How to teach a literature class

As some members of the Reading Room may recall, I’ve been teaching a course this spring at the University of Maryland: “The Modern Adventure Novel: 1917-1973.” The semester is almost over now, and I’ll be sorry to see it end. I’ve had a good class, with interesting students and a roster of excellent books. These included the following:

Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars
Rafael Sabatini, Captain Blood
Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades
Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest
H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness
Eric Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitrios
Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination
Chester Himes, The Real Cool Killers
Charles Portis, True Grit
William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Last spring I taught “The Classic Adventure Novel: 1885-1915” and the books for it included the following:

H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines
Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped
H.G. Wells, The Time Machine
Anthony Hope, The Prisoner of Zenda
E. Nesbit, The Story of the Amulet
Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel
Rudyard Kipling, Kim
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World
G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the ApesJ
ohn Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps

Both classes, let me stress, have been a lot of fun, and the fun began with compiling my course lists. What to include? What to leave out? What was in print? What wasn’t too long (since we covered a book a week)? I spent happy hours mulling over the most representative examples of various kinds of adventure novels.

Have any other members of the Reading Room ever taught literature courses? Have you ever come up with an idea for a course and wished you could take it or teach it? Do you ever daydream over which books you’d include in a semester course on, say, Romance Novels or Spy Fiction or Military History or Feminist Classics or Golden Age Mysteries or Masterworks of Science Fiction or Contemporary American Poetry? Please share your thoughts and lists. Many thanks.

— Michael Dirda

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