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On Re-reading for Class

emily_isaacson
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This blog was originally posted on March 15, 2013.

I don’t know about anyone of you out there, but at a certain point in the semester I feel an exhausted relief when I look at the scheduled readings and see that I’ve been smart enough to assign texts that I’ve read before, that I’ve taught before.  I have that moment when I think, “I don’t necessarily have to re-read this – I’ve done this before.  I’ll just do what I did last time.”

It’s not a good habit, but it’s an understandable one, I think.  And I suspect that most of us give in to the temptation from time to time.

But last week, I was reminded once again why it is that I need to re-read for class – and not just because I need to be sure that I’m completely prepared.

I was preparing to teach “A Rose for Emily” (and Faulkner happens to be one of my favorite authors) – and it’s something that I’ve taught at least once a year since 2006.  So I’m pretty familiar with the story.  But I re-read it anyway.

Because we’re focusing on setting in my course right now, I tried to pay particular attention to the details of setting, as described by the narrators.  Many are the details  I’ve always paid attention to in class (Miss Emily’s house as “an eyesore among eyesores” and the dust and stagnant air throughout the story); but this time, one small detail jumped out at me at the very beginning of the story.

As the narrators describe Miss Emily, they say that she “had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar-bemused cemetery.”

The cedar-bemused cemetery.

What an extraordinary description – and one that I’ve probably read (and perhaps even noted) in the past.  But this time, I was reading a clean copy (we just switched editions, so my book has no annotations yet) – and so this simply struck me.

And that’s the point.  While it is important to re-read in order to prepare for class, it’s also important to re-read to simply recharge.  I know that I get caught up in the frustrations of the semester and the general exhaustions of life, but I also know that when it comes down to it, I actually love the stuff that we do in literary studies.  Cheesy? Sure.  But honest? Absolutely.

And that energy and enjoyment is infectious – and students will notice it.

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About the Author
Emily Isaacson received her BA from Augustana College (Illinois) and her MA and PhD from the University of Missouri. Previously at Chowan University, where she was the coordinator of the Chowan Critical Thinking Program, Emily is now working as an assistant professor of English at Heidelberg University. She has presented her work on early modern literature and on teaching literature at meetings of the Shakespeare Association of America, the Renaissance Society of America, South Atlantic Modern Language Association, and the College English Association. She also frequently reviews books about teaching literature in the classroom.