Sunday, August 30, 2009

Background on the Writer.

I’m not a certified book expert, if there is such a thing. Instead, I am a normal person with an abnormal obsession with literature. Although, my normalcy might be contested by a few certain people close to me.

I say this in good humor, but I do need to lay out my background for those of you who may be asking, what does this chick really know about literature?

I grew up in suburban metro Detroit. As a kid, I remember both of my parents reading fairly often. My dad read more then as his job as become more stressful over the years and he lacks free time. My mom still reads like a fiend, but we have very differing tastes. She reads a lot of romance, and while I do love a break from reality and a happily ever after, I like to read a variety. But she does offer some good suggestions and one of my favorite series (The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon) is one that she recommended.

As a kid, my mom was always very supportive of my reading. I didn’t lack for want of books and she was always encouraging. I think the only time she ever got mad at me was when I wouldn’t go outside and play instead. I hear stories of parents who aren’t so supportive of their children’s reading habits and it breaks my heart. I was very fortunate.

When I went to college, I knew that I wanted to do something in connection to English. English was always my favorite subject in school, with history being a close second. I threw around the idea of going into publishing before eventually settling on education. I figured that since so many of my English teachers were so instrumental in my love of words, that I could also pass that love on.

I ended up at Michigan State University in the fall of 2003 with my major declared in English. Since I went to MSU with 12 Advanced Placement credits, I decided to declare History as my second major in the fall of that first year. This was an extremely full load and after that first semester, I was always taking at least 19 credits a semester. And I did love it.

I was accepted into the MSU College of Education the spring of my sophomore year at school. So, in addition to my classes for English and history I was also responsible for taking on the credit requirements for my education classes.

And I loved my education classes. I was able to go into classrooms in the Lansing area and begin working with students at the secondary level. I was always surprised by how anti-book so many of those students seemed to be. Many regions of the Lansing area are low-income. Students would come in without showering, with empty stomachs, and incomplete homework. It seemed, from my perspective, that they just didn’t value literature, perhaps because they did not have a support system at home.

I began volunteering at one of the elementary schools in Lansing. I tutored students in the first and second grade in reading. For 2 hours a week, I sat down with these kids and read with them. We read Dr. Seuss, the Berenstain Bears, and everything in between. I think it was in those sessions that I realized that the value of literacy has become very low.
I ended up finishing my student teaching in one of the biggest districts in the state of Michigan. I loved being in front of my students and helping them find book choices. I tried then to stress my own love of literature. The school I was working in did a “stop, drop, and read” program three times a week where the teachers also read with their students. I loved that time of day, when I was reading what I loved and so were the students.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to land a long-term substitute teaching position in a district north of where I live. While I was teaching history, I still stressed reading. I also taught a section of a new study skills class where reading was part of the curriculum. Those kids and I fought tooth and nail over their reading, but once they learned that they could read what they loved they read.

This year I was not so fortunate and I currently don’t have a teaching job. Instead, I am working for the city I live in doing a job that I really love. I’m also getting married to Matt, who I have been dating for over seven years, on December 26 of this year.

I have a lot of challenges ahead of me this coming year. In between looking for a full-time job and planning a wedding, I am taking on this challenge. Not just because it’s something to do, but because I think it’s important. I can think of no better challenge for myself than to read these works and teach.

I suppose that’s me in a nutshell. As always, if there are any questions feel free to ask!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Books.

It has taken me some time to come up with a book list. Trying to name all the classics is a much more difficult task than it might seem.

I started by locating my AP English binder from high school. Since I seem to be a big pack-rat, this was easy. As part of our requirement for the class, we had to read one book a month from the list. The problem with this list, as I soon found out, is that it includes a lot of books that aren’t on any other “classic” lists. After doing some research online, I deleted some entries off the list. Some of them had only appeared on the AP test once, or they were so new there is no way I could deem them as a “classic,” even though they might be notable works.

Secondly, I did a search online for classic book lists, primarily looking at lists that were limited to 100 titles or so. I found a few such lists and added on titles as I saw fit. It was actually kind of difficult to narrow down titles, especially when you have authors such as Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare, who are known for their body of work.

On one hand, I want to make sure that the really important books are on this list so that no one can look back at me at the conclusion of this and say, “But you didn’t read so-and-so’s book by this title!” However, I also didn’t want this list to take up the rest of my life. The truth is if I wanted to read all of the great books, this would be a never-ending task. So I have had to put a limit on it, at least for now.

In all there are 250 books on this list. Of those, quite a few are Shakespeare’s plays, or other short works. Also, some of the titles are misleading. Where it says Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Complete Sherlock Holmes, that actually includes four novels and numerous short stories, which is a lot more than it seems. Also, we all know that The Lord of the Rings is broken into 3 novels. So this list can be slightly misleading. In addition, I decided to keep books on this list that I have already read. About 70 of these titles I have already read at some point in my life, but I think to complete this fully, I need to reread them.

I also want to point out that there may seem to be many novels and works NOT on this list. When I was compiling I tended to stay away from what many might consider young adult literature. That is why you won’t see Black Beauty, Heidi, or The Chronicles of Narnia on this list, even though they are all notable works of fiction. I also tried to stay away from many works specific to one genre. Granted, I do have some great works of fantasy and mystery on here, but there are a few that are not on this list. Primarily, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which was on so many lists, as well as Fahrenheit 451 (although, I kept the latter off because I wrote a huge unit plan on the novel in college and I know it inside and out. I honestly can’t stomach another reading of it, even though I love it). Perhaps at the end of this I may add on some titles, like the above, to flesh out my reading.

I am open to the additions of other works to this list. When coming up with it, I tried to limit works by any single author to what is considered to be their best. Even with doing that, I still have quite a few works by Dickens and Austen on here. However, if you think there is a book not on here that should be, please comment and tell me. I don’t think this list is final, nor should it be. So suggest away!

Now the list: alphabetized by author, and if they have more than one notable book, by title (I will point out that attempting to alphabetize this was quite the chore. You might notice some titles missing a “the” or “a” at the beginnings. I did my best to get them accurate, but I know there are some mistakes).

Achebe, Chinua: Things Fall Apart
Adams, Richard: Watership Down
Aeschylus: The Eumenides
Albee, Edward: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Alcott, Louisa May: Little Women
Anaya, Rudolfo: Bless Me, Ultima
Angelou, Maya: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Aristophanes: Lysistrata
Aristophanes: Oresteia
Arnow, Harriette: The Dollmaker
Atwood, Margaret: A Handmaid’s Tale
Atwood, Margaret: Alias Grace
Austen, Jane: Emma
Austen, Jane: Mansfield Park
Austen, Jane: Persuasion
Austen, Jane: Pride and Prejudice
Austen, Jane: Sense and Sensibility
Barrie, J.M.: Peter Pan
Beckett, Samuel: Waiting for Godot
Bronte, Charlotte: Jane Eyre
Bronte, Charlotte: Villete
Bronte, Emily: Wuthering Heights
Bunyon, John: Pilgrim’s Progress
Burns, Olive: Cold Sassy Tree
Burgess, Anthony: A Clockwork Orange
Camus, Albert: Fall
Camus, Albert: Stranger
Cather, Willa: My Antonia
Cather, Willa: O Pioneers!
Chaucer, Geoffrey: The Canterbury Tales
Chekov, Anton: Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate: The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph: Heart of Darkness
Conrad, Joseph: Lord Jim
Cooper, James Fenimore: The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen: Red Badge of Courage
Dante: The Divine Comedy
Darwin, Charles: Origin of Species
deCervantes, Miguel: Don Quixote
De Crevecoeur, J. Hector St. John: Letters from an American Farmer
De Saint-Exupery, Antonie: The Little Prince
Defoe, Daniel: Moll Flanders
Defoe, Daniel: Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles: Bleak House
Dickens, Charles: David Copperfield
Dickens, Charles: Great Expectations
Dickens, Charles: Hard Times
Dickens, Charles: Nicholas Nickleby
Dickens, Charles: Oliver Twist
Dickens, Charles: Tale of Two Cities
Douglass, Frederick: My Bondage and My Freedom
Dostoevesky, Fyodor: Crime and Punishment
Dostoevesky, Fyodor: The Brothers Karamazov
Dostoevesky, Fyodor: The Idiot
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The Complete Sherlock Holmes
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The Lost World
Dreiser, Theodore: American Tragedy
Dreiser, Theodore: Sister Carrie
Du Maurier, Daphne: Rebecca
Dumas, Alexandre: Count of Monte Cristo
Dumas, Alexandre: The Man in the Iron Mask
Dumas, Alexandre: The Three Muskateers
Eliot, T.S.: Murder in the Cathedral
Eliot, T.S.: The Waste Land
Eliott, George: Middlemarch
Eliott, George: Mill on the Floss
Eliott, George: Silas Marner
Ellison, Ralph: The Invisible Man
Euripedes: Medea
Faulk, Sebastian: Birdsong
Faulkner, William: Absalom, Absalom!
Faulkner, William: As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William: Light in August
Faulkner, William: The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry: Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott: Tender is the Night
Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Beautiful and Damned
Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustav: Madame Bovary
Forster, E.M.: Passage to India
Forster, E.M.: Room With a View
Franklin, Benjamin: Autobiography
Gaines, Ernest: A Lesson Before Dying
Goethe, Johann: Faust
Golding, William: Lord of the Flies
Greene, Graham: Brighton Rock
Greene, Graham: The Power and Glory
Hansberry, Lorraine: Raisin in the Sun
Hardy, Thomas: Far From the Madding Crowd
Hardy, Thomas: Jude the Obscure
Hardy, Thomas: Mayor of Casterbridge
Hardy, Thomas: Return of the Native
Hardy, Thomas: Tess of the D’Ubervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The House of Seven Gables
Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph: Catch-22
Hellman: Little Foxes
Hemingway, Ernest: A Farewell to Arms
Hemingway, Ernest: The Old Man and the Sea
Hemingway, Ernest: The Sun Also Rises
Hesse, Hermann: Siddhartha
Hesse, Hermann: Steppenwolf
Homer: The Iliad
Homer: The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor: Les Miserables
Hugo, Victor: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zore Neale: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous: Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrick: Doll’s House
Ibsen, Henrick: Enemy of the People
Ishiguro, Kazuo: Remains of the Day
James, Henry: Daisy Miller
James, Henry: Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry: Turn of the Screw
James, Henry: Washington Square
Johnson, Ben: Volpone
Joyce, James: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Joyce, James: The Dead
Joyce, James: The Dubliners
Joyce, James: Ulysses
Kafka, Franz: Metamorphosis
Kafka, Franz: The Trial
Kerouac, Jack: On the Road
Kesey, Ken: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Kingsolver, Barbara: The Poisonwood Bible
Kipling, Rudyard: Kim
Knowles, John: A Separate Peace
Laurence, Margaret: The Stone Angel
Lawrence, D.H.: Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Lawrence, D.H.: Sons and Lovers
Lee, Harper: To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair: Babbitt
Lewis, Sinclair: Main Street
London, Jack: The Call of the Wild
London, Jack: White Fang
Machiavelli, Niccolo: The Prince
Mann, Thomas: Death in Venice
Marlowe, Christopher: Doctor Faustus
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman: Billy Budd
Melville, Herman: Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur: Death of a Salesman
Miller, Arthur: The Crucible
Milton, John: Paradise Lost
Mitchell, Margaret: Gone with the Wind
Moliere: Misanthrope
More, Thomas: Utopia
Morrison, Toni: Beloved
Morrison, Toni: Song of Solomon
Morrison, Toni: Sula
Morrison, Toni: The Bluest Eye
Nabokov, Vladimir: Lolita
Nabokov, Vladimir: Pnin
Norris, Frank: McTeague
O’Brian, Tim: Going After Cacciato
O’Conner, Flannery: Wise Blood
Orczy, Baroness: The Scarlet Pimpernel
Orwell, George: 1984
Orwell, George: Animal Farm
Paine, Thomas: Common Sense
Pasternak, Boris: Doctor Zhivago
Paton, Alan: Cry, the Beloved Country
Plath, Sylvia: The Bell Jar
Plato: The Trial and Death of Socrates
Pope, Alexander: Rape of the Lock
Proulx, Annie: The Shipping News
Rand, Ayn: Atlas Shrugged
Rand, Ayn: The Fountainhead
Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front
Rhys, Jean: Wide Sargasso Sea
Richardson, Samuel: Clarissa
Richardson, Samuel: Pamela
Rostand, Edmond: Cyrano de Bergerac
Salinger, J.D.: The Catcher in the Rye
Scott, Sir Walter: Ivanhoe
Scott, Sir Walter: Lady of the Lake
Shakespeare, William: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare, William: A Winter’s Tale
Shakespeare, William: Antony and Cleopatra
Shakespeare, William: As You Like It
Shakespeare, William: Hamlet
Shakespeare, William: Henry IV
Shakespeare, William: Julius Caesar
Shakespeare, William: King Lear
Shakespeare, William: Macbeth
Shakespeare, William: Merchant of Venice
Shakespeare, William: Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare, William: Othello
Shakespeare, William: Richard III
Shakespeare, William: Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare, William: The Tempest
Shakespeare, William: Twelfth Night
Shaw, George Bernard: Mrs. Warren’s Profession
Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon: Ceremony
Sinclair, Upton: The Jungle
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles: Antigone
Sophocles: Oedipus Rex
Spark, Muriel: Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Steinbeck, John: Of Mice and Men
Steinbeck, John: The Grapes of Wrath
Steinbeck, John: The Winter of Our Discontent
Steinbeck, John: Travels with Charley in Search of America
Stevenson, Robert Louis: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Stevenson, Robert Louis: Treasure Island
Stoker, Bram: Dracula
Stoppard, Tom: Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead
Stowe, Harriet Beecher: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Swift, Jonathon: Gulliver’s Travels
Tan, Amy: The Joy Luck Club
Thackeray, William Makepeace: Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David: Civil Disobedience
Thoreau, Henry David: Walden
Tolkein, J.R.R.: The Hobbit
Tolkein, J.R.R.: The Lord of the Rings
Tolstoy, Leo: Anna Karenina
Tolstoy, Leo: The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Tolstoy, Leo: War and Peace
Trollope, Anthony: Barchester Towers
Turgenev, Ivan: Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Twain, Mark: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Verne, Jules: Journey to the Center of the Earth
Verne, Jules: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Virgil: The Aenid
Voltaire: Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt: Slaughterhouse Five
Walker, Alice: The Color Purple
Welch, James: Winter in the Blood
Wells, H.G.: The Time Machine
Wells, H.G.: The War of the Worlds
Wharton, Edith: Ethan Frome
Wharton, Edith: The Age of Innocence
Wharton, Edith: The Glimpses of the Moon
Wharton, Edith: The House of Mirth
White, T.H.: The Once and Future King
Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Wilder, Thornton: Our Town
Williams, Tennessee: A Streetcar Named Desire
Williams, Tennessee: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Williams, Tennessee: The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia: Mrs. Dalloway
Woolf, Virginia: Night and Day
Woolf, Virginia: Room of One’s Own
Woolf, Virginia: To the Lighthouse
Woolf, Virginia: The Voyage Out
Wright, Richard: Native Son
X, Malcom: The Autobiography of Malcom X
Zola, Emile: Germinal

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Literary Odyssey.

Otherwise known as the beginnings...

For as far back as I can remember, I have been a reader and collector of books. I love the feeling of having a book in my hands, feeling the grain and worth of the paper beneath my fingertips. The feeling of cracking open a new book is something that I can't quite explain. Part of it is apprehension-Will this one be as good as the last? Another part is fear-What if I can't finish it? What if it isn't good enough?

But those feelings soon disappear as I am sucked fully into the language. The words find a way to envelope me and draw me in. Soon, I forget those feelings. It is only me and the pages in front of me. The words become sentences, which become paragraphs, which become a tale that devours me and remains in my mind, even after I close the back cover and return to reality.

So yes, I am a reader. A devout one if I have anything to say about it. And to say I have a favorite genre is difficult, although I do tend to lean towards fantasy. There is something about magic and the unbelievable that seems to draw me in. I do love other genres. I even crack a romance novel open from time to time. We all need a little romance in our lives.

It was obvious to me when I started applying to colleges that I should pick English as my major. I loved to read, and I loved to write, so what could be more perfect? In my college english classes, I got my fill of both. I was introduced to new authors, new ways of thinking, and many, many new worlds within the covers of books.

I would say that my exposure in those college classes are what sparked me to broaden my horizons and to venture into new realms of literature. Essentially, I put my hands on anything and everything I could, trying to soak up as much literature as I could handle.

Since leaving college and battling the real world-love, unemployment, engagement, financial issues, etc-I have some to find that one safe haven still open to me is the act of opening a book and not knowing what story I will find there. I find myself often defending my reading. I do read quite a bit and not everyone is such a lover of books. With today's media, who can really blame those naysayers? Nonetheless, I still find solace in the comfort of literature.

Which brings us to this place. A few months ago, I began entertaining the idea of beginning something like this. A blog to write about the books I was reading. I tossed the idea around a bit before dismissing it. After all, who would read it? And who would care what I would have to say about books that no one else had read?

But with the help and inspiration of two people-Matt (my fiance) and Christine (my personal trainer)-I decided, why not? I had decided to start a blog. But after thinking it over, it wasn't much of a challenge. I already read quite a bit, but its usually just things I am interested in, an eclectic mix of fantasy, fiction, young adult novels, and historical writing mixed together. Why not offer myself a real challenge?

Why not embark on a literary odyssey?

An odyssey, if you remember back to your high school English classes and the reading of Homer's great work, is a journey filled with small adventures and catastrophes along the way. Each of these triumphs and failures impacts the journeyman (or woman in this case). They battle monsters, self-doubt, demons from their past, and new obstacles thrown in their way. An odyssey, it seems, is the ultimate test of self-will and determination. An odyssey is just what I need.

Here is my own odyssey, an odyssey that will take me through the finest works of literature. The challenge for myself is to read the classics of literature. Those books your english teachers told you were good and praised beyond all comparison, but all you could think about was how so-and-so told you that you were cute before fourth hour and how were you going to wear your hair to the upcoming dance.

The truth is, so many people read a few of these and most of the time, its because they have to. I think it is rare for a person to pick up a volume, such as Crime and Punishment to read just for fun (remember, I said "rare" not impossible). But who do you know that has read all of the classics? Not just Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird or Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet for a high school english class, but the wonders of Thomas Hardy, Leo Tolstoy, William Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Woolf, Burgess, and the list goes on.

So this is the challenge to myself--to read the classics.

There is more to this than just saying I am doing it for the hell of it.
  • This is a challenge that I hope can inspire me to move beyond the negativity I have had towards myself. Since graduating college and being unemployed in my field, I have many moments of doubt in my decision to be an English major. Perhaps by reminding myself of the many reasons why I went down this path, that negativity can disappear.
  • I want to do something that no one else I know has done. That might be a selfish or spiteful thing to say, but I want to claim something as my own. This literary odyssey of mine is really a journey for myself and I want to accomplish it, no matter what.
  • I really am a teacher at heart. Since I cannot land a teaching job in the real world, who's to stop me from trying to teach online? I hope, that if I have readers, I can teach them about the works I am reading, and perhaps get them to try to read these novels on their own.
  • I want to find a greater purpose for myself. I want to be more than myself. This is probably the hardest thing to explain, but perhaps in time I can make it clearer.
  • Lastly, I want to learn and who better to learn from than some of the most influential people to have ever lived? These authors have won awards and recognition, they have taught millions before me, and they have touched the hearts of many. I want to feel worthy of them, to feel like I understand their language and their stories. I want to take their words and understand how they were feeling as they wrote. And perhaps in time, I can find the courage to write my own stories-the ones that have been in my head since I was a little girl holed up in my room with a book in my hands.

That is my challenge. And I hope you are along for the ride.