WWW Wednesdays: Feb. 29

29 Feb

Happy Leap Day! Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

  • What are you currently reading? – I am currently reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I am very fond of Jane’s intelligence and strength. I think Charlotte Bronte has done an admirable job of making Jane a realistic character. For example, while her strength makes her worthy of respect, it also gives her a rebellious and head-strong streak.
  • What did you recently finish reading? – I recently finished reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, which inspired me to read Jane Eyre. It was an entertaining read – I enjoyed the literary humor sprinkled throughout the novel.
  • What do you think you’ll read next? – I plan to read A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly next. I am a huge fan of Jennifer Donnelly’s novels, and A Northern Light sounds like an interesting story.

Why Young People Should Read “Depressing” Books

28 Feb

Last week, I listened to an episode of the Diane Rehm Show devoted to a discussion of Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. First, let me state how much I love Diane Rehm! I believe she does a wonderful job as host, keeping the conversation moving with thought-provoking questions and poignant statements. In addition, I believe Diane Rehm does an admirable job evaluating literature. In the episodes of her show that are dedicated to literary discussion, Rehm demonstrates both an understanding of and affinity for great pieces of writing.

I also LOVE Ethan Frome! I first read this novel in high school, and I instantly became an Edith Wharton devotee. While many people argue that young people have a difficult time relating to the classics, my teacher made Ethan Frome accessible to her teenage audience. I remember discussing how both Ethan and Mattie felt constrained by their circumstances. What teenager hasn’t felt like a victim of their situation!?

Therefore, I was delighted to discover that Diane Rehm was devoting her show to a discussion of Wharton’s novel! As the show began, Rehm and her guests began discussing Wharton’s choice to write a novel focused on working class characters. As a member of New York’s elite, Wharton had not personally experienced the daily trials of “common” people. Eventually, the conversation changed as Rehm began to take callers. It was interesting to hear about other people’s experiences with Ethan Frome – some people reflected upon the novel with nostalgia while others remembered the book with contempt. One e-mailer’s comments struck a chord with me. She stated that her granddaughter, who had enjoyed nearly every book she was assigned to read in school, did not enjoy Ethan Frome. The woman wondered if students should be forced to read such depressing novels as part of their required curriculum. I bristled at the comment immediately. As an English teacher, I have faced the same question from parents and students at my school.

I teach Romeo and Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Animal Farm to my eighth grade students. I believe each of these works is an enduring, valuable part of my students’ literary education. Yet every year I hear the same complaint from a few students and parents – why do we have to read such depressing stories? While I am willing to acknowledge that dark literature is becoming more popular among young people, I do not believe these classics (including Ethan Frome) are depressing novels. Yes, many characters die throughout Romeo and Juliet – it is a tragedy, after all. But what about the reconciliation between the Capulet and Montague families at the end of the play? Shakespeare shows us how deep love can overcome an ancient grudge. The deaths of Romeo and Juliet illustrate an important reality: sometimes the difficult situations we face in life will lead to a greater good. The same lesson is illustrated in To Kill a Mockingbird. A sleepy southern town, hardened by decades of racism and inequality, must face its ugly, ingrained misconceptions during the Tom Robinson trial. Many characters and events in this novel are unpleasant. The history of the “malevolent phantom” living next door is certainly haunting. Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, the Finch’s foul-mouthed elderly neighbor, makes life miserable for young Scout and Jem. And let’s not forget about Miss Maudie’s house fire, proof that even the respectable citizens of Maycomb County are not exempt from tribulation. Yet through these experiences, Scout and Jem grow into young people of great character. They learn what it means to be brave, to stand up for those who do not have a voice. Are these not qualities we wish all children to possess?

I think the problem lies in our definition of “depressing.” Many people label a book depressing if it does not have a Disney-fied ending, in which everyone lives happily ever after. Yet aren’t we confusing the words “depressing” and “realistic”? Life is not always easy. Every human being will face difficult times. While it is not healthy to believe that life is defined by hardships and trials alone, I think it is equally wrong to ignore that such difficulties exist. If we take these books out of our curriculum simply because they deal with tough issues, what will our children be missing? I believe they will miss out on a safe place in which to learn some of life’s hardest lessons. As a teenager, I often felt that books were like training wheels. Rather than trying to ride a bike for the first time without assistance, most parents put training wheels on their child’s bike. These wheels are designed to keep children safe as they navigate a brand new experience. Without training wheels, children wouldn’t have a safe way to acquire a new skill. In the same way, books are like training wheels, providing young people with a safe place to explore complex issues as they begin to navigate adult life. If a young person witnesses examples of great character in fiction (like Atticus Finch), perhaps they will learn to apply these traits in their behavior as well. Conversely, if a child sees how poor choices can have negative consequences (like the ancient feud between the Capulets and Montagues), perhaps they will work to rid themselves of the same qualities. Don’t get me wrong – there are clearly examples of literature that do not have any redeeming value. Yet I believe that not teaching “depressing” books simply because they don’t have a satisfactory ending would be a great disservice to our children.

If you’d like to listen to this portion of the Diane Rehm show, check it out at


Teaser Tuesdays: Jane Eyre

28 Feb

After finishing The Eyre Affair over the weekend, I have decided to dive into Jane Eyre … and I am thoroughly enjoying it so far! Therefore, my Teaser Tuesdays excerpt for this week comes from Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel:

“Superstition was with me at that moment, but it was not yet her hour for complete victory. My blood was still warm; the mood of the revolted slave was still bracing me with its bitter vigor; I had to stem a rapid rush of retrospective thought before I quailed to the dismal present” (10).

Although I have just begun the novel, I am already enjoying Jane as a heroine and protagonist. She is strong and intelligent, and has easily earned my compassion. I also love Charlotte Bronte’s writing style. From the very first page, I have been swept into Jane’s bleak world. Reading Jane Eyre has been a welcome escape from a very busy work week!

Musing Mondays: Series

27 Feb

This week’s Musing Mondays prompt asks:

• Do you read books that are part of a series?
• Do you collect all the books in the series before starting? What if the series is brand new, and the only book that’s been published so far is Book one? As subsequent books in the series are published, do you go back and re-read the preceding books?

No, I don’t usually read books in a series. I am often disappointed with series because I usually do not enjoy subsequent books as much as I enjoy the first. Because of this, I often read the first book in a series, but then I don’t finish it. I recently read Divergent by Veronica Roth. I’ve heard this is going to be a trilogy. While I really enjoyed Divergent, I don’t feel like I need to read subsequent novels. The same is true for The Eyre Affair. I know there are other novels in the Thursday Next series, yet I don’t feel compelled to read them. I thoroughly enjoyed both novels, but they didn’t leave me wanting more.

There are notable exceptions, however. For example, I finished The Hunger Games series in a matter of days. I purchased Catching Fire and Mockingjay while reading The Hunger Games because I knew I couldn’t wait to start the rest of the books in the series. I can see myself re-reading this trilogy in the future because I enjoyed it so much!

Even though I don’t enjoy series as an adult, there were several years when I read exclusively from the Nancy Drew series as a child.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I read the Nancy Drew series until I was WAY too old for it to be considered cool! 🙂 Oh well. I truly believe that I am a voracious reader today because Nancy Drew introduced me to the world of reading!

The Eyre Affair: Review

26 Feb

Imagine a world where one can literally get lost within the pages of a book; where people travel door-to-door debating the authenticity of Shakespeare’s works; where genetically-engineered dodo birds are beloved household pets. This is the setting of The Eyre Affair, written by Jasper Fforde.

The Eyre Affair takes place in Great Britain, in a futuristic 1985. Thursday Next, the novel’s heroine, is a SpecOps agent in the LiteraTec division – a group of detectives devoted to investigating literary crimes. The LiteraTec division is known for receiving relatively benign assignments. Yet that all changes when Jane Eyre is abducted from the pages of Bronte’s beloved novel. Now Thursday must find the villain within the pages of this literary masterpiece before the beloved heroine disappears forever.

The Eyre Affair was a very enjoyable read! Fforde fills each page with literary wit and allusions – a sort of scavenger hunt for book lovers. I have never read Jane Eyre (gasp!), yet I was able to understand many of the allusions to Bronte’s novel. After finishing this novel, I have resolved to read Jane Eyre next, a novel that has been on my TBR pile for quite some time. I am also determined to read more novels by Charles Dickens – another author who seems to hold a permanent position in my TBR pile. I love it when one book inspires me to read another!

This is the third book I read for the Mount TBR reading challenge; I am committed to reading twelve. I am finding that, as soon as I finish one book from my TBR pile, I add another book to it! Alas, that is the life of a reader.

When She Woke: Review

24 Feb

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is a futuristic retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. The novel is set in Texas, where separation of church and state is a thing of the past and Roe v. Wade has been overturned. Hannah Payne, the novel’s protagonist, has devoted her life to family and church. Aside from her ability to create beautiful garments by hand, Hannah’s life seems unremarkable. That is, until she makes a decision that changes her life forever. As the novel begins, Hannah finds herself lying on a table in a paper-thin gown, her skin dyed red. Hannah is now a Chrome – a criminal whose skin is genetically-altered to reflect the crime she has committed. Her crime? Taking the life of her unborn child, a sin that is unpardonable in pious Texas. Life for Chromes is difficult. Because their crimes are advertised on their skin, Chromes face daily discrimination and persecution. Yet Hannah doesn’t feel like a criminal – she made the decision to abort her unborn child in order to protect the baby’s father. When She Woke illustrates the process Hannah must go through to understand the decision she made and adapt to life as an outsider.

When She Woke addresses many sides of a very sensitive issue – abortion. Like Hannah’s family, I believe that all human life is sacred, including the lives of unborn babies. Yet in spite of my personal beliefs, I truly felt compassion for Hannah. Although the novel focuses on a very difficult topic, it is still an enjoyable read. Reading When She Woke made me want to re-read The Scarlet Letter. I read The Scarlet Letter in high school, and I remember being very captivated by the plot. I’m sure I would enjoy it even more as an adult.

Now, I’m on to my next book for the Mount TBR Challenge – The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde!

The Night Train: Review

29 Jan

Dwayne Hallston loves music. At the age of seventeen, Dwayne and his band – the Amazing Rumblers – study the music of James Brown, hoping to recreate the sound of Brown’s album Live at the Apollo. After hours of practice, the Rumblers earn a spot on The Bobby Lee Reese Show and have a chance to perform on television.  At the same time, Dwayne’s friend Larry Lime is studying the music of Thelonius Monk. Under the tutelage of a jazz musician known as the Bleeder, Larry Lime learns to play the piano. Though Dwayne and Larry’s love for music binds them together, their friendship is unacceptable in their small southern town in 1963. Dwayne is white; Larry is black. In a community where people are divided by racial boundaries, music has the potential to bring people together.

While I appreciated Edgerton’s depiction of how music can heal our differences, I found The Night Train difficult to finish. I couldn’t connect with Dwayne or Larry. I had to push myself to finish the novel – a sign that I wasn’t truly engaged. I read this book as part of a “community reads” event promoted by my local library. Although this wasn’t my favorite book, I am grateful that our library provides opportunities for the community to experience literacy together. Like music in The Night Train, sharing a book can truly bring people together!