Archive | January, 2011

Booking Through Thursday Prompt: Heavy

27 Jan

Today’s Booking Through Thursday prompt asks readers, “What’s the largest, thickest, heaviest book you ever read? Was it because you had to? For pleasure? For school?” Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is, by far, the most ambitious book I have ever read. I’d like to say I read this book for fun; however, I think I was more motivated by guilt. When I was in high school I was assigned to read Atlas Shrugged during the summer and complete an assignment demonstrating my understanding of the novel. Even though I loved reading, I procrastinated. Three days before school started I went to the public library to check out Atlas Shrugged … only to discover that it was over 700 pages long! Needless to say, I didn’t finish in time. In fact, I didn’t finish at all. And it’s the only reading assignment that I passed using Cliff Notes. The next summer, I was looking for a book at the library when I passed Ayn Rand’s book. I felt a pang of guilt and decided I should probably read the book. I devoted hours to finishing the novel that summer, and to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. I found myself loving and hating Dagny Taggart at the same time, but I was enthralled by her story. Reading Atlas Shrugged felt like a literary milestone!

The Beginning

25 Jan

My goal as a Language Arts teacher is to transform my students into life-long readers. Although I am responsible for teaching state and school-mandated standards, my deepest wish is that students will leave my class with a love for books. Perhaps their literary journey can begin in my classroom.  

As I was considering my wish to create life-long readers, I began to consider where my own reading journey began. When did I first realize I loved reading? My love for reading began in third grade, when Miss S. read Matilda aloud. I don’t enjoy Roald Dahl’s writing. In fact, I don’t think I really cared for his books back then. But Miss S. had a way of breathing life into the characters. She read with enthusiasm and expression. She created a unique voice for each character. Read-aloud time was an escape, a chance to spread the wings of my imagination. Something clicked for me in third grade. I began to see that books are more than just pages of words bound together. Miss S. taught me the valuable lesson that reading is an experience. Thank you, Miss S., for this lesson. Now, it is my turn to share the gift of reading with my students.

Catching Fire

24 Jan

Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, begins after Katniss Everdeen and her male counterpart from District Twelve, Peeta, return from their fight for survival in the 74th Hunger Games. As victors of the games, Katniss and Peeta embark upon a customary tour of the districts where they are welcomed with hints of unrest. President Snow blames the resistance in Panem on Katniss’s inadvertant defiance of the Capitol in the games when she and Peeta threaten to eat the poisonous berries. Now, with the 75th Hunger Games approaching, Katniss and Peeta are prepared to serve as mentors to the new tributes. What they don’t expect, however, is that the rules of the Quarter Quell will require them to face off with other former victors in the arena. This time, Katniss’s survival is more precarious – after all, her opponents are people who have already won the games with their strength, quick wit, and desperate will to survive. It seems the odds are not in her favor. More importantly, however, is the survival of Peeta. Can Katniss manage to keep Peeta alive in a savage arena against fierce opponents?  

When I told my students that I had begun reading Catching Fire, a few of them remarked that they did not like this book as much as The Hunger Games. When I asked them why they were less than impressed, their response was unanimous: the plot of Catching Fire, in their opinion, was slow and boring. I disagree! As with the first book in the trilogy, I found myself devouring Catching Fire. This book focuses more on the heightening unrest in the Capitol, whereas the plot of The Hunger Games centers on the action in the arena. Perhaps my students thought the tour of the districts was not as exciting because it lacked the drama of the previous book. In contrast, I appreciate this aspect of the novel because I thought the victory tour communicated the country’s heightening tensions. I also thought the picture of Panem’s unrest highlighted the citizens’ need for a leader like Katniss. Speaking of Katniss, I continue to enjoy her character. She is an unwilling symbol of the rebellion, a reluctant leader. She feels unequal to the responsibility and admiration the citizens of Panem are so willing to attribute to her. Though she used to hush Gale when he spoke of the Capitol’s flaws, Katniss is beginning to question their authority as well. She’s feisty, yet her actions are ruled by her compassion for others. I find Katniss’s character to be believable and lovable in spite of her flaws (and perhaps, because of her flaws). I’m already afraid that I will miss her when I finish Mockingjay.

On a side note, I think I will have to re-read the Hunger Games trilogy. Right now, I’m speeding through the pages to find out what happens to Katniss and Peeta. I think another reading will allow me to truly enjoy the plot.

Reading for Fun

18 Jan

Life is busy! Between teaching full-time and having a four-month old baby, every moment of my day is spoken for. I always encourage my students to find time to read for pleasure, no matter how busy their schedule is: “If you have only five minutes, read a few pages of a book.” I admit, my advice is hypocritical; I rarely have time to read for pleasure. When I do read, I am usually focused on the novels I teach or lesson preparation. This year, I am resolving to do more pleasure-reading. While this will certainly preserve my sanity, I think it will also make me a better teacher. After all, how can I encourage my students to have a rich literary life if I don’t nurture mine as well?

In my attempt to do more enjoyable reading, I recently started the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy. My students have been raving about this novel for nearly a year; however, I was hesitant to give it a try. I am usually not a fan of adolescent literature. I know that probably makes me a bad Language Arts teacher, but I just can’t “get into” most stories with a teenage protagonist. Today I finished The Hunger Games, and OH.MY.GOSH! I am so glad I persevered through my reservations and read this book!

Katniss Everdeen , the sixteen-year-old protagonist of The Hunger Games, lives in District 12, a coal-producing region in the country of Panem. Existence in District 12 (and most of Panem, for that matter) is marked by starvation and desperation. After her father’s accidental death in a coal mine, Katniss must use her hunting prowess – a skill punishable by death – to support her mother and sister. Almost 75 years before the book begins, District 13 upsets the control of Panem’s ruling body, the Capitol, by inciting a rebellion. The Capitol responds to this insurrection by leveling the insubordinate district and creating a deadly competition called the Hunger Games. Each year, the remaining twelve districts must provide two tributes to participate in the Hunger Games. These tributes, a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18, serve as a painful reminder of what can happen when Districts disobey the Capitol’s absolute authority. When the 74th Hunger Games commence, Katniss knows the odds are not in her favor – the tributes are chosen by lots, and Katniss’s name is on many of the eligible slips. What she does not expect, however, is that her 12-year-old sister Prim’s name will be drawn instead. In a desperate attempt to save Prim’s life, Katniss volunteers to serve as a tribute in her sister’s place. As she enters the arena and faces the brutal challenges that await, Katniss must find the will to survive and return to District 12 as a champion.

I lost sleep over The Hunger Games! I found myself saying, “Just one more page,” until I could no longer will my eyelids to stay open! As I mentioned before, I am not usually a fan of adolescent literature – I often dislike the self-focused, one-dimensional characters included in today’s teen books. But I really enjoyed Katniss Everdeen! Suzanne Collins does a remarkable job of demonstrating Katniss’s strengths as well as weaknesses. I was touched by Katniss’s compassion for Prim and Rue, yet I found myself chiding her in her exchanges with Peeta. Collins also portrays Katniss’s internal conflict realistically as she fights for her life in the arena. Many teen books seem to oversimplify complicated issues, but Collins acknowledges the inner turmoil her protagonist faces as she makes crucial decisions in the game. Katniss doesn’t want to kill her competitors; however, if she doesn’t defend herself, she won’t make it out of the arena. Like the saying “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” the extreme conditions in the arena force Katniss to do things she wouldn’t ordinarily do.

On a side note, this is the first book I read on my Nook. Before I finished The Hunger Games, I made sure to download Catching Fire. I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting to read the next book in the trilogy – even if I only had to wait for the book to finish downloading!

Confessions

3 Jan

I love literature. I can’t remember a time when I was NOT immersed in a book. As a young girl, I would sit sideways on a comfortable recliner in our living room, legs draped over the arm of the chair. There could be chaos around me – my siblings could be yelling, my dog could be barking, my mom could be vacuuming – but, for a moment, the book became my reality.

Though my literary tastes have inevitably changed as an adult, my passion for reading remains the same. I still savor the feeling of getting carried away by a good book. I love that, for a moment in time, I can exist in two places at once – my physical environment and the environment created by the author of the book I’m reading. I find myself getting very attached to characters – I feel a bittersweet sadness when I finish a good book because I must now say goodbye to a friend.

My reading habits can best be described as … well … eclectic. My friends and family members find it difficult to purchase books for me as gifts because my taste seems to lack a unifying theme. My “a la carte” appetite for books has left embarassing gaps in my literary diet. Therefore, I have decided to participate in my first reading challenge: Dana Huff’s “Books I Should Have Read in School, but Didn’t” Challenge. (This challenge is especially enticing as I am an 8th grade Language Arts teacher.) I am a long-time reader of Ms. Huff’s blogs and am looking forward to connecting with other participants in this challenge. I would love to commit to the Literature Professor level of the challenge; however, my life stays very busy with a full-time teaching job and adorable four-month-old son. Therefore, I am committing to the College Graduate level which involves reading 4 books I think I should have read in school. The following is a list of possible selections for this challenge:

  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I am ashamed to admit I have not read this novel! When my classmates were commiserating with Holden Caufield’s adolescent angst, I was immersed in books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin … yes, I was an anomale among high-schoolers. It’s definitely time for me to read this book! (I feel like the literary police will arrest me for this confession!)
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – Another embarassing confession … I have never read anything by John Steinbeck.
  • Ernest Hemingway – I tried reading For Whom the Bell Tolls several years ago but didn’t finish. I think it’s time for me to give Hemingway another chance. Any suggestions on which book would be a good introduction to Hemingway?
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – This is another book I tried to read years ago, but I think I was too young to appreciate the novel. I am a fan of Emily Bronte, so I think I will give her sister’s work a try as well.

You can join the challenge at Dana Huff’s book blog, Much Madness is Divinest Sense.

On a side note, I think it would be interesting to participate in a challenge that involves re-reading old favorites. For example, I loved The Great Gatsby in high school, but I think I would have a new, deeper appreciation for the novel as an adult. Perhaps this is an idea for next year?