Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

How to Do Anything! (in Contemporary Global Fiction)

ENGL 260.301
instructor(s):
TR 1:30-3:00 pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major

 

In a 1954 New Yorker article, Dwight Macdonald coined the term “HOWTOISM” to describe the do-it-yourself mania overtaking popular culture. “How to writers are to other writers as frogs are to other mammals” he wrote, “their books are not born, they are spawned.”  Taking his comment as a provocation, this course will explore the ubiquity of howtoism as a frame for contemporary global fiction. We will read literary texts including: Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her (1996), Lorrie Moore’s “How to be an Other Woman” (1985), Nick Hornby’s How to be Good (2001), Dinaw Mengestu’s How to Read the Air (2010), Ali Smith’s How to Be Both (2014), Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be (2012), andMohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013). Instead of dismissing the how-to premise as a mere literary gimmick, we will treat it as an occasion to explore the rich history of influence and overlap between the novel and the success manual, and to collectively interrogate the theory, philosophy, potential, and violence of self-help. Assignments will include a midterm and final essay, an oral presentation, and contribution to a collaborative digital project.