Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Teaching”

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #63: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

This little book is a touching reminder of what makes us truly human: that we have the capacity to love and be loved, to give and to create, to remember, and to be remembered. Tuesdays with Morrie is about a favorite college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who discovers that he is dying of ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and in the process of dying, teaches those around him some universal truths about how to live.

Although he is visited by countless family, friends and former students, it is to former student Mitch Albom that he devotes his Tuesdays to discussing the important things of life, such as culture, love, marriage, money, fear of aging, regrets, and, of course, death. Albom is a highly successful sports writer who, at age 39, is beginning to question his accomplishments and his priorities. One Tuesday visit to his old professor, who he hasn’t seen in 20 years, turns into 14 weekly Tuesday visits with the dying Morrie, who Albom affectionately calls “Coach,” visits that eventually become this book, or his “final senior thesis,” as Albom jokingly puts it.

Morrie is a gentle, funny soul, with enough love and wisdom in him to share with all who come in contact with him. In the course of his Tuesdays with Albom, he tells stories with lessons for all of us, such as learning how to ‘detach’ from emotions like anger, jealousy, and envy, or learning how to embrace aging without regret, since every age incorporates all the other ages within it, or learning how to appreciate life by asking every morning, like the Buddhists, “Am I going to die today?”

The ending of this book is a foregone conclusion, and predictably brought me to tears. The intention of this book is clearly not to glorify death, but rather to revere life and make it worth the living of it.

The ScruffyRube’s #CBR4 Review #12 The Kayla Chronicles

You can read this as part of my summer long “Quest for Curricular Satisfaction”–and learn everything you never wanted to know about how a teacher chooses his English class curriculum–at my blog.

It’s a sad stereotype that girls are readers while boys are doers. That has not always been my experience, plenty of my male students lug fiction in the crook of their arm, and plenty of girls tell me that they can’t possibly read between basketball and hockey practices. So The Kayla Chronicles seemed like a genuine possibility for some of my more reluctant female readers (especially since so many revel in the world of cheering and dance team-membership that provides a focal point for the story), but I’m not quite sure what it would be for the boys.

Author Sherri Winston gives a convincing, if formulaic, story of a shy girl coming into her own. In a few pages practiced readers of young adult fiction can pick up on some of the major conflicts and plot points that will percolate throughout the story. There’s not much that sets the story apart: generations, families, friendships, the tension between popularity and tradition, between athletics and academics; everything you’ve come to know and love (or at least expect) in youth fiction.

But where Winston (and The Kayla Chronicles) stands out is in the creative application and analysis of feminist perspectives. Rather than settling for a standard coming-of-age narrative, she weaves a debate about the nature of feminism through a few carefully chosen character. I can see a lot of merit in using a story about maturity to show the development of a personal philosophy as much as the development of an individual’s personality. Winston deserves plenty of credit for tackling such issues regardless of the expectations that come along with the young adult genre, even if other parts of the book are firmly focused on meeting those expectations.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #4 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

You can read this review (along with other thoughts on what makes a book teachable on my regular blog here)

The great thing about teaching English is the multiplicity it offers–I can teach through almost anything. It’s hard to do Geometry without triangles, or History without dates, but you can teach English through classical drama or modern poetry, gripping holocaust memoirs or front page news stories, with Hemingway, McEwan, Achebe or Woolf.

So why not a new author like Junot Diaz? Why not a new, award winning, critically acclaimed, best-selling novel like: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao? I was given the book to answer precisely those questions and while I’ve shared my thoughts with other staff members, I couldn’t help but put them down here as well along with all the other notes I make about what makes a book worth teaching.

For me to want to teach a book it must have artistic merit. To be sure, Oscar Wao has that. With a Pulitzer Prize stamped on its front cover and the pages filled with the kind of fluid, florid prose that can’t help but remind you of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez it is certainly a fine piece of writing. (Though at times it reads like a pseudo-Marquez tribute more than a unique piece.)

For me to want to teach a book it must address themes or subjects that will benefit my students. With an alienated and aloof teenager at its core Oscar Wao can certainly do that (unless a particularly aloof teenager huffs over reading about “some dweeb”). Family pressures, peer pressures, social, cultural, community and historical pressures–all combine into one epic saga of a single awkward life. If the students give it a chance, each and every one of them can get something great out of it.

For me to want to teach a book I must be convinced that it will engage and challenge all students. Here’s where I have a problem with Oscar Wao (and why I included the “if” at the end of that last paragraph). Because the language is so specialized for an Hispanic (and in particular, Dominican) audience; I’m not sure that other students will be able to sift through the argot, track the footnotes and still care about the characters. With engagement in doubt you run the risk of creating too daunting a challenge, and even though the narrators speak in blunt, often profane, prose that anyone could understand that’s not quite the challenge I’d set for teenagers, especially when there are over 3 million other words in the English language that they could/should learn to use.

While I personally love Oscar Wao, I would be extremely careful in choosing when and where to deploy it for students. In the right room, with the right attitude it could be an off the charts success. But, between the hyper-localized language stunting engagement and the uneven challenges presented in the prose, I’d want to build it up with other classes–creating a buzz so that other students seek it out rather than dispassionately flip pages when it plops down on their desk.

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