Back to the Big Think

This week’s Big Think is a bit of a special edition. This month’s theme is Back to the Books, and we wanted to celebrate (in slightly punny fashion) by going back to our favorite passages from our previous Big Thinks about reading and about books in general. Of course, if you find one of the excerpts intriguing, you can follow the link to read the full piece! It’s also the Jewish New Year, which is a time when a lot of us take out our memories from the past year and think about them, discuss them, share them.


“Adam’s Big Think #4”

I like this piece because it shows how my reading style has changed. Editing my peers’ work has made me realize more than ever that writers are just people; editors are just people. We all make decisions and a reader can agree or disagree with those decisions. So my reading has become more interactive. Previously I would say: “I love East of Eden.” Now I can say “I love East of Eden, but…”

I don’t see why some people make the distinction between professional writing—that is, writing that has been vetted by an agent, a series of editors and publishers, and finally a newspaper columnist or two—and the sort of writing I deal with, which, for our purposes we can say ranges from amateur to semi-professional. (Semi-professional writing is actually two categories folded into one. It’s hobby-ish writing by people who have been published in a professional venue or it’s writing by people who have a professional attitude and work ethic but have yet to be, or choose not to be, published in a professional venue. Needless to say, I like both.) Sure there is something amazing about buying (or borrowing) a novel you know you’re going to love, taking it home, and devouring it like a cookie, but more often than not you find things a good editor should have caught, like a bit of unintentionally awkward dialogue in an action-adventure novel or a mishandled relationship in a fantasy, or the character of Cathy Ames in East of Eden.


All of it. Everything about her.

I’d like to institute a new rule that male authors’ ex-wives have veto-power over their female characters, which, in Steinbeck’s case, would mean a panel of at least 2 or 3 judges. But I digress.

The point is that works published by one of the Big 5 (or is it Big 4 now? Big 3? Please support independent publishing houses. At least 1 book a year. Please.) anyway, the point is that works published by a brick-and-mortar publisher often have mistakes, problems, infelicities, at a rate only slightly lower than a prospective blog post some friend on  the internet might send me. And what the latter has that the former doesn’t is the thrill of discovery. When I am reading an essay by Andrew or Erika or Mary, I do so with a certain amount of reverence–painfully, gleefully aware that I am likely the first person to do so. I can share the joy of this experience with you by description, but I can’t make you feel it, and for that I apologize. It feels greedy, keeping it for myself like this, but the only way I can think of to share it with you is by asking you to join me; to submit your writing (; no I’m not joking).

Intrigued? Find the full article here.


“We Dance to the Rhythm of 49 Heartbeats”

Like many parents, I enjoy talking about my children. My children have reached ages where I want them to have even more control over their internet footprint, and where they also want more privacy-so I don’t post many photos of them or tell many stories about them. It’s a fine line to walk though, when we all appear in the stories, between the stories that are theirs and the stories that are mine–there are some stories I really want to share about my experiences, but at their core, they really aren’t my stories to tell. Sometimes a story is too important or too compelling to not talk about and so when that happens, I do my best to limit any personal details while still telling a great story or an important story. This is one of those stories.

So when the kids came in, they asked what I was watching, and I set about explaining it to them. I happened to have a very lovely book about drag queens, and although the text (much like the dialogue in RuPaul’s show) isn’t really something I wanted to expose my young children to, the photographs of various people as they transformed are wonderful to look at. And this began an obsession with drag performers (something I endorsed wholeheartedly). There were drawings, “Mom, this is a drag queen, this is a regular girl, and they are friends.” There were multiple requests to go see drag shows. And excited, but slightly confused things like “Mom! Did you know in Japan, in the theater all the parts were played by men? That means they were drag queens!” That idea was quickly corrected, although there is some Shakespeare I look forward to reading with them when they’re a little older.

Intrigued? Find the full article here.



“Andrew’s Big Think #2”

    Next week, I’ll be releasing my Big Think that introduces Ivory Tower Boiler Room’s September “Back to the Books” theme, and I’m quite eager to share what it’s been like being back in the university classroom. For a brief teaser, I’ll be discussing my approach to the texts that I’ve assigned in both my “Queer Poetry” and “Whitman’s Multitudes” courses, and there will be a lot of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC writers mentioned! Saturday’s podcast will feature the editors of “Teaching to Transgress” (a pedagogical idea that bell hooks theorized) which was the theme of a Spring 2021 special journal issue for 19th-Century Gender Studies. This was where I featured my “Talking Back to Walt Whitman Using a Queer of Color Framework…” article, and for my Big Think I’ll ask the question: How am I having my students apply this framework in the classroom right now? 

    But, before I give too much away (I did say a “brief teaser,” right?) I want to reveal my Big Think excerpt. I really loved writing my Pride Month piece “I Don’t Have to Wait For You to Give Me the Key,” and I’d love to share what it meant to find my gay  identity in the Heggan Library (in my South Jersey hometown). I hope you all enjoy it!

I would find the key to my coming out moment in the place where I always searched for my authentic voice…the public library. While I was recognizing my budding attraction to men in the sex ed classroom, I sought out narratives that explored this desire in the library. So, I set foot in the Margaret Heggan Library (in my hometown in South Jersey), and began to walk around the young adult section, where I analyzed the spines of book covers to figure out what series to start next. By 8th grade, I had gotten to know the young adult section quite well, and going to the public library was and is still a nostalgic memory. Ever since I can remember, but I know it began when I was in preschool, my mother would take me every weekend to the library to pick out “whatever I wanted,” and oh how I loved devouring everything from Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theater videos to The Magic Tree House series. But, by this time, I was still in the midst (and always will be) of my horror obsession, and so had found Christopher Pike’s young adult novels, but thought, in 7th grade, why not explore that unknown section of the library…adult fiction. It was here where I discovered the fanatical horror aura of Stephen King. Carrie’s cover spoke to me right away, and I was mesmerized by the image of a female face whose hair covered her eye (symbolism of her outsider status). Once I saw this image, I knew that I had begun to find my way out of the oppressive closet that was restraining me.

The Margaret Heggan Library’s edition of Carrie

    This was the first key to unlocking the taunts from fellow classmates, mostly boys, who tried to make me feel unmanly and emasculated for being a ballet dancer, actor, singer, and writer. So not only did King’s prose help me connect to Carrie White, who was also figuring out how to process her trauma from being bullied (which deeply resonated with my own), but I began to sense a queerness was inside of me that had to be released. That’s where Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name makes an appearance…

The Margaret Heggan’s edition of Call Me By Your Name

    Intrigued? Find the full article here.



In my fictional works, I create characters. These characters are usually a mix-and-match of different traits and encounters with other humans combined into one to make up “person.” Because I’m the all-knowing god of these worlds, I get to decide what situations and problems each character will experience. But these situations and problems are mainly derived from situations and problems going on in my life, the lives of others I know or have encountered, and the world. 

Sometimes, I will use basic character archetypes–the girl next door, the mysterious guy, the hardened criminal with a tough past. These archetypes help me to lay the groundwork for my characters, but it is up to me to incorporate my experiences and my worldview into these characters and create their personalities. I will sometimes base characters or scenarios off of ones I see on TV or in books or movies. For example, the main character of a project I am working on is based off of a real hit man who worked for the Italian mob in the eighties. However, I’ve emphasized other, kinder, traits in my hitman, because the goal of his character is to demonstrate the complexity of how nature versus nurture influence his personality. 

This is how humanities recycles itself: artists are able to create characters or scenarios that can be used over and over again. “History repeats itself,” and as long as people face the same types of situations from birth to death, they are bound to repeat one of the long strands of the web of history. This goes the same for characters that are created, or themes, events, or even settings. As artists, as teachers of the humanities, our goal must remain to be commentators, not just spectators of the world turning around us.

Intrigued? Find the full article here.

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