Handing One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection

Robert Coles, Random, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6203-4
Psychiatrist and Harvard professor Coles (The Moral Intelligence of Children) adapts his undergraduate lectures on literature's contribution to the development of our moral character. The result amounts to both more and less than you might expect from a university course in modern literature. While less than comprehensive and eschewing more technical analyses, it delves into a generous handful of writers and artists—perennials like George Orwell, James Agee, Zora Neale Hurston, Tillie Olsen, Ralph Ellison, and Raymond Carver, among others—with uncommon insight and a personal touch, while offering excerpts of poetry and prose that often whet the appetite for more (a list of familiar titles for further reading appears in an appendix). Coles taps into the unintentional consonance between very different writers living and working in different circumstances but nonetheless writing from an abiding need for social introspection, justice, and communion across pernicious divisions of class, race, gender, ability—lines we inculcate to our own spiritual detriment. While recapitulating an undergraduate course, the book is more than an introduction to these authors; its approach will also be freshly appealing to many who have read some or even all of the writers cited. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/14/2010
Release date: 08/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
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