IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to thank individually all the students who have had a hand in creating this book, and yet it couldn’t have come into being without them. Their constant prompting, doubting, questioning, answering, suggesting, and responding drove me to figure out most of the ideas and observations that have gone into these essays. Their patience with my wacky notions is often astonishing, their willingness to try on difficult ideas and perplexing works gratifying. For every routine comment or piercing query, every bright idea or dull-eyed stare, every wisecrack of theirs or groan at one of mine, every laugh or snarl, every statement praising or dismissing a literary work, I am profoundly grateful. They never let me rest or become complacent. Several students in particular have had a hand in the development of this book, and I wish to single them out for special thanks. Monica Mann’s smart-aleck comment pointed out to me that I have quite a number of little aphorisms about literature, although even then it took several years for me to see the possibilities in the “Quotations of Chairman Tom,” as she called them. Mary Ann Halboth has listened to and commented on much of what became the material of this study, often pushing my ideas well beyond my initial conceptions. Kelly Tobeler and Diane Saylor agreed to be guinea pigs for certain experiments and offered insightful, amazing interpretations of the Katherine Mansfield story; their contributions made my final chapter immeasurably better.
I am deeply indebted to numerous colleagues for their assistance, insight, encouragement, and patience. I especially wish to thank Professors Frederic Svoboda, Stephen Bernstein, Mary Jo Kietzman, and Jan Furman, who read drafts, provided ideas and information, listened to my complaints and obsessions, and offered support and wisdom. Their intelligence, good humor, and generosity have made my efforts lighter and the product greatly improved. To have such brilliant and dedicated colleagues is a genuine gift. They make me sound much smarter than I am. The errors, however, are purely my own.
To my agent, Faith Hamlin, and my editor at HarperCollins throughout this revision, Michael Signorelli, many thanks for their belief in the work, as well as for their many constructive criticisms and suggestions.
As ever, I wish to thank my family for their support, patience, and love. My sons Robert and Nathan read chapters, contributed interpretations, and gave me firsthand insights into the student mind. My wife, Brenda, took care of worldly and mundane tasks and made it possible for me to lose myself in the writing. To all three I offer my immense gratitude and love.
And finally I wish to thank my muse. After all these years of reading and writing, I still don’t understand where inspiration comes from, but I am profoundly grateful that it keeps coming.