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January 19 , 2008

Teaching Particulars

Literary Conversations in Grades 6-12


In Teaching Particulars, Helaine Smith engages her students, grammar school through twelfth grade—and any avid reader—in the questions that great literature evokes. Included are chapters on Homer and Genesis; plays by Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Beckett; poems by Jonson, Donne, Coleridge, Browning, Hopkins, Yeats, Bishop, Hecht, Dove, and Lowell; essays by Baldwin, Lamb, and White; and fiction by Flannery O’Connor, Dickens, Joyce, Poe, Tolstoy, Mann, and Kafka. Whether Helaine Smith is talking to young or older students, she shows how any devoted reader can uncover all sorts of subtle beauty and meaning by reading closely and by assuming that virtually every word and phrase of a great text is deliberate. The question-and-answer form of these jargon-free dialogues creates the feeling of a vibrant classroom where learning and delight are the watchwords.

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Teaching Particulars is an exemplary series of literary conversations by a master teacher on a great variety of important, life-shaping books. The guidance is unfailingly humane, the essays thoughtfully presented by someone who cares as much for the written word as she does about her classroom and her subject matter. Her commentary on Hecht’s ‘Rites and Ceremonies,’ the poet’s complex response to Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land,’ ranks among the very best anywhere, as is true for her reading of Hecht’s ‘Devotions of a Painter,’ which has the further advantage of illuminating that work in light of Elizabeth Bishop’s profound meditation on painting in her ‘Poem.’ Reading Teaching Particulars makes me wish that all of my students could have had Helaine Smith as their teacher.” —Jonathan F. S. Post, Distinguished Professor of English and former Chair of the Department, UCLA

“There’s simply nothing else like Teaching Particulars, a book packed with so much wisdom and practical advice about teaching literature that every instructor of grades 6 to 12—and of college classes, too—will want to get a copy right now. Even if you’re not a teacher, I highly recommend it. The love of books pulses through every page Helaine Smith writes, and her passion is infectious. She opens our eyes to the pleasures of reading in a way that few critics can, and she does it all in a book whose style is both elegant and friendly.” —David Mikics, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of English, University of Houston, and author of Slow Reading in a Hurried Age

Teaching Particulars is a bounteous resource for all teachers, as well as a pleasure just to curl up with and read away.” —Susan J. Wolfson, Professor of English, Princeton University

Helaine L. Smith has, for forty years, taught English to students in grades 6 through 12 at Hunter College High School and at The Brearley School in Manhattan. For ten years she was a Reader of English Composition Essays and AP Essays in Language and in Literature for The College Board. She is the author of two volumes for high school and college English and Humanities instruction: Masterpieces of Classic Greek Drama (2005) and Homer and the Homeric Hymns: Mythology for Reading and Composition (2011), has written articles for Arion, Semicerchio, The Classical Journal, Style, and Literary Matters, and recently completed eight adaptations of Aristophanes’ comedies for middle school. She received the Sandra Lea Marshall Award at Brearley in 2005, and teaches Brearley’s senior Shakespeare elective.

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