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#361 vagansmom

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 03:10 PM

Because I'm tutoring several high schoolers, most of my reading the last couple years have been the books they're required to read. I've revisited so many earlier books, and I have found myself loving most of them so much more than I did at the time.

Right now, I'm reading my way through F.Scott Fitzgerald's books, as a result of having reread Great Gatsby in the fall. I'm almost through with The Beautiful and the Damned and will finish off with Tender is the Night next week sometime.

I'm also now just 50 pages shy of finishing Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Although it's quite flawed as a novel and I wasn't looking forward to reading it (but had to because my student is), my interest in and enjoyment of the book has surprised myself. A perfect book to read over the past few months. It describes early 1900's Chicago corruption in great detail. Then, lo and behold, I turn on the TV to see the Chicago governor trying to sell Obama's Senate seat! What timing for my student. Let's say she's not exactly thrilled about having to read the book, but the revelation about Blagojevich suddenly made The Jungle seem relevant.

Also rereading Huck Finn again. Another really good classic to read this year of all years when the nation's first black person has been inaugurated as President. How far we've come!

#362 dirac

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 04:44 PM

Hello, vagansmom. Nice to hear from you. According to this fellow, because Obama has been elected, there’s no need for Huck Finn in high school classrooms any more.

The time has arrived to update the literature we use in high school classrooms. Barack Obama is president-elect of the United States, and novels that use the “N-word” repeatedly need to go.

To a certain extent, this saddens me, because I love “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Of Mice and Men” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” All are American classics, and my students read them as part of approved sophomore and junior units, as do millions of students across the nation.

They all must go.


'Tender is the Night' is a beautiful book.

#363 innopac

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 04:50 PM

Hello, vagansmom. Nice to hear from you. According to this fellow, because Obama has been elected, there’s no need for Huck Finn in high school classrooms any more.


I think that is taking political correctness too far. It is a way of erasing history from the public memory.

#364 bart

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 07:58 PM

I have to disagree on this one. I don't think that the writer disrespects the literary qualities of the book or that he is happy about eliminating it from the high school curriculum. I also don't see that he wants to do so on account of political correctness. Whether or not you agree with his conclusion, it does seem to be based on the practical difficulty of presenting this work successfully in a modern high school setting.

Even if Huck Finn didn't contain the N-word and demeaning stereotypes, it would remain a tough sell to students accustomed to fast-paced everything. The novel meanders along slower than the Mississippi River and uses a Southern dialect every bit as challenging as Shakespeare's Old English.

Explaining that Twain wasn't a racist -- or at least didn't hate African-Americans (he had a well-documented prejudice against Native Americans) -- is a daunting challenge. I explain that Jim, a black man, is the hero of the book. I tell them Huck eventually sees the error of his ways, apologizes to Jim and commits himself to helping him escape slavery. Yes, I tell them, he does all this while continuing to refer to Jim by the demeaning word, but Twain was merely being realistic.

Many students just hear the N-word. This is particularly true, of course, of African-American students. I have not taught Huck Finn in a predominantly black classroom, and I think it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do so effectively. With few exceptions, all the black students in my classes over the years have appeared very uncomfortable when I've discussed these matters at the beginning of the unit. And I never want to rationalize Huck Finn to an angry African-American mom again as long as I breathe.


When he says that "They all must go" he is referring to including these novels in the standard 10th and 11th grade general English curriculum -- not from electives, not from libraries, not from Advanced Placement, not from college.

I have the feeling that he has rached this conclusion with sadness. It's clear he values Huck Finn especially. But based on his classroom experience, he has come to accept that teaching Huck Finn and a few other novels to kids of this age group is simply not working any longer and that it's time to open up the canon and the curriculum to other works.

I am surprised to hear myself say this, but, after reading this article, I am inclined to agree with him.

#365 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 08:42 PM

It is a way of erasing history from the public memory.

I was raised in a communist country, where there are not even private schools, and integrated neighborhoods were almost "forced" since the most of the upper/white class ran away. Not only Mark Twain was-(and still is)-part of the basic literature curriculum in Cuban high schools. There were even TV series-(British ones, by the way)-and many reprints of the Huck series have been made...Racial issues are part of what one learn at home since before going to school and way before one learns how to write and read. Once that's well formed and based, there's no need to feel any fear of Twain's beautiful works...

#366 GWTW

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Posted 27 January 2009 - 12:12 AM

I totally disagree with the writer. Actually, I didn't really understand what his article had to do with Obama. As I read it, he is saying 'Let's replace all those old books that the kids these days can't understand or identify with newer, more topical books.'
None of the books he cites are less relevant just because a black man is President of the USA. Personally, I would imagine it would be easier to read or teach those books today, because it is so clear now that the world has dramatically changed since the last of the books he mentions was published.
I also don't subscribe to the view that readers need to read about themselves. A huge part of the magic of literature is that it can take you anywhere anytime. If teenagers can watch movies and play games about superheroes and detectives and foreign countries, why do they need to read about their own back yard?

#367 bart

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Posted 27 January 2009 - 05:42 AM

Thanks, cristian and GWTW, for your posts. This is an important issue, and a difficult one socially (if not for all individuals), and I'm grateful to you, and for the teacher in the article, for helping me to see the complexity of interests involved.

Cristian, thanks to the various US boycotts, most of us in this country know less about Cuban society today than we do about Uzbekhian society. (This is not all that much of an exagerration.) What you describe is new to me -- fascinating -- and rather hopeful. I suspect that Huckleberry Finn continues to be read widely because people in Cuba DO get the point that Twain is heartsick and angry about the way racism (not just slavery) keeps us from seeing our fellows as individuals and humans. Ignoring individuals and populating our world with stereotypes is so much easier!

I also don't subscribe to the view that readers need to read about themselves. A huge part of the magic of literature is that it can take you anywhere anytime. If teenagers can watch movies and play games about superheroes and detectives and foreign countries, why do they need to read about their own back yard?

Absolutely! And I bet this is a MAJOR POINT OF CONFLICT among the educators and bureaucrats who make the choices about school reading lists.

#368 dirac

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Posted 27 January 2009 - 11:51 AM

Foley is absolutely free to suggest that such and such a book should not be required reading and offer reasons why, but I'm not sure that's really the point. He seems to be saying that these books should no longer be mandatory elements of the curriculum because they are just too darned old and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn moves too slowly for our fast paced high schoolers of today.

His central difficulty seems to be with one offensive word contained in these books, the presence of which he finds himself unable to explain or justify in ways that his pupils and their parents can understand. He would rather avoid the whole problem and have the option of teaching Larry McMurtry instead of Twain. It would seem to me that such explanations and clarifications define the task of the teacher of classic literature, and the problem here lies not with Twain, Steinbeck, and Lee, but elsewhere. (Of course, an English teacher who thinks Shakespeare wrote "Old English" is plainly beyond anyone's help.)

#369 carbro

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Posted 27 January 2009 - 05:27 PM

I also agree that it is absolutely essential to understand our past. I heard an account (on NPR?) about a young black girl learning about Rosa Parks' heroic act and replying indignantly, "Well, I wouldn't give up my seat, either!" At five or six, she should not be expected to grasp the context that made Mrs. Parks' defiance into an historical moment, but I hope that as she grows, she will get it.

Likewise, weren't most Americans horrified to learn that West Germany had effectively removed mention of the Holocaust from its history lessons? It couldn't admit to its younger generation what their parents and grandparents had done.

There is such danger in forgetting history, especially its most shameful chapters. Political correctness can be very counterproductive.

It would seem to me that such explanations and clarifications define the task of the teacher of classic literature, and the problem here lies not with Twain, Steinbeck, and Lee, but elsewhere.

Absolutely.

#370 Quiggin

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Posted 28 January 2009 - 12:54 AM

At five or six, she should not be expected to grasp the context that made Mrs. Parks' defiance into an historical moment, but I hope that as she grows, she will get it.


I don't want to sound like an old grouch, but I think something suggested by the George W. S. Trow title "In the Context of No Context" is in effect. No one understands the background of the Civil Rights movement or the Resistance in WWII because there is no context for anything anymore. No wants to characterize things in the way novelists used to (Yiddish, if still around, would fall on deaf ears) because no one wants to be caught being judgmental. This is related to political correctness, I think.

Maybe the re-publication of Robert Frank's "The Americans"--being very visual and gritty and all about the 50's--will help to be a corrective.

#371 EricMontreal22

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Posted 04 February 2009 - 11:12 PM

Right now, I'm reading my way through F.Scott Fitzgerald's books, as a result of having reread Great Gatsby in the fall. I'm almost through with The Beautiful and the Damned and will finish off with Tender is the Night next week sometime.


It's funny, I just started rereading Gatsby this weekend. I haven't read it since my school days--and I realized I never read any other Fitzgerald (except the unfinished Last Tycoon). I'll have to get with that. (I went through a Hemingway reading spree a couple of years back so this should complement that well--especially his early fition like my favorite, Sun Also Rises).

I just finished The Folding Star, the last of Alan Hollinghurst's four novels I've read. He's probably my favrotie living author--every sentence reads as beautiful as any prose of Henry James, and I relate tremendously to the characters and situations. However, I hope with his next book that he starts to explore some different themes--I admit that I kinda have bits of all of his novels mixed up in my head. Still, there are some scenes and moments that are so stunning they make me read his books as slowly as possible so the experience doesn't end.

#372 Rebeccadb

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 04:50 AM

I'm reading Persian Fire by Tom Holland about the ancient Persian civilization & will shortly move onto a Modern History of Iran. Why? Well I'm off to Iran on holiday in April!

#373 dirac

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Posted 06 February 2009 - 11:51 AM

Sounds like good prep for your trip, rebeccadb. Is "Persian Fire" fiction or non-fiction?

EricMontreal22, I've only read "The Swimming-Pool Library" of Hollingsworth's novels, but that's a terrific book. I confess I'm able to do without "The Great Gatsby," maybe because it was force-fed me in school. "Tender is the Night" is a messier book but I prefer it.

#374 katklaris

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Posted 07 February 2009 - 05:12 AM

I know I have got onto this subject much later than everyone else, but I am currently reading 'The Royal Ballet, 75 Years' by Zoe Anderson.

It gives the history of English ballet right through the 20th century, to 2005; obviously it is first and foremost about the Royal Ballet but other ballet companies (both national and international) are put into context alongside this. It is really helping me, as a novice dance fan, to understand how dance has been shaped and formed in the UK, and by whom.

The writing is easy, flowing and clear with lots of details but also enough anecdotes and colour to keep you wanting to read on.

I'm finding I'm now beginning to make connections between choreographers, directors, companies and dancers and am starting to have some kind of overview of the UK's ballet heritage and its relationship with the rest of the dance world.

There's some interesting photos too!

#375 EricMontreal22

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Posted 07 February 2009 - 11:12 PM

Does that book cover all the various productions over the years? I'll have to check it out (I was trying to keep track of how many Beauties and Lakes they've done).

dirac--Persian Fire is one of Holland's historical, non fiction books. I read it a while back and would really recommend it for anyone with interest in the subject--he writes so well that it's a pleasure to read.

I'd really recommend any of Hollinghurst's other books--if you enjoyed Swimming Pool Library you kinda know what you're getting yourself into--a mix of arty intellecualism with homoerotic scenes (to put it mildly). His last novel, Line of Beauty won the Booker--and was adapted quite well for the BBC--and is maybe a bit heavier than his earlier writing but they're all great reading. (I know some feel his characters are unlikeable, which worriess me a bit since I relate to them so well... :( )


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