For Thursday (9/9)

For Thursday, we’ll discuss John Cheever’s short story – – “The Swimmer” (1964).  Cheever publishes his story at the height of America’s post-war prosperity – – even as the social and cultural fabric of that prosperity is starting to fray and tear.  As you read, think about “Neddy Merrill” as a protagonist – – his goals, traits, obstacles.  And, given that the story is all about swimming pools – – let’s talk a bit about setting and the use of setting in Cheever’s story.

For Tuesday (9/7)

Don’t forget for Tuesday: another visit to the Reading Room and another entry into your reading journal. (To add an entry to your reading journal – – simply copy and paste the reading journal table into your existing google doc. You can find a copy of that rubric below or here.)

For Thursday, we’ll talk about Cheever’s “The Swimmer” – – which can be found in our course textbook.

Short Story Rubric (English 524)

Title and author of short story: 
Location (url or journal info) of short story:
General: What was the most confusing, irritating, moving moment in the story?  What made this particular moment confusing, irritating, and/or moving?
Character: who is the protagonist? What are his/her/their goals? What conflicts do they face? What are their main character traits? How do they change?
Plot: what are the main events in the story?  Which story event gets the most time/space in the text? How does the story resolve its plot? 
Setting: social, historical location of story? Important details in the description of the setting(s)? How are different settings related to each other?


For Thursday (9/2)

For Thursday, make sure to read Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain” and Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” – – both included in our course anthology. [Trigger warning: Faulkner’s story uses some language that we might object to in other contexts.].

I’m not so interested in the “meaning” of these two stories.  I’m more interested how the two stories reflect different approaches to narrative – – especially characterization and narration.  In other words, as you read the stories, don’t worry about thematic issues or problems and try to focus more on the way each story is told.

I’ve read all of your reading journals – – and they are great!  I’ve commented on them. However, due to a technical blunder, you may not see my brief comment.  I’ve since resolved things so that in the future you can see that I’ve read your journal.

Bonus: As I was preparing the class, I stumbled upon this fascinating story – – “Barn Burning” – – by renowned Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami.  Murakami isn’t just name-dropping Faulkner’s story; he seems to be rewriting and interpreting Faulkner’s story.  I wonder what it is about the original story that Murakami finds so engaging?

For Tuesday (8/31)

For Tuesday, we begin our Reading Room experience.  Here’s how it works:

  • set up your reading journal
  • head over to our reading room and browse through one of our featured magazines/journals until you find an interesting short story.  (Be careful to make sure it’s a short story and not an essay.)
  • read and enjoy the short story and then make an entry about it in your reading journal

Finish your reading journal entry by 2 p.m. on Tuesday, August 31.  If you encounter any issues, problems, etc., let me know.  Have fun!


George Saunders on reading short fiction

“The basic drill I’m proposing here is: read the story, then turn your mind to the experience you’ve just had. Was there a place you found particularly moving? Something you resisted or that confused you? A moment when you found yourself tearing up, getting annoyed, thinking anew? Any lingering questions about the story? Any answer is acceptable. If you (my good-hearted trooper of a reader) felt it, it’s valid. If it confounded you, that’s worth mentioning. If you were bored or pissed off: valuable information. . . . The main thing I want us to be asking together is: What did we feel and where did we feel it? (All coherent intellectual work begins with a genuine reaction.)”

The Ruthless Efficiency Principle: “As we’ve been saying, the story form is ruthlessly efficient. Everything in a story should be to purpose. Our working assumption is that nothing exists in a story by chance or merely to serve some documentary function. Every element should be a little poem, freighted with subtle meaning that is in connection with the story’s purpose.”

George Saunders, from A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (2021)

Welcome to English 524: Contemporary American Short Story

Greetings, friends!  You’ve arrived at the motherblog for English 524 Contemporary American Short Story.  Here, you’ll find all our course information – – syllabus, (almost all the) texts we’ll read, assignments, and various updates.  Before every class, I’ll post an update here to alert you to reading assignments, due dates, assignments, etc.  Check back often!

We won’t be meeting online this Tuesday – – but you’ll still have some work to do.  This includes: reviewing our syllabus, checking out our Reading Room, and reading the first paragraph of our first short story “Taylor Swift.”

After you’ve read the first paragraph of “Taylor Swift,” I want you to answer these questions:

  • what questions do you have about the story?
  • where do you think the story will end up?
  • where does the story take place?
  • who is the protagonist (hero) of the story and what are they like?

Write down your answers to these questions and bring them to our first zoom class session on Thursday at 2 p.m. (I’ll send out  zoom link on Thursday morning.)