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In Plain Engel-ish

Hearts That Tell No Tales

It was a Tuesday morning in April over twenty years ago, and I had just given a literary assembly at Bear Creek High School. The specific date, time, and place will become relevant later in this essay. No looking ahead, please. As I drove from Bear Creek to my next assembly twenty miles away, I was thinking about the enthusiastic response that my topic had elicited from those students.   My topic had been Edgar Allan Poe. The English department at my university in North Carolina had granted me a sabbatical and then two consecutive leaves of absence to travel...

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Hair Of The Bobo That Bit Me

You've probably heard the reports about America's alcohol consumption skyrocketing during the pandemic. Well, my personal imbibing never even got off the ground. Actually, I find reading Dickens to be my quickest method of intoxication. You knew I'd find a way to drag my favorite author into this essay. But take heart--my topic here is not my reading but my retching.    First, a brief literary allusion. Dickens considered David Copperfield his favorite novel. I personally find Chapter Twenty-four, which contains David’s account of the first time he became drunk, especially delightful, perhaps because it makes me recall my own youthful pathetic...

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A Brand Spanking New Word

Having realized that my last two essays dealt with my cousin’s survival at Auschwitz and my dad’s eating grass in war-torn Hungary, I thought a little levity might be a nice springtime diversion.  We English teachers don’t always have it easy at social occasions (remember those?). After we’re introduced at a party, asked what our profession is, and plead guilty to teaching English, all too often the response is: “Oh, dear, I'd better watch my grammar.” Oh, dear, indeed—is that our reputation with the general public: punctuation police? Syntax sentinels? I have an orthopedist friend who complains that people at parties are always...

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Close Shave

As with most of you, exactly one year ago I started worrying that this bizarre “lockdown thing” might last one or maybe even — gasp! — two months, so I said to myself: “Self, you need to make a list of Netflix movies to watch in order to help get you through these awful few weeks.” I immediately knew which movie I would put at the top of my list: the only great movie with the word “list” in its title — Schindler’s List. I believe that Charles Dickens would have been such a champion of this movie. Dickens’ heart would have especially ached for the...

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My Grass Roots

Though I open this essay by giving you the Dickens, you will find my subject matter is quite a bit more broad. It won’t surprise you to learn that Charles Dickens has been called the greatest descriptive artist in the history of the novel. But he did have one whopping deficiency. He was at a loss when it came to describing most plants and flowers. We are told that his favorite flower was the geranium, and it has thus become the cheery symbol for the World Dickens Fellowship today.  But probably it was his favorite because it was one of...

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