Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Everyone Has Read but Me…

Top Ten TuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday focuses on the top ten books I feel as though everyone has read but me. I went to three different high schools. I can’t remember reading a single book for school during all of tenth grade. In fact, all I remember about that year was doing grammar exercises out of the Warriner’s grammar book and feeling that our teacher hated us. Eleventh and twelfth grade were better, but I still managed to graduate from high school (and college, as an English major no less) without having been required to read a lot of books that seem to be staples in the canon.

  1. [amazon_link id=”0452284236″ target=”_blank” ]Nineteen Eighty-Four[/amazon_link] by George Orwell. I actually do want to read this one, and I had every intention of reading it this year, but I think you have to be in a mood for dystopian literature, and frankly, that mood hasn’t happened this year.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0142000671″ target=”_blank” ]Of Mice and Men[/amazon_link] by John Steinbeck. I’ve seen the movie many times, and it’s not like it’s a long book. It’s just that, well, the mood thing. At least that’s my excuse for not reading it this year. You know, I put together this reading challenge specifically to address some of these deficiencies, and I read all of one book for it.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0143039431″ target=”_blank” ]The Grapes of Wrath[/amazon_link] by John Steinbeck. Ditto.
  4. [amazon_link id=”0307454541″ target=”_blank” ]The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo[/amazon_link] by Stieg Larson. Not sure I want to read it, but man, hasn’t everyone else?
  5. [amazon_link id=”0307594009″ target=”_blank” ]Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl[/amazon_link] by Anne Frank. I somehow never got around to this one. I teach at a Jewish school, but the students tend to read it in middle school now.
  6. [amazon_link id=”B000XSKDH4″ target=”_blank” ]Anne of Green Gables[/amazon_link] by L.M. Montgomery. Would I like this? I was never sure, so I never picked it up. Now it almost feels too late to bother.
  7. [amazon_link id=”1420929089″ target=”_blank” ]Little Women[/amazon_link] by Louisa May Alcott. Even my husband has read this book. I never really wanted to, but it sure seems like everyone else has read it.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0375842209″ target=”_blank” ]The Book Thief[/amazon_link] by Marcus Zusak. I have finally been convinced to put this on my TBR pile, but frankly, I avoid books about the Holocaust mainly because it was such a tragic event—many of my students’ grandparents are Holocaust survivors—and sometimes I feel that books and movies try to capitalize on it. It’s hard to explain how I feel. It’s sort of like writing a college admissions essay that deals with your brother being killed by a drunk driver—the admissions committee looks callous if they pick at your writing ability with a subject so fraught with emotion, but the point behind the essay is to evaluate your writing ability. It’s a form of manipulation. That’s how I feel about Holocaust books and movies—it’s almost impossible to criticize them because you look like a horrible person. Case in point, [amazon_link id=”0198326769″ target=”_blank” ]The Boy in the Striped Pajamas[/amazon_link] probably couldn’t have happened in reality because of the manner in which the Nazis dealt with children during the Holocaust, and yet, how do you point that out without looking like a complete ass? I should just stop because you probably think I’m a horrible person.
  9. [amazon_link id=”1594480001″ target=”_blank” ]The Kite Runner[/amazon_link] by Khaled Hosseini. I started this one, but didn’t get far. My daughter has read it. She said it’s excellent.
  10. [amazon_link id=”1451626657″ target=”_blank” ]Catch-22[/amazon_link] by Joseph Heller. This seems to be some kind of staple of teens/twenties. I don’t know how I passed the threshold into the my thirties without having my book passport stamped with this one, but I snuck by somehow. And now that I’m officially in my 40’s, I’m just not even sure I’d want to bother.

In addition to these books, I haven’t read much Kurt Vonnegut at all (that is, I have read one short story). I’ve also read precious little Dickens ([amazon_link id=”0142196584″ target=”_blank” ]A Tale of Two Cities[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”0142196584″ target=”_blank” ]Great Expectations[/amazon_link], and [amazon_link id=”1612930336″ target=”_blank” ]A Christmas Carol[/amazon_link] being the only selections I’ve read).

However! Before the admonitions start in the comments, I would like to add that I have read all of the following books that seem to be cropping up on these lists on other peoples’ blogs today:

  • [amazon_link id=”B003GCTQ7M” target=”_blank” ]Moby Dick[/amazon_link] by Herman Melville
  • [amazon_link id=”B003VYBQPK” target=”_blank” ]The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn[/amazon_link] by Mark Twain
  • [amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link] by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • [amazon_link id=”0684801469″ target=”_blank” ]A Farewell to Arms[/amazon_link] by Ernest Hemingway
  • [amazon_link id=”0679723161″ target=”_blank” ]Lolita[/amazon_link] by Vladimir Nabokov
  • [amazon_link id=”0199536368″ target=”_blank” ]Crime and Punishment[/amazon_link] by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • [amazon_link id=”0143105442″ target=”_blank” ]The Scarlet Letter[/amazon_link] by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • All of Jane Austen’s completed books (the six novels)
  • [amazon_link id=”0143106155″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link] by Charlotte and Emily Brontë respectively

So, I am not a complete slouch.

Do You Hate Holden Caulfield?

This is a book you must read.I have been thinking about this post at Forever Young Adult ever since I left a short comment, mainly because of all the commenters unloading on Holden Caulfield, and then throwing in folks like my beloved Lizzie Bennet. (Seriously? Someone petitioned to have Pride and Prejudice removed from her reading list? For the love of all that is holy, why?)

I think all of us have read books we were told were supposed to be classics, and we didn’t understand the fuss. We didn’t like them. In fact, we hated them. And we wondered if there was something wrong with us. This book is supposed to be a classic, right? That means lots of people love it, and if we don’t love it, we probably just didn’t get it.

Not true.

Books do become classics because people love them, and they stay classics because new people come along, read them, and love them, too. But I don’t think every book is for every person, and I think we sometimes assign books at the wrong time. I suspect that might be the case with the person who didn’t want to read Pride and Prejudice. I have taught that book to ninth graders, and they weren’t ready for it at all, and it was a mistake to teach it to them. Then again, Jane Austen is such an important British author for students to be exposed to. This year, instead of watching the books I love suffer the cruel hatred of my students, I offered them choices for a Jane Austen Book Club: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. None of my students signed up for either iteration of Sense and Sensibility, but I had a group of girls and one savvy boy who wanted to read Emma. Even though it wasn’t on my list, did I let them? You bet. They were choosing it. And that’s what makes the difference. It’s hard, but we have to let kids choose what they read more often. I am not advocating that we end class novel studies. I think a balanced approach works. Will students always choose the classics? No. I think we have to be OK with that. What we want to do is foster readers. Readers are people who will pick up classics later on, perhaps when they’re ready for them.

When I first read The Catcher in the Rye in high school (on my own, not assigned), I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t like Holden. When I read the book again in my thirties, I found new sympathy for Holden, and there are some beautiful passages in that book. The scene in which Holden prays to Allie to save him from disappearing is gorgeous and sad.

I am well aware that a lot of people strongly dislike, nay hate my favorite book, Wuthering Heights. I myself am at something of a loss to explain why I love it so much. I don’t really like the characters all that much, and usually that’s an absolute prerequisite for me. One thing I have done in my classroom the last two years is show the 1998 film so students at least have a grasp of the plot before we read. After watching the film two years ago, a group of girls in the back of the class applauded when it was over (note: this is not a common occurrence). I mentioned to that class that I found at least two Facebook groups dedicated to the eradication of Wuthering Heights. I’ll never forget my student Jake’s reaction. He turned to look at me, incredulous look on his face, and said, “Why?” I love that he was so dumbfounded. I didn’t have time to teach the book that particular year, so the movie was all the exposure we had. One student liked it so much that I gave her a copy of the book, which she read and proclaimed her favorite. She has since thanked me twice because it is now her favorite book. She only had room to take a few books with her to college, but, she informed me, Wuthering Heights was one of them.

Image via Brontë Parsonage Blog

Last year, I showed the film first, but before I did, explained to the students what this book meant to me and how scary it is to teach books I really love because they might not like them, or worse, they might hate them, and I explained how soul-crushing that is. I told them I was handing them something very personal and valuable to me when I handed them this book, and I begged them not to trample on it. Surprisingly, it worked. I don’t mean to say they all liked it, but they were kind to me about it. One student admitted to me that he didn’t really care for it, but he seemed to appreciate the fact that I shared my own feelings about the book. Another girl made me all kinds of paper dolls of characters from the book using a graphics program (software or online, I’m not sure). I asked her if she had liked the book. She said, “I can’t get it out of my head.” She looked kind of far away for a moment, then walked out the door.

What is the point of all this? I’m just wondering how many of us who consider ourselves readers can remember reading a book everyone else seemed to love, or was considered a classic, and we didn’t like it? Mine was Crime and Punishment (review here). What do you think English teachers or parents or anyone else responsible for fostering budding readers should do to encourage readers? Is it OK if we never read classics?

P. S. For the record, I cried a little when J. D. Salinger died.

photo credit: joseph.antoniello

Crime and Punishment

Crime and PunishmentThough I wasn’t due to finish Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment via DailyLit until next week, I decided to go ahead and finish today. I really wanted to like this book. It’s one of those books you hear a lot about. It’s one of those books people like to say they’ve read. I should preface this review by saying that I’ve read very few Russian classics. I tried to read Dr. Zhivago; my sister Lara is named after Yuri Zhivago’s love interest. I couldn’t get into it, even though I loved the movie. I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (review), and I really didn’t like it all that much, although I found the concept intriguing.

The central character of Crime and Punishment is Raskolnikov, a student in St. Petersburg who murders a pawn broker and her sister with an axe. Most of the book centers around his mental state both before and after the crime. I had a great deal of difficulty with the names. Some of the characters have nicknames, which made it nearly impossible for me to keep up with the characters. I’m sure this is purely a cultural-based confusion because if a character in a book were named William but variously called Will, Willie, or Bill by other characters, I doubt I’d have trouble. However, in a book with names that are already challenging for me to keep straight, I found myself quickly confused, and I think that confusion hampered my enjoyment of the novel. I might have done better to read a version with more notes. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the end result is that I’ve been put off Dostoyevsky. I’m not sure I’d want to try another book of his after not enjoying this one, especially when I think about the large number of books in the world I could read instead that I might truly enjoy. I found parts of the book compelling—the murder scene, Svidrigailov’s death, a fight among some of the women (whose characters I confess I had the most difficulty keeping straight) in the middle of the book, and the end—but these moments were few. Most of the book I found hard to get through both because of my confusion and because the story was not grabbing my interest. I had already reached what I call “the point of no return” before I decided I didn’t like the book. The “point of no return” is the point at which you’ve read so far into the book that you feel you should just go ahead and finish. I really, really wanted to like this book, which is why I pushed myself up to that point. When I realized I didn’t like it, I felt sad. I have so rarely been disappointed by classics.

My next novel from DailyLit will be Gulliver’s Travels, a much shorter novel, and one I have neglected. I was supposed to have read it in high school, but I found it difficult to understand at that age. I think I will enjoy it better twenty years on from the last time I tried to pick it up. It’s a British book, which will enable me to continue to the next level in the Typically British Challenge.

A Really Good Day

GateFirst, I received an e-mail from HarperCollins informing me that I won The Map of True Places Sweepstakes. I enter contests like this all the time, but I never have any expectation of winning. My prize is a weekend in Salem, Massachusetts, a place I have always wanted to visit (especially as an English teacher). I am so incredibly excited. I hardly know how it happened. Like I said, I enter these contests whenever one strikes my fancy, but how exciting!

Second, I am slowly catching up with my Instructional Technology coursework. I read and took quizzes on three chapters of Educational Research yesterday. I didn’t too badly on the quizzes either, especially considering the difficulty of the quizzes. Today I wrote a short paper critiquing a journal article for the same course. I am virtually caught up in this course based on the schedule I set for myself. What I would like to do this week is get a little ahead in both this course and Multimedia Authoring so that I can be sure to finish both courses by the end of the semester. Once again, I find myself wishing we didn’t use grades to evaluate. I would much rather receive the feedback and a pass/fail. Grades stress me out. I hate giving them to my students, and as a student I hate worrying about them.

Finally, I noticed a small crack in the back case of my iPhone about half an inch long originating at the center of the docking port. I have scheduled Genius Bar appointments twice, but canceled them so I could continue working or not feel pressed for time completing other activities. Finally, I decided it bothered me enough to bring in and see what would happen. The Genius at the Apple Store examined the phone, determined somehow that I didn’t cause the damage by dropping it (not sure how he figured it out; I didn’t cause the damage that way, but I admit to having dropped it, although not hard—maybe it was the location of the crack), checked on my warranty (glad I got AppleCare), and replaced the phone. I’ve had it since December 2008, so it wasn’t new. It was in good shape, though the corners were chipped (I didn’t used to have a case for it; now I do), and a tiny scratch marred the otherwise perfect screen. I bought some crystal film protectors to prevent damage to the new phone’s screen and immediately put it in the case. I hope I can keep this one in pristine shape with some extra care.

So all in all, a really, really good day. Plus it’s spring break! Bonus!

In book news, I’m still reading The Annotated Pride and Prejudice and keeping up with Crime and Punishment as best as my schedule and interest will allow (I’ll be glad to finish that one and begin Gulliver’s Travels). I am thoroughly enjoying the audio version of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I am planning to read about the Once Upon a Time Challenge to see if I can participate.

photo credit: Svenstorm

Reading Updates

I have three books going at the moment. I am listening to The Help whenever I’m in the car, and sometimes I have to sit in the car a little longer so I can finish a particularly good part. I am absolutely loving this book, and I can’t wait to discuss it with my faculty’s book club.

I’m also re-reading Pride and Prejudice. This annotated version is helping me understand nuances I’m not sure I picked up the first time I read it years ago. The only problem I have with the annotations is that they give away much of the plot. I would like to use this edition with students, but some of the annotations should be read as they are reading, and some will give away the plot a great deal, which I think some students may find frustrating.

Finally, I am still working through Crime and Punishment on DailyLit. I am just not enjoying it at all. I found the murder of Alyona Ivanovna and her sister Lizaveta chilling and compelling to read, but for a few scenes since that time, the book never grabbed me. I am close enough to the end to stick it out, but I’m not inclined to read any more Dostoyevsky. I don’t know whether I should feel stupid that I’m not getting something that so many people in the past have clearly enjoyed and esteemed, or just accepting that it’s OK to feel the way I feel about this book.

Reading Update

perfect place to readI am within 80 pages of finishing Thursday Next: First Among Sequels. I should be able to share a review soon.

I am about 70% in on Crime and Punishment, and I have to say that I am just not into it. I will finish it because I’ve gone too far to turn back. My judgment at this stage is that there are really interesting parts leavened by parts I either can’t understand or am just not interested in. It’s running on two stars at the moment.

I am also slowly moving through Mansfield Park, and not because I don’t enjoy it, but because my reading focus is on finishing Thursday Next at the moment.

Following Thursday Next I plan to pick up Pride and Prejudice again, which will serve as the third of my four selections for the Typically British Reading Challenge. In terms of my other challenges, the All About the Brontës Challenge and the Bibliophilic Books Challenge, I’m still thinking about what to read next. My scores stand thusly:

  • Typically British Challenge: 2 of 4 (3 of 4 once I’ve finished Thursday Next)
  • All About the Brontës Challenge: 2 of 3
  • Bibliophilic Books Challenge: 1 of 3 (2 of 3 once I’ve finished Thursday Next)

photo credit: Dawn Ashley