Friday, April 30, 2010

It's nice when they "get it"....

We are winding down the school year.  There are four more class periods and then finals.  It is a difficult time to concentrate - both for the students and for the teacher.  That is why I try to structure my end-of-the-year lessons with some low-key educational activities.

For example, my British Literature classes turned in their final research project on April 12.  Since that time we have been listening to oral presentations of their reports, which consisted of a biographical research portion of a British author of choice followed by an in-depth literary analysis of one of his/her famous works.  My purpose for this activity is three-fold:

  1. Give the students the experience to speak in front of a group for longer than 30 seconds (they are required to talk for a minimum of 15 minutes plus answer any questions classmates may have)
  2. Allow the teacher to hear what the student learned, just in case the writing sample is not clear (it helps greatly if I know ahead of time what they are "trying to say" - so that I can offer constructive feedback on the essay)
  3. Introduce a variety of British authors to students that we do not have an opportunity to study in class.
I have noticed that some students are starting to come into the room glassy-eyed and their attention span seems to be waning with each successive presentation.  I was beginning to wonder if this exercise was worthwhile, or perhaps I should consider scrapping the oral presentations next year and add another novel study.

Then, an amazing thing happened after class on Wednesday.  A group of 5 or 6 students gathered together and began talking about the most recent presentation.  They still had questions over Oscar Wilde and his famous work, Picture of Dorian Gray (who wouldn't).  One student volunteered that she was going to read it over the summer.  Then another student said that they were fascinated by the Wuthering Heights presentation and wanted to read that novel over the summer.  A third student volunteered that she has already downloaded Picture of Dorian Gray and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to her iPod and plans to read them "on the go."  

In discussing the presentations they all agreed that they truly enjoyed the chronological presentation of the reports (I made them present in the order in which the work was published, not necessarily in the order of the author's birth date).  They shared how they have truly seen the progression of thematic development, gender issues, and social class issues over the centuries.

This eventually led to literary analysis in general and one student shared how she has been forever changed in the way she reads books.  She no longer is a passive reader, but rather, she is constantly trying to make connections, discover foreshadowing, and deciphering possible symbolism.  Many of them agreed.

I just sat back in awe.  They GOT IT.  They totally understood the point of this exercise and they have grown the wiser for it.  So while not all students were able to grasp the true meaning behind this low key lesson plan, a few did, and that makes it all worth while.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

BTT: One Genre??

Today's Booking through Thursday question asks:

God* comes to you and tells you that, from this day forward, you may only read ONE type of book–one genre–period, but you get to choose what it is. Classics, Science-Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Cookbooks, History, Business … you can choose, but you only get ONE.
What genre do you pick, and why?

While at first glance this appears to be a nearly impossible question to answer, I have discovered that my choice is fairly cut-and-dry.  I would choose Classics.  Why? There are a variety of reasons:
  1. Classics are classics for a reason:  they have endured the test of time because the characters are interesting, the themes are relevant, and the writing style is admirable.
  2. I may have to think a bit more when reading a classic (either due to uncommon vocabulary, hidden symbolism, or complicated writing style), but if I could only read one genre, I would want to be mentally stimulated.
  3. While classics may be a genre, contained within this large variety of books are numerous other "sub genres":  mystery (Wilkie Collins is a favorite); historical fiction (I absolutely LOVE A Tale of Two Cities); romance (Elizabeth and Darcy?  It doesn't get much better than that); Gothic (the Bronte sisters provide adequate material for months of enjoyable reading); and....well, you get the idea.
  4. Classics also provide the reader an opportunity to re-read in order to glean more from the text.  At this point I have read A Tale of Two Cities and Pride and Prejudice a minimum of six times (I have taught Brit Lit for 5 years and re-read the novels each year).  It never fails that I notice some new aspect of the novel with each subsequent read:  whether it is another example of subtle foreshadowing, a small character detail, or an eloquent bit of prose, I find that I discover one more reason to appreciate the book and the author's talent.
Now having said that.....I am not sure that I would ever want to read just one genre.  I enjoy variety and have truly appreciated some contemporary fiction which draws me into the story with believable characters and relevant themes.  There is absolutely nothing like escaping the worries of the real world with a good, cozy mystery.  I am learning that fantasy fiction is another great escape genre - especially YA books which I have ignored since I was a YA myself.  Historical fiction is the next "new" genre on my list that I want to start adding to my personal reading repertoire.  

So while I could select just one genre if held at gunpoint, I would prefer to have many options available to me in order to help me open my mind to the vast array of reading material available to us today.

What about you?  Could you select just one genre to read for all time?  What would YOU choose?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Looking at the Silver Lining....

As many of you know, I have been preparing for a Master's program that was going to allow me to study at Lincoln College in Oxford this summer.  Not only had I started reading the 3,000+ pages for the class, I had also started planning weekend trips to the Cotswolds, Paris, and London.  I have conducted extensive research into the Musee d'Orsay and downloaded a map of the exhibits.  Can I tell you that I was more than a little excited?!

Well, this afternoon I learned that the money for financial aid ran out before the school was able to process my application.  On top of that, my husband's car died last week, necessitating another major expense that was not planned for this fiscal year (or the next three years, to be honest).  Consequently, I cannot in good conscience spend money to study abroad when we desperately need the funds for household expenditures.  I'm not gonna lie, it is more than a bit disappointing.

However, I like to think of myself as the kind of person who believes "if it is meant to be, it will happen" and "all things happen for a reason."  It seems very apparent to me that the studies abroad were not meant to be for the summer of 2010.  Therefore, there must be a reason why I need to stay home this summer.

I will be teaching 9 different classes next year - insanity by some people's standards.  Of those 9 classes, two will be totally new preps.  I can easily use the time this summer to read through the new textbooks (one class will be a dual-credit English Composition course and the other class a creative writing course which utilizes the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum).  I will have 9 full weeks to prepare for the fall rather than the 6 days that I would have had if the trip to Europe had panned out.  This seems like a good thing.

In addition, this will be my first summer off in two years.  I will be able to read for pleasure, not for school.  Do you know how many reading challenges I can now participate in and not feel at all guilty?  I plan to spend this weekend checking out A Novel Challenge to see which ones I want to join.  I know that my first sign up will be Julie P's 2010 EWs Summer Book challenge (I think I wanted to read 6 of the 18 books listed).

Lastly, I have been struck by the writing bug.  Ever since my writing class last summer I have realized that my need to write has been buried far too long.  Through various blogs and personal friends at school, this desire has been ignited into a full-fledged passion.  I have several story ideas and I hope to use the time this summer to develop them into possible novel ideas (I want to model the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum for the students, and this summer will afford me the time to pursue that goal).

It has been a long while since I have been able to sleep until I wake up - rather than when the alarm awakes me.  It has been a while since I have been able to read solely what I want to read, rather than what is dictated by curriculum.  While the disappointment of studying abroad (a 30+ year dream) has been thwarted for the time being, I will not allow myself to wallow in self-pity.  This can be a good thing --- if I choose to look at the silver lining and not the dark cloud.

Shakespeare Tea

As I mentioned in my Sunday Salon post, I attended a "high tea" with "Shakespeare snippets" on Sunday afternoon.  A fellow teacher invited me to go with her to this annual event sponsored by the Daughters of the British Empire (DBE).  I must say, it was a delightful way to spend the afternoon.

The room was set up with approximately 20 different round tables, six people at each table, so it was a well-attended event.  Each table was set for high tea using a variety of china pieces.  The DBE women served as waitresses and brought the various condiments to our table.  There was plenty of tea, of course, with choice of lemon, sugar or cream.  I loved looking at all the different styles of tea pots and drank far too many cups of the perfectly brewed selection.

The food was quite lovely and brought to the table on a typical 3-tiered serving rack. The first course fare focused on savory tea sandwiches such as: Barrington Court Beef, Cambridge Egg,  English Cucumber, and
Warwick Egg and Cheese Tarts.

The second course focused on the quintessential tea cake selections, such as:  devon cream scones with Strawberry preserves, Londonderry Lemon Curd Tarts (my favorite), and Scottish Shortbread.

The final course was a lovely Victorian Park Tea Cake with candied orange rind.  It looked beautiful, but quite honestly, I was too full to take more than one decadent mouthful.

The tea lasted approximately one hour and then there was a 15 minute presentation of a scene from Shakespeare's As You Like It performed by teen members of the Team Shakespeare troupe of Kansas City.  They did an amazing job, and I think I was particularly interested since I am currently trying to "direct" my 8th graders in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  I wish there was time for more theater, but alas the afternoon concluded around 3:30.

All in all this was a unique outing for me, and one that I hope to make an annual tradition.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mailbox Monday: 4.26.10

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Marcia at the Printed Page in which many bloggers participate on a regular basis.  I love reading these posts as I always find a new book that I know I will greatly enjoy.

This week I received one book in the mail - and I purchased a few bargains at Half Priced Books.  It is a rather eclectic group of books, but all of them I am very excited to start reading.

Impressionism:  Art Leisure and Parisian Society by Robert L. Herbert  I first obtained this book from my local library, but after reading through the table of contents, I knew that I wanted to have a copy of my very own (which I ordered from Alibris books).  The Impressionistic paintings focus on the years that I am most interested in using for my story (early 1860s to mid 1880s), and I love the way the book is structured according to content, rather than chronologically by author.  The categories include:
  • Paris Transformed
  • Cafe and Cafe-concert
  • Theater, Opera, and Dance
  • Parks, Racetracks, and Gardens
  • Suburban Leisure
  • At the Seaside
Scary Stories by Barry Moser  While I was not in search of a "horror" book at all, when I saw this lovely, hard-cover book for only one dollar, I knew that the bargain was too good to pass up.  The collection of stories include some classics like, The Tell-Tale Heart (Poe), and The Lottery (Jackson), as well as some new-to-me stories like, The Squaw (Bram Stoker), Here there be Tygers (King), The Man Upstairs (Bradbury), and Miriam (Capote).  I think this will make great reading for Carl's next RIP challenge this fall.

Tales from Shakespeare by Tina Packer  As I mentioned in my Sunday Salon post yesterday, I went to a Shakespearean Tea which featured scenes from As You Like It (I plan to post a summary of this event sometime later this week).  Since I was not at all familiar with the play, I had planned to do some summary reading before attending.  As luck would have it, I found this lovely book with a fairly detailed summary of several of the Bard's popular plays geared toward a middle-grade audience.  Not only did this book prove valuable to me yesterday, but I plan to use this in my classes to introduce the Shakespearean unit.  I think the more students know about the play before they begin to read it, the more they will understand it.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo  I simply cannot tell you how many classic children's books I found yesterday for a dollar.  At one point I think I had about 10 in my basket (such delightful reads as Crispin by Avi, Harriet the Spy by Fitzhugh, Wind in the Willows by Grahame, The Royal Diaries (Elizabeth 1) by Lasky, and Catherine, Called Birdy by Cushman).  But I decided that I would limit my purchases to just one.  I have never read this book, and yet it receives high acclaims from all ages.

Vincent van Gogh:  Portrait of an Artist by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan  While my Impressionist research ends around 1882 - before van Gogh appeared on the scene, I have always admired this artist's work and simply could not pass up another one dollar bargain.  I also thought that by reading a book on this particular artist, it might give me ideas how to structure my own story.

So there you have it.  Not my typical collection of books --- no current best-sellers or tried-and-true classics, but never-the-less books that I am very excited to read at my leisure.

Did the mailman bring you any literary treasures this week?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

TSS: 4.25.10

Only 8 months until Christmas!  I know, what an odd way to start a Sunday Salon post, but when I was younger, I was a Christmas fanatic and would always countdown the days from December 26th.  Every 25th of the month was a very special day for me.  It used to seem like time dragged on and on until the cooler fall months, but now it seems as though it is constantly rushing by.  Anyway, there is my happy thought for the day.

I have a unique outing planned for today.  A co-worker called me about a month ago and invited me to a Shakespearean Tea:  a local theater company will perform bits and pieces of As You Like It and serve a high tea refreshment.  Apparently some ladies really go all out and dress in period costume, etc.  This particular teacher is the art/photography at school and has all kinds of creative thoughts running through her brain.  She has made the two of us hats to wear to the event (but thank goodness she made mine rather subdued --- just a simple straw hat with sage green netting around the brim and simple white flower).  Anyway, this will be my cultural activity for the year!

I continue to be swamped with grading, but I am trying to use the advice:  "How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time."  I try to grade about 4-5 research papers each day off and this has helped me keep sane. There are only two more weeks of school (6 classes) and then a week of finals.  I now know that I can make it to the end, and that is a liberating feeling.

While grading definitely takes precedent over pleasure reading, I did manage to find time to read my recent edition of Bookmarks Magazine this weekend.  I already wrote in detail about 3 books that I have added to my TBR list, but I must confess that there are several others that have attracted my attention:

  • The 3 Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine  The few reviews that I have read about this book compare it loosely to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.  That, and the fact that I used to live in Westport, CT, has attracted my attention.
  • So Much for That by Lionel Shriver  The only other book I have read by this author is What About Kevin, and while deeply disturbing, it had a profound effect.  This one deals with retirement - and saving up a nest egg with grand plans for how to spend the golden years, only to have the best-laid plans turned upside down by a debilitating illness.  I don't know, it may hit a little too close to home (sans the nest egg portion).
  • Shadow Tag by Louise Eldrich  Secrets kept and falsehoods shared between a husband and wife are not the makings of a happy marriage.  The characters sound fascinating and the plot, while depressing, sounds intriguing.
  • Grange House by Sarah Blake  Actually this is not the new release book written by the author (the Bookmarks review was for The Postmistress), but a gothic story involving a Victorian hotel off the coasts of Maine sounds too good to pass up.
  • Blackout by Connie Willis  The setting is Oxford, the time is 2060 and the characters are time travel historians.  The plot seems to focus on World War II and it is my understanding that this is the first of a two book series, which apparently results in a cliff-hanger ending.
  • Doors Open by Ian Rankin  Three well-to-do Scots decide that the National Treasures housed in a warehouse should be liberated for the entire country to enjoy.  I have not read this author, so I have no ties to his popular Inspector Rebus series.  Those who adore this series seemed to be disappointed with this new release.
  • Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt  Several of you have already read this touching memoir by a father who takes a year off to help his grandchildren and son-in-law cope with the death of his daughter (their mother and wife).  I simply must make the time to read this soon.

I mostly fill my free time by continuing to do research for my story idea.  I feel as though I know Degas, Cassatt, Caillebotte, Manet, and Renoir fairly well.  I am starting to look at their paintings with a more discerning eye, and sometimes I can even tell the artist's style before looking at the signature.  That is a huge deal for me - as I used to brag that I could tour the entire Metropolitan Museum of Art in half an hour!  Anyway, I am now wanting to do a bit of research on Time Travel novels.  I am not quite sure why I have the idea to write one when I have never been drawn to read this genre before, but there you have it.  So, I ask you dear readers, can you recommend any YA time travel novels that I might enjoy?  I know that the more I read books that are similar to my story idea, the more I will learn how to effectively write one.

And one final bit of "bookish" news ---- I have hit 300 followers on Google Reader!  That is simply amazing to me, as when I first started this blog a little over 15 months ago, I thought I would be writing for an audience of one.  While I try not get caught up in the "popularity" of the blogging world, or the occasional drama -- I am in awe how the world wide web can help bring total strangers together in a harmonious way.  I have "met" several online friends who truly enrich my life by their postings.  Thank you!

I hope you all have an enjoyable, relaxing Sunday.  I am off to read a summary of As You Like It so that I am not totally lost during today's performance.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Must-Read" Summer Releases

I love Saturday mornings.  I typically sit at the computer with my cup (or two) of coffee and leisurely read blog posts of my online "friends"  I enjoy catching up on their personal as well as literary lives.  One of my favorite Saturday routines is to read Cathy's Weekly Week Round Up.  I save that post for last because I know I will spend several minutes following all her links to various sites.  This week is no exception.  One of the links led me to Entertainment Weekly's list of 18 top summer picks, and while all the new releases sound enticing, there are three books that I know I will have to read ASAP.

Slow Love:  How I Lost my Job, Put on my Pajamas, and Found Happiness by Dominique Brown (scheduled to be released on May 9).

Description from Goodreads:  From the beloved author Dominique Browning, a humorous and moving book about losing a job and winning a life. In November 2007, former editor in chief of House & Garden magazine Dominique Browning experienced what thousands have since experienced. She lost her job. Overnight, her driven, purpose-filled days vanished. With her children leaving home and a long relationship ending, the structure of her days disappeared. She fell into a panic of loss but found humor despite everything, discovering a deeper joy than any she had ever known. It was a life she had not sought, but one that offered pleasures and surprises she didn’t know she lacked.

Slow Love is about wearing your pajamas to the farmers’ market, packing up a beloved home and moving to a more rural setting, making time to play the piano and go kayaking, reinventing yourself, and not cutting corners when it comes to love, muffins, or gardening. This elegant, graceful—and yet funny—book inspires us to dance in the kitchen and seize new directions. 

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender 
(scheduled to be released on June 1)

Description from Goodreads:  On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them. It is heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad, and confirms Aimee Bender’s place as “a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language” (San Francisco Chronicle).

The Cookbook Collector (by Allegra Goodman)
(scheduled to be released July 6)

Description from Goodreads:  Heralded as “a modern day Jane Austen” by USA Today, National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Allegra Goodman has compelled and delighted hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, in her most ambitious work yet, Goodman weaves together the worlds of Silicon Valley and rare book collecting in a delicious novel about appetite, temptation, and fulfillment.

Emily and Jessamine Bach are opposites in every way: Twenty-eight-year-old Emily is the CEO of Veritech, twenty-three-year-old Jess is an environmental activist and graduate student in philosophy. Pragmatic Emily is making a fortune in Silicon Valley, romantic Jess works in an antiquarian bookstore. Emily is rational and driven, while Jess is dreamy and whimsical. Emily’s boyfriend, Jonathan, is fantastically successful. Jess’s boyfriends, not so much—as her employer George points out in what he hopes is a completely disinterested way.

Bicoastal, surprising, rich in ideas and characters, The Cookbook Collectoris a novel about getting and spending, and about the substitutions we make when we can’t find what we’re looking for: reading cookbooks instead of cooking, speculating instead of creating, collecting instead of living. But above all it is about holding on to what is real in a virtual world: love that stays.

So, Thank you, Cathy, for providing me with more books to add to my every growing pile.  It is because of kind, generous bloggers like you that I do not have to worry about boredom in my retirement years!

So how about you?  Are there any new summer releases that you are anxious to read?

Friday, April 23, 2010

T.G.I.F. - 4.23.10

It is Friday!!  Can I tell you how excited I am?!  After today's classes I will have two more weeks of school (total of 6 days of classes), one week of finals (total of 2 days of finals), one day of grading (which I will need to grade all the finals and end-of-year papers), one night of graduation and......summer vacation will be here!   I love teaching --- I really do.  But at this time of year I am always ready for a break in routine.  I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I thought for my Friday post today I would participate in Miz B's meme, Friday Finds.  I received my newest edition of Bookmarks magazine this week, and while I have not had time to read it from cover to cover (that will come this weekend), I have already found two books to add to the TBR list:

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte.

Description from Bookmarks:  For Gen Xer Milo Burke, life can best be described as mediocre.  His dreams of an artistic career have long since vanished; he now plods his way through a job as a fund-raising officer for a third-rate New York university.  When Milo is fired after insulting a wealthy donor's daughter, he finds potential salvation in Purdy Stuart, an old classmate.  Now a wealthy businessman, Purdy is prepared to donate a large sum of money to the university as long as Milo handles the account.  But Purdy's offer comes with a catch that will test Milo's self-respect.

Critical Summary from Bookmarks:  In the vastly entertaining - but dark - social satire, Lipsyte exposes the plight of the highly educated and discontented.  Critics particularly enjoyed protagonist Milo Burke who, unlike most people, is keenly aware of his own mediocrity.  They also enjoyed Lipsyte's well-rounded secondary characters:  the embittered war amputee, the indifferent wife, the vaguely dissatisfied entrepreneur...  Overall, reviewers hailed The Ask as a worthy, amusing read, and a "witty paean to white-collar loserdom"  (New York Times Book Review).  Did we mention it was dark?  The Cleveland Plain Dealer called it an "exercise in dread."  Since we're throwing around words like "amusing," "witty," and "entertaining," we had to warn you.

Model Home by Eric Puchner

Description from Bookmarks:  In this dark tale, Warren Ziller moves his wife and three children from their comfortable Wisconsin neighborhood to a gated community in Southern California.  Warren has invested every cent he has into a desert subdivision; it's just a matter of time before the money rolls in.  But he realizes - only too late - that the development is right next to a toxic waste dump.  Now Warren is broke, and he can't seem to halt the slow but devastating implosion of his family life.

Critical Summary from Bookmarks:  Although set in the mid-1980s, the Ziller's story will certainly resonate with today's readers.  Critics found Model Home an enjoyable read that skillfully balances (some) humor, (a lot of) heartbreak, and a keen understanding of disintegrating family relationships.  Critics were particularly impressed with Puchner's three-dimensional depiction of individual family members, as well as his precise rendering of the Southern California landscape.  The novel stumbles a bit in the second half, however, with the introduction of bizarre, underdeveloped characters.  But as a whole, Model Home is an impressive debut, a highly believable family portrait, and a compelling look into the failed American Dream.

I am sure to add more books to the ever-growing TBR pile after I finish reading the magazine this weekend, but that's ok --- variety is truly the spice of life.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Musing Monday - Top 5 Books result

I did not take part in last week's Musing Monday, which asked us to think about the criteria for a 'best book" and then develop a list of our "top 5" favorites, mostly because I have a difficult time narrowing my list of favorites to just a few.  Invariably I will give thought and consideration, develop a list, post it and immediately regret not including another.  So I saved myself the aggravation.

This week Rebecca posted the list of books with the most mentions and asked us if we agree with the choices.  Here is the list of books that received more than one vote (I will not post the entire list, but you can view at the link above if you so desire):

To Kill a MockingbirdLee, Harper6
Pride and PrejudiceAusten, Jane3
The Chronicles of NarniaLewis, C.S.3
The Time Traveler's WifeNiffenegger, Audrey3
Harry Potter (series)Rowling, J.K.3
The Book ThiefZusak, Markus3
Little WomenAlcott, Louisa May2
Hunger Games (series)Collins, Suzanne2
The ShiningKing, Stephen2
Anne of Green GablesMontgomery, L.M.2
Lord of the RingsTolkien, J.R.R.2

I do not know how many bloggers were tallied to develop this list, but I think it is very comprehensive and I can understand why all the books are mentioned.  Of these eleven books, I have read five of them (To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, The Book Thief, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables) and have read at least one in the series of The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games.  I have the remaining books on my shelves waiting to be read at some point and time.  Do I agree with the list?  Based upon my own reading habits and listed results, I would say YES!

Why do I think these novels made the cut?  Riveting storyline, believable characters and timeless themes.  This powerful trifecta leaves the reader thinking about the subject matter long after the final chapter is read and often nudges the reader to pick up the same book again and again.

Having said that, there are two other books that I would personally add to the list:  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  I read each of the novels every year and look forward to them like a visit from a long, lost friend.

How about you?  Do you agree with list of "best books" --- are there any listed that you feel do not belong -- are there any that you would suggest that I add to my personal list of favorites?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

TSS: 4.18.10

I realize my blog posts have been rather scanty this week, but I have tried to keep up with my blog roll and have thoroughly enjoyed all your bookish thoughts.  I am in the final month of school (actually, our last day is May 14, so we have 3 weeks of classes + 1 week of finals, but who's counting?!), and that means lots of final projects to grade and last minute review sessions.  Here is a sampling of what I accomplished this week:

British Literature:  finished review of Tale of Two Cities, gave the exam on Wednesday, and graded all 33 exams by Wednesday night.  While I normally try to keep up with my grading, I felt that I owed the students to have these papers marked in a timely fashion.  See, on their own, they set up a Study Group on Facebook entitled "The Jacques"  I was not allowed to join until after the test - but I was SO impressed with these 12-15 students.  There was NO negativity posted on this site.  All students contributed in a meaningful way either by posting chapter summaries - significant quotes - ideas for essay questions, etc.  This was truly a highlight of my teaching career and it was a pleasure to grade their papers (which they signed as Jacques #____ and I had to use the website to discover the real identity).

This class is now giving oral reports on the author/work of their 4 month research paper that they turned in on Monday.  Class time is a pleasure for me, as all I have to do is sit back and learn - but grading these 33 papers (on average, 10 pages each) is not a favorite past time.  My goal is to grade 12 a week and in 3 weeks, when the semester is ended as well as oral reports, I will be done.

9th Grade English:  we are working on a journalism unit and each week students are turning in a new article for grading (last week's articles were rather haphazard with little detail, so hopefully the next two weeks will show an increase in quality).  The final week of school students will spend in the computer lab trying to design their own "newspaper" that includes these articles, as well as photos, graphics, filler games, etc.  They will turn in the final paper on the day they take the literature final -- and they will earn extra credit points if they bring in a copy of their paper for each student in the class.  I am hoping this will be a fun way to end the school year, as this class has been my most challenging of all!

8th Grade English:  we are beginning to study for the required grammar test which is worth 330 points and must be passed at an 80% proficiency rate.  I think I have instilled enough fear in these kids (NONE of them want to retake the class) that this should be a productive week.  They are also finalizing the production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which will be performed on Thursday night, May 6.  Students had to bring in their costumes on Friday and I must say they are VERY well done.  I am very much looking forward to this show-stopping event!

7th Grade English:  these students took the Hobbit exam on Monday - and that has been graded and returned.  We finish the year with a mystery unit --- reading Encyclopedia Brown (to learn how to construct a mystery) and Sherlock Holmes, and then students will be writing their own mystery.  This is always a highlight of the year and it manages to keep these young, active students somewhat engaged.

Extra responsibilities:  this week I "gave" two days of my time (3 hours each day) to offer additional review for the grammar test that all new students, as well as current 8th grade students, must pass.  This week I will have to give two more days to actually administer the test to new students and then grade it.  I will also be doing this same review/test session in June and then once again in August when I return from Europe.  This required course is an effort to ensure that all our students have the necessary training to write a well-constructed, understandable paper when they graduate from our school.

In addition, I have learned that I will also be the teacher for the new dual-credit English Composition course being offered in the fall.  While this extra work-load will be draining (I will be teaching 9 different classes each week next year!) - I must admit that I am very excited to be teaching a college level course.  This is the reason why I enrolled in the Master's program, and it is my hope to add more college level courses to my resume as time goes on.

Finally, I have been spending all my free time (not that there is a lot of it lately) doing "research" for my novel idea.  I know that I have mentioned the creative writing course that I will be teaching next year, and I very much want to try to follow the curriculum along with the students.  This states that we must write a 12 chapter novel, from the protagonist's point of view.  The novel is supposed to be an adventure novel - something that I struggle with.  I do not like "adventure" books and find that I much prefer a character drive/theme driven narrative.  To that end, I may have to modify my writing project just a bit (but isn't that the prerogative of the instructor?!)

Without giving too much away, my story idea involves the time travel of a high school girl from the Musee d'Orsay in 2010 back to Paris, France circa 1880.  She meets Mary Cassatt (I needed an Impressionist who spoke English) and becomes a part of the lives of these "revolutionary" artists of the time.  Since the artistic subjects for their paintings included every day life, I think that my protagonist could learn a bit about the role of working class women, which would give her perspective and appreciation of her own life.  While her primary adventure would be to find her way back to the present time, I know that these artists painted cafe-concerts, circus stars, horse races, and the ballet --- all places of interest that could easily lend itself to an episodic adventure story-within-the-story.  Ultimately I envision her modeling for one of the paintings that is found at the Musee and that is how she returns to the present time.  The unanswered question at the end will be whether this truly happened - or whether she just daydreamed the adventure (similar to the Wizard of Oz or A Midsummer Night's Dream).

Anyway, I have been researching Degas and Cassatt all week and feel as though I probably know enough at this point to begin developing this fictional idea.  I have to keep reminding myself that this is not an expository piece, but rather an imaginary story which will allow for inaccuracies as long as they are believable (or at least I hope that is the case).

I am still behind on writing book reviews, and at this point I am just not sure that I have it in me to do a thorough job.  Sometimes I feel as though I talk enough about the books while reading them, that I have nothing new to add once I finish. Do you ever feel that way?

I hope the spring weather has arrived for all of you and you are able to take advantage of some outdoor activities this weekend.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

I have been doing a lot of research on Impressionist painters lately, in particular Degas and Cassatt.  I am hoping to visit the Musee d'Orsay this summer and do a bit more research in person, but until that time, I will use these pictures to remind me how much I love Paris!

Happy Wednesday!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Read-athon: Best laid plans....

I had such awesome plans for the read-athon and had been planning for this event for weeks.  However last night I noticed my throat was a bit scratchy and I felt a little achy.  I thought perhaps it was because I was tired from a long week at school, so I took some NyQuil and was asleep by 9:30.  When I woke up this morning I was faced with a full-blown head cold!  My head is so stuffy that it feels like it weighs about 25 pounds, and while I am trying to read, my eyes can only focus for about 10 minutes at a time.  I am hoping maybe hubby can go buy some drugs that will help with the pressure and I can continue reading, even if it is at a rather slow pace.

Here are my stats so far:
Starting reading at 7:15AM
Finished reading at 9:45AM (with about 6 short naps in between)

Book read:  From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Books completed:  1
Number of pages read this portion of the read-athon:  approx. 125 (I had started the book last night)
Number of pages read total:  125

Next book to read:  Harriet the Spy

Read-athon: Preliminary post

Oh my word -- it is FINALLY here!  Can I share my book nerdiness with you and let you know that I have truly been counting down the days to this read-athon?  I actually organized my lesson plans so that I would have no grading or planning to do this weekend so that I could fully concentrate on reading for a minimum of 12 hours over the course of the next two days (maybe even more!)

Of course my reading list has changed since my original one posted here.  I knew that would happen.  Right now I am very excited about this novel idea that I plan to write over the summer and I want to try to read published novels that are similar.  The YA novels up for grabs include:
Of course, a fine selection of books is not a problem.  So if my fickle mind decides to go in another direction, I will have no problem adapting to that whim.

This message was pre-recorded and scheduled to post at the starting time of 6:00AM Central Daylight Time.  At this point I should have been up for about 30 minutes, had a cup of coffee, and begun the first leg of reading for this event.  I will plan to post again later this morning.

I hope all of you who are participating a glorious read-athon adventure; and for those who are unable to join us this go-around, I hope you are enjoying some lovely spring weather!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Do you notice a pattern?

I have self-imposed a library ban until after this summer. Well, let me rephrase that: I have self-imposed a library ban for pleasure reading until August. I will still use the library to acquire books that I use in lesson plans and...most recently....that I plan to use for research on a possible novel idea.

I know I have shared about the new creative writing class I will be teaching next fall, so I won't bore you with those details again. Suffice it to say that I have been giving considerable thought to a story idea. I developed one idea - and I still think I will write it someday - but that novel is more character centered and the required writing we are suppose to do for this class is an adventure story (plot driven). Without giving the story away (for fear that others would find it silly, boring, unoriginal), I will tell you that it is somewhat inspired from such books as From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, and Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.

Here are the recent library acquisitions that I brought home to help me with the research. Do you notice a theme?

My thought is to do some preliminary research before summer and then (hopefully) I will have the opportunity to catch the EuroStar to Paris for a weekend and spend some quality time at the Musee d'Orsay doing more research in person.  That is the dream anyway!

Thank you Eva and Marg for hosting one of my favorite weekly memes! What would I do without my local library?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Recent Book Acquisitions

There was quite a bit of interest in my recent book adoption program, so I thought I would write a quick summary post.

I have come to learn that if I don't GO to the store, then I won't be able to buy (duh!).  So, I haven't necessarily put myself on a book buying ban, but I have limited myself to the number of trips that I am allowed to take to the local thrift stores until after my summer school course (and then WATCH OUT!!)

Here is the list of recent adoptions (I prefer to think of it as me giving the book a new home rather than making a purchase); most of them were purchased during the month of March.  The vast majority of them were found on the clearance shelves and cost about $2.00; others were purchased at the recent coupon sale:
  • Creating a Charmed Life by Victoria Moran (I remember that Jenners gave very favorable reviews for this book, so when I saw it on the shelf I simply could not resist)
  • French Lessons by Alice Kaplan (this book was required for a memoir course offered last summer which I did not take, but several recommended.  Since I was a French major, they thought this would be a great book for me)
  • Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler
  • Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (I did not have a chance to finish Noah's Compass before it was due to the library, but I thoroughly enjoyed the chapters that I read.  When I saw these two books by the author I decided to take chance and hope they are as good)
  • The Intellectual Devotional by Kidder & Oppenheim (who could resist the subtitle:  Revive your Mind, Complete your Education, and Roam confidently with the Cultured Class)
  • American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (I read favorable reviews of this book last year and even managed to enjoy the first couple of chapters while waiting at a bookstore.)
  • The Somnambulist by Jonathan  Barnes (this has been on my TBR list for years.  I remember the author was a guest on the Barnes and Noble book club website and after following the conversation, I knew that this would be a book that I would enjoy)
  • The Lumby Lines by Gail Fraser (this book is making the rounds lately - most notable Wendy and Margo mentioned it on their blogs)
  • The Likeness by Tana French (I actually purchased her first book, In the Woods, from the clearance shelf a few months ago.  Someday I will read them - I promise!)
  • The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (I read this book and enjoyed it - but when I found this hardcover book in pristine condition for $2.00 --- I simply could not resist)
  • Writer's Guide to Character Traits by Linda Edelstein (a student of mine saw this in the local bookstore and recommended it to me.  When I saw it available at Half Price - I knew that it was meant to be.  Actually, I am planning to start a school "writing library" - so this book will serve double duty)
  • Lost by Gregory Maguire (I wasn't a fan of the book Wicked - although I love the premise and can't get enough of the musical.  I would love to try another Maguire book to see if perhaps I like it any better)
  • The Unauthorized Harry Potter Companion by Colin Duriez (I took a hiatus from my exercise plan - but I do plan to start up soon and with that will be the continuation of the Harry Potter audiobooks.  Since my mind doesn't seem to retain facts as well as it used to - I thought this book might help me keep track of all the useful information across the seven volumes)
  • The Annotated Mona Lisa by Carol Strickland (I actually read this book from the library about 3 years ago before I went to Paris.  I have never learned how to appreciate art, but it is definitely a skill I would like to hone over time.  This book is simple, condense, but informative and I look forward to re-rereading it before I head to Europe this summer)
  • Better Picture Guide to Travel Photography by Michael Busselle (not pictured - but discussed on a previous post.  I would like to learn to compose a nice picture before I leave for Oxford in the hopes of coming back with photos that others will actually want to view)
  • Travel Writing by L Peat O'Neil (not pictured - and purchased through  I actually skimmed through several books on travel writing over the past couple of weeks, but I found I kept wanting to take notes as I read this one.  I want to try to practice some writing exercises on writing about place before I attend Oxford, again with the hopes that I can document my excursions in an interesting way that others might like to read them)
  • American Writer's at Home by J. D. McClatchy (this was a total impulse buy.  It is a hardcover book with beautiful illustrations of famous American authors' homes.  Many of the authors that I am reading for this summer are featured in the book and I thought I might appreciate some of this kind of background information)
So there you have it --- 17 books purchased for the grand total of approximately $47.00!!

I haven't decided which gives me the most thrills:  reading a great book - or finding a great book bargain.  Both are high on my "things that make me happy" list.  I am pretty ecstatic right now :)

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