Newsletter Re-boot! (with Dystopian thoughts)

I’m relaunching my monthly-ish newsletter, Story Beasty. I will be writing more about what I’m reading, but I’m including things that I am teaching to my college students. In the first three months of 2023, you’ll get my thoughts on the dystopian stories like 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale.

This is a reprint of the first Story Beasty of the year, in January. If you want these juicy takes two months early, signt up for Story Beasty. You can sign up on my About>Biography page here.

Thoughts on stuff I’m reading.

This is the part of the newsletter where I’ll talk about what I’m reading, whatever that is. The difference from a book review section is that I will include stuff that I’m teaching as well, since most of what I do for a living is teaching literature.

This term I’m teaching a class called “Why We Like Dystopian Stories,” so we’ll be dystopian heavy until March. Our first week we spent asking what a dystopia is and what a dystopian story is. Here’s the definition the class came up with.

Dystopian story is a story in which:

  • Imagined society which causes suffering to some people
  • Based on real world problems (feels familiar/relatable)
  • Humanity is on the brink of destruction

But there is hope in the actions of the protagonist or a “resistance.”

I think the reason we like dystopias is because while the world has fallen apart, usually from things humanity has done to itself, someone in the oppressed class is either enduring or resisting.

Our first story (not counting Yertle the Turtle, that classic on authoritarianism and burping) was “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s a farce about what would happen if the government made everyone “equal” by handicapping people. In the story, strong people carry more weight, like racehorses, beautiful people wear masks, and smart people have to wear an earbud that plays the sounds of bells or train wrecks every twenty seconds.

The eponymous protagonist is a 14-year-old genius/Adonis that tries to overthrow the government, to no avail. This led the class to discuss the absurdity of the argument that giving rights to other people takes rights away from others (and how a 14-year-old would be a terrible emperor).

Also, the story is really funny in a Vonnegut-ian way. At least three students and I thought so. But I think Kafka is funny. Go figure.

Next time, I’ll share my thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale. As you might imagine, I have opinions.