Writer vs. Writer: Is the required reading for DWC in need of a refresh?
Anna Fakhri ’24
The Development of Western Civilization class does not need to update the books required for the course. There is something inherently special about reading ancient literature, whether that be Greek mythology in works like Homer’s Odyssey or theological texts like the Bible. It forces us to consider elements of past histories and cultures. If we refrain from engaging in ancient texts, how will we ever maintain a basic knowledge of the past?
Understanding our world’s past histories and cultures is crucial in the development of our current world. Ensuring we recognize the mistakes of the past in order to provide a more successful future requires us to acknowledge old literature. Reading ancient literature provides us with this knowledge and also helps us to analyze diverse writing styles. After all, ancient literature serves as the primary source of inspiration for all future works and styles of writing.
The modern literature assigned in the course is of equal importance, however. My colloquium course specifically focused on comparing modern retellings of ancient stories to their originals. This worked effectively to demonstrate the similarities and differences between the two and how literature has developed over centuries. Ultimately, both the modern and ancient texts in the Development of Western Civilization courses can provide crucial cultural and historical information. Thus, the works of literature assigned to students in the course should not be refreshed.
Abby Brockway ’24
Historians, professors of the classics, and college students can agree that higher education relies on sources that derive from or highlight the victor’s experience. Narratives of and from the opposite side have vanished from the agenda—socially eclipsed and even physically destroyed by the victor. We live in far more modern times than the days of imperialism and empires. It is our duty as inclusive and globally aware humans to discover the “other sides” in history, philosophy, and religion, and to fight to have those stories told.
One topic that already experienced a source-material refresh was America’s past with slavery. Two decades ago, students were reading from matter-of-fact textbooks and classical works like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Classical texts are successful in showcasing a point of view from a particular time, but in this case, students were not reading the most important point of view when it came to slavery; the slave’s perspective is ignored if students only read these novels. Within the past decade, curriculum developers have instead taken the inclusive route and highlighted narratives written by former slaves that showcase exactly what was suppressed for centuries. Works like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project replaced the classical texts written by well-off white men.
In terms of editing the reading content within the Development of Western Civilization program at Providence College, I encourage DWC professors to reevaluate their syllabi and ask: how will my students benefit in the grand scheme of things after reading these works? Professors need to include perspectives from both sides of global contentions like wars, all perspectives from landmark socio-political events like presidential elections, and question if the material is truly beneficial to the student in the long run. Yes, reading classical texts is important because they give readers a glance at what a time period was like, but really, how much is there to learn from the entirety of Beowulf? DWC is a core part of the Providence College experience. Instead of requiring students to read entire classical texts that are complicated, lengthy, and traditional, professors can consider shortening some requirements so more time is available to feature the “other sides” of history.
Why Fanfiction Matters
Fanfiction is a strange topic. When mentioning it, you’re bound to be met with a wide range of reactions, from “You write fanfiction too?” to “You mean that nerdy fiction that tweens write?” As someone who has been in the fanfiction community for quite a while, I have seen my fair share of both well-written stories with in-depth characters and vivid world-building… and fiction that reads like it was written by twelve-year-olds who forgot spell check exists. Regardless, even the worst writers improve as they age, honing their writing skills and eventually creating something worth hyper-fixating on. However, despite the harmless fun of writing about characters of certain fandoms, many people still disregard fanfiction as a childish hobby. What these people fail to realize is that fanfiction does matter, for a variety of reasons.
The first is fan interaction. It seems like certain fandoms such as Harry Potter, Supernatural, and even Twilight just won’t die despite their stories concluding years ago. That is mainly due to the number of dedicated fans still writing and reading about these characters. While the stories aren’t written by the authors of the original source material, fan interpretations can either be a refreshing look at a character or be so similar to the author’s work that it’s hard to tell the difference. Just because the main story is over doesn’t mean it has to stop for readers. In addition, fanfiction can be used as a creative outlet and allow people to become better writers.
Writing can also be therapeutic. Sometimes people will write a character with whom they feel a connection in a situation similar to one that they are currently experiencing, to better cope with the event. This is an example of what someone would call a comfort character. As strange as it may sound, doing this can be a real benefit to people as it helps them feel less alone in whatever situation they are facing.
The last issue is the judgment fanfiction writers face. Fanfiction writers get called childish or face mocking because of the stereotype of it being something only tween girls do. To this, I ask: why do people care so much about what someone does in their free time? There are worse things people can do than writing stories about fictional characters. It’s also not like fanfiction is anything new; some classic literary works we read in Civ, such as Dante’s Inferno, could be considered fanfiction. It keeps people creative, and some of the best storytellers of the modern era got their start by writing fanfiction. It allows people to connect and form bonds in ways they wouldn’t be able to normally. It’s an experience unlike any other, and instead of being scorned, it should be encouraged to allow people to dream and be creative with the characters they love.
Why You Should Check Out the Phillips Memorial Library’s Bestseller Shelf
While you can find Colleen Hoover’s novels in the Providence College bookstore, wedged between the checkout line and candy aisle, it may not be in your best interest financially. Instead, I’d recommend the Phillips Memorial Library as your top contender for not only price but experience as well. The simple notion of checking out books free of charge paired with the library’s convenient location and accessibility from 8 a.m. until midnight are just a few of the many reasons why you should check off your reading list here.
After a jam-packed summer of reading romance novel after romance novel, I was pretty disappointed when the fall semester rolled around and my Hoover supply dwindled. Thinking I’d no longer have the time between my schoolwork and extracurricular activities and plagued with the inaccessibility of my hometown library, I inadvertently dropped recreational reading altogether. In fact, it wasn’t until Christmas break neared that I became open to the idea of checking out books again.
The library does carry some great comparable titles to Hoover and recently acquired her novel Never, Never as well. Titles found on the library’s bestseller bookcase were Cover Story by Susan Rigetti, which follows three female leads who work at ELLE Magazine; More than Words by Jill Santopolo, which follows a mayoral candidate speechwriter; and In Five Years by Rebecca Serle, which follows a high-powered corporate lawyer. All have their own backstories, character development, budding romances, and staggering plot twists, and all three were intriguing and exciting.
These three authors did a great job describing the New York City setting, from the apartments to the workspaces to the social scene.
The bestseller section in the College’s library is one of the best sections, but it is often overlooked as students rush to class. My recommendation is that all students who enter the library glance at this shelf at least once or twice before leaving; you can find the shelf just past the 24-hour space. Whether you’re there to study, attend tutoring, or just to use the printer, it’s in your best interest to check out a book or two before you go. You never know what adventure your next novel will take you on, or whose life it’ll have you envisioning as your own one day.
The Fire is Catching: If the Books Burn, You Will Not Understand This Reference
Fahrenheit 451’s dystopian future may seem unfathomable, but modern society is inching closer to throwing books into the fire. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is one of the many recent examples of censoring curricula with the Stop Woke Act and installing conservative leadership at the New College of Florida. This problem, however, is not unique to Florida. As part of the Providence College community, each one of us is at the center of the debate between academic freedom and personal convictions. As an institution of higher education, the College does not have to question if certain topics are age-appropriate, but no one should take this freedom for granted since new arguments are gaining traction.
Reading should make one feel uncomfortable. A true work of literature pushes the reader to think beyond the confines of their own experience and leap into an unfamiliar world. Students should have the opportunity to explore their interests freely through the world of literature instead of operating within the boundaries of ideology. The new AP African American Studies curriculum bans authors such as bell hooks and Angela Davis simply to cater to the supporters of the right-wing agenda like Governor DeSantis. This does not serve as a valid justification for banning texts from the classroom.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts of many influential politicians, history cannot be erased. Even if the government mandates that racism cannot be discussed in the classroom, the impacts of such systems permeate American society to this day. Ignoring the discussion does not change the fact that several of the Founding Fathers were slave owners.
While many parents of K-12 students push back against certain texts for including graphic content, in the age of social media, explicit content is only a search away. 82 percent of the challenges made against certain content involved books while only two percent involved films in 2021 according to the American Library Association. Even though films often depict sexual content, violence, and injustice more graphically by nature, the data demonstrates that the public is more concerned about books. Introducing difficult concepts like sexual assault and violence in a constructive classroom setting is much more productive than a child witnessing it in a YouTube video or Instagram post.
The logic behind the argument for banning books is inherently flawed in its nature. If one considers any discussion of violence worthy of a ban, then the Bible, by this logic, should be banned from libraries and the classroom. However, the targets of book bans are texts such as The Hunger Games and The Hate U Give. The argument is not about violence; the argument has never been about violence. If the argument was about shielding children from violence, the people calling for book bans would work to prevent guns from entering schools instead.
If books could indoctrinate the masses, then Hitler’s Mein Kampf would appear on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books more often than The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Of course, reading can shape one’s outlook on the world, but it does not produce individuals who blindly follow the words of one mind. In fact, reading creates well-rounded individuals capable of developing their own thoughts and opinions, which is the purpose of the entire education system.
If Americans read more books instead of scrolling through their social media feeds, the country would be better for it. With education being such a highly sought-after commodity, the nation should encourage intense critical thinking instead of close-minded ideological reassurance.
What is The Alembic? PC’s Literary Journal
by Sarah McLaughlin ’23
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of PC’s clubs and organizations were impacted in terms of lowered membership and name recognition. The Alembic, a literary journal which publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, photography, and literary interviews written by PC students and writers from all over the world, is managed and edited by students on campus and was similarly affected. I spoke with The Alembic’s editors-in-chief, Emma Snelgrove ’23 and Morgan Stoffel ’23, who hope to spread the word about The Alembic as an opportunity for PC students.
The Alembic typically publishes once a year, though during the pandemic, their work was postponed, and they have recently published one combined 2020-2022 issue. Their yearly issue is printed in the spring, and they host a launch party for faculty, students, and writers whose work they publish. For students involved in editing the journal, it counts as a one-credit course.
Stoffel, a marketing major and writing minor, and Snelgrove, a political science major and English minor, both oversee and advise the editing team. They joined The Alembic last year. “It’s been cool to work on the press side,” Stoffel says. Their role also involves advertising and marketing the journal. “The Alembic has given me a lot of foundational exposure and experience in this industry that I will carry with me for the rest of my career,” Snelgrove says. “It’s been great to see and review great literature, and I feel as if it has made me a better writer in the process.”
In the coming years, they hope to see more student involvement in The Alembic. “Truthfully, we weren’t aware of what The Alembic was until a professor brought it to our attention, so we are hoping to get the word out there.” They want to see more students interested in the editing side as well as submitting their creative writing. “Within The Alembic, we are hoping to create a community of editors on campus, who can come together regardless of their major/minor to create a compelling and engrossing journal.”
Students looking to get involved can join as a student editor. Any student can also submit their work to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Alembic’s mailbox, located in the English Department office in Ruane.
Book Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land
Book Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land
Anthony Doerr Continues to Prove His Mastery at Weaving Tales Together
Tully Mahoney ’23
Anthony Doerr’s carefully crafted novel Cloud Cuckoo Land is yet another astonishing triumph for the author, who made waves in the literary world with All the Light We Cannot See in 2014. It’s nearly impossible to place this novel into one genre as it contains elements of fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, and fantasy. Cloud Cuckoo Land follows five characters whose timelines range from ancient Constantinople to the future. Originally, these characters do not appear to have any connection whatsoever, as their individual stories take place in distant settings, but Doerr magically brings them together in the final two hundred pages of the novel through their shared connection to a singular book that acts as a centerpiece in this story.
In 15th century Constantinople, two separate stories cross over: Anna and Omeir. Anna is an orphan, living in a women’s home making priest’s robes. Her curiosity leads her to learn to read and discover an ancient book in an illegal midnight escapade. She reads this story to her ill sister as the walls of Constantinople are sieged. Outside the walls, Omier, a village boy, debates his own choices.
Hundreds of years later, in 2020, in an Idaho library, a play based on the story Anna found is being performed by five children. Unknown to the actors, below them a young boy named Seymour has planted a bomb among the books, setting the stage for another siege.
The final story of this novel follows Konstance, who is alone in a vault in the spaceship Argos in the year 2146. She has only set foot on the Earth through an “Atlas” that teaches the children on the ship about where they came from. In this Atlas, when exploring her father’s hometown, she finds the ancient book that Anna found hundreds of years prior in Constantinople.
Although there are many different stories in Cloud Cuckoo Land, Doerr does an impressive job of keeping his readers engaged by using deep descriptions and wonderfully intertwined hints as to what is to come. Reading this novel feels like sorting through a puzzle until all the pieces finally click together. For some readers, this may be incredibly frustrating since it takes time to sort out all these fragments, but for other readers, it will be a whirlwind of adventure that entices them to grasp onto each page.
Cloud Cuckoo Land reminds the readers that “sometimes the things we think are lost are only hidden, waiting to be rediscovered.” This line is truly the main theme of the novel, as many of the characters come across loss in their life before eventually rediscovering a fragment of what they have lost in something previously unknown to them. Furthermore, Doerr dedicates this novel to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come.” This suggests that Doerr believes that the books these libraries contain are the source of those rediscoveries. Doerr also bends the definition of truth throughout the novel, reminding readers that there may be some level of genuineness in wacky stories.
Cloud Cuckoo Land deserves a hesitant 4/5 stars. The withholding of the fifth star owes to the fact that this novel is incredibly intricate, so it’s difficult to give it a solid rating as well as because its length–622 pages–will make readers slightly impatient as they wonder how the various characters and their stories come together. Nonetheless, Doerr deserves high praise for the complexity and creativity of his imagination. Indeed, readers will end their journey with the book wondering how he came up with a novel so perfectly crafted.