Brush Up Your S.H.A.K.E.S.P.E.A.R.E.: A Prologue

From Flickr user Elliott Brown
From Flickr user Elliott Brown

There aren’t many things I miss about teaching literature. Shepherding a class of students through a great work was never a strong suit of mine when I was in the classroom. For every student who’s invested and learning to love an author they’d never previously encountered, there are inevitably three to five who are dragging their feet and going through the motions. Granted, it’s quite likely that, with time, I would have grown better at building and sustaining enthusiasm. I didn’t stick around long enough to get that good, unfortunately.

What I do miss is picking a good book and working through it out loud. It wasn’t quite that extemporaneous in front of the students, of course. Rather, it was more of a time-delayed process of analysis and presentation: read, think, clarify thoughts, express, repeat. In that way, it’s kind of like blogging. Hey, there’s an idea…

In an attempt to add a little more structure both to my own reading and to my writing here, I’m planning to add a quasi-weekly feature. My first thought was to go through the complete works of Shakespeare. On second thought, I opted to pick a more diverse set of writers. On third thought, I really wanted an excuse to embed an example of this song:

Hence my quadruple thought: Brush up your S.H.A.K.E.S.P.E.A.R.E.! No, it’s not a secret intelligence agency devoted to literary espionage (although that would be awesome). Instead, it’s an acronym for:

S – Shakespeare, William (Macbeth)

H – Hurston, Zora Neale (Their Eyes Were Watching God)

A – Austen, Jane (Persuasion)

K – Kant, Immanuel (The Metaphysic of Morals)

E – Eliot, George (Middlemarch)

S – Shikibu, Murasaki (The Tale of Genji)

P – Pratchett, Terry (Mort)

E – Erdrich, Louise (The Plague of Doves)

A – Atwood, Margaret (The Handmaid’s Tale)

R – Robinson, Marilynne (Gilead)

E – Eliot, T.S. (The Waste Land)

(Writers and works subject to revision at my own capricious whims.)

Gathered here are works that either (a) I last read as a student and want to revisit or (b) have literary merit, are of interest to me, but aren’t exactly nightstand reading. This is by no means a comprehensive list of such works, but it’s enough to keep me busy for a year or so at the pacing I’ve worked out.

We’ll start out with the Bard himself, and since it’s still October, I’ve selected that witchiest of his plays, Macbeth. I’ll be writing about one act per week, including thoughts on writing style, language usage, characterization, and elements I want to bring over into my own writing. Feel free to read along at home, participate in discussions in the comments, etc. But only if you want to! My days of dragging reluctant readers along for the ride are blissfully behind me.