Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Topics in Literature

ENGL 016.302
TR 3-4:30

How do we choose the relatively few books we read, whether in school or on our own, as opposed to the many books we do not read? What are the differences between them? Can we begin to generalize usefully about the characteristics of those few books that stay alive or come back to life after lying unnoticed for a period of time?

We will read a number of works, both "living" and "dead," to see if we can define any of the factors that affect a book's fortunes. We may read an early English work or two, and will certainly read some American books that have been marginalized because they are by or about people who are not WASPs or who don't come from important places like the east or the west coasts. We'll read a bigoted novel or two, looking at the differences between their popularity when they were originally written and their marginal status now (if, in fact, they are marginal). A long final section will concentrate on writers from or about Indiana. We'll always ask what gave, or failed to give, the works we read staying power. As we go, we'll read a bit of scholarly and popular writing about the formation and maintenance of literary canons.

This course is for people who like to read. It will also ask for papers and classroom discussion. The instructor is currently working on the topic. It relates both to his own recent published work but also to his job, which is to buy English-language literature for the University's Library.

fulfills requirements