Category Archives: Lindsay

Ultimate Un-Boxing: Donors Choose Edition

THEY’RE HERE!! They’re beautiful. And just like that, they’re gone (in the hands of students). I mentioned in my last post that I took an optimistic but realistic gamble on Donors Choose to try to build my classroom library with more diverse texts. The project was funded by a group of gorgeous souls within 24 hours, which restored my faith in the kindness of mankind and caused me to spontaneously weep for a number of days. The amazing thing is that many of my strongest supporters, who would have jumped at the opportunity to help me (had I just told them I needed said help), didn’t even get the chance to contribute to the project because of how quickly it was funded!

I’m befuddled by this experience, but the best part is that the books are already disappearing into kids’ hands. These last three weeks of school are dedicated to end-of-course tests and finals, which means that students are in displaced classrooms, working on projects or study guides and finishing at different rates. Plus, their school-issued computers have already been taken with a week or so left to go, so there’s inevitably a lot of time spent doing nothing. I reminded my classes that reading these books would be an excellent way to pass the time, and they bought it!! I’m actually researching the best personal/classroom library apps or websites, because my simple little hand-written notes about who is taking which book aren’t cutting it.

Now, on to the good stuff!

It’s hard to categorize books I haven’t read and I’m sure someone somewhere will consider it offensive for me to generalize the books, but generalizing these books was the whole point behind getting them; I don’t have enough books that appeal to certain audiences (athletes, romantics, dramatics, LGBTQIA, racial minority group members, quirky kids, rule-breakers, etc.) who are present in my room but are under-represented in my classroom library. I’m hoping that many of the books in this grouping will appeal to male readers, since on the surface (again, I haven’t read them yet) they relate to sports and/or the many trials and tribs of male adolescence.

These are the ones I assume are the “feelings” books. I’m not a fan of romance and emotional drama; I’m eternally confused by my choice to work with teens, since 99% of my day is spent deftly dodging the complicated dramatics of teen life. Nonetheless, I do not seek out feelings, drama, emotions, or romance in my pleasure reading, so my classroom library was sorely lacking in options that would fulfill those interests for students. I understand that John Green and Rainbow Rowell are known for evoking “all the feels,” so while I avoid their books like the plague, I want them for my students who love the feels.

These are the SciFi/fantasy, satire, quirky texts. These should appeal to many types of kids.

Many books are not pictured, since they are already in the hands of kids. I have already begun to see the benefits of having these texts in my room. When I received them, a student who had otherwise been quiet and relatively standoffish offered to walk with me to the office and help me carry the books back to my room. He then told me about his growing interest in books and offhandedly asked, “got any gay books?” This led to a long conversation in which I learned about his personal orientation, and was able to pair him with one of the new books that very day. I’ve paired books with my own students, as well as other teachers’ kids, who heard about my new collection and came to search the stacks. I’ve seen kids light up and geek out at the sight of a beloved or coveted text; I’ve seen non-readers pick up texts because they see themselves and/or their interests depicted on the covers; I’ve listened in on student-to-student recommendations; I’ve become the hallway book supplier. This gift has already offered invaluable rewards within this short time, and I expect countless more in the years to come. My gratitude to the donors, not only for the books, but also for these new experiences and strengthened bonds, is immeasurable.

For a full list of the books I got, go here. Have you read any of these? Any pairings in mind? Any other recommendations?

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Hash. Tag. BLESSED!

There are BIG, exciting things coming to my classroom and I am so frackin’ JAZZED!

So, a few weeks ago, my principal forwarded an email from a representative from Donors Choose who encouraged teachers from our school to create a Donors Choose project. Most projects, from what I know, ask for basic supplies, like Kleenex, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, pencils and such, or larger luxuries, like a class set of iPads or something. I’m eternally lucky in that my school offers me some supplies annually; I have generous family members and student parents who help with tissues and hand sani; my school is one-to-one, so all kids have their own Chromebooks. Thus, I don’t need much.

However, I never stop wanting to be able to offer my students books that appeal to their interests. I’m fortunate in that I have a lot of books, mostly ones that I bought because I wanted to read them, so kids have access to some books, but there isn’t much in terms of diverse topics. I’ve always wanted to be able to offer them easier access to diverse characters with diverse experiences and interests. I’m thrilled when a student shares my interests (I geeked out with a kid recently over the Scythe books!), but I want to be able to booktalk for athletes, hopeless romantics, drama queens, minority group members, the lost and the lonesome, gang affiliates, eccentrics, academics, and everyone else.

On a whim, I created a Donors Choose project, intending to ask for an array of diverse books. They suggested, get this, that projects around $600 (!!!!) get funded most easily. Since I was already on a whim, I just shrugged and went with it. I picked out $597-worth of books from Amazon. My expectations were low but my hopes were high. I posted the project and, again, as suggested, posted it on Facebook, and hoped for the best. Within 24 hours, the project was fully funded. I am eternally thankful to some friends who have loved me since before I was born, some friends who love me in spite of who I was in high school, some friends who love me in spite of who I am now, some new friends from teaching, and some complete strangers. I’m truly beside myself with excitement and I CANNOT WAIT for the kids to be able to get their hands on these books.

John Green Box Set (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars)
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls – Anissa Gray
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams
Obsidio (The Illuminae Files) – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo
Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter – Erika L. Sánchez
Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha) – Tomi Adeyemi
The Sun Is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon
Speak: The Graphic Novel – Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll
Dear Martin – Nic Stone
Dry – Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman
Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds
Turtles All the Way Down – John Green
Oksana, Behave! – Maria Kuznetsova
On The Come Up – Angie Thomas
Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America – Assorted Authors
Damsel – Elana K. Arnold
Winger – Andrew Smith
Soft Science – Franny Choi
Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
SHOUT – Laurie Halse Anderson
Beauty Queens – Libba Bray
The Alex Crow – Andrew Smith
The Boy in the Black Suit – Jason Reynolds
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Stand-Off – Andrew Smith
Carry On (Simon Snow Series) – Rainbow Rowell
Dune – Frank Herbert
Fangirl: A Novel – Rainbow Rowell
American Born Chinese – Gene Luen Yang
You Asked for Perfect – Laura Silverman
Every Day – David Levithan
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali – Sabina Khan
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future – A.S. King
Boy21 – Matthew Quick
Going Bovine – Libba Bray
100 Sideways Miles – Andrew Smith

Look forward to the most epic unboxing post and pics! Have you read any of these?

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Tea: My Other Passion.

No. I have not had much time for reading lately. Well, actually, I’m mid-way through Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and it’s making me feel every shade of depressed and stressed. That poor man! What a life!! I’m sorry, but I haven’t the time for my entertainment to be depressing/stressful. Thus, I have set it aside for a new book, Scott Kelly’s Endurance, and since I haven’t yet finish that, I will now post about my other obsession, tea.

Don’t care for tea topics? Bye.

My glorious collection is growing! I have both new pieces and a new display case, about all of which I am thrilled. My cups and saucers used to be displayed on a shelving unit that was installed in the house before we bought it (faintly seen here). I have very little faith in the handyman skills of the former owner, so I worried for so long that I’d hear all my precious heirlooms crash to the floor. Luckily, my dad brought me a mirrored display case of his that he didn’t need anymore, and I now have a beautiful tea cabinet!

The bamboo china is a family heirloom, originally bought by my grandfather for my Geegaw while on a tour of duty in Japan in the 50s. The small dragon set is explained a bit later. The jadeite cup/saucer were a gift (but they’re from the 50s), the hobnail ones are from my Pawpaw’s museum, and the white flower ones from my mom’s wedding china. The white teapot was my Grandma’s.
The silver all came from my Geegaw’s wedding to my mom’s dad in the early 50s. All glass pieces are from the museum. The four cup/saucer sets on the edges are all random family sets. The green kettle & octopus cup/saucer are the only non-heirloom items in the case. I bought the kettle at TJ Maxx and the octopus set was a gift from my mom. It holds so much!
The taller pot in a previous pic is a coffee pot and this small one is for tea. Sadly, the handle broke off, so I’m looking for a silversmith to fix it before I can use it. The sugar and creamer sets were also from my Geegaw’s wedding set.
Ignore the cords, bad lighting, and ugly wall mounting from the old shelving unit. Just look at all my pretty pretty things!

Now, to explain the dragon set. When my parents came to town for our family Christmas, my mom brought me the tea set my grandfather bought for his mom while on a tour of duty in Japan around 1951. Legend (my Uncle Don) says that she never used it or let anyone touch it for fear that a piece would break. I totally get that fear. I’m so protective of the items that connect me to the grandfather I never knew that they get cautiously stowed away from dust, sunlight, and my butterfingered husband. On the upside, they’re safe, but the other side of that coin is that I don’t see them daily and have a daily moment where I remember “I’m related to a monument of a human being.” So whether it happened just that once or many many times, one slow, cold day after Christmas, I sipped my English Breakfast from this tea set. And I thought about him.

It’s a demitasse set, so this photo is a trick. That cup is holding two ounces, MAX, of tea. It makes me feel like a giant and I love it.

In other news, we’ve had our third quarterly ladies’ tea! This time, a friend hosted and said she was thrilled to get the chance to use her family china. Apparently, her parents cried when they heard she was using her grandmother’s china! So worth it! Unfortunately, it was right in the thick of flu season, so we were down a couple of fancy ladies, but it was a beautiful spread and an even more beautiful distraction from the Superbowl.

We’ve also decided to fully embrace the ridiculous American stereotypes about “tea time,” as was the custom when Hannah and I took tea as kids in the treasure featured below. Thus, we will wear increasingly ridiculous accessories to upcoming parties, so hats, gaudy costume jewelry, feather boas, and lace gloves are on the horizon.

Just look how time flies! Each time, our spread gets more elaborate and our “hot gos” gets more juicy! I don’t know where I’d be without my teacher friends! As soon as I get a ridiculous hat, I’ll tip it to them.

October 2018
February 2019

Any other tea lovers out there? Collectors of lovely things? Book slumpers? I want to hear from you!

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Review Via Pros and Cons: Brown’s “Origin”

I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon Series. I don’t usually consider them to be high literature (said with a smarmy expression while adjusting an invisible monocle), but some of them I have considered a downright good time. In fact, I thought Inferno was very entertaining, like a literary scavenger hunt! Some of Brown’s novels, though, are more successful in my esteem than others, and upon finishing his most recent novel, Origin, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. You know what to do!! When in doubt, hash it out (via pros and cons, my favorite review process)!

But first, this obscenely long blurb from Goodreads:

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself… and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery… and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

Now, to weigh out the Pros and Cons to decide if I liked this novel:

PRO: Robert Langdon. I like the character of Robert Langdon, the Harvard professor who keeps finding himself in mess after life-threatening mess. His knowledge is obscure but somehow repeatedly pivotal to saving the world. Maybe more of us should be Symbologists, just so we don’t have to rely on Robert Langdon so hard and so often. Regardless, the small touches, like the claustrophobia and the Micky Mouse watch, make Langdon likable and slightly more believable.

CON: These novels are intended, I believe, to be able to stand alone from the series as a whole, meaning you could easily read Origin as your first Brown novel and not lack any information. In a way, I think this is a good thing, but also, it’s unrealistic af!! Throughout the series, Langdon has been THROUGH IT! This man has been kidnapped, he’s been pursued by police and criminals, he’s been chased through inaccessible historical monuments, and his life has been threatened innumerable times in innumerable ways. So you’re telling me that he wouldn’t learn from these experiences?? He’s just following anonymous instructions and trusting people like he doesn’t know better?? I can’t get on board with that. He would (understandably) have PTSD by now and would be way more cautious.

PRO: Artificial Intelligence plays a big part in this novel. In fact, I’d say the AI is one of the main characters. The way “he” is portrayed feels a bit unrealistic at times, but the point of the novel is that one man has contributed to the advancement of technology in ways we didn’t think were possible, so I was willing to buy into it. The AI is often likable, helpful, suspicious, and all other human-like characteristics.

CON: I figured out the “bad guy” pretty early. There were a few loose ends that eluded me until the end, but overall, I assumed relatively early on who was orchestrating all the evil. I vastly prefer a novel that keeps me in the dark the whole time, or even misdirects my attention. The ending still managed to be something of a surprise, but once I figured out the major instigator, I lost a bit of interest.

CON: Each novel in the series focuses on a different “search” and they’ve all set up organized religion as the ultimate bad guy in one way or another. Origin is no different. However, instead of analyzing historical locations or documents, Origin predicts scientific advancements and the repercussions such revelations would have on the religious community. At this point, I was still on board, but quite often, the text dives into the science of potential origin theories, advanced technology, and more, and it flew right over my head. Brown tried to talk down to me, but I was apparently further “down” than he anticipated.

PRO: New City – New Google Search History! I am now somewhat acquainted with Bilbao, Spain. As always, I can’t read a Dan Brown novel without having WIFI, since it lists a million pieces of art or landmarks that I feel compelled to research. For instance, have you seen the Tree of Life monument outside the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest? I can’t believe this is the first time in my Holocaust-researching-life that I’ve heard about it. I learn a lot from reading these novels. I think that PRO counts for double.

CON: Same as above. I love that I learn from these, but it almost makes it impossible for me to read the novel when I don’t have access to internet. In fact, at one point I had to mark a few pages so I could go back to them in order to Google something when I got home later. It’s an overload of information sometimes.

CON: I lost interest well before the ending. It took me almost a month to read this book. Yes, it’s almost 500 pages, but still. That’s too long to read that much. I just got bored. There was a great deal of science-talk within the last 50 pages and since it was flying right over my head, I lost motivation to keep reading.

PRO: I guess there’s the potential for another Tom Hanks movie?? Have they made all the other ones? I saw “The Da Vinci Code” and maybe “Angels and Demons” once, but did they make the others? I feel like Inferno would make a great addition to the franchise, but Origin might be a little too… thought-heavy. Nobody likes to think!!

I wrote more CONS than PROS, but I really do think they balance out. This wasn’t Brown’s best, but I don’t guess I regret reading it. I imagine I’ll forget all the details in no time at all.

Have you read it? Did you like it? Do you typically like Dan Brown novels?

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Review: Shen’s “Legendary Ladies” and “Bad Girls Throughout History”

First off, a funny story: yesterday, I was giving my (9th grade) classes a quiz over figurative language (personification, onomatopoeia, metaphor, etc.) and before the quiz, my 4th period decided that Hyperbole is when someone is “just being so extra.” I gave examples that I’ve heard in the halls, like “OMG if I don’t see my boo right now, I’m gonna die” and “ugh, this class is taking, like, forever.” We finished the quiz and I walked by a table group that (sometimes, very unfortunately) has a bf/gf couple, who were playing keep away, or something dumb. I told them to STAHP or they were going to make me throw up, and the whole table group yelled “HYPERBOLE!!! That’s a hyperbole, CT!!” I cackled with laughter and gave them all “Glad Points” as a reward for using their knowledge AGAINST ME.

Now, to the review. As specified in my last post, I asked for these beautiful books for Christmas. Thanks to my mom and mom-in-law, I was gifted both and devoured each in a day. Although they are by the same author/illustrator and, on the surface, look quite similar, they have substantial differences that need to be sussed out. Therefore, I’ll be taking them one by one, starting with my favorite!

Aphra Behn, first female professional writer. Sojourner Truth, activist and abolitionist. Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer. Marie Curie, first woman to win the Nobel Prize. Joan Jett, godmother of punk. The 100 revolutionary women highlighted in this gorgeously illustrated book were bad in the best sense of the word: they challenged the status quo and changed the rules for all who followed. From pirates to artists, warriors, daredevils, scientists, activists, and spies, the accomplishments of these incredible women vary as much as the eras and places in which they effected change. Featuring bold watercolor portraits and illuminating essays by Ann Shen, Bad Girls Throughout History is a distinctive, gift-worthy tribute.

Goodreads.com

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World was published in 2016 and features 100 women spanning many centuries and cultures who did “bad” things (more on that in a bit) or were considered improper by their (and sometimes also our) society. The women are featured chronologically, so our amazing, gender stereotype-breaking ancestors segue gently to modern glass ceiling-breakers.

Now, when it comes to calling these women “bad,” I assumed it would focus on women who did things considered improper for women during their time. However, the term “bad” seems to be used more loosely than I had thought. Yes, of course misogyny runs rampant through each story in some way or other, but not all stories are focused on what these women did in reaction to oppression. Intermingled among the Queens, scientists, adventurers, and visionaries are murderers and thieves. As it should be, “bad” is subjective. I especially appreciate this in reference to my intentions to make this book available as a point of inspiration for the upcoming research unit. ELA is all about the ability to argue and support your point, so if someone wants to argue that Bonnie Parker is a hero, I look forward to hearing that argument.

From the beloved author and artist behind Bad Girls Throughout History comes this lushly illustrated book of goddesses from around the world. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess whose love overcame mortality. Mazu, the Chinese deity who safely guides travelers home. Lakshmi, the Hindu provider of fortune and prosperity. These powerful deities and many more are celebrated in gorgeous artwork and enlightening essays that explore the feminine divine and encourage readers to empower themselves. Ann Shen’s signature watercolors make Legendary Ladies a unique, gift-worthy homage to the mighty women within.

The other book, Legendary Ladies: 50 Goddesses to Empower and Inspire You, focuses on goddesses from various cultures. The book seeks to inspire the reader, so Shen even goes so far as to suggest the strengths of each goddess and when the reader might want to “call on” each one for different benefits. I appreciated the variety of cultures featured in this book and learned a great deal about various origin stories. I honestly wish it had been longer, like its 100-page predecessor, but I imagine a tremendous amount of research had to go into this book; I also imagine that this one stands more of a risk of offending readers, since Shen attempts to add so much variety that she is inevitably treading (bravely, I think) on unfamiliar territory and might risk getting something wrong, here and there.

So, obviously, the showstopper is the illustrations. Each woman listed in both texts has her own accompanying original illustration. Again, the amount of research that must have gone into these is amazing, especially in the goddesses text, since each woman is drawn “in her element.” Shen apparently got her start in illustration and has worked for some impressive, well-known companies, so I like to think that all that experience is what made it possible for her to produce these works of obvious passion. I can’t imagine that anyone would take lightly the responsibility to educate readers about the history of womankind; however, since she does so not only through words but all through illustrations, this book will naturally appeal more to younger audiences, who benefit from visual stimulation for prolonged attention, than those that convey the same information without illustrations. I would gladly, after choosing very carefully, read some of these to student audiences (and might do so in the weeks leading up to the research unit). I honestly wish someone would make a similar illustrated compilation with male rule-breakers.

Now, to discuss the only major issue I noticed. The number of European goddesses vastly outnumbered those of Asian, African, South American, or North American heritage. Legendary Ladies featured one “ancestor” from Native American heritage (I don’t know what to call these characters collectively, since they’re not all goddesses), a few Africans, a few Pacific Islanders, a few more of Celtic, Welsh, Aztec, or Egyptian origin, a good number Hindus, as well as Chinese, but predominantly featured Greek goddesses. On the one hand, I loved seeing them since I have studied Greek mythology extensively, but it seemed disproportionate to the numbers featured for other cultures. I should acknowledge that this might be greatly due, at least in part, to the fact that Greek mythological beliefs were passed to all conquered nations and, although it is not still a practiced religion, the impact of that belief system is still evident in classical texts, as well as all those that were inspired by the classics. I mean, for goodness sake, like I teach each year when we read The Odyssey, Greek mythology still permeates our culture, even Spongebob Squarepants, for crying out loud. Greek mythology is inescapable. But that almost adds to my desire to see less of that which we already know and more of that which is not as well-known globally. Surely there are more African and Native American ancestral ladies that could have been featured?

Obviously, I greatly recommend these texts to anyone and everyone. The illustrations are dazzling and I could look at them all day, but they don’t necessarily mean that this text is directed at younger audiences. These women are painted in a realistic light, for better or for worse, and learning about each one of them is well worth your time.

Has anyone else read these? If so, did you read them just for fun or do you have ulterior motives, like me? Does anyone have any other recommendations for texts featuring compilations of notable men or women?

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Holidays: Gimme Dem Books

I remember many many moons ago when my sister (two years my senior) started asking for books for Christmas and I was so disappointed in her. You. So. Boring. And then, as with all the other trends she got into (clothes, cookware, decor, etc.), there I was, her shadow on a two-year-delay, asking for books for Christmas.

Now, I have two literary degrees and teach ELA, so books and book-related things have become a staple in my Christmas list. I always work in a few books I want, but I usually also ask for a few book-related items, especially clothes. I love seeing other people sporting symbols or phrases that reference books we have in common so, understandably, I also get a kick out of wearing my own references, especially when someone gets it and mentions it. 

So, without further ado, here are my Christmas requests:

Out Of Print Clothing has so many things I want. I got a Gatsby sweatshirt for Christmas a few years ago and it is still my favorite thing to wear in the winter. It’s survived many washes and even more wears and is so warm, so now that I know that the quality is top notch, I’m asking for more.

One of the books I want is a journal. I’m not much for journaling and I can’t imagine when or whether I’ll find time for this, but I’ve been feeling strangely negative lately and I’m trying to focus on things that will remind me of all the many reasons I have to be blissfully happy. I’ve been writing down two positive interactions I have with students each day, I’m wanting to re-start doing the “daily thankfulness notes” my husband and I did for while, and I think this journal would help, too. It gives a space for morning gratitude and hopefulness, as well as nightly ruminations and determination.

I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s books. I don’t know why, but for some reason, to admit that I enjoy Dan Brown feels a bit cheap, like when someone says their favorite books are the mass-produced, non-imaginative, “change a few details and crank out another sub-par thriller novel” books that fly off the shelves at libraries. Yes, Brown’s books have similar vibes, but that’s because they focus on the same protagonist. Yes, they have been turned into blockbuster films with my main man, Tom Hanks, which means they’re mainstream. Yes, some “facts” are fudged or completely fake. SO WHAT?? Every time I read a Brown novel , you can just color me entertained.

I want these for obvious reasons. One awesome thing we did last year was finish the school year with a research unit where students present on a hero of their choosing. I am so blessed to have some beautiful, brilliant independent young women in my classes and I think these would be a delight for me to read, but even more of a delight to pass along to the right young reader (male or female).

So, what did you ask for for this holiday season? Any other book-related requests out there? I love seeing what others ask for, especially since I’ll probably add them all to my wish list for future years!

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Review: Miller’s “Circe” and Lindsay’s Opinion vs. Mrs. C-T’s Opinion

What a beautiful respite from my reading slump! Of course, after my long trek through the desert of boring books, I was over-thirsty for quality and, thus, finished Madeline Miller’s Circe in a few days, so now I’m back to square one. What will I read now?

Hannah finished Circe before I even received it and texted me a few afterthoughts; it sounded like she was somewhat underwhelmed, but I was adamant that I would go into it as a “blank canvas” and let it paint all over me. I was not disappointed.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Now, I am rather well-acquainted with Circe as a character from Homer’s The Odyssey, which I teach to freshmen every year. I went into this reading hopeful that it would contain something I could incorporate into this year’s unit (more on that in a bit), but due to my recent bad luck with books, my number one goal was to read and be entertained, to enjoy a book as I haven’t done in a while, regardless of academic application potential.

I loved this novel. The story was narrated from Circe’s 1st-person perspective and felt almost like sitting by the fire listening to story time. She was looking back on her life and telling her story to an anonymous audience (me!) and occasionally interjected her past story with musings about how naive she was or how later she would think differently. Due to these brief snaps back to the “present” story time, the vibe of the book was easy-going and familiar, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Considering the fact that most people only know Circe as a witch and temporary love stop on the Odysseus Express, imagine my surprise when the emotions and relationships weren’t 50 Shades levels of cringe. Mythology is fascinating, so we all roll our eyes and shrug at the unhealthy relationships and mistreatment of women, as though they’re just as unbelievable as gods wielding thunderbolts or six-headed sea monsters, but the truth is that misogyny seems to have weathered the test of time in a way that gods and monsters didn’t. I give 100% credit to Madeline Miller for her interpretation of Circe’s story, as well as her story-telling ability. Instead of relating every detail of each copulation session (be it willing or forced, so yes, be trigger-warned), she implies and leads the reader to understand what’s happening, but dedicates her time to the why.

The Odyssey presents Circe as a witch who transforms men into pigs because it pleases her and only Odysseus could outsmart her, changing her heart of stone to typical female emotional mush. FINALLY, Circe is portrayed as an individual, whose life was difficult and complicated long before Odysseus came along and made it more complicated. She is given a why. Why transform the men? Why be there waiting for him? Why be so enamored by a turd like Odysseus? Like all women, Circe is a complicated being and she existed outside of her connection with literature’s most well-known “hero” for centuries. Homer wrote The Odyssey around 800 B.C.E., so we’ve known one side of the story, the male’s perspective, for almost 3000 years. Let’s hear HER side of the story!

Okay, I can feel that I got on my soapbox there. The point was to say that depending on how deep down the Mythology rabbit hole you’re known to go, anywhere between a little to a lot of this novel will be yesterday’s news to you. Spoilers aren’t really that big of a threat, since we know how it will end, generally. However, the refreshing and necessary thing about this novel is that we are given insight into the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of an ancient woman.

So, from what I’ve seen, people have disliked this when they aren’t fans of historical interpretations. Again, this is a tale as old as time, but Miller’s work came from embellishing stories and creating a new perspective. Some times, her embellishments stray from the original and a lot of hard-core mythology junkies reject any creative license. For instance, in The Odyssey, Odysseus is given moly by Hermes, he eats it, drinks Circe’s potion, and is not transformed, thus beguiling her with his “power.” It doesn’t go that way in Circe and I could be mad about it and be all “look at me; I’m so smart; I know the original; this is wrong; I’m right” but what’s the point in that? It’s no fun to be such a know-it-all that you can’t enjoy anything but the original. Chill.

The other thing about that divergence from the original is that it must exist for a reason! That is one of the most well-known plot points; anyone can point it out (so calm down, know-it-all’s), so why would Miller change it? The new version must serve a purpose in telling the audience more about Circe. This is where my mind swaps from Lindsay, the “for fun” reader, to Mrs. C-T, the critical reader. The wheels were turning nonstop towards the end of the novel, to the point where I had to get out some post-its so I could refer to important excerpts later. Here are some teachery thoughts that are still mulling and taking shape in my pre-planning mind (we won’t get to our Odyssey unit until November, so I have time to hammer out details). However, I must say that these sort of critical reading thoughts and questions do not exist exclusively in a classroom; anyone can read, but it is an entirely different skill to read critically, allowing texts to tap into your mind beyond surface-level enjoyment. Even if you are not a teacher or student, even if you don’t enjoy when this reader blog crosses the line over to a teacher blog, I encourage you to take a look at the questions posed below. You don’t have to be a student to continue to challenge your thinking. Now, to the musings:

  1. Read Book 10 of The Odyssey and then read the excerpt of their meeting from Circe. Consider how the two main characters’ vices and virtues are shifted and challenged with the difference in narrative. How are the narrators biased? Which story do you believe? Why? How are you biased?
  2. Our textbook does not include Book 11 (Odysseus’ trip to the land of the dead) but I think it is interesting/important. Last year I just did story time for missing sections and I’ve asked my department chair for a class set of Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel, but if those options fail or fall short, I can use the excerpt from Circe where she gives him guidance.
  3. This one is exciting: include our article about PTSD to read after Odysseus comes home and he and Telemachus slaughter all the suitors and “unfaithful” servants. Also, include the excerpt where Telemachus talks about what Odysseus was like when he came home. Is it human nature to hope “they all lived happily ever after”? Why do so many stories lack falling action and end after the climax? What do you think life was like for Odysseus/Penelope/Telemachus after his return? Why? How does Telemachus’ account support or challenge that?
  4. Include excerpt of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, specifically including the Chorus from the servant maids Odysseus killed. Then, include excerpt from Circe that gives Penelope’s account of Odysseus’ return. Why is it so unbelievable that Penelope and Circe would meet and interact so positively? How are readers of The Odyssey led to believe these women would treat each other? How does Penelope’s account shift your perception of Odysseus? Recall how Odysseus portrays Penelope in The Odyssey: how does Penelope’s portrayal of Odysseus in Circe and/or The Penelopiad compare/contrast? How do these characters show bias?
  5. After completing the epic, discuss whether Odysseus is a hero. Further discuss whether he fulfills the steps of Joseph Campbell’s Heroic Journey. Can one fulfill the steps but fail to be a hero? Can one be a hero without being “heroic”? Include an excerpt from Circe where Telemachus talks about Odysseus’ life and legacy. Does the inclusion of personal experience and opinion alter your perception of Odysseus’ heroic status? How could it be biased? Can one determine heroic status without the inclusion of personal accounts?

As you can tell, I LOVE to include various perspectives in my classroom. I know that it is human nature to form opinions and, sadly, some people spend more time building their own opinions by ignoring or attacking the opposition and stacking up supporting arguments than by exploring and engaging those adverse opinions in constructive discussion. It is my goal that students learn to explore the opposition as much as their own side, challenging their own biases as well as those of others, and building informed, malleable opinions. Circe will undoubtedly help me work towards this goal.

Hope you enjoyed this and I’d love to hear any and all thoughts!

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