Tag Archive for: #literature

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Literary Tapas and Readers

By Saralyn Richard

 

There are 124 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI) in the U.S., where learners aged
fifty-five and older can experience higher education without grading or course
credits. One of the classes I’ve taught at the local OLLI is entitled, Literary
Tapas. I began teaching this literature class more than ten years ago, and it’s
been a highlight of my life every single semester.

As the course title suggests, we read small pieces of
literature and digest them using Socratic questioning. Over the years, the
course rosters have changed, but there is a core group of loyal learners who
have been with me for a long time, almost like family. Being over fifty-five and living in the
local area are the only two demographics we all have in common. The class is so
diverse in gender, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, first language
spoken, profession, economic class, hobbies—we are a veritable melting pot of
society.

That makes for extremely interesting class discussions. In
fact, one of the learners calls the class “group therapy with literature.” The
stories, poems, essays, short plays, first chapters of books, quotations, and
song lyrics that we read are simply the diving boards that catapult us into
deep discussions about our life experiences. Our own personal stories are at
least as compelling as the ones we read. Sometimes we have guest authors
attend class when we are discussing their works. Often, we have visiting doctors
from the local medical branch with whom our OLLI is affiliated. Anyone who
visits must follow our cardinal rule of active participation in the discussion.

As the leader, I’m not allowed to answer any questions. All
I can do is ask open-ended, thought-provoking questions to lead the discussion
into the realm of higher-level thinking. There are no wrong answers, and
through divergent ideas and opinions we all learn a lot about the literature,
about the world depicted therein, and about ourselves.

As an author, I’m fascinated by the discussions we have in
class. I could write a whole book on what I’ve learned from my fellow learners,
but here are a few highlights:

  • ·        
    While it may be useful to analyze the author’s
    intent in writing, what’s more important is the reader’s response. What the
    reader extracts from a piece of writing is the true measure of its worth.
  • ·        
    Different readers bring different eyes to bear
    on the piece of writing. No one reader sees it the “right” way or the “wrong”
    way. All ways are good.
  • ·        
    A reader’s positive evaluation of a piece of
    writing is often subjective and may depend on variables such as how many times the
    reader has seen the selection, what mood he is in that day, how much time he
    has to interact with it, what others in the group think of it, or even how
    legible the copy is. None of these things are in the control of the author.
  • ·        
    Some of the best discussions come from pieces of
    literature that no one in the group particularly enjoys.

These things show me, as an author, that once I’ve told my
story in the best way that I can, and the story has left my hands and been sent
out into the world, it belongs to the readers. They can consume it, lap it up,
chew on it, swallow it, or spit it out, as they see fit. They can analyze and
interpret to their hearts’ content, and they can provide feedback through
reader reviews. Whatever they do with it, it is theirs. At that point, I’m just
a person whose name is on the cover of the book.

Like the teacher at OLLI, my job is not to answer questions,
but to ask them. But as an author, I’m
also that person who stands behind the curtain, holding her readers in her
heart and mind, wishing them a delightful and meaningful reading experience. If
you are one of my readers, you are the star of the show!

Saralyn
Richard’s award-winning humor- and romance-tinged mysteries and children’s book
pull back the curtain on people in settings as diverse as elite country manor
houses and disadvantaged urban high schools.
 Saralyn’s newest release Bad Blood Sisters is available for pre-order now. A
member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America,
Saralyn teaches creative writing and literature at the Osher Lifelong Learning
Institute, and continues to write mysteries. Her favorite thing about being an
author is interacting with readers like you.
Visit
Saralyn 
here, on her
Amazon page 
here, or on Facebook here.

Literary Boston

by Paula Gail Benson

I’m
going to follow in the footsteps of my blogging partner Dru Ann Love and write
about my experiences on a recent trip to Boston. It’s a city I’ve always found
captivating in books.

When
I was young, I read Esther Forbes’ Johnny
Tremain
and was enthralled by the young apprentice studying Paul Revere’s
workmanship. Later, I discovered Robert B. Parker’s Boston-based, single-named
detective, Spenser, through a television series. I avidly read Linda Barnes’ mysteries
featuring cabbie and sometimes investigator Carlotta Carlyle. Not to mention
Hank Phillippi Ryan’s novels about Boston investigative reporter Charlotte
McNally and her Jane Ryland thrillers; some of Toni L.P. Kelner’s Laura Fleming
series; and Dana Cameron’s Anna Hoyt stories that take place in colonial Boston.

In
Boston’s Public Garden, a line of bronze ducks represent the characters from
Robert McClosky’s Make Way for Ducklings.
A plaque explains that the story made the Garden familiar to children
around the world and I have read that the ducks’ bronze surfaces never need to
be shined because so many little bottoms come to sit on them.

Emerson House in Concord

Growing
up, I found Boston’s neighboring town of Concord fascinating for its collection
of literary figures. In high school, I read about the three Peabody sisters:
Elizabeth, an educator and book store operator, who introduced her sisters to
their famous husbands (artist Sophia married Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary
became Horace Mann’s wife). Ralph Waldo Emerson lived in Boston and Concord,
and Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord and wrote of its local Walden Pond.

As
far as I was concerned, the most famous Concord resident was Louisa May Alcott,
whose Little Women had been a
constant companion for me and seen me through good times and bad.

I
was extremely fortunate to find a tour that went to Lexington and Concord,
showing us not only the Revolutionary War significant sites, but also the homes
of Emerson, Hawthorne (Wayside Inn), and Alcott (Orchard House).

Orchard House

Seeing
Orchard House, made even more real Meg’s garden wedding and the attic where Jo
wrote her novels. Yes, this was the place where the four March girls grew to
become Little Women, and I rejoiced in seeing a spot that had so long filled my
imagination.

Fortunately,
our tour guide was experienced enough to make a story of the journey. He traced
the route that Paul Revere had taken, showing us the monument at the place
where Revere was captured, and even pointing out the house that belonged to the
Merriam family (of Merriam Webster fame).
Revere Monument near Concord

I also
learned also that a large portion of modern day Boston was created by years of
immigrants (many of them Irish) working to fill in habitable land around the
harbor. The hotel where I stayed was in the Back Bay. I thought the name
unique, but quickly learned it was used to describe many of the area’s buildings.
An Amazon search led me to discover a William Martin novel titled Back Bay, which traces the history, and
is now on my reading list.

Probably
the most invigorating thing I discovered about Boston was the
pride in the sense of history so clearly exhibited among its inhabitants.
Everywhere I went, from Fenway Park to the TD Garden to the harbor to the
theatre district, people told stories about the past and pointed to monuments
that commemorated important persons and events. The city was vibrant with
memories of the past and hopes for the future.

I walked near the end
of the Boston Marathon course and thought of the bombing victims. May we all continue
to hear and tell the stories of Boston and to remain “Boston Strong.”