What I’m Reading: Flies and Cuckoos

Reading: Lord of the Flies - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestWhat are you reading? I read a lot. Sometimes, it goes with the job.  Gotta keep sharp. Sometimes, what I read is a product of curiosity.

Since my job is a mix of teaching various levels of students, fiction sand poetry writing, and writing speeches, this covers a lot of territory. Some American classic one day, a leadership book the next, and probably the Bible as well throughout.

The best writers, you’ll hear me often say, are the best readers. I’m not suspect of writers who don’t read. I’m dismissive. I will not hire a writer who hasn’t got a strong grasp on the classics.


Two classics I’m reading this week are controversial and occasionally excluded intentionally from high school libraries. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and  Lord of the Flies.

I don’t say censored because the United States government didn’t stop Ken Kesey or William Golding from writing or publishing, or anyone here from buying them. They may be censored in intellectually stifled countries like China and the Sudan, but here, just go to Amazon.

These two are controversial for reasons of violence, language, and sensuality. I have a student who needs to learn them so I’ll work with them. Read them and you’ll see why. Whether you believe they should be taught to teenagers is another question, but there is no doubt

Are you struggling through a book filled with difficult issues? Contact me.  I can help.

What about you? What’s on your nightstand this week?

The Sot-Weed Factor (First Line)

The Sot-Weed Factor

In the last years of the Seventeenth Century there was to be found among the fops and fools of the London coffee-houses one rangy, gangling flitch called Ebenezer Cooke, more ambitious than talented, and yet more talented than prudent, who, like his friends-in-folly, all of whom were supposed to be educating at Oxford or Cambridge, had found the sound of Mother English more fun to game with than her sense to labor over, and so rather than applying himself to the pains of scholarship, had learned the knack of versifying, and ground out quires of couplets after the fashion of the day, afroth with Joves and Jupiters, aclang with jarring rhymes, and string-taut with similes stretched to the snapping-point. —John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor (1960)

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night (First Line)

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. —Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

Learn why this particular first line matters.

More great books.

The Catcher in the Rye (First Line)

The Catcher in the Rye

‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger,


John E. McIntyre’s trigger warning

“Take a seat, school’s back in session. Here’s John E. McIntyre’s “trigger warning” to new students at his editing class at Loyola University Maryland.”

John E. McIntyre’s trigger warning

This is a fun, yet honest look at how one editing professor considers his journalism class. I agree.

Meanwhile, see The Associated Press Stylebook 2018: and Briefing on Media Law 


Saul Bellow on Chicago

I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. —Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March (1953)

Lloyd Jones, Mr. Pip

But you know, Matilda, you cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames. For me, Matilda, Great Expectations is such a book. It gave me permission to change my life.
― Lloyd Jones, Mr. Pip