June 17, 2016

Once Again, Opinions Needed:

Preface: I’m the English teacher who doesn’t teach novels.  I have many reasons for this, but here are the facts that I know to be true.  Most students, unless they major in some type of Literature or English degree, are not going to be expected to read many novels after high school.  Even as adults, we read our news from Twitter, we get The Skimm in our email, and we read short stories if everyone is talking about their brilliance.  Some people eat poetry, some people never see a poem unless it’s plastered on a street light at their height level. I find that I can get a lot more from my students, in a student-centered room, when I teach smaller texts. Granted, this makes it impossible to rely on the novel as a backbone and I’m constantly having to reinvent the wheel, but I don’t mind.  I’m anything but a lazy educator.

This year, I’m facing the great Advanced Placement Literature course.  This course scares me for two reasons, it gives my students college credit so it desperately needs to be on a college level and part of the exam is literally a list of novels that the students must use in order to prove a point in an essay.  They can use two of these novels in most cases.  This means that they must have, at some point, read at least two novels on this list of random.  It changes every year.  There are a few constants (there’s always at least two Shakespeare plays), but mostly the books are classics from the white man’s canon.

To sum up: this whole course goes against some fundamental beliefs I have as an educator AND I believe that it needs a SERIOUS update in order to reflect what colleges are doing with English majors, or just English 101 courses.  Don’t get me started on the problems I’ve heard from friends about English 101.  My professor had a jungle theme…literally. Everything we read was jungle based.

Here’s how I want to WRASTLE this gator. I have a list of “must-reads,” not really any classics and then I have some options.  I need your help and your votes on which should be read and discussed and applied to the world at large in this course.

Here are my MUST-READS

  1. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  2. Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (this might be an “other option” but I’m feeling good about it at the moment).
  3. Hamlet – Shakespeare

Here are my OTHER OPTIONS (I will be using excerpts from some of these or can use the whole book if my arguments for it are good enough).

  1. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  2. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  3. Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safron Foer
  4. The Woman Warrior – Maxine Hong Kingston
  5. No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
  6. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  8. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
  9. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Addams
  10. Something by Louise Erdrich
  11. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  12. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  13. Something by Hunter S. Thompson
  14. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  15. Absolom, Absolom – William Faulkner

Please, please, please let me know which of these you would fight for and why.  Some of them I have to read, or reread.  I’m currently reading In Cold Blood and then I’ll take on Absolom, Absolom.  If you know any other books that I don’t have listed that I should, OR there are books that you’re like “ABSOLUTELY, NO, NO, NO!” I need that advice too.

18 comments so far.

18 responses to “Once Again, Opinions Needed:”

  1. Melissa says:

    A Thousand Splendid Suns should be on your must-read! It is about populations that are marginalized, misogyny, and it makes the reader think more about being a global citizen. It is also empowering for women, which is a plus!

    • Cassie says:

      I have heard great things about this one. I haven’t read it, but I typically teach A TON of world in my pre-AP world lit and I do love “global citizenship.” That is the overall theme of that course. I have SO MANY shorter selections about misogyny and women empowerment as well. I was going to teach Woman Warrior or The Women of Brewster Place for that unit!

  2. I like your idea of using excerpts. Maybe you could provide an excerpt from each novel, and from there students could choose which of the optional books to read.

    I haven’t read everything on your list, but there are a couple authors whom I can’t stand, and reading an entire book by that author would be torture. But anybody can read an excerpt and learn from it. And your list of 15 has enough variety for any serious student to make a wise choice.

    I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that though.

    • Cassie says:

      Honestly, I don’t know if I’m allowed to do that. I’m so so used to doing excerpts in my room and they will always pack a similar punch to the whole novel. I really want to continue the way I teach.

  3. Ooh this is tough! I would definitely include the Kite Runner, I love any book that reminds me that however different the culture, people are people wherever you go. Whatever the boundaries of a society, whether they are religious, political, or torn about by war, those living within them are looking for the same things in life. The themes of family, friendship and trying to become a person you can respect are universal.

    That said, I have a real soft spot for Pride and Prejudice too! (I would ditch Wuthering Heights though, I read it at school and hated it!) xx

    • Cassie says:

      I hate all classic British lit. (I know, I am the worst). I might try Pride and Prejudice again and see if I like it better now. Wuthering Heights only because I looooove to hate those characters! Kite Runner actually appears a lot on the AP exam so I’m leaning towards it. What a great argument too! Thank you!

  4. germanymarie says:

    there are so many good ones to choose from on that list! I agree that A Thousand Splendid Suns is a good choice, as it tackles life in a country most students know very little about (apart from the fact that the US may or may not be drone striking them at the moment).

    I’d say:
    The Invisible Man: it’s important to read the ‘other’ viewpoint
    In Cold Blood: the ORIGINAL true crime novel
    No Country for Old Men: because McCarthy is an amazing writer (I prefer The Road or Child of God, but whatever)
    Hitchhiker’s Guide: the books are somehow better than the movie, and Addams is amazingly witty

    • Cassie says:

      I would love to do The Road. Which do you feel like gives a better perspective of the stereotypical “American man?” Maybe I can use excerpts from both. I will DEFINITELY teach Battle Royale from Invisible Man and give the option to read the whole book. It’s funny because I teach so much literature of the Middle East and South America because they hold so much of my favorite literature personally. I probably over do those parts of the world. I will have to read Splendid Suns again this summer. Hitchhiker’s Guide is like “the fun one,” ya know? Because typically literature taught in schools is terribly dark.

      • germanymarie says:


        I like ‘the Road’ better, but maybe ‘No Country’ has more spoken parts, perspectives and characters.

        ‘The Road’ is pretty bare and stripped down, and felt a lot like reading parts of ‘the Walking Dead’ at times. Majorly introspective.

  5. Geoff W says:

    I like the idea of Oryx and Crake, are you not concerned it’s a trilogy? With Austen and Brontë, just be careful how you teach them. I read Brontë in HS and was not a fan and didn’t become one until much later, but you could do some great contrast/comparisons of Darcy and Heathcliff!

    The only other one I have an opinion on is Ellison’s Invisible Man. We had to read it in HS and had a great/interactive teacher, but I know it was one of two books that I just didn’t finish because it wasn’t engaging for me at that age.

    • Cassie says:

      I’m not concerned at all about the trilogy. I think if I mention that my kids will seek out the other two I’d they want to. Oryx and Crake stands alone very well. I’m only teaching chapter one of Invisible Man and I hate Austen, but love Bronte so we will just see how that goes. I’m definitely thinking excerpts. AP classes have very strict guidelines that ho against what I believe as a teacher sometimes so choosing texts can be difficult when there are texts that HAVE to be there.

    • Cassie says:

      Are there any classics that you did like in high school? Genuinely?

      • Geoff W says:

        Honestly, no. I was very resentful that the books I had to read (and we had to read a lot) took away from the books I wanted to read (Star Wars and fantasy). I have found that most of the books I’ve gone back to I have actually appreciated reading, but a lot of that has to do with the life experiences I’ve had since I was in HS.

        • Cassie says:

          Same. I’m struggling with it due to the student inside of me who hated it when teachers expected me to read something that didn’t seem to relate and I was reading it for “artistic merit” and I didn’t even know what that was. Hm. Need to figure out how to combat that in my own students

      • Geoff W says:

        The only thing I would recommend would be encouraging re-writes or modern comparisons. I remember being allowed to cast our own actors for Romeo and Juliet in a make believe production. I also would’ve loved the opportunity to compare Star Wars or one of my fantasy novels, which I was able to do in College courses.

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Hi, I’m Cass

I am a writer, educator and genuine creative living on the coast of NC. Our house is built on sunshine with my husband BJ, dog named Tucker, and our two very sassy cats: Fromage and Jasper.

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