Questions for YOU, Our Readers!

Well blow me down! We’re getting close to having 500 beautiful souls who follow this site and can I just say that that is astonishing?! Truly, we started this blog with the understanding that our moms would be our only readers, so the fact that other readers and peers also see value in our musings is truly amazing!

I have had a few blessed instances where other bloggers kindly showed interest in our origins, preferences, motivations, interests, and so on and so forth. I’m trying to be better at understanding popular blog topics, and I’ve seen a few that did a Q & A session once they reached a certain number; if anyone has questions that they think would be fun or interesting, I’ll do my best to drag Hannah back into the blog-o-sphere for a hot minute and answer some questions when we reach the lofty number!

Otherwise, I’m reaching out to you, my literate friends, for recommendations. I KNOW I can speak on behalf of Hannah, as well as myself, when I say that these two ladies right here LURV some true crime. I’m not talking about Law & Order, James Patterson types of mystery/crime. I’m talking about real crimes that actually happened to real people in the world in which we live. Hannah and I consume true crime podcasts at an unprecedented rate and I’m looking for recommendations for books that parallel that interest. I yearn to be scared by a book but, generally speaking, fiction has never scared me. What does scare me, though, is the potential for real people to do horrible things, and I’m on a mission to educate myself and build profiles. I’ll not lie; it is also hella entertaining. People are wacko. Sometimes, real life can truly be “stranger than fiction,” and THAT is what scares me, so that is my target: real stories about real people going bananas on other people.

Am I alone in this? Well, I guess I should say are WE alone in this? Does anyone else find true crime to be endlessly entertaining?

We welcome questions and we welcome recommendations! Help me out, friends!

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Re-reading Things Because I Must: “The Odyssey”

I had the opportunity to teach [excerpts of] The Odyssey to two separate classes this past school year, so I had plenty of opportunities to experiment with secondary sources and supplemental texts. One text I want to go right ahead and endorse is Gareth Hinds’s graphic novel of the epic poem. It can be difficult to teach from a text when you don’t have one-to-one copies for all students, so I could only scan the chapters we read and project them as we read along with the poem. It wasn’t ideal, but it often helps striving readers to have visuals (besides the 90’s movie we watched), and it’s just a more modern medium. I adore this adaptation!

As with the previous units, I focused on an overall idea or theme, this time being “heroes;” the texts and discussions included in the unit led students to question the traits and actions that typically lead to the title of “hero,” as well as challenge whether someone can still be a hero if s/he occasionally acts in ways that go against those traits/actions. Odysseus is a perfect character upon which to focus these questions, since he is generally considered one of literature’s great heroes, but also does a great many things that challenge that title.

My main goal in this unit was to present the students with materials and questions that would force them to practice looking at events and actions through various perspectives and determine whether that perspective change affects heroic status. As with all my units, I want this to make sense on a literary level (obviously), but I also want it to make sense in the everyday lives of my students. I want them to practice seeing things from various perspectives. I want them to understand how those perspectives lead people to have different opinions of who is heroic and who is not. We live in difficult times. The more we equip the future generations to be compassionate, understanding individuals, the better our chances of creating a society in which we all treat each others with kindness and respect, and one way to gain respect for others is by making the effort to see his/her perspective.

savI challenged the students to begin by attempting to assume how the perspectives might have varied between the Greeks and the Trojans during the Trojan Horse episode, as a bit of background. To Greeks, it was a witty and brave action to infiltrate the walls and capture the city, thereby winning the war. To Trojans, though, the same actions look more like being tricked and massacred by an invading army. Similarly, students challenged Odysseus’ actions on the isle of the Cyclopes and his interactions with Polyphemus. Using a chart, students recorded the moments in which Odysseus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage, as well as when Polyphemus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage. The result was that both parties were clearly to blame for the death of Odysseus’ men and the delay in his return to Ithaca.

circeWe continued the challenge on perspective by pairing modern works with the ancient poem. Margaret Atwood is a pioneer of feminist perspective and often writes accounts of historical stories from the point of view of a minor character. After completing Book 10 and discussing Odysseus’ account of his time spent with Circe, we read and excerpt of Atwood’s “Circe/Mud Poems,” in which we get an interpretation of Circe’s negative opinion on Odysseus’ year-long visit. Students spent time reflecting on how this perspective conflicted with Odysseus’ account and in what ways the change in perspective affected Odysseus’ status as a hero in this particular Book.

pennyOur final perspective challenge was that of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. Since women’s points of view were rarely included in ancient texts, Atwood takes the liberty to give voice to the voiceless, daring to reveal that Penelope might not be as chill about Odysseus’ 20-year absence and multiple affairs as Odysseus would have us believe. Since The Penelopiad is a full-sized novel, I gave students a handout containing the intro (from a dead and pissed Penelope) and first chorus (from the maids Odysseus slaughtered for “befriending” the suitors), and were again given time to reflect on how these perspectives challenge Odysseus’ account and his status as a hero.

Unsurprisingly, these brilliant students picked right up on the fact that the point of view was pivotal to heroic status. Most students finished the unit with powerful and passionate opinions on Odysseus’ heroic status, opinions which they argued and defended in final persuasive essays. We ended the unit by re-addressing the status of “hero,” as well as by briefly analyzing two antiheroes (Sir Ballaster Blackheart from the graphic novel Nimona and Dr. Horrible from “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) who often act more heroically than the heroes they fight. Going forward, if I get the chance to teach The Odyssey again, I’d love to spend more time with each of these, really digging into why the heroes in these accounts fail to to actually be as heroic as the “villains,” as well as what that means and how it applies to real life.

I truly hope that I get to teach The Odyssey again. As old as it is, I have no doubt that this unit was the most interesting and the most relevant for my students. I’d love to hear what others have done to teach it, or just what anyone thinks might help make it more meaningful and fun for 9th graders!

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Review of Beah’s “A Long Way Gone” and Gantos’s “Hole in My Life”

Does a book need to be sad in order to be moving? Must the reader suffer alongside the writers/characters in order to learn from them? I’ve been asking myself these questions since finishing two of the texts that have been taught in my school’s 9th grade ELA classes in past years. Both texts were nonfiction (we have our fiction texts locked down) and apparently have been popular in previous years so, despite the depressing blurbs, I was optimistic about reading both.

I’m now sitting with both texts, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah and Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos, under my belt, but I’m having trouble picturing myself reading either text with a class of students. I’m well aware that they both have value; let me make that perfectly clear. However, nowadays, I’m reading things with a mind to how I would teach that text and what meanings students might be able to extract, and I’m not confident I got anything out of them other than all-consuming sadness. That takes me back to my original questions: does a book need to be sad in order to be moving and must the reader suffer alongside the writers/characters in order to learn from them? Additionally, considering the lesson we expect young readers to extract from this exceedingly sad text, is it possible to learn the same lesson from a more positive and uplifting text?

Spare me the lectures, please. I fully understand that just because something is sad doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t read it. We all know that my patronage of WWII and Holocaust books and documentaries likely has me on a CIA watch list. I continue to seek out these stories in spite of the fact that I know they will have a sad ending because they are still saturated with meaning and lessons on tolerance, injustice, kindness, forgiveness, and so on and so forth. Similarly, I can see that both of these nonfiction texts address juvenile justice in controversial and meaningful ways, ways that might appeal to the readers that will be in my classroom. In these texts, they may find solace, familiarity, wisdom of experience, and guidance, all of which would make these texts more than valid reads for these students. So I’m on board! No, I didn’t enjoy either of them very much, but maybe that’s because I’m not the target audience. No, I couldn’t relate, but that is an incomprehensible blessing that only reflects my privileged life. Now that I’ve ruminated, my original, rhetorical questions seem to have morphed into the more concrete question of why can’t we just read something happy?!? If we read both of these books plus To Kill A Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet, these kids might just wonder whether happy books actually exist! Color me selfish, but I want to read something happy!!

Anyway, let’s talk about the texts:

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.

 

In the summer of 1971, Jack Gantos was an aspiring writer looking for adventure, cash for college tuition, and a way out of a dead-end job. For ten thousand dollars, he recklessly agreed to help sail a sixty-foot yacht loaded with a ton of hashish from the Virgin Islands to New York City, where he and his partners sold the drug until federal agents caught up with them. For his part in the conspiracy, Gantos was sentenced to serve up to six years in prison.
In Hole in My Life, this prizewinning author of over thirty books for young people confronts the period of struggle and confinement that marked the end of his own youth. On the surface, the narrative tumbles from one crazed moment to the next as Gantos pieces together the story of his restless final year of high school, his short-lived career as a criminal, and his time in prison. But running just beneath the action is the story of how Gantos – once he was locked up in a small, yellow-walled cell – moved from wanting to be a writer to writing, and how dedicating himself more fully to the thing he most wanted to do helped him endure and ultimately overcome the worst experience of his life.

This one was difficult for the most obvious reason: the subject of child soldiers and war is horrific. It was extremely thoughtful and well-written, clearly being the result of a short life full of experience.

A Long Way Gone was the better of the two. It was painfully sad and also distant in a way that meant that I, as a white American woman, couldn’t really understand or even imagine the writer’s experiences. Nonetheless, it was extremely thoughtful and well-written, showing that it was the result of a short lifetime of horrid and impactful experiences.

Hole in My Life was unpleasant, not because of the subject matter, but because of the writing. I couldn’t stand the narrator, and I’m not talking about the 19-year-old Gantos. I mean the post-prison, writing-about-my-experiences Gantos, who narrated his choices and actions in ways that seemed to romanticize a lifetime of arrogant and ignorant actions and choices. I was reminded of Christopher McCandless from Krakauer’s Into the Wild, whose ignorance of his privilege and reckless desire for adventure directly led to his death. Gantos kindly admits that it was his own stupidity that landed him in prison, but his honesty didn’t negate his unlikability, for me at least. I have no desire to teach this one, but we’ll see.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Am I the only one feeling overwhelmed by sad books lately?

 

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Review: “Babylon’s Ashes” and “I’m Just A Person” + Summer Reading Update

That’s right, two reviews and an update; I’m jamming all my info into one post because I’m too busy-lazy, or buzy (PRONOUNCED: boo-zee – adj: the state of having so many things to do that elective pastimes fall by the wayside).

The other reason I’m jamming these two reviews together is because I don’t actually have a ton (good or bad) to say about either. The first book was on my summer reading list (I’ll have more to say about that later), so one down, and the other totally counts towards my goal of 10, so two down.

Babylon’s Ashes – James S. A. Corey

Anyone who has spent some time reading this blog (first of all, thank you! Also, wow I have a lot of asides going on in parentheses today!) will know that I’m a big fan of what some call the “space opera.” The hubs and I both got (deeper) into Scifi lit after reading The Martian years ago and that led to a rabbit hole of books about space travel, exploration, colonization, political strife, and so on and so forth. So anyway, I found the Expanse series back in 2015, started it, introduced Hubs to them, and we’ve never looked back. Book 6 of that series, Babylon’s Ashes, was the most recently published and I finally broke down and bought the hard copy [which messes up my series of paperbacks aesthetic (other volume reviews here)]. This one took me almost a month to read for two reasons: 1) it is 600 pages and 2) I’m buzy.

 

Now, concerning the book. As previously implied, I’m obsessed with this series. In fact, I just sent the first and second volumes off with friends this week in the hope of recruiting more geeks. So why, then, did I only give it 3 stars on Goodreads? Generally speaking, it was satisfying and it gave me some time *cough*a month*cough* with characters I consider to be old friends. However, also generally speaking, it felt like this volume was a filler. Have you ever read a volume in a series that felt as thought it was just there to connect the books before and after it? That was this book for me. A lot happened in this volume, don’t get me wrong, but nothing of the caliber of the other volumes. Giving a synopsis would either be a spoiler for those who will read the series or would be pointless for those who will not, so I won’t. The good news, though, is that this volume insinuated that big things are coming in future books (of which there will be 3, I think), so that pleases me. It was meatier than it needed to be, but it was fun to get lost in space again.

I’m Just A Person – Tig Notaro

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned on here that I love the podcast Professor Blastoff. It’s hosted by Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan, and David Huntsburger, all successful comedians who have a direct line to my funny bone. In the midst of hosting that podcast, Tig had an earth-shatteringly, record-breakingly bad year, in which (no spoilers, don’t worry) she found out that she had pneumonia, which led to C-Diff, then she endured a breakup, then her mother died unexpectedly, then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. All of this she related – with great poise and often even humor – on the podcast. She did a stand-up show in which she told the crowd about her cancer but still managed to be funny, and she was later nominated for a Grammy for the recording of that show. She had an HBO special and an Amazon Original show, she’s been on all the late night shows, and she wrote a book.

 

As I wrote in my brief Goodreads review (gosh, I’m just a living plug for Goodreads today), I’d be curious to know for whom this memoir was written. For PB fans like myself, or just general Tig fans, none of what was in this book was news. I not only knew about her many trials and tribs of 2012, but I had already heard podcast episodes in which she related the news to her fans, still finding ways to weave in jokes about how her boobs must’ve gotten tired of her making fun of how small they were for the past 40 years, so they’re rebelling from the inside. I much prefer the podcast format, since it was raw and real; nothing had been thought out over years or filtered by 5 editors before reaching me, someone who cares about her. This memoir was more formatted as her ruminations on her childhood, her relationship with her family, especially her mother, her emotions, her “impostor-syndrome” at being called brave, and so on. I think it is meant to be more personal, in that we get to the root of her thoughts and feelings. Going back to my original question about audience, oddly enough, I think this book is perfect for anyone who is a casual fan, or even a complete stranger to Tig. Anyone dealing with death, tragedy, illness, or just plain old growing up will find value in this memoir. Tig manages to find humor in strife, and I think more people would do well to emulate that. However, being a big Tig fan, I found this book to be a watered-down version of the podcast. I knew it all already and, whereas the book makes you feel like an audience-member to her one-man-show, the podcast makes you feel like a friend in a room with a friend who is dealing with something really big. I prefer the latter. Somehow, this became a plug for Professor Blastoff.

Summer Reading Update:

So, I went to do some pre-planning yesterday with my 9th grade team and we realized we hadn’t read several of the works that were often taught at this school in 9th grade. Thus, my summer reading list has morphed slightly. I warned you all that this might happen. I must say that I’m far from excited about most of the texts, which I’m letting be a gauge for how the students will be even less excited. Off to a bad start.

I’ll show the texts below, in case someone has happy, blessed things to say about any of them, but before I do that, I’ll say that we want to tie in all the works to the theme or topic of “growing up.” We’ll definitely be reading To Kill A Mockingbird (YAY!!) and Romeo and Juliet (ugh, teen “love”), but we also need to tie in some non-fiction, short stories, articles, diversity, juvenile justice, etc. If anyone has any suggestions, they will be most welcome and appreciated! 

 

 

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Harry Potter Tag

bannerhptag

We were nominated by the lovely Carrianne at Cuppa n’ Critiques. If you aren’t already following her, do so now; she’s a delight. Thanks for the nom, Carrianne! We are certifiably obsessed with all things Harry Potter, so this has been a real treat!

Apparently, the only rule for this tag is that you don’t use HP books as your answers, which is a solid rule, since I answer all questions with HP references. Leh go!

flagrate

A book where you found the theme interesting , but you’d like to rewrite it.

I actually answered all the other questions before this one, since I was having a hard time thinking of one, but now I know my answer. And I Darken by Kiersten White was just not at all as good as it could have been with a few tweaks. A little more Dracula here (I know, I know), a little fewer feelings there, and it could’ve been good!

alohomora

The first book in a series that got you hooked.

I’m trying really hard not to answer this one as Red Rising, since my love affair with that series is more than clear by now. Hmmm… what else? Illuminae, of course! My original review is linked here, but suffice it to say that I am fully invested and Gemina was also a home run!

accio

A book you wish you could have right now.

See below for answers that will surprise exactly 0% of readers.

avadakedavra

A killer book. Both senses. Take it as you like.

OMG I so wish that there was a book version of “Forensic Files.” Every chapter is a new murder mystery?! Please. Gimmie. Since I don’t know of such a book, I think I’ll list Grasshopper Jungle. Don’t worry, no spoilers, but it is indeed KILLER! Original review here.

confundo

A book that you found really confusing.

The story of Kullervo has been sitting on my nightstand for months. I started it and immediately got confused since, and I kept count, there are (so far) seven names being used for the same character. Tolkien is just plugging along and then all of a sudden, Kullervo is called Sakehoto, then Saki, then Sari, then Kullervo Kalervanpoika… and did I mention that that count is only 16 pages in?

epectopatronum

Your spirit animal book.

This sounds ridiculous, but I’m a ridiculous person, so no shame. Honestly, I think SWEET has been the most recent, non-HP or Red Rising book that has spoken to my heart. It is absurd and comical, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it has important things to say, just like me. Original review here.

spetumsemtra

A dark, twisted book.

Oh my GOD, I love dark & twisted! Hannah and I both love everything creepy, so imagine my surprise when I have to look back pages and pages on my Goodreads before I find an adequately creep-tastic book. For that reason, I’m listing books that I plan to read in order to get live life always in the Halloween spirit.

adaasd

A book that surprised you in a great way, reveals to be more than it is.

I think this one only surprised me because I had little to no expectations and it was just an utter delight. Profound, challenging, uplifting, and enlightening, Kids of Appetite was one of those books that just sticks with you, you know?

nominees

Now for the nominations! Please excuse us if any of you have already completed this tag. We just want to spread the Harry Potter love!!

Sissy Lu @ Book Savvy Reviews

DrAwkto @ The Inky Awkto

Emily Rose @ Rose Read

Heather @ Bits & Books

Louise @ geniereads

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Summer Reading List

Much like Dobby, Lindsay is free! I’ve graduated from my Master’s program; I’ve been offered a teaching position (about which I am jazzed); I have a summer job in the meantime. Currently, I have no homework, no “I should be working on *insert school task here.*” I don’t remember the last time I had my life together to this degree and I just needed a moment to bask and brag. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the books I plan to devour this summer!

My Goodreads challenge goal was to complete 52 books this year, or roughly one per week. I’m currently making slow progress on a rather voluptuous tome, so the progress is slow-going at the moment, but I hope to complete at least 10 books in the 12ish weeks of summer. This list is not a promise, but more so a projection; thus, it is subject to change if a more enticing option presents itself, but I will try at least to maintain (some) variety.

Winger – Andrew Smith: I made a promise that I will read this one at some point this year on my New Year’s Recommendations post. It feels like all my MAT cohort-mates have read it and loved it, and I need to get more “bro books” under my belt. Feels like a summer read to me!
Tags: YA, realistic fiction, contemporary, 1st in series

Babylon’s Ashes – James S. A. Corey: No surprise here. I remain obsessed with the Expanse Series and, whereas all my other copies are paperbacks, I recently broke down and bought the hardcover copy of Book 6 cuz I NEEDS IT NOW!! Needless to say, starting with this one.
Tags: Adult fiction, scifi/fantasy, “space opera,” mid-series

Sons of Ares – Pierce Brown: Again, hold your surprise. Wherever Pierce goes, I go. This one is a comic book, so it is proving to be allusive and I will ultimately have to order it online since none of my local book stores or comic shops have it. Wassup with that??
Tags: Comic, fiction, scifi/fantasy, prequel

Under the Banner of Heaven – Jon Krakauer: Krakauer is another author I’ll follow to the ends of the Earth. I need to get more nonfiction under my belt, and I already know I like Krakauer’s style and the subject matter sounds fascinating, so count me in.
Tags: Adult historical nonfiction, mystery/true crime, religion

Meddling Kids – Edgar Cantero: From what I can tell, this one is a spin off of Scooby-Doo, which was my lifeblood as a kid (and still today). This one could have been written FOR ME or could be the most insulting thing I’ve ever read. I have high hopes, since I found it in my endless search for scary books. Like, I want some real horror! Is that so much to ask?! It’ll be published in July, so I have time to psyche myself up for some good ol’ Mystery Gang fun.
Tags: Adult fiction, horror, mystery, fantasy

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch: The hubby read this one recently (which means BONUS, we already own it!) and liked it. I know there has been a lot of buzz about it and I missed the initial gravy train, but I’m happy to jump on to the caboose. Hopefully, it’ll be a nice thriller? I actually know nothing about it…
Tags: Adult fiction, scifi, thriller, mystery

Waking Gods – Sylvain Neuvel: This is the sequal to Sleeping Giants, which I read around this time last year and really enjoyed. We all know I’m a scifi junkie, so this one is purely for my enjoyment and I cannot wait. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll go grab a copy today so the motivation to read it can propel me through Babylon’s Ashes even faster!
Tags: Adult fiction, scifi/fantasy, 2nd is series

Rise of the Rocket Girls – Nathalia Holt: Again, my attempt to intake more nonfiction leads me to this text. It sounds remarkably similar to Hidden Figures but I’ve heard that Hidden Figures is actually rather boring (I haven’t read it, so this is just hearsay), so I think I’ll give this one a try. Sounds empowering!
Tags: Adult historical nonfiction, feminism, science/space

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak: I assume it will surprise everyone that I haven’t read this. I’m known to devour WWII literature and this one had its hayday recently when it became a movie. I didn’t see that either, so I’m blissfully ignorant of the details and will now consume it.
Tags: YA, historical fiction, WWII/war

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury: I don’t know how I went this long without reading this, but I need to now. I love Bradbury, so I’m optimistic. Classics revival!
Tags: Adult fiction, classics, dystopian

I’d love to know what everyone else is reading this summer. Any thoughts on my choices? Replacement options? Comment or link so I can see what everyone is up to and maybe even make some swaps.

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Re-reading Things Because I Must: “Jekyll & Hyde”

I went back and looked; I wrote four papers with four different arguments on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I think my attraction to Gothic literature meant I was already inclined to like the story, but I also assume that dissecting it in order to argue those various points forced a familiarity with the text that borders on friendship.

When I realized I would be teaching it this year, I immediately began wondering what overall “unit idea” I could apply to J&H so that I could start planning supplementary texts. “Gothic lit” was an obvious choice, but so what? Like with the Brutality unit, I wanted an idea that would matter on a larger scale; thus, this unit became the Unreliable Narrator unit. As always, the goal is not only that students learn from and analyze the text in ways that prepare them for tests and cultural references (after all, J&H has been adapted over 100 times), but I also want to ensure that students find larger meaning that applies to their lives and places within society. It was easier to lead them to find relevance with the brutality unit, but I had to work harder with the Unreliable Narrator unit.

Like with the Brutality unit, I had one mandatory primary text, but could weave in assorted secondary short stories. We started with Truman Capote’s “Miriam,” but they read it on their own time and had to include annotations. The intention was that they annotate on the first reading, postulating on what will happen and then after they read the big surprise ending, go back and re-read, annotating again, but this time noting the moments that foreshadow or reveal who or what Miriam is. We finished that work with a Socratic Seminar, which lead to some awesome conversations from the class. At the end, I asked what made the narrator unreliable, if anything. Unanimously, the students agreed that they weren’t sure what it was, but something about Mrs. Miller that isn’t quite right or trustworthy. Mental Illness of some sort was the ultimate popular vote.

We read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” in class. This one was difficult for them. The language is old and elevated, so we listened to an audio version (alleviating the risk of round-robin mispronunciations or listening to my man voice the whole time) and I frequently paused it in order to deconstruct some of the more confusing moments. This just reminded me that my love for Poe is not universal and maybe (definitely) it would be beneficial to spend a day going through Poe’s language, giving examples and having them break them down into current translations, as is often beneficial with Shakespeare. I think if we had been able to lessen the intensity of the language, they would have liked it way more. In order to impress upon them how much perspective changes the story, I had the class complete a worksheet that would analyze how certain moments would change if told from Fortunato’s perspective instead of Montresor’s. This actually ended up being more difficult for this 9th Honors group than I had thought it would be, but I think that could be alleviated with more practice within more works.

They all agreed that Montresor was unreliable since he showed clear bias, was blinded by revenge, and might also be mentally unstable. Perf. That’s when I hit them with Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I didn’t have hard copies and I didn’t want to murder a million trees, so we utilized ActivelyLearn.com. This was my first time using this website and I really liked it. They offer a lot of the classics for free and you just set up a class, import some notes, links, and questions (some works come with them already), and assign it. They read at their own pace, answering questions as they went along, and I was able to see all their answers, give feedback, or prompt them to think harder and re-answer, as well as grade quickly and easily.

Everybody felt strongly about this text, but in what way varied. Some didn’t understand it and were frustrated by it. Some appreciated the articles and questions about women’s roles that I embedded, and were similarly frustrated. Others loved the evident downward spiral of the narrator’s sanity and enjoyed it thoroughly. I enjoyed being able to track their understanding of the narrator’s reliability through their answers to my questions. Some read the story at face value, believing the claims that the room was a nursery, despite the fleeting mentions of bars on the windows, rings in the walls, and the bed being nailed to the floor. That’s fine. We never truly know otherwise. But through discussion, they were able to identify why the narrator’s assumptions might not be reliable and what the other evidence might imply.

Artifact 5Actively Learn #2

The unreliability of Gilman’s narrator was obvious. But what about J&H? Mr. Utterson narrates a large portion of the tale and his mental capacity is never called into question. However, when I opened this question to the class, they pointed out that the point of view meant that the events were being delivered from an outsider’s perspective. We only know what Utterson knows about Jekyll and Hyde, so we see it as he sees it. Some information is missing due to that simple fact. These kids are so smart.

Ultimately, I got to the end of the unit and asked, “ok, so what? Why talk about this? How does your understanding of the narrator affect the overall story?”

I was stared at for a very pregnant pause (something I’m learning to allow, since it benefits no one for me to ask a question and then answer it myself since they’re taking too long). Eventually, students began to propose answers to the question: some suggested that they read these works in order to better understand others’ perspectives; another postulated that I wanted them to consider how a person’s experiences may affect his or her point of view and, thus, the story; ultimately, I finished by encouraging them to question everything, taking in all the details from all the perspectives in order to form their own educated opinions. Each of these overall lessons shows me that these students finished the unit more thoughtful and understanding than they began it. In and of itself, that is a tremendous success. Yes, they can pass the tests. Yes, they’ll understand that calling someone “Mr. Hyde” is a literary insult. Yes, they’ll identify the good side vs. evil side trope in popular culture. But they’ll also, hopefully, think for themselves and do their research before just believing something they’re told. It’s an all-around success.

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