cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Literature”

Debatables: September


It’s time for Debatables. My partner, whose wit and writing has attracted over 12,000 followers, is Mike Allegra. An amazingly talented doodler, Mike also pens children’s books, and has a new series out: Prince Not So Charming.

This month our topic is almost unbearable in scope: which team would survive the Hunger Games?

I’m backing Paddington and Pooh. Mike believes in the Berenstain Bears.

Check out Mike’s blog and our debate logic here. Don’t forget to weigh in your vote and add in your comments. Our debates get pretty lively–an understatement.

So far our debates stand at one round each. I won the first round on who was the better Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder, of course). Mike took the second round with his choice of Love You Forever being the worst picture book ever.

Who will emerge triumphant in this third round?

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Katniss fondly supports the P&P team

Cast your own vote of belief in the two indomitably tough bears whose cuteness is on the cutting edge of survival skills–I’m talking Paddington Bear and Winnie-the-Pooh. Send those sponsor parachutes and votes to Mike’s site.

Go P&P!

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Author Spotlight: Madeleine L’Engle


Although she wrote numerous books ranging from picture books to middle reads and YA to reflective nonfiction to poetry, Madeleine L’Engle is best remembered for changing children’s literature with The Wrinkle in Time. Awarded the Newberry Medal in 1963, the book remains popular and turned 50 in 2013, and became a Disney released movie in 2018. The Wrinkle in Time is one of the titles found on banned novels list, being ironically praised and criticized for its spiritual themes and approach.

A newly released book on Madeleine L’Engle, A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual of Madeleine L’Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Sarah Arthur is not so much a biography as it is an exploration of Madeleine’s spiritual beliefs and how they were intertwined into her writing.

Like C.S. Lewis, L’Engle infused her stories with spiritual metaphors and even direct references to God. However, unlike Lewis, L’Engle often found herself criticized for what some deemed a New Age approach to story telling, that her spiritual beliefs were too bound in a universalism that some thought misleading or confusing for her young reader audience.

Praised or censured, Madeleine L’Engle’s impact is significant, especially A Wrinkle in Time.

I was in fifth grade when I read about Meg and Charles Wallace and tesseracts. The book opened my reader’s eyes wide open. Time travel, intergalactic worlds, good versus evil, scientific concepts, interpersonal family dynamics, and so much more. The landscape of reading changed for me. I had that Dorothy moment of stepping from the barren black and white lands of Kansas to the Technicolor world of Oz. Reading for me did begin with that over the rainbow moment and L’Engle provided a colorful palette of possibilities.

I decided to reread A Wrinkle in Time as part of my Classic Club challenge. Reading it almost fifty years later I marveled how well the story kept my interest, and how much I anticipated certain plot points: Charles Wallace and his cocoa session with Meg in the kitchen, syncopated ball bouncing, Aunt Beast, the complicated plot, challenging vocabulary, along with its scientific concepts–this was way beyond the Homer Price and Henry Huggins fare on the library shelves. I don’t know how well I comprehended the entire story of how a girl could take on space and time and fight evil, but I do know Meg was the first of many underdog protagonists that would be added to my reading dance card.

I’m just discovering that The Wrinkle in Time is one of five books in the series and I am checking out each title and revisiting with Meg and Charles Wallace.

What are your impressions of A Wrinkle in Time?

The cover as I remember it.

Reading Pastabilities


A Prayer for Owen Meany

Jane Eyre

All the Light We Cannot See

The Grapes of Wrath

Moby Dick

The Count of Monte Cristo

East of Eden

The Portrait of a Lady

Dune

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Read any of these titles? Congratulations. You know what it means to make a commitment to a long read.

I should have more titles for this list, and I eventually will, yet here is a small gripe–and maybe you agree with me: long reads are like sitting down to a savory plate of pasta, yet no matter how much you eat, there is so much more that needs to be eaten, and because the pasta is so good you keep eating, but you know you should stop, but you can’t, and get a little too full, and even get a little frustrated because you just keep going. The frustrating part is wanting to sample the other food available, except you are committed to that big plate of pasta.

Does anyone else feel that way about getting involved in a long book?

The Perfect Club (for me)


If you have been following my blog you know I love to read, and that I especially love literature. Being a librarian at heart, teaching literature is pretty close to working in a library. Sigh, to be surrounded by books all day long, in a fairly quiet environment, where people enter in for the specific purpose of learning and reading. Dream job.

Reading. It’s what I love to do. Indeedy. I am always promoting books [see Book Boosters] and my monthly Reading Round Ups, and I am always interested in reading what others are reading. Somehow I discovered The Classics Club, and the main requirement is to create a list of at least 50 classics and set a read-by date. This club and I shall become besties, I know it. They are friendly and flexible and have all kinds of reading activities going on all the time. This is a better discovery than a new gelato flavor.  Here is my list so far, and my proposed read-by date:

Start date January 1, 2018 (they are so flexible they are okay with my list in progress)
Finish: December 31, 2019
*read and reviewed already

  1. Green Willow by B.J. Chute*
  2. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli*
  3. Blue Willow by Doris Gates*
  4. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart*
  5. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl*
  6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl*
  7. Charlie and the Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl*
  8. Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson*
  9. Gilead by Marilyn Robinson*
  10. Princess Bride by William Goldman* (reread)
  11. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf*
  12. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin*
  13. The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier*
  14. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan*
  15. The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty*
  16. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte* (reread)
  17. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn*
  18. Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse*
  19. Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce*
  20. The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells (read!)
  21. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisnero
  22. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken*
  23. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving*
  24. From the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  25. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  26. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines
  27. Swallows and Amazon by Arthur Ransome*
  28. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
  29. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (read!)
  30. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  31. Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner
  32. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
  33. Call it Sleep by Henry Roth
  34. Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  35. King Solomon’s Mine by H. Rider Haggard
  36. One of Ours by Willa Cather
  37. Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge
  38. The Empty World by D.E. Stevenson
  39. The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner
  40. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  41. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  42. Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
  43. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
  44. The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
  45. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  46. Native Son by Richard Wright
  47. Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner
  48. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
  49. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
  50. Penelope Lively by Moon Tiger

Whew! It took me longer than I thought to create this list. I usually grab and go when I am at the library. We will see what happens.

Any of these titles look familiar to you? What would you add to the list? Are you going to join me over at The Classics Club?

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My goal date–am I ambitious?

A Librarian/Teacher View on #metoo


Image: Etsy.com (vintage book cover)


Although I am a bonafide English teacher, I remain a librarian at heart and keep an invested interest in matters of school and public libraries. This month’s School Library Journal ran an article on how the #metoo movement has affected the juvenile literature world with the news of authors Jay Asher, James Dashner, and Sherman Alexie’s admissions and accusations. One result of these disclosures is for many librarians to contemplate whether the books of these authors should be pulled from shelves. Bill Cosby’s Little Bill picture book series is part of this conversation.

Banning, censoring–controversial terms that create a myriad of reactions. When books or the authors of books come into question, often the reaction is to pull, box up, and cleanse in the name of protecting young minds and upholding values. This is can become problematic.

At the public library level the response I usually observed was to ride the tide–if patrons objected to the material they had the option of not checking it out. Simple and neat. As one librarian noted: considering Hitler’s atrocities against humans should Mein Kampf remain on the shelf? If you don’t want to read hi as book, then don’t.

Somehow this philosophy of ignore and move on changes when it comes to material found on school library shelves. Social commentary and opinion frequently challenge books based on content, as To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, Fahrenheit 451 and other novels fall under scrutiny depending on public mood and cultural times. Yet, this new round of challenging is based on the behavior and actions of the authors, not the content of their books. Their objectionable behavior is in question, as rightly it should be, especially in these times of sensitivity upon the rights of individuals. Young readers aren’t necessarily going to be politically minded when they go to select a book to read. But their parents often are. 

I find it interesting that distance tends to soften outrage. Charles Dickens led two lives, all the while perpetuating Victorian values of domestic happiness, yet we embrace his books and promote them in our literature courses. Oscar Wilde was jailed for his preferences, and his books are not abandoned. Ernest Hemingway, well-known for his womanizing, is still part of the recommended literary canon. 

For me, as a teacher with a librarian’s directives, who is also a writer, I am reflecting on the responsibility I have as I recommend books to my students and as I write them. The #metoo movement, as it drifts over to the literary world, is certainly setting up a new awareness of the impact of words. 

What are reader thoughts on pulling books from shelves in light of the conduct of the authors?

Philosophical Chickens


Okay, Kauai is still much on my mind. Did I mention how this tropical paradise is practically overrun with feral chickens? This was not mentioned in the guide books.

While I didn’t see this many chickens at one time, they are truly everywhere: four star resorts, the airport, restaurants, shopping centers. And people don’t pay them too much attention. The locals tolerate them. The tourists take photos of them. I guess in the same way that our locals tolerate the moose that often wander down the street. Then again moose don’t jump up on the table to snatch unattended fries. No, instead they decimate tulips. And even the locals take photos of the moose.

I usually discuss cows. Today the topic is chickens due to my spring cleaning in July.

In summer I attempt to tidy up my office in my free and unfettered time now that school is out. I came across this handout that is related to allusions. I had intended to introduce this witty combination of chickens and allusions to one of my AP Literature classes. Somehow it didn’t happen. It’s too good to toss so I share it with you. It means so much more to me now that I have encountered feral chickens. However, I doubt they would be into Nietzsche. Douglas Adams, maybe. What is your favorite reference? I grin every time I read Groucho’s comment. This is found all over the place on the Internet in different version, so I am not sure who to credit. Enjoy!

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Hamlet: Because ’tis better to suffer in the mind the slings and arrows of outrageous road maintenance than to take arms against a sea of oncoming vehicles.

Timothy Leary: Because that’s the only kind of trip the Establishment would let it take.

Douglas Adams: 42

Nietzsche: Because if you gaze too long across the Road, the Road gazes across you.

Dorothy Parker: Travel, trouble, music, art / a kiss, a frock, a rhyme / The chicken never said they fed its heart / But still they pass its time.

T.S. Eliot: It’s not that they cross, but that they cross like chickens.

Darth Vader: Because it could not resist the power of the Dark Side.

Darwin: It was the logical step after coming down from the trees.

Emily Dickinson: Because it could not stop for death.

Robert Frost: To cross the road less traveled by.

Ernest Hemingway: To die. In the rain.

Mark Twain: The news of its crossing has been greatly exaggerated.

Martin Luther King: It had a dream.

Stan Laurel: I’m sorry, Ollie. It escaped when I opened the run.

Groucho Marx: Chicken? What’s all this talk about chicken? Why, I had an uncle who thought he was a chicken. My aunt almost divorced him, but we needed the eggs.

Literary Book Boosters


I am a professed Book Booster, and most, if not all of you, reading my musings enjoy reading as well. Glad you’re here, and thanks for dropping by.

As I close out the  year, I wanted to give more than a  nod to Book Boosters found in literature. These are characters whose love of reading defines them and is central to the plot.

1. Scout Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird

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image: Houston Chronicle

Her love of reading gets her in trouble with the teacher on the first day of school because a first grader isn’t supposed to read yet–according to Miss Caroline. That’s the teacher’s job, as Scout finds out. Scout and Jem are always referring to books, often they become the object of bets made. The novel ends with Atticus and Scout reading The Grey Ghost (a definite correlation to Boo) as they wait for Jem to recover.

2. Jo March of Little Women

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image: Pintrest

Jo’s love of stories, both reading and writing them, propel her towards her goal if becoming an author.

3. Guy Montag of Fahrenheit 451

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image: lecinemadreams.blogspot.com

Guy Montag goes from book burner to book booster as he discovers the powerful message of allowing one’s imagination to roam unfettered. Reading books has him questioning the government’s oppressive rule over people’s freedom. He is willing to die for his love of books.

3. Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey

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image: Pintresst

Catherine’s fascination with Gothic romances fuels her imagination to the point of her concocting a horrible family secret that brings shame and ridicule upon her and jeopardizes her future. Jane Austen obviously had some fun poking fun at the Gothic romance trend of her day.

4.  Liesel Meminger of The Book Thief

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image: Wiki

Liesel’s hunger for books leads her to steal them from a private library. The need to read becomes life-threatening when Hitler locks down on Germany’s freedom of expression during WWII. Liesel’s love of reading becomes her solace during the horrendous experiences of the war.

5. Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables

 

Image result for Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables reading

image: anneofgreengables.com

Fiery-haired and a fiery disposition fuels Anne towards her goal of taking her imagination and putting her ideas to paper. This beloved series captures the natural relationship between reading and writing.

BOOK BOOSTER CALL OUT…
I know there are more literature loving characters out there. This is where you chime in: who do you nominate needing a nod as a Literary Book Booster?

Review Round Up


This last month has definitely been hodgish-podgish in reading. I’m transitioning from summer reading to preparing for school while trying to wrap up a major writing project. This involves reading for fun, reading for class, and reading for facts. I’m a bit dizzified at the stretch of diversity. Here are the top reads from this last month:

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

image: GoodReads

I picked this up along with Tey’s Daughter of Time, which was about Richard III. In the back of my mind nudged the basic plot of Brat Farrar. I hadn’t read it, or had I? I seemed to know how it was going to turn out. Than the “aha” tinkle bell sounded. I had watched it as a BBC series, ages ago. Books are always different from the film adaptation, and as I became more involved in the story I realized I didn’t remember the ending after all. I do so enjoy books, especially mysteries that I can’t guess the ending. Tey does an excellent job of twisting and turning the plot. One of the most satisfying reads of the summer. Intrigue, betrayal, double identities, red herrings, hinted romance, and horses–I’m trying to find the BBC series now.

 

 

My Memoirs

 by Alexandre Dumas

image: GoodReads

The man who brought The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask didn’t just write about adventures, he lived them. As part of of my author/cat project, I needed to read up on Dumas and found a slim adapted volume of his memoirs (the original ran to about thirty). He accounts for his life just up to the point of receiving acclaim for his novels. Like all really great biographies featuring rags to riches stories, Dumas begins his story sadly. His father, a Creole general in Napoleon’s army is tossed into prison, and upon release his health fails and dies when Dumas is four. Thrown into poverty, he, along with his mother and sister moves in with his grandparents. From their Dumas recounts how he preferred hunting to school and eventually makes his way to Paris with hopes of becoming a playwright. He brashly secures a clerk position in order to pay bills, while still trying to get his plays published. With success comes recognition and a life filled with all sorts of escapades including involvement in a revolution and a duel. I better understand why the action in his books is so mesmerizing–he knew adventure first hand.

Everything’s An Argument by Andrea Lunsford

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image: GoodReads

Okay, so reading a textbook may not be on your TBR list. If I wasn’t slated to teach AP Language for the first time I probably wouldn’t have read this book either. Teaching AP Lang is going to be very, very different for me. I’m not a huge nonfiction reader, only doing so for research, not so for pleasure. Yet, as I waded into this book I became more fascinated by the fact that everything truly is an argument. We live in a world where everyone is trying to convince someone of their point of view and there are strategies for doing so. If interested in learning more how you are influenced, I’d suggest this as a means of getting more insight in how argument is something we need to reckon with.

A Frosty Choice


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

And I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Ah, Frost’s famous lines that celebrate and embrace individualism. The encouragement to go against the grain, to strive beyond mediocrity, to go where few have bothered to travel. It’s the stuff of graduation speeches, self-help tomes, greeting cards, posters, coffee mugs, t-shirts, and it even helps to sell cars.
According to David Orr in his literary/biography/analysis, The Road Not Taken, we have got it all wrong. The subtitle clues us in: Finding America in the Poem Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong. 

Surprise Reading*

In Orr’s introduction he asserts and emphasizes that the roads are equally traveled, that the two roads are interchangeable. The speaker admits the other road “just as fair” and “the passing there/Had worn them really about the same…” The speaker further notes: “And both that morning equally lay/In leaves no step had trodden black.”

To me it’s all saying: “Hey, which way should I go? I have no idea. They look both the same.”

David Orr would tell us this is perhaps right, then again maybe not. After all, poetry is a matter of perspective. He states that the poem “is a literary oddity and a philosophical puzzle, but more than anything else it’s a way of framing the paradoxical and massively influential culture in which it both begins and ends.”

Maybe Orr is the only one who does get it right because after reading his illuminating, worthwhile, and fascinating treatise on Frost’s poem, I still think it’s all about making choices and living out the decisions we’ve made–no regrets.

Then again, Frost might be having the last laugh. Apparently the poem is his gentle poke at how his good friend, Edward Thomas, a British poet, had considerable difficulties selecting which way to go when he and Frost would ramble around the English countryside together. Thomas would lament how the other direction had just as many lovely sights to see. In other words, they were both good choices, yet Thomas always felt a bit of regret for not having gone the other way. It seems Frost’s poem gently chides his friend to be happy with the choice made, to be satisfied.

Frost’s poem is perhaps not so much a celebration of marching boldly through the tangled bracken of life, tripping over logs of distraction and despair, rather it’s a quiet reflection of accepting the road that is taken, and not lamenting over the one that was not taken.

Overall, for such a slim volume (weighing in less than 200 pages), it is filled with solid bits of reflective insights:

  • Frost originally titled the poem “Two Roads”–that changes things, a bit.
  • He specifically used roads, not paths and emphatically noted the difference upon hearing someone begin a recitation replacing “paths” for “roads.”
  • This is very much an American poem, written by an American poet extolling the ponderation of choice, something Americans have historically and culturally embraced, yet the poem is based upon a time when Frost resided in England.
  • Frost admitted that he did not always consciously make  decisions: “I never know what is going to happen next because I don’t dare to let myself formulate a foolish hope.”
  • I learned about “confabulation”–the concept about artful lying (my interpretation).
  • The big question Orr asks is this: if we don’t know why we made the decision, is the choice made a meaningful one?
  • Frost liked being a bit of a mystery to his public and biographers, which is reflected in his poetry.
  • The poem might also have its foundation upon an actual incident where Frost was walking upon a road and met a man coming in the other diection. Frost felt this man to be his mirror image and should they converge and intersect he would grow stronger in his last part of his journey home.
  • The poem, its twenty or so lines, is considered one of the most popular pieces of literature written by an American–Google search stats tells us so.

It’s said that while William Wordsworth desired his poetry to be of a man speaking to men, wanting to speak lyrically from experience, from the heart, Robert Frost, asserts Orr, wanted to speak with men. Frost included the reader in his metered musings by having a conversation with us. I think Frost wanted to assert a warmth in poems by including us into his writing, which he achieved with his casual conversational tone and second person pronoun usage. His writings remain popular because they are so relatable. He includes us, wanting us to share in his experience.

If allowed, I would like to celebrate and propose this thought: combine two of Fost’s popular poems. Take  the individualism “The Road Not Taken” inspires and the idea of sharing the decision of choice with the reader, and add in the joy of  discovery found in “The Pasture,” so that the universality of realizing we are all on a journey together is made more readily apparent.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

And I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference–you come, too.

 

*BtW: am I the only one who realizes YouTube videos can’t be uploaded unless I upgrade my plan?  Huh? When did that happen?

Oh, for a muse of fire


As a senior English teacher I have the distinction of being the last of a long acquaintance with school literature for my students. Many, if not most students, come in with a surly attitude about English. My goal is to get that frown turned upside down. While I don’t resort to extremes, I have been known for some surprising antics to liven up class. I inject movie clips, silly voices, and theatre activities into the lesson plan.

I enjoy teaching English because I’m actually a librarian at heart (budget cuts). To infuse the love of books is a mission, not a vocation.

At the end of the month my students will have studied a handful of sonnets, examined three Shakespeare plays, watched one live performance of Hamlet, analyzed two of the Bard’s speeches, and have performed one of the speeches from a play. They will be so full of Shakespeare at the end of this unit they will leak iambic pentameter onto their desks. This might cause consternation with the custodians, yet it is all part of my mission to turn these Bardihators into Bardinators. I would be Bardilating even if it wasn’t Shakesyear.

My extra effort Barding might be paying off; I think I might be making headway. We began with Taming of the Shrew, a farce that they could relate to because of Ten Things I Hate About You, and then we went onto a tragedy. I surprised them with Othello, a complicated study of villains and heroes and racial issues that resonates with my students even after 400 years it was first performed.

We moved onto my personal favorite: Hamlet. We explored the first eleven lines together and they realized Shakespeare’s language does not present the barrier they thought they would encounter. We prepared for the climatic duel of act five by going outside and learning  stagecraft fighting with duct-taped yardsticks.

I teach the same lesson six times, slightly modified, due to being the only senior English teacher this year, so my Shakespearience becomes even more enriched over the years because the math computes to a lot of repetition of knowledge. I’ve always said the best education I’ve received is from teaching.

As for students and their absorption of English? I wonder how much impact I will have. Will students fondly or disdainfully remember my efforts to interject the muse of Shakespeare’s fire into their lives? Will there be Renaissance Man moment, when they will recite a few lines or carry the meaning of a studied play with them into their future life? I hope so.

For now, my librarian-teacher  heart will continue to thrill when students make comments like: “I really like this. I really like digging into this Shakespeare stuff.”

My fire is amused.

image: pintrest

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