented her interests and identity. The author was touched Carla brought the books to share, seeing it demonstrated how much the library access meant to her as an avid reader.

Here is a summary:

  • The passage describes an interaction between a student named Carla and her teacher at the library. Carla sees that there are many books featuring queer black female protagonists, not just one, and feels seen and represented. She is no longer the same person and feels she has found her place.

  • The teacher understands how meaningful this is for Carla to see herself reflected in literature. Finding representation in books can help adolescents feel less lonely during that difficult time of self-discovery. It shows others like them exist.

  • Later passages discuss the importance of representation more broadly. The author reflects on feeling alone liking David Bowie as a teen but now understands how meaningful it is to see oneself in the characters of stories. They were deeply moved reading the book Wonder which featured a character with hearing loss, like themself.

  • Overall the passages convey that feeling represented and seeing oneself in literature can be profoundly meaningful for adolescents, helping them feel less alone and better understood during the difficult period of self-discovery and identity development. It highlights how impactful increasing diversity and representation in books can be.

    Here is a summary:

  • The teacher was assigned to teach Jane Eyre but was initially disappointed as she expected it to be a boring classic novel.

  • However, she was captivated when she read it on her commute. She was surprised by aspects like it being from a young woman's perspective and addressing the reader directly.

  • She was worried about how to engage her students but they immediately took a liking to the protagonist Jane. They connected with her struggles and strength.

  • A student noted Jane was like Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, if she was the main character without magic. This resonated with the girls as they identified with Hermione.

  • Realizing Jane was part of a lineage of strong female characters in literature empowered the students. They continued reading to follow Jane's adventurous life journey.

  • The teacher was surprised and pleased by how much the students enjoyed the novel despite its age. They connected with Jane on a personal level rather than seeing it as a boring classic. This experience showed the teacher not to make assumptions about what students will like.

    Here is a summary of the provided text:

The author has always been a picky eater but is very interested in food and cookbooks. They read over 50 cookbooks per year and own around 100 cookbooks spanning different cuisines, times periods, and genres. Cookbooks keep the author company while eating alone and provide a sense of faux family meals through their photos.

While cookbooks are meant to teach cooking techniques and recipes, the author mostly enjoys them for pleasure and doesn't often cook directly from them. They absorb cooking knowledge and enjoy the vibes, photos, and absurdities found in cookbooks like long lists of unnecessary equipment. Overall, cookbooks are a passion and pastime for the author beyond just instructional manuals.

Here is a summary:

The author discusses their love for cookbooks, both for the recipes and the writing. They enjoy the guides for obscure ingredients, cliches writers include, and glimpses into writers' personal lives. They find humor in inconsistencies that slip through editing.

Good writing is not the main priority in cookbooks, whose purpose is providing recipes for readers to cook from. However, the author is drawn to books where real writing conveys more than just instructions. They discuss several cookbook writers they admire for the quality of writing and insight into other cultures, like Laurie Colwin, Maneet Chauhan, and Nigella Lawson.

Of these, Lawson is described as the "holy grail" for checking all the boxes - teaching about her culture through English recipes, being enjoyable company, and making cooking seem casual rather than laborious. The author discusses trying and enjoying one of Lawson's recipes, showing how her books can inspire cooking beyond just reading. Overall, the author expresses their love of learning about food and culture through cookbooks.

This passage does not seem to directly summarize or tell you how strong the author's voice is. It appears to be using humor and hypothetical scenarios to discuss the author's perspective on being given books by other people. While it provides some insight into the author's personality and writing style, it does not explicitly evaluate the strength of their voice. Without more context about the intended purpose of the summary, I cannot directly respond to the prompt given.

Here is a summary:

The passage discusses Amish romance novels, a popular genre of romance books set in Amish communities. While acknowledging sometimes enjoying these books in the past for their depictions of farming, quilting, and pie-making, the author is now more critical of their unrealistic portrayals of Amish life and lack of diversity.

Some key points made:

  • The books follow formulaic plotlines, with 90% featuring protagonists named Rachel/Jacob who must decide between marrying or moving to Ohio.

  • They present an idealized and sanitized view of Amish life, omitting realities like their tobacco farming or gender norms.

  • The Amish depicted are "wildly white" and lack complexity, failing to explore real societal tensions.

  • While comfort reads have value, these books only comfort those who find an all-white setting comfortable too.

  • Other genres like mysteries or romances with Black/LGBTQ+ themes provide similar comfort to different readers.

Overall, the author acknowledges the role of genre fiction in providing familiar, predictable stories for relaxation, but finds Amish romances too simplistic and unrealistic in their portrayal of Amish communities and issues of representation. Comfort has its place, but not at the exclusion of complexity.

Here is a summary:

The passage discusses genre fiction and how, while it follows certain established conventions and plot points, writing within a genre can still be challenging. Readers enjoy genre fiction because it provides familiarity and comfort through recognizable tropes and story beats.

It then shares an anecdote about a pretentious student named Jared who tried to seem superior by claiming Moby Dick as his favorite novel, but got the author wrong. This revealed his intention was more about feeling intellectually superior than actual appreciation of the work.

The passage acknowledges some people may genuinely feel guilty for not reading certain literary works seen as challenging or important. However, not having read or enjoyed those books does not mean someone is less intelligent. Appreciating art and culture does not require an "entrance exam" of favored books.

While the author does not personally enjoy Moby Dick from having read it in high school, they recognize they may appreciate it more now with more life experience. The desire to signal having read difficult works is also understandable, even if somewhat vain. Bragging about such reads elicits respect from others in a way other art forms do not.

Here is a summary:

The author reflects on using books and reading to feel intellectually superior to others. They describe a personal experience where someone named Jared tried to show off his reading knowledge but got facts wrong, making others feel bad. The author sees their younger self in Jared - trying too hard to impress through difficult books.

The author argues this kind of pretentious behavior actually damages reading culture by making others dislike reading. But more importantly, it harms readers themselves by limiting joy in reading and making them feel like a failure if they don't constantly read the most challenging books. The essay encourages embracing more lighthearted reading and laughing at mistakes to reduce anxiety and ego around being the "best" reader. The author wants reading to be a fun experience rather than just serious and difficult. Ultimately, using books to feel superior turns reading into more of a chore than a pleasure.

Here is a summary:

  • The passage discusses narrative twists in literature and how they can affect readers.

  • The author recalls being deeply impacted by a plot twist in the novel "The Dress Lodger" where it was revealed the dead bodies of the town were narrating the story.

  • They became interested in narrative stance and how twists work to destabilize relationships between reader, narrator, etc.

  • Students often want to predict twists before they arrive or write their own twists. But it's difficult to genuinely surprise an audience, and workshopped stories with sole focus on twists usually fail because the twist is seen coming or doesn't make narrative sense.

  • The author tries to get students to analyze twists beyond just whether they were predicted, and to think about how twists fit into the narrative relationships between author, narrator, audience and reader. Good twists logically arise from the plot and deeper exploration of their narrative impact.

    Here is a summary:

The passage discusses the relationships between authors, narrators, audiences, and readers in fiction. It uses examples like The Great Gatsby and Gone Girl to illustrate these concepts.

Some key points:

  • Narrators tell the story to a specific audience, which may differ from the actual readers. For example, Nick Carraway tells his story to unknown listeners in Gatsby.

  • Memoirs also separate the author from the narrator. Even if based on real events, there is a distinction.

  • Authors can manipulate readers by addressing them directly or assuming they know context, as in "The Lottery." This can make twists more effective.

  • Gone Girl is praised for its famous plot twist between parts one and two. It plays with perspectives by presenting fabricated diary entries and unreliable narrators.

  • Readers feel complicit when they realize narratives they thought were for them were actually meant for other audiences in the story. This unsettles them and makes them re-evaluate what they thought they knew.

  • The passage argues Gone Girl is a masterclass in using these author/narrator/audience relationships to enhance mystery and surprise readers with its twist.

In summary, it examines how fiction uses different narrational perspectives and addresses audiences to manipulate readers' understanding and produce unexpected twists. Gone Girl is held up as an exemplar of this technique.

Here is a summary:

The passage discusses the value of short stories in exposing readers to different worlds and perspectives. It examines Chimamanda Adichie's short story "Cell One," which is set in Nigeria. When teaching this story, the author asks students what they expected versus what they learned. Many students realize they knew little about Nigeria prior to reading the story. This leads to deeper discussion of how we are often only exposed to "single stories" about other cultures and places. The author references Adichie's TED talk on this topic. Teaching stories from diverse perspectives helps students become aware of their own unconscious biases and assumptions. It also gives them practice moving beyond tropes and stereotypes as they begin writing their own fiction. The goal is for students to gain understanding and openness from encountering multifaceted stories from around the world.

Here is a summary:

The passage describes a professor's experience teaching George Saunders's novel "Lincoln in the Bardo" for the first time. Though excited to introduce the novel to students, the professor quickly became confused by its unconventional style - interspersed dialogue, citations from real and fake historical sources, and lack of context. After struggling to make sense of just a few chapters, the professor was left hanging precariously from the "high wire" of teaching a novel they didn't understand.

Rather than pretend to have it all figured out, the professor decided the only honest approach was to admit to students they didn't "get it" either. This vulnerable transparency turned out to be the saving move - by working through the challenging text together in class, both teacher and students found new understanding and appreciation for the novel. The professor learned the value of embracing confusion and allowing students to guide exploration, rather than insisting on performing expertise from the start.

Here is a summary:

The passage discusses teaching George Saunders' novel Lincoln in the Bardo to undergraduate students. At first, the students found the book confusing with its unconventional dialogue formatting. However, after class discussions about the plot and characters, the students became engaged with trying to understand and analyze the novel.

A key moment was when one student directly emailed Saunders about the dialogue formatting. He kindly replied and explained his creative choice, noting it added to the novel's sense of confusion and unease. He also advised the student to "trust the fun" as a writer. Hearing from the author himself boosted the students' confidence in their ability to interpret the challenging novel.

The passage reflects on how the novel itself taught readers how to understand it through repeated engagement. While initially difficult, working through the unconventional aspects together made the students invested in the novel and feel accomplished in comprehending it. The class discussions brought deeper appreciation for Saunders' creative choices and themes in depicting the afterlife.

Here is a summary:

  • The author discusses teaching an obscure novel called L in the B to their students without fully understanding it themselves. They realized after the fact that there were many aspects of the novel they should have covered but didn't.

  • The author doesn't criticize themselves too harshly, recognizing professors often teach material without full mastery. They wish they could go back and share what they've since learned about the novel with those original students.

  • The author reflects on how the books they think about constantly change with the seasons and life events. They describe how Kate Atkinson's novel Life After Life came to mind unconsciously during the early days of the COVID pandemic, even though they didn't consciously connect it at the time.

  • Life After Life involves a character who is reborn and relives her life multiple times. The author discusses how they and their students are initially drawn to the time travel/reincarnation elements but realizes the novel is more focused on exploring different experiences of WWII.

  • Overall it's a reflective piece about the author's experience teaching a novel they didn't fully understand, and how the books that dominate their thoughts change over time and life circumstances in unexpected ways.

    Here is a summary:

  • The author has a theory that Kate Atkinson pitched Life After Life as a sci-fi time travel novel to disguise the fact that she really wanted to write historical fiction about WWII England.

  • A key part of the novel is when Ursula contracts the Spanish flu during the 1918 pandemic. Atkinson vividly depicts the horror of the illness and shows how deadly pandemics can be, providing lessons still relevant today.

  • The author notes how the flu section was both funny and tragic. The dark humor is characteristic of Atkinson's dry British style and helps lighten difficult topics.

  • Reading about the 1918 flu decades ago likely shaped the author's views subconsciously. During COVID-19, she stayed home strictly based on lessons from Life After Life, even though she didn't consciously make the connection at the time.

  • Literature can educate and influence readers in subtle ways over long periods. While not always obvious, works like Life After Life still teach important historical lessons and shape how people approach modern crises.

    Here is a summary:

The passage discusses teaching Brent Staples' essay "Black Men and Public Space" to a class of mostly white female undergrad students at the University of Pittsburgh. Many of the students did not like the essay, which recounts incidents where Staples, a Black man, made white women fearful merely by his presence in public spaces like subway stations.

In class discussions, the author would play devil's advocate to challenge students' initial reactions that the women were justified in being afraid. Students argued the women didn't know Staples' intentions, but the author pointed out there was no actual threat or reason to feel threatened. Slowly, through debate and questioning assumptions, some students started to acknowledge the role racism played in causing the women's fear, an uncomfortable realization for the class.

The author notes the context of many female students feeling constantly at risk on campus and primed to see danger everywhere. However, she argues this mindset of "you can never be too careful" actually harms people of color through racial profiling and assumptions of threat, while overlooking that most violence is intraracial. The passage aims to get students to reconsider how fear and racism intersect to affect public spaces and interactions.

Here are the key points summarized:

  • The author begrudgingly accepted a job teaching a class on vampires at the University of Pittsburgh, as an adjunct professor needing the work and pay.

  • They had a lifelong fear of many scary/supernatural things like vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. This stemmed from being easily scared as a child and having frightening experiences reading monster books from the library.

  • As a "scaredy-cat," they are intrigued by horror but cannot experience it cathartically like most people. Watching/reading horror stays with them and causes anxiety rather than release.

  • They wanted to face their fears by naming what scared them, but it did not work. Taking the vampire class job forced them into close engagement with their lifelong phobias.

  • The gradations of haunted feelings between fear and fascination are an uncomfortable space for scaredy-cats to inhabit, unlike most people who find horror entertaining.

So in summary, the author begrudgingly taught a class on their greatest fear due to professional obligations, highlighting the inner conflict and lack of catharsis that scaredy-cats experience with horror.

Here is a summary:

The passage describes the author's childhood fascination and fear of horror stories and monsters. As a kid, they would check out scary books from the library despite warnings from the librarian and their parents. Reading the books terrified them at night but they couldn't stop pursuing the thrills.

In school, they had to read and analyze scary assigned texts like Stephen King stories and On the Beach, which depicted post-apocalyptic nuclear destruction and existential dread. Though frightening, these stories helped them understand the difference between reality and fiction. They continued avoiding horror but took a vampires literature class in college out of interest.

The class had different types of students - disinterested attendees, overachieving "try hards", and some who seemed to truly believe in or obsess over vampires. The passage reflects on preparing to teach the class and encountering these different student perspectives on the subject of vampires.

Here is a summary:

  • The passage describes the author's childhood exposure to mortality through her father being a Lutheran pastor. His work brought him into proximity with life, death, sickness, and health.

  • The author explains that concepts of death and mortality were always present in her upbringing, rather than something she remembers learning about. She understood it as best she could without personal experience.

  • Her father would tell stories about comforting the dying in hospitals, planning funerals at funeral homes, and being called to hospice facilities in the middle of the night. News of car crashes could prompt him to check on affected parishioners.

  • Mortality was an understood part of the family discussions, in the same way other families might discuss difficult customers or office demands. This gave the author an early awareness of and familiarity with death.

  • The passage provides context for how the author's upbringing made her familiar from a young age with concepts of learning how to die and how mortality is interconnected with living. Her father's work as a pastor brought these topics into their domestic lives.

    Here is a summary:

  • The passage discusses the author's experience growing up around death and mortality as the son of a pastor who worked in hospitals and funeral homes. Though exposed to death from a young age, the author realized he never truly grappled with his own mortality.

  • Reading Atul Gawande's book "Being Mortal" changed that. The book provides a compelling look at aging, decline, and end-of-life care. It prompted the author to reflect on what kind of life would be worth prolonging for his own father.

  • In 2015, the author's father passed away after a long illness. Gawande's book helped the author process his father's dying process and think about difficult end-of-life decisions, providing comfort during a difficult time.

  • On a second reading for this essay, the book had a rougher emotional impact as the author now sees mortality as something that applies to himself as well, not just others. He finds sadness and fear in contemplating his own inevitable decline and death, though is ultimately glad he reengaged with the book's themes.

So in summary, it discusses how Gawande's book helped the author personally grapple with mortality and end-of-life issues through experiences with his father's illness and death.

Here is a summary of the key points:

  • The author reflects on finding comfort and purpose in their life through spending time with loved ones, enjoying hobbies like reading and cooking, and appreciating each day.

  • They were inspired by thinking about the quote "Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end." This made them value making the most of the time they have with friends and family.

  • Facing their mortality also made the author savor small everyday pleasures more like tea with a friend, books, and the natural beauty around them.

  • They feel more appreciation for the goodness in their life and the beauty of being human despite our mortality. The overall message is about finding meaning and joy in each moment.

    Here is a summary:

The passage describes the author's experience reading and reviewing seemingly obscure memoirs and autobiographies over the years as part of their work in publishing. They recount three specific books: Too Much Mime on My Hands (a memoir about learning mime), Antiquities and Me (by an antiques dealer), and Potatoes and More: My Farmer's Life (about life on a potato farm).

While the titles sound amusing, the author found all three books to be rather poor quality upon reading them. The mime memoir was overly long and verbose, the antiques book consisted of petty disputes, and the farming book lacked lyrical writing about seasonal changes.

The author acknowledges they likely wouldn't have read the books otherwise, as the two published ones were reviewed as part of previous work and the mime memoir was a manuscript submission. They argue lack of editing may have contributed to the self-published books' shortcomings. Overall, the passage humorously reflects on reviewing obscure or amateur autobiographical works as part of one's job in publishing.

Here are the key points summarized:

  • The author tearfully recounts an unexpected crying spell they had while carefully handling an extremely old book from 1750 in a rare books room.

  • Upon inspection, they found the book was titled "The Anatomy of the Human Body" by William J. Cheselden. It contained the original owner's handwritten signature from the 1700s.

  • The author was moved by a note from Cheselden urging readers to appreciate how the new edition was larger than previous ones. They related this to their own efforts to convince readers of their work.

  • Seeing the perseverance of Cheselden's efforts from so long ago to get people to buy his book resonated with the author's own worries about publishing. They found camaraderie with Cheselden across centuries.

  • The author tearfully reflected on the journey of this book through history to end up in their hands. They were grateful others like the original owner helped preserve it for today.

So in summary, the author had an unanticipated crying spell sparked by relating to the efforts of an old book's author and reflecting on the preservation of knowledge across generations.

Here is a summary of the key points made in the passage:

  • The speaker has gained knowledge and understanding from reading many books over their lifetime. They reference experiencing events, places, and ideas from works like A Wrinkle in Time, Little Women, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and many others.

  • They mention knowing details about historical events like the Underground Railroad, John Brown's speech, and being present at key moments like John Wilkes Booth shooting Lincoln.

  • The speaker says they have "hung out" in places referenced in books like Twyla Tharp's studio and that they "learned macrame" from an unknown source.

  • They express having witnessed or experienced major historical events like the 1928 hurricane in the Everglades, Columbine, New Orleans flooding, and the silent city during the COVID lockdown of 2020.

  • In summary, the speaker credits books with teaching them almost everything they know about the world, even though they have not directly experienced the people, places, and events described in the works. Reading has allowed them a wealth of virtual experiences and knowledge.

    Here are brief summaries of some of the works mentioned:

  • The Road to Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead - A nonfiction work about George Eliot's classic novel Middlemarch and its enduring relevance.

  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace - A famously long and complex postmodern novel that explores addiction and entertainment.

  • Pilgrims in Their Own Land by Martin Marty - A history of religion in America over the past 500 years.

  • Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth - A controversial 1969 novel about a young man named Alex Portnoy and his neuroses.

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - A thriller about a man whose wife goes missing on their wedding anniversary.

  • New York Trilogy by Paul Auster - A series of three postmodern detective novels set in New York City.

  • On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong - A highly acclaimed memoir and novel in letter form about a Vietnamese American family.

  • "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson - A famous short story about a mysterious ritual lottery held in a village each year.

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders - A fictional account of Abraham Lincoln set during the time his son Willie died.

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry - A classic dystopian young adult novel about a society with no differences or choices.

  • Our Town by Thornton Wilder - A Pulitzer Prize-winning play that examines the ordinary lives of the citizens of Grover's Corners.

    Here is a summary:

This section expresses gratitude and love for the author's mother, Gloria Reed. The author thanks her mother for facilitating her work and life for nearly 50 years by making sure she always had the necessities like books, meals, money, and friendship, as well as love. She acknowledges her mother for taking care of these things so the author could focus on her work. She expresses her love for her mother at the end.

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