Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

Love, pain, and the whole damn thing

I keep thinking of short items I’d like to post, and then I don’t sit down to do it (because I don’t post from SA or NLNRU).  Then, when I do sit down, everything that’s happened becomes a large undifferentiated mass in my mind and I freak out a little at how much is going on.

Wednesday was the AP English Language and Composition test, and both sets of my students took it–the ones I’ve had all year, and the ones I inherited from my colleague who left to have her baby.  Now they are working on their last papers of the year.

My ninth-graders are also writing their last papers, and in myriad other ways, the end of the year is becoming increasingly visible.  Lots of culminating events–the Cum Laude Society inductions, elections for next year’s Student Council, and so on.

Now it looks like I probably won’t teach tenth grade next year; I’ll most likely have a combination of the year-long AP junior class and regular eleventh- and twelfth-grade classes.  (The regular eleventh-grade class is a year-long American literature class; the regular twelfth-grade class is world literature.)  This means that my summer reading and rereading will include:

The Grapes of Wrath (reread; haven’t taught this since 2009)

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (summer reading for World Lit)

Short Stories by Latin American Women: The Magic and the Real (awesome anthology, I’m very excited about this)

“Master Harold”…and the Boys

Actually, that is not too much, considering that I haven’t taught two of these classes before.  (The regular American lit class has a lot of books in common with the AP class, and I helped to revamp the world lit syllabus, so I guess I’ll probably also spend some time with Hamlet, since I haven’t taught it at the high-school level before.

Barnyard dance!

My first day of teaching at SA was on Presidents’ Day, 2008, which means that I recently entered my personal Year Five of teaching there.  (Yes, I started to write this post on Presidents’ Day and am finishing it now, on my first day of spring break.)  I know I tend to be a bit of a Pollyanna about this job, but honestly, it feels like it just keeps getting better.  Even when I started, I liked the students; then I started to feel very deeply attached to the students; now–this is hard to express, but I’ll try–I not only feel attached to the students, but feel a real increase in my ability to connect with them.  I still have good clear boundaries, I think, but my reserve has diminished, and connecting with the students comes more easily and feels much more natural.

That I’m thinking about this right now is probably largely a function of the week before spring break, when the stresses of the work and the giddiness of anticipation combine to put a strange scent in the air.  There’s something faintly valedictory about sending them off for two weeks, too.  My two Friday classes did their work (monologue performances and wrap-up discussions of Henry V–which, by the way, I loved as a text for ninth grade, but Romola and Dorothea are planning to go back to Julius Caesar next year) and then we had a little time left over, so I asked for pleasure reading recommendations over spring break, and there was a lot of spirited conversation about that.  (Pedagogically, it felt very right to be standing there and letting my students tell me what I absolutely must read.  My own go-to recommendation for ninth graders: Watership Down.  Very few of them have read it.)

In honor of spring break, then, some recommendations from my SA students:

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Stephen King, 11/22/63

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (duh, and by the way, adding to the general loopiness was the fact that some of them had been to midnight showings of the movie)

David Ebershoff, The 19th Wife

Michael Balkind, Dead Balland the other books in the Sports Mystery Series

This is all I can remember right now, though I know there were many others–the Golden Compass series, the Eragon books, The Knife of Never Letting Go…I have also had recommended to me, and read, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but it didn’t happen to come up in the list.

The fellowship of the ring

It’s happened: the Snork Maiden has become a Tolkien fan.  She is on the third book now and able to enjoy, with Stubb, conversations with lots of made-up words in them.

Meanwhile, speaking of made-up words, it’s Farch–a portmanteau word for that terrible frame of mind that descends in February and March.  The assistant head of the Upper School–I haven’t mentioned her before, but I will call her Hilda van Gleck, after the kindly rich girl in Hans Brinker–introduced me to this term on Thursday after I complained to her about the sudden descent of malaise, right on schedule, on February 1.

Actually, for me the shadows lifted quite a lot on Friday the 10th, perhaps just because of the giddiness of having made it through the week.  What with one thing and another–three trips to NLNRU and a special event one night at SA–I only got home before 10:30 one night all week.  This week involves meetings and deadlines and all manner of nonsense to cope with, but I’ve been able to get away with only going to NLNRU for my class and not on another day.

The other graduate teaching observations were much better, by the way.  Both classes were well conducted, had clear objectives, kept students fully engaged and challenged, and just generally made me feel good about our program.

Farch is definitely in full swing, though, because even when I’m feeling okay myself, I find myself spending time talking other people down from the ledge.  One of the SA office people had a tiny freakout the other day, and I had a long talk with Romola this afternoon about the difficulty of scheduling special events (in this case a movie screening) at SA.  She came to SA from a charter school where there was a lot of independence with minimal oversight, and at SA we have a very different culture.  We have a lot of independence in the actual classroom, but when it comes to anything outside the regular schedule, there tends to be a lot of consulting going on.  I’ve acclimated to this, but Romola takes it personally and feels that it signals lack of confidence in her judgement.  And since it’s Farch, she is getting testy about it.

Supposedly about literature, mostly about grading

The estimable therapydoc listed my blog, in her monthly Back Atcha post of blogs that link to or comment on Everyone Needs Therapy, as being “about literature,” and I felt a twinge of regret that I haven’t written about literature, really, for quite some time.

When I picked the title for the blog, I was thinking about how my love of literature had gotten me into the life I had then, which was about, as I say in my “Blog and I” page, the life of a crazy adjunct.  I think probably the blog is mostly a journal of picking my way through the odd but not unheard-of career path I’m slowly blazing, and of my thought processes and habits about working, managing my time, and living my life in and outside of work.  

(This was my first post. Then I wrote about why I wanted to start blogging and why my husband picked the pseudonym Stubb.  This post about getting an adjunct gig at NCC gives a taste of what my work life was like then–that is, nuts.)

I thought I’d be writing more about what, in my TimeTracker project list, I call “Writing biz”–all the stuff you do as a writer that isn’t writing, like sending work out to magazines, going to readings, giving readings, teaching at conferences, and developing irrational animosities toward other writers.  But I don’t do much of this on the blog.  I think I don’t want to write about it too specifically because I feel sheltered by my anonymity, and if I can’t write about it specifically, the writing biz doesn’t seem very interesting, even to me.  

I do read all the time, yet I don’t often feel driven to post reviews of what I read.  There are lots of reviews around.  Sometimes I just link to good ones. 

However, over winter break I read through the archives of the wonderful mimi smartypants.  Why I never stumbled across her diary before, considering she has been at it for ten years, I do not know.  Mimi reads like a demon and frequently drops titles and brief, idiosyncratic comments on the books she’s read into her blog-that-she-doesn’t-call-a-blog, and now half my library pile consists of books that she has commented on.  I like the casual generosity of her passing along those titles, so I’ll close here (before I go back to the stack of final exams) with a few things I’ve read recently:

The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan.  The movie comes out in February, and I wanted to read this book about a boy who finds out that the Greek gods are still in the world and that he is a demigod himself.  Very popular among the fourth- to seventh-grade set right now.  Pretty decent–I liked how fully and cleverly imagined the fictional world was, but was irritated by that popular-fiction way the book sometimes seemed to read like a treatment for its own movie. 

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, by Kazuo Ishiguro.  No such shortcuts here, however.  Ishiguro commits to fiction.  The stories are about music, but they are also about art (meaning Art, including the writing of fiction) and the ways it moves in our lives and how artists’ lives are shaped by the pursuit of it.  (I don’t remember whether I wrote about Never Let Me Go a year or two ago.  That is a stunning novel; but sometimes what you want is five thematically related short stories instead.)

The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker.  I said to someone at SA a while ago that though my admiration for individual works varied, I would always be interested in a new book by Nicholson Baker.  Maybe I was wrong.  I got this from the library, became intensely irritated, and abandoned it.  And yet one or two of the things that Paul Chowder says about poetry have managed to stay with me.  It was just everything else he said about poetry that made me nuts.  I’ll probably try this one again sometime.

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke.  Another middle-school book.  A better “piece of literature” than The Lightning Thief, for sure–more complex, closer to the heart, more “timeless”–and yet something seemed dead about it, and I fear that it’s the translation.  It is so highly competent that I would forget that it’s a translation, but the prose didn’t seize me, and since I’m a grownup and could see where the narrative was going, I found it very easy to put the book down.

SA’s new semester starts Tuesday, and all the exams have to be graded and semester grades entered by then.  And, of course, new material will be taught!  I’ve already prepped Monday’s classes; in fact, I’ve plotted out the rest of the year in terms of what we read when and what the major assessments are, which is quite an accomplishment for me, since I am not usually a big-picture person.  Now I just have to get through the last 35 exams.  And I won’t have the end of the day on Tuesday to fine-tune the grades, because I need to hurry off after my last class to get to a meeting at NLNRU.  The rest of the week, though, should be pretty straightforward.  (Famous last words.)

Now read this

I’ve got the Sunday blues, end-of-vacation version.  I’ve been sitting around in my nightgown most of the day so far, messing around on the computer, with perhaps an hour of productive work on the ninth-grade final exam.  Now it’s time to get up and do a few errands: put gas in the car, get lunch supplies for the week.  Later our nephews Snufkin and Sniff are coming over, and we’ll bring our niece (the one who is now a big sister) over here to play (thereby giving my sister a break).  I haven’t given this niece a pseudonym yet, but in keeping with the Moomin theme, the obvious choice is Little My.

I’m motivating myself with the promise that I can go to the bookstore tonight and use my remaining gift-card balance to buy a few books for my classroom library–books to read for fun, that students might pick up and enjoy.  I have some old ones at home–a couple of back issues of Granta, some short-story collections, etc.– but I’m thinking about buying copies of books that I happened to love in high school, like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Watership Down, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Do you have any suggestions for me?