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Handing One Another Along: Literature and…

Handing One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection

by Robert Coles

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In Handing One Another Along, Coles analyzes many classic writings (including non-fiction, fiction, and poetry) and asks “[w]hat happens to you when you read these books, what should be happening, not only to your mind as a cognitive instrument, but with respect to your conscience and even your yearning, if not also your lusts?” In answering this question, Coles looks at writings by James Agee, George Orwell, William Carlos Williams, Raymond Carver, and others.

Handing One Another Along originated with a series of lectures Coles delivered at Harvard, and its academic, conversational, and occasionally disorganized style reflects its origins. Touching on a wide range of themes and ideas, Coles moves quickly from one work of literature to another, drawing parallels and seeking universal truths. Occasionally, Coles moves beyond the written word and includes paintings and music in his analysis. Handing One Another Along is not an organized presentation of the moral precepts that can be gleaned from literature. Rather, it is an enjoyable meandering through literature with a view towards its larger social implications.

This review also appears on my blog Literary License. ( )
  gwendolyndawson | Nov 20, 2010 |
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Dr. Coles shows how the work of writers, artists, and thinkers of the past two centuries can inspire our own reflections on our daily lives. He offers a compelling call to venture outside our own selves and lives and to listen, attentively and with growing humanity, to the way others get through life, and he encourages us to examine our own character, kindness, and complexity by studying the wisdom of authors from Charles Dickens to Flannery O'Connor, from James Agee to George Orwell, and many others. In this influential conversation about empathy and engagement, Coles inspires us to seek out deeper meaning in our lives and guides us toward achieving greater clarity, strength, and richness of understanding amid the moral, psychological, and social complexities of the modern world. --Publisher's description from dust cover.… (more)

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