The Great American Blog—200 / 20%: Over the course of the semester, each of you will compose 8 blog posts of 350-500 words (not including quotations), each relating to our work in this course. I will grade these posts in two groupings: at the mid-term point and at the end of the semester. I expect your posts to be polished, free of errors, properly formatted, and they should, at times, incorporate various forms of media and external reference (images, video embeds, links to other sites or posts, and so on).
You will never be scheduled to post the week you give a presentation, or the two weeks after your presentation. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to read the next book assigned, as you might have to blog on it (if, for example, the book after your research week is a one-week book and the next one is a two-week book, you will have to blog for the second week of that two week book, which would fall three weeks after your presentation).
Never blogged before using the WordPress platform? Not problem, just check out these instructions. As you review the instructions, please pay close attention to the use of categories. As you see on the course schedule, each group rotates through four blog categories: “CloseRead,” “NovelWorlds,” “AfterShocks,” and “Open.” Here’s what each category is about:
- “CloseRead”: In these posts, please practice your skills at literary explication, also known as “close reading.” The goal here is to pay attention to the texts’s particulars–to characters, narrative strategies, structure, themes, motifs, and so on. Even in a course where we will do our best to situate each novel within its cultural and historical context, we can’t forget matters of style and form: we must read through them, rather than around them. To achieve the highest possible points for these posts, you must quote from the text and stay close to the textual particulars even as you make a case for their broader significance. Also, assume an external readership, which means you should set up quotes and scenes using narrative cues (e.g. “in an early Chapter when the protagonist finds himself in the midst of a Battle Royal”) rather than textual cues (e.g. “on page 32”).
- “NovelWorlds”: Each book we read in this class occupies a distinct “novel world.” And each of these “novel worlds” reflects a distinct reality: the book takes place at a particular time and a particular set of places that we can, for the most part, determine. But each novel world also reflects the author’s cultural and historical context, which guides that author’s selection or avoidance of certain historical and geographical particulars, or inspires the fabrication of these particulars (these are, after all, fictional works). For these posts, you can choose between attending to the cultural-historical background of the text or the cultural-historical background of its author around the time of composition. For these posts, it is important that you refer to something outside the text: a scholarly article, an encyclopedia entry, a contemporary periodical–anything that will allow you to frame what is happening in the novel by looking outside of its borders. These are, in that sense, research-based posts: they involve actively engaging outside sources. How ambitious and inventive you are in selecting those outside sources will be reflected in your grade. A wikipedia entry is the easiest route to take, and unless your use of it is remarkably adept and subtle, it will not likely earn you an “A.” Do your best to locate interesting primary sources–historical periodicals, old ads, letters the author wrote, news accounts of events from the time of the novel, and so on. These posts are all about recovering the historical texture–all those ideas, events, and people that bring an era or a historical moment to life.
- “AfterShocks”: Once we get beyond the text and the cultural-historical contexts surrounding and impacting that text, where do we go? Well, we move forward. Each text we will read has a legacy, an afterlife–or, as I put it, many distinct aftershocks. How, you will ask yourself in your “AfterShock” posts, does this text live on today? What are its legacies? When does an author’s name enter contemporary conversations? These are serious questions, of course. But you can also take on the matter of adaptations–how books live in and through other media. Wharton’s House of Mirth has been remade as a movie, and if you can’t wait for the new blockbuster Gatsby‘s to reach theaters in December, you can play a Gatsby video game, Nintendo 16-bit style. These are all fair game for critical engagement.
- Open: I reserve this category for extra posts you might offer in place of class discussion, for example, or posts on our final novel, Cat’s Cradle, which are optional, but which will allow you to make up for a single missed post where relevant
You can choose the category for any given week, but you need a minimum of two posts from “novel worlds” and “closereads” and one from “aftershocks.”