“Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

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“Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

SteveBrandon
Administrator
Many students find reading Early American Literature challenging.  

In this thread, discuss which of the readings you’ve found most and least challenging.  Explain why.

Discuss the challenges you have met, and discuss what specific changes you’ve had to make in your own reading practices.  Which reading practices did you try out which didn’t work for you?  Which reading practices did you try out which did work for you?  

How much time is the reading taking each week?  Where are you finding this time?  Are you reading in one long setting or do you spread the reading out among several sessions?  Which has worked best for you and why?

Post an initial response to this thread by Friday, 15 October.  Respond to the posts of at least two of your classmates by Sunday, 17 October at midnight.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Sharice
I felt like all of the reading this far except for the ones about slavery was difficult for the fact that they was not something that I would usually read so it wasn't interesting to me. It's hard to read something that your not interested in. So I had to force myself to read them. I enjoyed the slavery ones so they was not challenging to me. I have been trying to slow myself down as I read so that I can get a better understanding out of the writing. This seems to help because now I am actually taking in what I am reading instead of just reading over it fast and not gaining anything from the reading. Some of the readings have been quite long so I have to break them up, and read a little bit at a time. And spreading it out into parts seems to help me stay focused on it so that I'm not skimming over it fast and missing stuff.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Alex Chenault
In reply to this post by SteveBrandon
In my opinion the most difficult passages to read were the ones by Emerson and Thoreau. To me they are difficult to read because they aren’t very entertaining or interesting. Don’t’ get me wrong, there literature was very well written, it just doesn’t really appeal to today’s audience. The easiest literature for me to read was the stuff by Poe. It is very easy to become captivated by and wrapped up in. I think it is difficult for today’s audience to become involved in early American literature unless its real theme is hidden in something interesting. However, as uninteresting as some of the literature may be, we still have to read it. In order to get the most from it I find it best to listen to the audio provided while I follow along in the book. It helps me to gain a better understanding of what I am reading.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Sharice
I agree with you about how Emerson and Thoreau don't really appeal to today’s audience. And its really hard to read something that your not interested in because you basically have to force your self to read it. So you don't really get a good understanding of the writing.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Lucy
In reply to this post by SteveBrandon
Thoreau and Creveceou have been the hardest for me to understand. what is difficult for me is the old English and I feel as if  I am misinterpreting what i am reading and  missing out on other important themes. The least challenging readings for me have been poe and his gothic views of the sublime and I guess all the wiki links on the authors and the themes (romanticism, sublime, aesthetic) has helped me to understand the general idea of these authors.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Erin Edwards
In reply to this post by SteveBrandon
So far I have really enjoyed this class. I really enjoy the writing we do every week because I feel that it really gets us to think about things that we deal with in life. A lot of the readings however, I do not find very interesting and are very hard to read. The most challenging of all readings we have had thus far would be the readings from Emerson. The reason is because I don’t feel that I could relate to the writings in some areas and some subjects did not interest me.
The least challenging reading was Harriet Jacob’s novel. I really enjoyed reading this because I love anything to do with history. I thought the story was also interesting because it came from an actual slave perspective. This was when I felt like I was most interested in any reading we have done.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Erin Edwards
In reply to this post by Alex Chenault
I completely agree with you on the point that Emerson was one of the harder readings. I also feel that they do not really appeal to what today's society really believe.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

SteveBrandon
Administrator
Erin and everyone,

Emerson and Thoreau are difficult reading.  They were difficult when they first came out, and they remain difficult today. In part, this is shift in society.  We rarely read essays for fun.  In part, you're running into just how difficult philosophy is to read, because the ideas operate at the edge of where words can convey meaning. You are also running into a host of assumptions about what audiences know.  For instance, references to Greek mythology or the Bible will often sail past a reasonably well educated modern reader, but they were just part of what a reasonably well educated would have known in the 1840s and '50s. Unfortunately, you're also running into a lack of interest in the basic questions being addressed.  If you aren't interested in answers to questions, such as,

Which is more essential to knowing the world, reason or emotion?
Which is true: 1) we know the world through observation; or, 2) we know the world through intuition and gut reaction?

if these aren't relatively important questions, then it follows one can't be interested in the answers.  For their original audience, these were very important questions, because the whole idea that an individual could know the world at all was relatively new.  Prior to the Reformation and Enlightenment, few believed that single individuals can know anything meaningful about the world without reference to the authority of a scholar, priest, or noble.  When Emerson wrote, the question of how best to know things about the world was brand new, and his idea that all of us can know the world in fundamentally important ways, just by coming to know ourselves well was radical thinking.  Today the question has been largely settled.  

We read Emerson to pay homage to him, because without him and his followers, like Thoreau, we'd still be stuck in a world where we couldn't use the argument, "I don't believe that because, gut level, it just doesn't feel right."  

Steve
Stephen Brandon, PhD
Associate Professor, Composition and Rhetoric
J. Sargent Reynolds Community College
Richmond, VA 23221
[hidden email]

Often the accurate answer to a usage question begins, "It depends." And what
it depends on most often is where you are, who you are, who your listeners
or readers are, and what your purpose in speaking or writing is.
-Kenneth G. Wilson, usage writer (b. 1923)


On Thu, Oct 14, 2010 at 12:50 PM, Erin Edwards [via General Assembly Discussion Forum, Fall 2010] <[hidden email]> wrote:
I completely agree with you on the point that Emerson was one of the harder readings. I also feel that they do not really appeal to what today's society really believe.




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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Jeromy
In reply to this post by SteveBrandon
By far, the easiest works for me to read were the one's done by Poe. This is because I have already read nearly all of the one's we were assigned to read, and I have always found Poe to be interesting. In gact, Poe and Mark Twain tie as my all time favorite American writers. I honestly did not have any issues with reading Emerson, I actually enjoyed his "American Scholar" piece. I did, however, find it very difficult to read Thoreou. I just could not get a grasp of his writing, it was very confusing.

For me, it has been much easier to sit down and do the reading all at once. I have tried spreading it out throughout the week, but this has proven to be counterproductive. While writing I do refer back to the readings from time to time as a way of refreshing some my ideas. The readin honestly does not take nearly as long as I anticipate each timr going into it. Seeing the list of works is somewhat overwhelming sometimes, but once I sit down and start going it seems like it is over in an instance. Also, by reading over the pices and then refering back to them for my writing gives me a more comprehensive understanding of what I am reading.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Anna Olihnenco
This post was updated on .
In reply to this post by SteveBrandon
Thus far, the literature has been quite difficult to surmise, especially the pieces authored by Thoreau and Emerson. After meeting with Dr. Brandon to discuss my struggles, I was relieved to know that the literature was intended to be impenetrable for students. Honestly, I have not had the chance to enjoy the reading, because it has been so substantial and because of my inability to devote sufficient time to it. What I have learned, though, is that Emerson, Thoreau, and Poe were phenomenal authors who endeavored to do the impossible--bring the reader into the sublime through literature. I think one of the objectives of this course is to learn how to surmount the tendencies to give up when we do not understand something. I know that as soon as school slows down (which might take years), I will dive into this world of the literature. Unfortunately, at this point, I am just trying to get the essence of the reading in order to write a paper.

In my opinion, Poe's writings have been the least labyrinthian. Perhaps this is true because his pieces like "Tell-Tale Heart" were fictional and entertaining--more so than Thoreau's "Life in the Woods," which is a narration of his experiences of detaching himself from the rest of the world.

I am the type of person who requires total isolation and quiet when reading academic writings. With the demands of this class, I have had to learn how to detach myself from the rest of the world, even when total silence is not possible. For the most part, I have utilized the recorded readings that Dr. Brandon has provided. If the piece is especially difficult, I follow along with the speaker. Most importantly, I have had to learn how to start homework early for this class: even if I have only half an hour, I will go ahead and read a portion of the writing, instead of leaving everything to the end.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Emmanuel Ihejirika
In reply to this post by SteveBrandon
The most difficult readings for me thus far, have been those of Emerson, Thoreau, and the Crevecoeur Letters from the American Farmer. They required more time to depict meaning. I found myself reading  more background on each to get a better understanding of who they were and the signifigance of their mark on American history. Unlike the easier reads from Poe or Harriet Jacob (which I found to be be quite familiar), much was left to interpretation. Especially with Thoreau, you may take a few moments to digest a single line. It was definitely necessary to devote a little extra time to those. But they were very enlightening to say the least. It caused me to think in terms of literature and the minds of those great men then, versus today.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

SteveBrandon
Administrator
Emmanuel,

Think about the genres with which most modern audiences are most used to consuming.  We watch TV and movies all the time, so we are used to making sense out of story and narrative.  We have narrative cues which help us understand what is going on, and we are used--for instance--in using plot and character to make sense of any complex ideas at work.  To a lessor extent, the same can be said of poetry.  We've been exposed to poetry in school, and we are exposed to lyrics in songs--one form of poetry--on a regular basis.  We know how to pick up on rhythm, for instance, and enjoy it while it helps us make sense of any more complex--what our society thinks of as "deep" ideas--at play.

About the only time we encounter essays, like the work of Emerson and Thoreau, today is writing essays in school.  Even then, we are used to shorter essays and academic essays, and modern essays are written in a much more transparent style.  Today, we are interested in getting meaning quickly, especially in genres, like the essay, we don't think of as entertainment.  Part of what Emerson and Thoreau were doing was calling attention to the ornament and beauty of how they wrote something and said it.  They wrote ornamental text to show off their status as artists of language, to play (trust me on this), and because their audience expected such ornament. 

Emerson and Thoreau are also much longer winded than we're used to today.  Remember, they were writing for audiences who didn't have phones or the net to get in touch and ask questions, and they were writing for audiences who expected writing to be meaty, because there were few other forms of entertainment. They wanted a text which they could read with others, discuss, and then show off their knowledge of the new fad of Romanticism.  

A lot of what I'm saying is that Emerson and Thoreau are especially foreign to modern students.  However, they ask some blessed good questions:

What's the best you you can be?
How do you go about creating this best self?
How do you cultivate the ability to feel for and with others?
How do you use the ability to feel for and with others to motivate change in society?
Is it a good thing or a bad thing to conform to the demands of society?
What's the role of history and the past in creating this best you?
What's the role of material things in creating the best you?
What's the role of Nature in creating the best you?

Often, when we read literature, we read it because of the questions it causes us to ask ourselves and discuss with others.  

One last thing, if you get enough practice in reading ornamental, long winded essays, if the writers are good enough, you can get to the point of appreciating the ornament and appreciating the precision of the writing.  Of course, this is a lot like learning to appreciated raw oysters.  You have to wonder about the folks who enjoy them, especially after you taste your first one and think, "yuck."

Steve
Stephen Brandon, PhD
Associate Professor, Composition and Rhetoric
J. Sargent Reynolds Community College
Richmond, VA 23221
[hidden email]

Often the accurate answer to a usage question begins, "It depends." And what
it depends on most often is where you are, who you are, who your listeners
or readers are, and what your purpose in speaking or writing is.
-Kenneth G. Wilson, usage writer (b. 1923)


On Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 11:56 PM, Emmanuel Ihejirika [via General Assembly Discussion Forum, Fall 2010] <[hidden email]> wrote:
The most difficult readings for me thus far, have been those of Emerson, Thoreau, and the Crevecoeur Letters from the American Farmer. They required more time to depict meaning. I found myself reading  more background on each to get a better understanding of who they were and the signifigance of their mark on American history. Unlike the easier reads from Poe or Harriet Jacob (which I found to be be quite familiar), much was left to interpretation. Especially with Thoreau, you may take a few moments to digest a single line. It was definitely necessary to devote a little extra time to those. But they were very enlightening to say the least. It caused me to think in terms of literature and the minds of those great men then, versus today.




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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Kelsey Glasco
In reply to this post by SteveBrandon
I think that the hardest reading for me was Emerson and Thoreau.  It seems like a lot of classmates have had difficulty with the way that they write.  I do not really understand the old english writing as well as the stuff that Poe writes.  The assignments that went along with these 3 writers were very interesting to me.  Even though I did not totally grasp the reading with Emerson and Thoreau, the assignment was related to my life and it was not hard for me to pick out a quote or two to relate to the assignment.  I usually spend a good amount of time reading what we have to for the week, but I do not think that Emerson and Thoreau's writing sunk in because it was hard for me to understand some of the things that they were saying.  I guess the only reason for that is because of the way it is written.  I did not really find their writing all that interesting, but the assignments related to their writings really helped me understand them a little bit more.  
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Kelsey Glasco
Jeromy - I agree with you.  Emerson and Thoreau are definitely much harder to read than anything else I think that we have been assigned.  I have also tried to do the reading in bits and pieces, but I found it easier if you do it all at once because it is easier for me to retain the information that way.  A lot of times I just want to give up and stop reading, but the only way I am going to understand it is if I force myself to really try to let the information sink in.

Erin - It seems like everyone is having trouble reading Emerson and Thoreau's writing.  I am glad to know I am not the only one!  I agree with you when you say that you enjoy the assignments because they relate to your life.  It really helps you become more engaged in the class when you actually enjoy writing about the topic.    
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

SteveBrandon
Administrator
One reason I opened this thread for learning reflection and discussion this week was to let you know almost *everyone* has trouble with Emerson and Thoreau.  It's a natural part of the process of learning to read and of reading Early American Literature.

If it helps any, later they become much more enjoyable and interesting.  I hated Thoreau the first time I read him.  He's now in the small collection of books--Winnie the Pooh, Walden, Franklin's Autobiography, Kipling's poetry, etc.--that I keep near the chair where I do most of my reading.

Steve

Stephen Brandon, PhD
Professor, Composition and Rhetoric
J. Sargent Reynolds Community College
Richmond, VA 23221
[hidden email]

Often the accurate answer to a usage question begins, "It depends." And what
it depends on most often is where you are, who you are, who your listeners
or readers are, and what your purpose in speaking or writing is.
-Kenneth G. Wilson, usage writer (b. 1923)


On Sun, Oct 17, 2010 at 11:10 AM, Kelsey Glasco [via General Assembly Discussion Forum, Fall 2010] <[hidden email]> wrote:
Jeromy - I agree with you.  Emerson and Thoreau are definitely much harder to read than anything else I think that we have been assigned.  I have also tried to do the reading in bits and pieces, but I found it easier if you do it all at once because it is easier for me to retain the information that way.  A lot of times I just want to give up and stop reading, but the only way I am going to understand it is if I force myself to really try to let the information sink in.

Erin - It seems like everyone is having trouble reading Emerson and Thoreau's writing.  I am glad to know I am not the only one!  I agree with you when you say that you enjoy the assignments because they relate to your life.  It really helps you become more engaged in the class when you actually enjoy writing about the topic.    




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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Alex Smith
In reply to this post by SteveBrandon
The easiest reading I've had to read so far is probably going to have to be Edgar Allen Poe.  His writing is somewhat difficult to understand but I think it was the easiest was because I actually liked reading his essays the most because he had so much energy and emotion in his writings.  The toughest readings so far are definitely Emerson and Thoreau.  Their writings were hard to read because they went so far in depth to what they believe in and that is what made it so confusing for me because I'm kind of like a "get to the point" type person.  The ideas and points they have are very intriguing to me but it's just not easy for me to understand them all the time.  

The thing that helped me most when reading all the essays was having a dictionary beside me because there were lots of words that they use that I don't know or never heard of before.  The only reading practice that I have come up with so far and have been using it my whole life is just rereading the essays because each time I read it, I understand it more.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Alex Smith
In reply to this post by Emmanuel Ihejirika
Emmanuel-  I think you are absolutely right when you say that Emerson, Thoreau, and Crevecoeur were the toughest because they were so dedicated to their works that it just got too confusing to understand.  I also had to read a little bit of the background information to understand what they were about and how they lived their life.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Alex Smith
In reply to this post by Anna Olihnenco
Anna-  I agree with you when you said how it's hard to get to understand the writings because of not enough time to understand it and want to get the paper written when its due.  I honestly don't think I'll be able to get to actually understand it until I'm through with school because I want to do well in the classes that I need to take.  Edgar Allen Poe is one of my favorites so far because I like what he writes and how he writes it, but I never thought about it being easier to read because of them being fictional.  I also need total silence when I read.  I go so far sometimes by putting earplugs in.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Alex Chenault
In reply to this post by Erin Edwards
I am in the same boat as you about Emerson. He was a very good writer but his material isn't really appealing to people out age or even people in general that live in the 21st century. His ideas about being a nonconformist were great ides and were perfectly written back in his day. I think that his ideas are pretty good even to this day but there is a better way they could be written to appeal to us. Good Job.
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Re: “Week Eight: Reading Early American Literature.”

Alex Chenault
In reply to this post by Alex Smith
Alex S., I think we share the same opinion about Poe. His literature is pretty easy to understand, especially on the surface. I have noticed with early American literature that the authors don't necessarily mean what they say. They tend to hide something much deeper in their words. Poe is fun because he hides his messages in something fun and usually easy to read. Good Job.
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