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Spark Notes

February 25, 2010

Today I realized that most of my students, even my most responsible ones, read SparkNote/cliff note versions of the books I assign. For my innocent readers, this means my students don’t read the books I assign; they read condensed versions that some poor out of work literate person like myself has written for the online illiterate. I made my upper level English seminar confess this fact today. They told me they read the plot summary of Their Eyes Were Watching God, not the book itself. I am still recovering from this information. I told them I would rather they read a few pages of the real Their Eyes than the entire SparkNotes summary. Maybe I am wrong, though. Maybe the Sparknotes version is also brilliant. I read a great headline on the Onion once. Girl Moved To Tears By of Mice and Men Cliff Notes I am going to go read the plot summary of Their Eyes on spark notes and see what they are reading.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Meo permalink
    February 28, 2010 8:31 pm

    Sigh … and so many of them retain that strategy for college, since it worked so well in high school, because it’s hard enough to drag them through comprehension of the plot. At the hs level, we pretty much expect that. Most of us try for assignments that require close reading, focused response, but even then the kids’ developmental ability to respond sometimes is as shallow as if they’d only SparkNoted when they genuinely did read. Can we really expect a comfortably suburban fifteen year old who’s just become boycrazy in the last four months to completely comprehend Janie marrying Logan –a man with like forty-five years on her? And those nasty toenails! Not the stuff of Gossip Girls or The Hills, which is still my students’ world.

    One of the best workshops I went to on assessment design had an exercise where participants were invited to trade unit tests with colleagues for books they didn’t teach or know well … to read the cheat sites for the book, and take the test. The implication was, of course, that if you didn’t have to read the book to be successful, there was something pretty wrong with the assessment.

    When you talk with the college kids taking gen eds, some feel entitled to Sparknoting their way through – they’re annoyed that they even have to take a course where they have to read literature in the first place — claim they hate it and don’t understand it (because of all those hidden meanings their teachers pointed out the next day that weren’t in the sparknotes they read last night) and it won’t be of any use to them in their major or their lives (they feel). You can almost see it from that perspective, as you chat with the engineers and business school-bound, but then you think of your own math requirements … and you wonder, where was the Spark Note for algebra?
    It’s when you talk with the English majors who SparkNote like that that makes you want to kind of cry.

    So, speaking of being too lazy to read the book (okay, so you haven’t finished writing it yet, but still) why was Mary on the bridge? was that pre-giving birth or afterward? post-partum depression? was she early along and wanted to spare herself? her family? anyone? the unwed mother stigma? or was she just overwhelmed by a newborn? was she grand-standing for G to return to her? I’m curious to know.

  2. March 3, 2010 7:16 pm

    I love that you ask about Mary on the bridge. Fanny (the baby) was about 17 months old. Yes, post partum. yes unwed mother. Yes overwhelmed. ymostly Despair. She had just found out that G was living with another woman, a younger woman — an actress. She confronted them and then the next day went to Putney bridge.

    I am glad you want to know–

  3. Kate Meo permalink
    March 3, 2010 8:57 pm

    I don’t know whether the right impulse is to want to hug her or dope-slap her. She had the ability to pull it together to go confront them both ! and I’m fairly sure she could have skewered him verbally … and the next day she’s ready to leap off a bridge?

    I’m trying to think back to Frankenstein — the monster’s confrontation scene before he attacks Dr F’s house (and bride … to be? or am I confusing Dracula and tons of Hawthorne, where no one got to sleep with their spouses on their wedding nights?) … and now I’ll have to go find the text, because it’s kind of an interesting almost-parallel … Dr. F has “made” his “baby”/”corpse collage” but then there’s a betrayal/a regret for doing so, a choice of an alternate life that doesn’t involve that “baby” … and robbed of the chance of what might be normal or tolerable as a life, the monster demands recompense. Wow, that’s convoluted, and it makes a sort of half-sense to me right now. Dr. F as G, monster = Mary.

    I’m also wondering if she found a moment of clarity after the bridge and decided living well would be the best revenge, or if she just decided it was easier to go on living. She seems like the _one_ woman in her time who would have been kind of pre-programmed (from her mom’s early feminism) to be all “fish without a bicycle” rather than devastated by either not having a man in general or this guy in specific, who sounds like an on-again, off-again relationship. Post-partum seems to fill in a lot of that mental gap there, though.
    Anyway, looking forward to this book immensely.

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