Course Description : We’ll read and discuss eleven memoirs, plus excerpts of a few others. Work for the semester will consist of reading and being engaged with the books. Assignments will include: small creative projects and in-class writing sprinkled through the semester; a presentation on one of the writers; and a final paper, memoir, or 10 poems. Readings may include (a) poems by Roger Fanning, Louise Gluck, Robert Hass, Terrance Hayes, Seamus Heaney, Yusef Komunyaaka, William Matthews, Heather McHugh, Pablo Neruda, Craig Raine, Charles Simic, and Dean Young; (b) fiction by George Saunders; (c) essays by James Wood, and (d) a memoir by Elif Batuman.
This is a funny (read: not-so-funny) way to start a section in a story, but this is Haskell in his psychological mode, and it’s a tone he turns to frequently, which can make parts of this book sound eerily similar to the DSM-IV-TR Case Studies: A Clinical Guide to Differential Diagnosis . His exposition is dutiful and persistent, but he oddly does not seem to be using it to generate sympathy, which is what a narrative writer might hope for after disclosing details of character. Minimalism in fiction, which at its best extracted psychology purely from surfaces, would be anathema to Haskell. One of his favorite things to do, his pet point throughout the book, is to probe the interior conflicts within a character, but the effect is rather more coldly intellectual than warmly empathic: