Summer’s Promise: Reading Wrap-up 2015

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Throughout the school year, I accumulate a pile of novels I want to read that I simply don’t have time for when I’m reading novels with students for, often, four courses simultaneously. I’m lucky if I eek out a reading-for-pleasure novel a quarter during the course of the school year. Each summer, I look forward to delving into my pile. So, this summer, I’ve tackled eleven novels. Some new. Some old. Some read-agains. I’m teaching a new course this school year, new to me at least: A.P. Language and Composition which is paired with American Literature. Much of my reading was consumed by non-fiction, which is the preferred genre for this course, but I also read & re-read some American classics. Now, if you know anything about me– British literature is really my thing, but I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by some of my American literature choices. I did manage some British literature selections though and a couple of World literature novels, too. And, of course, there are a couple of completely self-indulgent selections because, afterall, it is my summer.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.23.53 PMLondon, Edward Rutherfurd

Literary British Historical Fiction

This is one of my re-reads, as I assign it every other summer to my British Literature students. I love this novel, one that I first picked up the summer after traveling to London and beyond with 26 students and two colleagues. Reading this book is like going back in time. Featured around the lineage of six bloodlines, Rutherfurd takes the reader from earliest settlers of London to modern day. He weaves the fiction of these bloodlines in with the historical accuracy of both events and people. Among the characters include Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare.Reading this novel is like watching time-lapse photography. It’s long, but well worth it.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.28.47 PMThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

Literary Historical American Fiction

A staple in any American Literature classroom, I’ve been teaching this novel for many years. I’ve focused mainly on the relationship between Huck (white boy) and Jim (slave). It is a springboard for a host of discussions on racism, language, censorship and satire. This is another re-read for me, as my approach to reading it this summer changed from a reader of Twain’s work to a writer attempting to discover the rhetorical strategies Twain used to make the social commentary that has long been debated about this novel. It’s interesting to re-read novels for just this purpose: the reader opens him/herself up to what had gone unobserved before.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.35.21 PMThe Awakening, Kate Chopin

Literary American Fiction

Also a re-read, but one from my distant past– a college Women Writers course. This is a feminist novel set in 19th century Louisiana. Edna Pontellier struggles with her identity as a woman and a sexual being. Both story and writing are exceptional; I can’t believe I waited this long to read it again. I plan on using this, too, in my upcoming A.P. course centered around the idea of identity.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.40.58 PMDark Places, Gillian Flynn

Mystery, Fiction

This was, as the title denotes, a dark novel. It takes the reader on a journey with Libby Day to discover the events of the night her mother and two sisters were murdered leaving Libby an orphan and her brother in jail for the murders. I like Flynn’s writing style. Like Gone Girl, it was a page turner from the beginning; although, unlike Gone Girl, the ending of this novel was not a disappointment.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.48.25 PMThe Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

Literary Fiction

Kundera, Czech author, writes an unforgettable novel which makes my top 10 of all time list. The writing is unique. The subject matter existential. The relationship between Tomas and Tereza (and their dog with a little side of Sabina) is realistic and romantic at the same time. This novel made me think; I dare say it even changed the way I think. Definitely a will-read-again.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.42.25 PMGrey, E.L. James

Fiction

This, my guilty pleasure for the summer, is the flip side of the 50 Shades series. Christian Grey’s point of view, which, at my core, borders on disturbing, yet this novel gives him more depth than the original series. I’ve written about the series in another post. I do believe, at it’s core is a love story and a very disturbed man. I want to understand Christian Grey because I have to believe anyone who wants or feels compelled to enter a relationship with intentions like his has some very deep seeded psychological issues behind his desires. So, to this end, I did gain some satisfaction by his relationship with and influence of his therapist. And the writing of E.L. James has improved– a side note.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.43.11 PMThe Constant Princess, Philippa Gregory

Literary Historical Fiction

One of my favorite authors, Gregory never disappoints. If you like her subject matter- the British Monarchy– you will enjoy this novel. Centered around Katherine of Aragon, Gregory manages to create a character of depth and vulnerability. Her ability to create dynamic characters, for me, is second to none. I just cannot get enough of her writing. There is a poetic aspect to it that keeps the highlighter in my hand while reading so I can note quotes that I never want to forget.This is probably the sixth novel I’ve read, and I’ll always be ready for the next one.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.41.34 PMPaper Towns, John Green

Mystery, Coming-of-Age, Fiction

After reading A Fault in Our Stars last summer and pairing it with the film as the subject of a summer reading group with students, I decided to take this novel on before its release in film.Since, I have created a second novel/film pairing reading group with students where we will have a novel/film talk when we return to school, so I’m curious to see how that goes. While I really enjoy John Green’s writing style and I suppose this was a good YA novel, it just didn’t pull at my heart strings as much as A Fault in Our Stars did, and it didn’t have anything to do with the absence of death as a theme in this novel. I just didn’t grow to love the characters as much as I did with the previous first novel, and the same was true of the film. Both were just good. I’ll be interested to hear my students’ take come next month.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.43.37 PMA Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

Memoir

After reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain which was a mostly fictitious account of Hadley Richardson’s first marriage to Ernest Hemingway (also goes down as one of my favorite novels), I was so intrigued to read Hemingway’s memoir of this same time period. Rather than being a fluid account, it’s a collection of vignettes associated with food and drink. While I was disappointed that there wasn’t more depth to their (Hadley & Ernest’s) relationship, I very much admire his writing style. For this reason, I will be using an excerpt of it in my A.P. class, though that wasn’t my intention for reading it in the first place. This memoir is one that I would recommend writers to read because Hemingway is definitely a writer I revere for his style.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.54.12 PMNarrative Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass

Memoir

This narrative was recommended to me by a colleague for its writing style. She thought it would be a perfect pairing for Twain, and she was right. The writing style is very controlled, guarded almost, as Douglass wrote this to an audience of white males. A very influential figure and speaker of the abolitionist movement, Douglass recounts the atrocities of his experiences. It reminds me of Elie Wiesel’s Night, in that, the style of writing is so precise for the recounting of a series of events so raw. I am most glad to have read this novel this summer, as it opened my eyes to an experience providing me with a new perspective on slavery and willpower. I would highly recommend.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 2.01.05 PMThe Stranger, Albert Camus

Literary Fiction

I came upon this novel, as my son had read it for college last year, and I never had. It chose me in a way. Another existential novel, this one reminded me of the control of Narrative Life… and the writing style of Unbearable Lightness… There are two distinct parts to this novel in which Meursault, a French Algerian, attends his mother’s funeral and is jailed after committing a murder. It’s a bizarre story which explores the state of mind on one who is set apart from society and societal norms. Interesting, short read, though not one of my favorites.

I would describe this as a very thought provoking, eclectic list.

2014 Summer’s PROMISE

MM 2014 summers promise

Each summer, I look forward to tackling the pile of books I’ve acquired and stacked throughout the teaching year– those I want to read but simply don’t have the time. I call it my Summer’s Promise. It invites me, each summer, to choose what I’m in the mood for and when. Inevitably, some in the pile have literary merit, books that make me think about life and appreciate writing styles, some are mindless and transportable, taking me to another place for a time, and each summer, one seems to stand out above the rest– one that lives long in my reading memory. I try to predict which ONE it will be, but I’m always pleasantly surprised.

2014 summers promise tag

[WHY] Is the LITERARY CANON Important?

lit canon

The elusive canon that all of us literary types know exist but is difficult to define. Sure, there are lists of canonical literature while the contents vary dependent upon the source. Some classics, more than others, may find themselves on most lists. In truth, I believe the canon is and should be evolving. If the canon represents the exemplars of literature from a given time, timeless in their nature, it should indeed be a fluid body of work depicting culture and humanity.

Students should have in their back pockets a representative array of canonical literature which they acquire over the spans of their educational careers. I am asked by my students, more so than any other single question, “Why am I reading this?” “It’s old and out-dated,” they often quip. “It’s irrelevant,” some will say.

LC books 3

My job isn’t to take the easy way out and comply by giving them what they’re interested in as a way of pacifying them, bribing them, as such, to engage. My job is to get them to understand the relevance of these great works, why they are considered great, what makes them relatable, still today, thus, why we are still teaching this “old stuff” anyway.

It wasn’t until college that I understood, as a student, why such works were important. Somehow, it all fell into place with these words stated by a college professor who shared that her summer reading list included canonical works she hadn’t yet read.: “Reading literature from the canon makes one literate.” Further, it struck me that my literature professor, who I would still argue is one of the most brilliant people I know, had yet to finish all the works in the canon. For me, this awakened the realization that we are all lifelong learners and will never get to a place of “all knowing,” but that’s the point, isn’t it, appreciating the journey of learning as we go, knowing a little more every day, every year?

LC books 1

Reading literature from the canon makes one literate. I have pondered this statement a great deal. For I had been one of those students in high school who questioned why I was reading The Awakening or Macbeth or The Canterbury Tales or The Catcher in the Rye. After all, people don’t even say the word “phony” anymore, I thought then.

Her statement resonated with me; it surfaced on many occasions. Through hindsight, I’d recalled the messages, characters, motifs, symbolism, allusions of such literature I’d read in the past and her words began to fall in place. As I moved through college, I became enlightened by the connections to life and literature and the whole world around me I was making. Classic literature makes us literate. It provides us with a common history, understanding and language.

southpark

I once had a discussion with my son about a SouthPark episode. We watched the same show together, yet laughed at different lines. I questioned him, afterwards, on why he laughed when he did and why he didn’t when I did. I realized some of the jokes were above his head, in that he hadn’t lived through some of the allusions made or hadn’t read widely enough to understand them. While I’d  previously dismissed SouthPark, as a crude show doing no more than poking fun at society, I gained a new-found appreciation for its sophistication.

This is the same sophistication, though often subconsciously so, people experience when they are well-read. Life becomes richer when we’re privy to the experiences that come before us; we see things with widened eyes. We make connections innately from our prior knowledge.

That’s what my professor meant about the classics making us literate. Not in a literal sense of the word. Sure, I can read. I’m a strong reader, in fact, but armed with host of classical literature, I can read into life more effectively, efficiently and insightfully. I can reach an understanding that I couldn’t have without experiences which have lead to my own literacy.

LC books 2So, what do I tell my students who ask me that question? I tell them about the canon: what it is, why it is. I promise them that works like Harry Potter will end up in the canon which I firmly believe. Moreover, it’s important for them to know that their culture will be represented in the canon one day. But more importantly than telling my students anything, I find ways to show them how the classic literature we read in class is relevant. I model for them and provide them with opportunities to see the connections from one work to another or from same piece to a contemporary novel they might have read, or a movie they’ve seen or a personal experience. I don’t expect them to fully “get it” in high school, in much the same way I didn’t. In time, they will understand the importance of reading this “old stuff” and I hope to make their engagement with the classics, now, as dynamic as possible so they do.

Life is about making connections, thinking critically about our world, finding our place in it. I believe literary classics are a vehicle to learning such lessons. So, yes, the literary canon matters.

 

Graphic Images :

http://annieneugebauer.com/2013/01/29/what-non-writers-picture-when-writers-say/untitled3/

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2008/10/mccain-obama-tv.html%5B/embed%5D

 

 

Wonder, R.J. Palacio– So much more than a review, a call to action

wonder

Have you ever read a book so inspiring that you just wanted to become a better person after having read it? That novel, for me this summer, is Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It’s a young adult novel about a ten year-old boy, Auggie, whose face is disfigured, and he’s entering a traditional school setting for the first time as a fifth grader. It’s about his journey and the journey of those who surround him– ranging from his staunchest supporters to the class bullies. It’s about not judging someone by his appearance, but it’s so much more than that. Palacio manages to touch upon the core of humanity, so any one can make a connection to this book. It’s about kindness and decency, and the message is we reap what we sow and that we can change; we can all be better people.

Wonder was recommended to me by a colleague and friend. I put it off for a while because she described it to be a kid book– we happened upon the conversation when we were talking about how children’s literature can be so poignant, even for adults. Pushing her suggestion in the back of my mind, it resurfaced this summer when I so desperately needed something uplifting. I love the way we choose books, sometimes, that we need to read– as they are relevant to a particular stage or experience. Wonder fulfilled that need for me. I read it, curled up on the couch on a rainy day during our Cape Cod vacation. While others fled to find something to do– some went to the mall, some went fishing– I just wanted to read this book. And I did– cover to cover– in one day. While, admittedly, I sobbed so much at the end that I needed to keep wiping at my tears because the words became blurred on the page, I really felt, in that moment that Wonder changed me somehow.

I read all the bonus features at the end of the book… notes about the allusions, commonly asked questions, author interview…

What struck me most about the author interview is something I can so wholly identify with as a writer. Palacio said that her first reader of this book gave her some harsh criticism which caused her to re-think her writing. But her husband affirmed that she should believe in herself and her story– that someone else would believe in it too!

So, this book provided an awakening, or perhaps, reaffirmation, for me, not to mention it was simply a joy to read. It’s a book I want every one to read. Every single person. Teachers and students, parents and children… people should read it together and talk about it. People should pass this book on. It’s a book for sharing.

…From the novel:

A link to R.J. Palacio’s Website:

http://rjpalacio.com/index.html

The precepts (rules to live by)

  1. “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”   —Dr. Wayne Dyer
  2. “Your deeds are your monuments.”   —Inscription on ancient Egyptian tomb
  3. “Have no friends not equal to yourself.”   —Confucius
  4. “Fortune favors the bold.”   —Virgil
  5. “No man is an island, entire of itself.”   —John Donne
  6. “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”   —James Thurber
  7. “Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.”   —Blaise Pascal
  8. “What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful.”   —Sappho
  9. “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”   —John Wesley
  10. “Just follow the day and reach for the sun.”   —The Polyphonic Spree
  11. “Everyone deserves a standing ovation because we all overcometh the world.”   —Auggie Pullman

A link to my favorite quotes … Goodreads

http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/16319487-wonder

If you’ve read it, I’d love to know your thoughts about it, too?

Reading Literature/ Reading Film

movie image

Dave Farmer, in his blog Wordsmith & Member of Imagineland, posed an interesting question in his post “Should movies be faithful to the book?”

Here is my response to his question :

Hamlet Response

but after replying, I realized there is so much more to say on the topic…

Reading Literature/Reading Film

This course, which I co-wrote with a colleague, was the brain-child of a course we had both taken separately called Shakespeare Alive! Each summer, the professor, Mike Shea, focuses his entire course on an in-depth analysis of one of Shakespeare’s plays. I took the Romeo and Juliet course; my colleague studied MacBeth. A portion of these courses takes a look at differing editions of the actual text and how editors (in making decisions about interpretation, stage direction, diction, etc…) actually can alter the reading of the text. Another portion of the class looked at how differing adaptations created various interpretations of the text.

We took our experiences as students in Shakespeare Alive and developed it into our own half-year, English elective course offered to junior and senior high school students.

Making/Viewing a Film

In our research of movie making, we looked at various approaches to viewing film, the components of which ultimately go into the making of film.

Literary Approach– concerns devices of literature including setting, character, plot, theme, motif…

Theatrical Approach– also termed Mise-en-scène is literally everything that goes into a scene including acting, costume, make-up, props, set, lighting.

Cinematic Approach– techniques the film maker uses to convey the goals of the film such as camera angle, shot type, lighting, sound, editing.

All of these devices are inherent in the goals of directors during the making of a film; his/her use of them ultimately determine how we SEE (both visually and perceptively) a film.

In considering how these devices are used when viewing a film is how we determine it to be a good film or not.

Reading Text

The primary pleasure of reading is in our ability to use our imaginations. The construction of style and plot (through the devices of diction, syntax, use of motif, theme, imagery, symbolism) colluding with our personal repertoires of experience (personal, educational, environmental) is how we conceive of a story. Whether it’s good or bad, by our standards. Whether or not we can connect to it. Whether or not it will be memorable.

We are active in what we take away from a novel.

When Literature meets Film

Directors/producers often decide to adapt literature onto film because it already has a fan base to draw from to garner talk about the film before it’s even released– free publicity, if you will. Some directors choose to make a very tight adaptation of a story which means the film attempts to remain as faithful as possible to the intent of the novel, short story, play… it’s drawn from. Conversely, some make a very loose adaptation– maintaining some characteristics of the story while deviating in an obvious way from others.

Using the approaches mentioned above are the vehicles through which these adaptations are achieved. Some are fixed (low key lighting literally demonstrates an ominous environment). Some are completely interpretive (different actors use varying techniques to draw upon the portrayal of an ominous character).

Depending upon how we interface with the various components of a film and how we perceived a piece of literature prior to viewing the adaptation will be the determining factors we base our judgment of the film as successful or unsuccessful.

Should movies be faithful to the literature from which they are adapted?

Yes and no, depending upon your preferences, interpretations and expectations.

They are inherently different discourses. They are not, by nature the same. We draw upon different proclivities in approaching each.

The Hamlet Project

One of the anchor texts for my course is Hamlet, arguably one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays and a cornerstone of all literature.

When reading the text, various arguments emerge:

Hamlet Qs

There are not black or white answers to these questions. It depends on what you key into as a reader. It depends, based on your own repertoires, how you conceive of these various themes and how they interface with your reading of Hamlet.

Next, take into account that we create our own interpretations of Hamlet, just as the director needs to make a choice of how Hamlet will be portrayed on film, and the actors involved in the performance make choices in their portrayals of the characters. This layer upon layer of creation is what makes this question (Should movies be faithful to the book?) become so rhetorical.

An analysis of many Hamlets

My first attempt to introduce students to an adapation of Hamlet is in showing them the Michael Almereyda version (2000) starring Ethan Hawke set in modern day, New York city. Instead of ruling the country Denmark, Hamlet’s (Hawke) dead father (Sam Shepard) is the former CEO of the company Denmark, now run by his uncle, Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan).  Because it is set in modern-day but retains the language of Shakespeare in addition to about one-third of the play being lopped off, students recognize this as a very loose adaptation. It is off-putting to them. But, the reason I show it first is so they don’t adopt the images of a closer adaptation to what Hamlet “should” look like.

This version portrays a Hamlet who is not only trapped in his melancholia but, more so, misled by the ghost of his father, as the director uses video motif to show how Hamlets emotions get the better of him in his plight to avenge the King.

The next Hamlet I normally show is the Franco Zeffirelli version (1990) which is a closer portrayal of what most imagine Hamlet to be, set in a dark castle in Demark. The roles of these characters maintain the integrity of the text, though some of this text has been omitted as well.

Hamlet (Mel Gibson) seems to suffer more from the Oedipus complex in the version, especially in the scene after killing Polinius (Ian Holm) when grappling with his actions to his mother, the Queen (Glenn Close) in her bedroom.

From there, I move to the Kenneth Branagh version (1996) who also plays the role of Hamlet, which is set in Denmark during the Victorian era, which I believe is an attempt on the director’s part to demonstrate the timelessness of the story. This is the tightest adaptation I have seen; the run time is approximately 4 hours as compared to the approximately 2-hour run times of the aforementioned adaptations.

Branagh definitely portrays a Hamlet is who more in control of his emotions, particularly in the “To Be or Not To Be” scene where he stands erect looking at himself in the mirror, holding a knife. The Mise-en-scène and high key lighting contribute to our perception of him as a man plagued by the loss of power.

The Campbell Scott and Eric Simonson version of Hamlet (2000) is set more during the romantic period, based on the setting and costumes, which contributes to this Hamlet’s (Campbell Scott) portrayal of a sentimental dreamer conflicted physically and emotionally, particularly in the “To Be or Not to Be” scene, as he draws blood after nicking his wrist with a blade. The Mise-en-scène in this adaptation is vastly different than the Branagh’s, as it is filled with the color red, symbolizing blood, and is the only adaptation in which Hamlet literally takes action upon himself.

hamlet scott

While these are only some of the adaptations we view in Reading Literature/Reading Film, you can begin to see how vastly different even adaptations of the same play are depending upon the goals of the director and how we, as viewers, see them.

Likewise, while I have provided my view the interpretations of the various Hamlets, they are in no way fixed interpretations that every viewer sees in the same way.

Our goal as readers and film viewers is ultimately to become engaged, transported to a different place and time for a while, and to be entertained. Literature and film are discourses that make us think, and if they’re good, perhaps, they change the way we see things. Filmmakers are no more tied to make a faithful adaptation of film as an author is to write a good book. They put the way the see it (the story– no matter where from it is derived) out there for us to be the judge.

Other Adaptations to Consider

If you are looking for adaptations to compare/contrast to their literature counterparts, here is a list of those I use in class in addition to some my students have used for projects:

Into the Wild

The Color Purple

Forest Gump

The Hunger Games

Harry Potter

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

White Oleander

Stand By Me

The Other Boleyn Girl

Memoirs of a Geisha

Heart of Darkness

A Clockwork Orange

The Godfather

Beowulf

The Shining

One Day

Perks of a Wallflower

The Help

The Secret Life of Bees

The Great Gatsby

Shawshank Redemption

A Chorus Line

Mrs. Dalloway

Little Altars Everywhere/Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood

War of the Worlds

The Hours

The Reader

Girl Interrupted

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Revolutionary Road

Of Mice and Men

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Tom Sawyer

WutheringHeights

The Scarlet Letter

*almost anything Charles Dickens

*almost anything William Shakespeare

The Shared Journal Revival: Mother/Daughter Time

The summer between 6th and 7th grade was an uneasy one for my daughter, Alexa. She was not only filled with excitement but mostly fears about beginning the 7th grade in a new school. She never was one who adapted well to change.

Over the summer, the year before, we’d formed a Mother/Daughter book club with three of her friends and their moms. Once school was out, we made a date at the mall for lunch and to the bookstore, so each of the girls could choose a book that we’d all read over the summer. The book chosen by each of the girls determined the host of the book club meeting. Our book, appropriately called The Mother/Daughter Book Club, was one for which we’d host a pool party and summer treats as we’d talk about the characters and the story. Moreover, the connection was made that we’d begun our own mother/daughter ritual.

Also, that summer, I attended a party at a friend’s house and one of our many treats was that she’d hired a psychic for each of us to be read. Her reading for me included a warning of sorts in that she told me it was the last summer I’d have with my daughter before she entered the stage of wanting to be with her friends all of the time.

I heeded her warning, even though, I was skeptical– knowing my daughter, but also taking into consideration that I’d been through this stage twice with my boys at about the same age.

Coming up with the idea of shared journal is one that Alexa and I began with eagerness that summer. My underlying hope was that she’d confide her fears about the changes happening in her life and to her body in the journal if she felt uncomfortable sharing them in conversation. We wrote back and forth sporadically. She began, and when she completed an entry, she left it under my pillow for me to find, read at my leisure and then respond. Then, I’d leave it under her pillow and the process would repeat.

We kept this up on and off for about two years before, once, one of us has forgotten to respond and the journal lay in her drawer.

She found the journal about a week ago, and read it, feeling bittersweet. Surprised, she shared with me some of what we’d written, having long forgotten about the content, leaving me with the suggestion to read it in its entirety on my own. As a result, we’ve decided to revive the Mother/Daughter journal– appropriately so, as she enters a new stage of her life.

Completely having transitioned from wanting to be Mommy’s little girlfriend to wanting to spend her (almost) every waking moment with her friends. Being pulled in all directions, as a sophomore in high school who is an honor/high honor student, who also plays three sports (field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse)– suffice it to say, her life has taken direction of it’s own. But my daughter, being my daughter, has not lost sight that while we might not have the quantity of time we once had– the time we spend together certainly is quality. We make time to take shopping excursions or eat out for lunch or breakfast or enjoy a spa day. We have shared t.v. time and even talk about the books we are reading. We’ve even established a holiday all of our own– a play-hooky-from-work/school day that we call Donna/Daughter day– just me and her time that we take spontaneously once during the school year.

I know our relationship is bound to go through many more changes, but it’s important to never lose sight of the special bond we have or our quality time.

Reading Territories

“Books are the mirrors of the soul.”
― Virginia WoolfBetween the Acts

Reading. It is literally like breathing; you NEED to do it to survive, to learn and grow, to become enriched, to move forward, to enjoy life… I wasn’t always a reader. It has been a learned pleasure for me, and now I can’t live w/ out it. I ask my students to make a list of theirReadingTerritories, the properties of the mind they own by having read a book that touched them. This act of collecting one’s territories is adopted by Nancy Atwell, an inspirational (albeit Utopian) educator who has changed the thinking of many (myself included). So I show my students my list, not complete, but the highlighted version, and I encourage them to keep their lists going well beyond my classroom — to make it complete like a map of their lives as readers. Some students, years after graduated, have told me their territories are alive and flourishing! According to the Woolf quote above, I do believe each and every one of these selections speaks, somehow, to my soul. Know what I read; know me.

MY Reading Territories

Books that make you THINK

Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood

The Reader, Bernhard Schlink

The Red Tent, Anita Diamond

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

The Green Mile, Stephen King

Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

Davinci Code, Dan Brown

Ghostwalk, Rebecca Scott

Beach Reads

Summer Sisters, Judy Blume

Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood

First Born & Rightfully Mine, Doris Mortman

Little Altars Everywhere, Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya  Sisterhood, Ya Yas in Bloom, Rebecca Wells

One True Thing, Blessings, Black & Blue, Anna Quinlan

Cape Cod, Richard Russo

Lace, Lace II, Shirley Conran

Love Story & Oliver’s Story, Eric Segal

The Way We Were, Arthur Laurents

The Gift, Remembrance, Mixed Blessing, Family Album …Danielle Steele

The Rainmaker, The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill, The Firm… John Grisham

The Classics

WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

David Copperfield, Great Expectation, A Tale ofTwoCities& A Christmas Carol,  Charles Dickens

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austin

Mrs. Dalloway & A Room of Her Own, Virginia Woolf

Gone with The Wind, Margaret Mitchell

The Catcher in theRye, J.D. Salinger

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

TheCanterburyTales, Geoffrey Chaucer

The Awakening, Kate Chopin

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

Huck Finn, Mark Twain

King Lear, Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, Tempest, A Winter’s Tale, Taming of the Shrew (& probably more) William Shakespeare

Non-fiction/Memoir/Biography/Fictional Biography

Night, Elie Weisel

Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom

Running With Scissors, Augusten Burroughs

In the Middle, Nancy Atwell

Lives on the Boundary, Mike Rose

Everyone can Write, Peter Elbow

Unquiet Pedagogy, Eleanor Kutz & Hephzibah Roskell

Unschooled Mind, Howard Gardener

Composition Studies as a Creative Art, Lynn Z. Bloom

Dickens and the Dream of Cinema, Grahame Smith

Rainbow, Christopher Flinch

Goddess, Anthony Summers

Dianna, Andrew Morton

A Woman Named Jackie, C. David Heymann

DearAmerica, Letters Home fromVietnam, Ed. Bernard Edelman

Freedom Writers, Erin Gruwell

Teacher Man, Frank McCourt

Composing Ourselves as Writer-Teacher Writers

(& anything else) by Wendy Bishop

Drive, Daniel Pink

Charlotte & Emily, Jude Morgan

The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory

The Virgin’s Lover, Philippa Gregory

The Bronte Project, Jennifer Vandever

Ghostwalk, Rebecca Scott

Children’s Books

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Clement C. Moore

Love You Forever, Robert N. Munsch

Made by God, So I must be Special

The Jester Lost His Jingle, David Saltzman

The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss

Ship of Dreams,

The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg

The Little Match Girl, Hans Christian Anderson

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznik

Teen/Young-Adult Books

A Separate Peace, John Knowles

Go AskAlice, Unknown

Pigman, Paul Zindal

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Brian’s Song, William Blinn

Pollyanna, Eleanor Porter

ASecretGarden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Girl Interupted, Susanna Kaysen

The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

Mother, Daughter Book Club, Heather Vogel Frederick

Speak,  Laurie Halse Anderson

Girly Books

Summer Sisters, Judy Blume

Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells

Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

Little Children, Tom Perotta

Abstinence Teacher, Tom Perotta

One Day, David Nicholls

While I was Gone, Sue Miller

Lost in theForest, Sue Miller

Before Women Had Wings, Connie May Fowler

The Book of Ruth, Jane Hamilton

Are You there God, It’s me Margaret, Judy Blume

Endless Love, Scott Spencer

Scarlett, Alexandra Ripley

A Woman of Substance, Barbara Taylor Bradford

Beloved, Toni Morrison

The Color Purple,  Alice Walker

All He Ever Wanted, Anita Shreve

A Wedding in December, Anita Shreve

Skylight Confessions, Alice Hoffman

Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver

Blessings, Anna Quinlan

Black & Blue, Anna Quinlan

Books I would save in a fire

The Bible

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Rainbow, Christopher Flinch

WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

Are you there God, It’s me Margaret, Judy Blume

Pollyanna, Eleanor Porter

Read-agains

WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom

Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells,

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Book-Club Books

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

The Hours, Michael Cunningham

Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

The Red Tent, Anita Diamond

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

London, Edward Rutherford

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer

Novels that inspire me to write

Little Altars Everywhere, Rebecca Wells

ImaginedLondon, Anna Quinlan

The Bronte Project, Jennifer Vandever

The Morgesons, Elizabeth Stoddard

Blackbird House, Alice Hoffman

All-time Faves

The Red Tent, Anita Diamond

WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

Favorite Authors

Emily Bronte

Charles Dickens

William Shakespeare

Virginia Woolf

Tom Perotta

Anna Quinlan

Doris Mortman

Rebecca Wells

Sue Miller

Barbara Kingsolver

John Grisham

Danielle Steel

Judy Blume

… And once students are done w/ their Territory list, I ask them to write a narrative about themselves as readers, sharing my own as a model.

Although my mother swears that I learned how to read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by the time I was two, I would not have classified myself as a reader when I was young. It wasn’t until I saw the movie Love Story on television that I went out and bought the book so I could read it. I found when I fell in love with characters or the plotline of a film that I didn’t want to end, I’d buy the book to make them come alive again. Now, I am exactly the opposite. I refuse to see a film until after I’ve read the book because, in my experience, the book is always better than the movie. This is much how I would classify myself as a reader: one evolving through stages.

In elementary school, my reading skills were not strong. In fact, I’ll never forget a read aloud we had with our weekly reader in second grade. It was my turn. I began relatively fluent, but then I came upon a word I had not seen. Nearby. I pronounced it ”ner-bee” and the class roared with laughter. I learned from that experience that I didn’t like reading aloud very much. Instead, I read silently and in solitude whenever possible. At about the age of 10, one of my friends referred me to the book, Are you there God, It’s me Margaret. Margaret, the same age as me, was going through some very similar experiences as I was. Somehow reading that book on the cusp of puberty made me not feel so alone. It also prompted me to seek out other books that I could relate to.

During my teenage years, I was more concerned with social activities than I was with school and reading. I didn’t hate reading, but I didn’t love it, either and the only time I made time for reading was during the summer or over school vacations when I was bored. But it was at this time that I discovered romance (appropriately so) and I also discovered that I enjoyed reading the same books by one author; her name was Danielle Steele. I think I bought every book she wrote for a couple of years. Her books were part escape/part fantasy for me and they all had happy endings.

In school, I always attempted the begin the assigned readings, but I found myself intolerant of books I didn’t understand or those I was bored by, so I’d quit & simply pay extra attention to the teacher who inevitably reviewed the previous night’s reading in monotonous detail. My appreciation for classic literature was born when I took a Women’s Lit class taught by a teacher who had a reputation for teaching at the college level instead of the high school level. It was after reading The Awakening in her class that my awakening to literature began. Out of that experience also grew the desire to learn more about the context of culture & history during which a particular book was written.

When I first decided to major in English at college, I was primarily interested in making a career in writing. Literature wasn’t even a consideration, but it was an interest. That interest grew into a passion that was ignited by several college professors whose knowledge for and appreciation of literature was infectious. My first course was called Literature of the New Testament, a course taught by a blind, Yale graduate. There was no end to his knowledge and I learned more about religion and my own beliefs in that course than I had during 6 years of Bible school. Another professor taught Shakespeare, a playwright I didn’t understand or appreciate in high school, none-the-less it was a requirement, so I had to get through it. On the first day of class, the professor announced we’d be reading a play a week and writing papers bi-weekly. I learned not only to love reading Shakespeare in that course, but I learned how to become a faster, more efficient reader, too. In fact, British Literature is where I found my niche. There was not a piece of British Literature that I was bored by; some pieces I liked more than others, but I found myself comparing it to American Literature, which for me, for the most part was dry and didn’t hold my attention. It was then that I learned to analyze a piece of writing against another and begin to distinguish the nuances I appreciated from those I could not tolerate.

Aside from reading magazines, non-fiction had not much been on my radar until I entered grad school. I was, by this time, a skilled enough reader that I could read material that I didn’t necessarily like and still understand it, but I would have never chosen to do so without it being assigned. I came to realize that I enjoyed reading about theory because it helped me to define where I stood. For instance, I had always been good teacher of writing, not because I was taught to but because it came instinctively. It was only after reading a host of books on composition and creative writing that I learned how closely the two were connected; as a result, I began to identify myself as a teacher and my teaching strategies from the words on the pages.

Moreover, the teaching of literature, allows me to revisit old friends in the characters of David Copperfield, Catherine & Heathcliff, Holden Caulfield and Gatsby, to name a few. I learn more about them every time I read about their journeys, and even more so through discussion in class. Not only do I enjoy reading literature aloud to my students (particularly my favorite passages), but I love to share my passion for it. When literature and socialization collide, only good things come of it. Take for example, the Harry Potter phenomenon and books clubs; these were virtually non-existent in my youth.

My own children are responsible for re-awakening my love & appreciation for children’s literature. When I was young, I remember loving the lyrical rhythm, the pretty colors on the pages and the characters who were a lot like me.  Yet reading children’s literature at this different stage in my life helps me to realize that children’s books are not just for children, their messages dig deep into the core of humanity.

I have certainly evolved as a reader.Readinghas been a different kind of vehicle through different stages in my life. I have learned that reading allows me to see through the eyes of others, but more importantly, it allows me to see myself more clearly. It is also an escape that takes me to places and time periods I could not otherwise visit. I have not only fully developed my reading skills, but I have developed an appreciation for many kinds of texts. Finally, it is the basis of not only my education but the education I share with others. My intent is not only to enjoy reading and learn from it, but also to pay it forward.

I urge you to THINK about yourself as reader. Define yourself. Make a list of books. KNOW yourself. Allow reading to reflect your soul.