Tag Archives: fiction/literature

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Here is a reading on F. Scott Fitzgerald along with its attendant vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

This is a biography of Fitzgerald. While it does include a paragraph on The Great Gatsby, this short reading supplies the author’s personal details. There are other materials on Fitzgerald and Gatsby (and more forthcoming) on this site–simply use the search bar in the upper-right of the home page.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Book of Answers: Ernest Hemingway

“In what Hemingway short story does Nick Adams first appear? Hemingway’s alter ego, the central figure of In Our Time (1924), makes his first appearance in ‘Indian Camp.’”

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Edgar Allan Poe

Here is a reading on Edgar Allan Poe along with its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. I believe he is taught at the secondary level. This is a good introduction to Poe’s biography and his bibliography.

Have you read Poe, beyond hearing James Earl Jones read “The Raven” on The Simpsons first “Treehouse of Horror” episode? I confess my own reading of Poe doesn’t extend very far beyond that. He is a very influential figure in the history of American letters. His first editions are some of the most sought after in the antiquarian book trade; his very first book, Tamerlane, which doesn’t even bear his name (the author is given as “A Bostonian) is a high spot in book collecting–it is known as the “black tulip” of American literature. The last copy that came up at auction sold for $662,000. His influence abroad may be even more pronounced, especially in France.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Rotten Reviews: The Benefactor

Mrs. Sontag is an intelligent writer who has, on her first flight, jettisoned the historical baggage of the novel. However, she has not replaced it with material or insights that carry equal or superior weight…. Instead she has chosen the fashionable imports of neo-existentialist philosophy and tricky contemporary techniques.”

New York Times Book Review

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.    


“Absurd: A philosophical term for a fundamental lack of reasonableness and coherence in human existence. The philosophical and theological roots of the term can be traced to Tertullian (160?-?230), an early Father of the church who argued that the surest sign of the truth of Christianity is its absurdity. He posited that the idea of an infinite deity incarnating himself and undergoing suffering for human beings is so irrational that no one would invent such a story; therefore it must be true. Tertullian’s summary statement was Creo quia absurdum est (I believe because it is absurd). Centuries later, Soren Kierkegaard reemphasized the absurdity of Christianity. He suggested that rational ‘proofs,’ however convincing, are blocks, not aids, to faith. A faith that requires proofs is no faith at all. One can only choose Christianity, with its manifest absurdities, or choose an alternative way of life, with its latent absurdities. The choice of Christianity is a ‘leap of faith’ for which there are no strictly rational criteria.

With Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, and Jean-Paul Sartre, the concept of absurdity became almost completely secularized as the basis for existentialism. According to the existentialist concept, man is thrown into an alien, irrational world in which he must create his own identity through a series of choices for which there are no guides or criteria. Because man cannot avoid making choices—to refrain from choosing is a choice—man is condemned to be free. This absurdity is an inescapable part of the human situation. In his novel Nausea, Sartre regards it as the irresoluble paradox of human existence.

The concept of the absurd in modern literature originated with the early surrealists, in works such as Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi. The concept is used by Albert Camus in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus and in his novel The Stranger, where he emphasizes the psychological implications of the absurd.

Writers have also attempted to convey the concept of the absurd through deliberate distortions and violations of conventional forms, to undermine ordinary expectations of continuity and rationality. Among the most notable writers in the literature and Theater of the Absurd are Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and Jean Genet.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Book of Answers: Upton Sinclair’s EPIC

“What did Upton Sinclair’s campaign slogan—EPIC—stand for? End Poverty in California.” It was the umbrella term for his democratic platform for his 1934 campaign as governor. This platform contained such programs as a graduated income tax and retirement pensions. Sinclair won the Democratic nomination, but after a bitter campaign lost to Republican candidate Frank Merriam.”

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Dashiell Hammett

On Memorial Day 2021, here is a reading on Dashiell Hammett along with its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

Why Samuel Dashiell Hammett, the author of numerous short stories and several novels, including The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man (from which a successful six-part film franchise, then a television series, was produced) on Memorial Day? I don’t think most people realize that Hammett served in the United States military twice, enlisting in 1918, then again in 1943. At the height of his literary fame, at the age of 48, he joined the army as a private and was stationed in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, where he edited The Adakian, the camp newspaper.

Hammett identified as a leftist, which made his voluntary service in the U.S. military even more baffling to his left-leaning social circle, including his lover, playwright Lillian Hellman. In fact, after the war, Hammett began teaching writing courses at the Jefferson School of Social Science, operated by the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) in New York City. Later, famously, Hammett was summoned to testify on his activities with the Civil Rights Congress, of which he was elected president in June of 1946. He inculpated himself in the group’s activities, but refused to name the other people involved in the organization. For his refusal to name names, this veteran of the United States Armed Services served a six-month jail sentence for contempt of court.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Chinese Literature

“Chinese Literature: The earliest examples of Chinese writing are found etched on bone of cast in Bronze and are over three thousand years old. These short inscriptions, used in divination or in commemoration of important events, demonstrate the unique qualities of the Chinese language and writing system even at this early date. The ancient symbols, which grew out of pictures and visual metaphors, are independent of the sound of the word they represent and are in most cases the same as in modern Chinese once allowances are made for certain changes in their shape. These old inscriptions, however, are of more interest as examples of paleography than as literature.

The first anthology of Chinese poetry, the Book of Songs (Shih ching, 8th to 6th centuries BC), appeared during the Chou dynasty (1027-BC-256 BC). Another anthology, the Songs of Ch’u (Ch’u’tz’u. 4th to 3rd century BC), originated on the southern edges of the Chinese cultural area; its impassioned tone contrasts sharply with the restraint of the earlier Songs and has had an abiding influence on later writing. Two features of this and all Chinese verse are the use of rhyme and a metrical system based on syllable count. The latter half of the Chou dynasty was a period of social change and military conflict, an uncertain environment that seems to have stimulated a great period of philosophical thought. Confucius and Mencius (372-289 BC) stressed a conservative political and moral theory whose ethical and didactic views dominated literary thinking until modern times. The Taoists Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, with their skepticism about government and their concept of the relativism of moral values, seem to contradict the Confucian vision. In the manner of Chinese eclecticism, though, these views came to be seen as complementary aspects of a whole philosophy of living. The Ch’in dynasty (221 BC-206 BC) unified China and attempted to suppress all philosophies except that of the Legalist School, but the brief rule of the dynast allowed many destroyed texts to be reconstructed. During the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) the writing of history became one of the principal responsibilities of government. Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s (145? BC-90? BC) monumental history, the Records of the Historian (Shih chi), not only set the pattern for subsequent official histories but also established many of the conventions used by later writers of fiction. After the Han dynasty, the period of interregnum known as the Six Dynasties (222-589) was another time of constant warfare and great historical changes, of the spread and domestication of Buddhism and of literary theorizing and criticism, which began to show some independence from Confucian ideas.

By the time of the T’ang dynasty (618-907) the new surge of cultural and political accomplishments had been well prepared by the previous age. The T’ang was the golden age of poetry, with such figures as Wang Wei, Li Po, Tu Fu, and Po Chu-i. It is also the era in which the writing of fiction became well established. Ch’an Buddhism, a native Chinese sect with many concepts similar to Taoism, had great influence on literature. After the persecutions of 845, however, the Buddhist faith never again played an important role in politics. Poetry reached its peak during the T’ang, and, although poets continued to write in the old forms, creative energy flowed mostly to the new musical genres of the Sung (960-1280) and Yuan dynasties (1280-1368). There are some examples of fiction and dramatic entertainment which date to the T’ang, but the real growth of these forms followed the establishment of large urban centers and the spread of literacy to the merchant classes of the Sung and Yuan periods. The purely written literary language of the scholar-official class was not suitable for these new types of writing. Instead, the spoken colloquial language of the times became the medium for stories, novels, and plays. This literature was read by all levels of society but never had the sanction of Confucian orthodoxy. Colloquial fiction was thus not a completely respectable field of activity or study until the 20th century. Still, many great novels were written, among the most famous being Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, The Plum in the Golden Vase, and Dream of the Red Chamber. The Ch’ing dynasty (1644-1911) also saw great activity in literary and philological scholarship and in the making of encyclopedias and compendia of all sorts. Since the literary revolution of the early 1920s, there has been considerable ferment and controversy in literature. Writers turned their back on tradition and set out to create a new literature based on Western modes and on the use of the spoken vernacular. The short story and essay are of particularly high quality. The names of Lu Hsun, Pa Chin, and Lao She, Mao Tun and Ting Ling acquired some renown in the Western world. Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, literature was harnessed in the service of the Communist Party, and became heavily moralistic and didactic. Following the cataclysmic events of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese writers such as Chang Hsien-Liang turned inwards in search of a subjectivity and sense of self, exploring the often painful issues that had so long been denied.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Kamo no Chomei

“Kamo no Chomei: (1155-1216) Japanese writer. Best known for his meditative Account of My Hut (Hojoki, 1212), which vividly describes the natural and man-made disasters he witnessed in the late Heian period. Chomei was also a prominent poet and theorist in the literary circle of Fujiwara Teika (Sadaie, 1162-1241) and principal compiler of the New Collection of Ancient and Modern Times (Shokinshu, c 1205). His Anonymous Notes (Mumyosho, 1209-10) includes the best definition of the elusive aesthetic ideal of Yugen (“mystery and depth), important in the poetry of his day but also in the later Noh theater. The Kamo family were hereditary Shinto priests at the famous Kyoto shrines of that name, but in 1204, Chomei became a Tendai Buddhist monk and adopted the life of a literary recluse. His last work is a collection of anecdotes (Setsuwa) called the Collection of Religious Awakenings (Hosshinshu c 1241).”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Gennady Nikolaevich Aigi

“Gennady Nikolaevich Aigi: (1934-2006) Chuvash poet and translator. Aigi published six collections of poetry in his native Chuvash language in the period 1958-1988, and several translations into Russian. Later, however, he was only able to publish poems in Russian abroad, in Stikhi, 1954-71 (Poems, 1975) and the two-volume Otmechannaia zima (The Naked Winter, 1982). Aigi worked on various translation projects from the mid-1960s until the early 1980s. His best-known anthologies of translations into Chuvash include works of the French poets (1968) and the poets of Hungary (1974). In 1992, an English-language edition of Chuvash poems selected by Aigi—An Anthology of Chuvash Poetry—appeared in the West. Since the onset of Perestroika, Aigi’s poetry in Russian has once again been officially published in Russia—Zdes (Here, 1991) and Teper vsegda snega (Now There Is Always Snow, 1991). Aigi writes in free verse and searches for new means of expression to embody his vision; he sees the world as broken apart and composed of isolated images, and his metaphors are often abstract. Because his work can be obscure, he sometimes provides his own commentary.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.