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Jugendtreffen der FDJ in Bautzen, 1948

This article originally appeared at 

It begins when you read a piece of literature that reminds you why we read literature: an essay with sentences you wish you had written, a poem you receive like a gift, a novel that self-helps you better than any self-help book. You find yourself writing in the margin, using symbols that embarrass you (exclamation points!), scribbling YES!, and making stars, asterisks, and vertical lines to mark passages that you read and reread and read again aloud. With urgency and heat, you underline and highlight.

You elbow room for the work in the syllabus. You adjust the whole course to accommodate that one piece of writing. You can't wait to assign it to students. It will change their lives. They will love you for this.

Then comes the day. You wait for the class to weigh in. You wait to hear from the student who always get it, the one you count on to point out what others have missed, who serves as a proxy for you and often leads the class. You wait to hear from the passionate reader whose mind, free from the itchy constraints of critical analysis, always finds something to like about a piece. You wait to hear from the student whose spoken language is tortured by notions of what he thinks sounds smart; usually you can barely figure out what he is trying to say, but that doesn't stop him from going on about how much he got out of the reading. And you wait for the slacker who comes to class having no more than skimmed the assignment, yet who manages to say something, often funny, sometimes intentionally.

Then you notice they are all looking at their notebooks, fondling their iPads, doing anything else they can think of to avoid looking at you, with your face all kid-happy. Because they know that they are going to disappoint you. And then they do.

It was OK, one of them says.

Jean Mcmahon
8/17/2013 2:18:29 AM

Isn't it a LOT different to think about the extinction of all life on the planet (fairly soon)...No consolation that someone else will be around to carry birds,ocean life,Polar Bears..I like to think there must be life on some where else in the Universe

8/16/2013 9:06:15 PM

Sweetness is quite real; we just don't see much of it anymore. The poet giamatti is aware of that or he would not have made the poem. we need to be reminded of what is lost and grieve it; better than going numb.

5/28/2013 2:34:13 AM

cant conjure up an image or understand the words in front of you? try proof reading critical thinking....nothing lasts forever.

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