Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I love it when my former students email me about their summer reading:

I have just gotten my book yesterday and i have already finished one. I am almost done the second book. I have finished reading "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian". That book was very good and funny. Now I'm reading "Kindred", which is very captivating and interesting. I just can not put the book down.

Summer Bridge starts August 7th, but I don't go back officially until the 24th. Kids start back up on the 31st.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A current draft for IB English IV

(All works were chosen from IB's rather restrictive List for Parts II and III of the curriculum.)

1st semester:

Notes of a Native Son (James Baldwin)

Richard III (Shakespeare)

Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare)

East of Eden (Steinbeck)

2nd semester: [Theme: Class Rebellion]

The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga)

Native Son (Wright)

Song of Solomon (Morrison)

Oryx and Crake (Atwood)

Only two women, and very U.S.-centric, which might be issues. I feel a little like my hands are tied by a rather restrictive list (which is only about 20% women). The non-fiction and the Atwood are the two that are most wobbly right now. I'm required to do a non-fiction, and I really like James Baldwin, but that gives me three African-American authors in the curriculum, which might be overkill. I've ordered a few others from the non-out-of-print authors on the really disappointing list (Jung Chang's Wild Swans, which would be perfect if it weren't nearly 600 pages; Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family, which might ultimately work; I have a Wole Soyinka book here as well).

And, as for the Atwood, I liked the Atwood book quite a bit, but its connection to the theme of the second semester is wobbly. I like that it's not about race, but there's little rebellion in it, unlike the other three works. I'm reading Andre Brink's A Dry White Season, a South African novel, right now. It's alright. It's a possibility, but that gives me another male author and I just couldn't do a semester with just one woman. Earlier suggestions for God of Small Things would work, except for a technicality that you're only allowed to have one country represented by the book from which you pull your WL text, which for me will be The White Tiger, another novel out of India.

Also, the two Shakespeares (instead of a poetry collection, as we did a poetry collection Junior year) was inspired by a probable field trip to the Folger to see Much Ado this November. I love the idea of studying a Shakespeare with scholarly kids and then being able to go see it live.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ponderings on Oryx and Crake, and fitting it into my curriculum

I finished Oryx and Crake (Atwood) today, and am thinking pretty serious about using it.

First off, I really liked it. While it wasn't my favorite book I've ever read (it started out pretty slowly and the character of Oryx remained too much of a mystery to me), it was still riveting at times. I got to the point where I couldn't put it down. I was reading it at stoplights. I'm generally a sucker for apocalypse stories, and this didn't disappoint. It's my favorite Atwood I've read and I liked it a lot.

With The White Tiger (Adiga) and Native Son (Wright), I'm cultivating a curriculum that is centered around the battle between the classes. Native Son filters the anger through American racism, and features a character who is so beaten down by this disparity that he commits a couple of horrible crimes. The White Tiger does something similar, creating an angry narrator who eventually (spoiler coming, though he states it in the first few pages) kills his boss as a manifestation of this unfairness of the caste system.

Oryx and Crake isn't as clearly about this theme as the other two texts are. Atwood's novel is more of a warning about the dangers of science, of bioengineering run amok, of humans trying to play God. But the society she depicts is one of massive separation, of gated communities vs. the common folk. And, in her world, capitalism has run amok; we see depictions of legal child pornography, videotaped executions and suicides, commoditized gene splicing in order to improve appearance, etc. Eventually, the "haves", or at least one member of them, uses the "have-nots" (called Plebes in the book) for his own crazy experiments.

While the other two texts depict the anger coming from that other side, this one doesn't. We don't meet any of the Plebes. And Atwood's central message, as aforementioned, doesn't seem to be about the worrisome effects of this economic gap, of this caste system, but rather on the bioethical side of things.

Still, I think I can squeeze it, that the theme is running through all of the texts enough.

Other factors: Atwood is a female author and is Canadian, so that is helpful for my goals. It's looking like my course will be (1st semester) Shakespeare, Baldwin [nf], Morrison [fic], and Hughes [poetry, because we read Plath this year] and (2nd semester) Wright, Adiga, ______, ______. In other words, I have to get some women in there; even if I fill these last two novel slots with women, as I'm planning to do, there will only be 3 out of 8. (I'm not 100% sure on those 1st semester texts just yet, particularly the poetry and non-fiction; Shakespeare is required.)

Also, the novel is rather long - 374 pages. The White Tiger is 276 pages, and Native Son is 430 pages. All are pretty long. Oryx and Crake and The White Tiger are both accessible modern page turners. Native Son is for the first 300 pages, but then becomes a bit of a slog in the last 100 pages or so. These books will be read in Feb-May to seniors who will graduate the first week of June and need plenty of time to prepare for the IB assessments at the end of the year; I bet they pretty much need to be done by the start of May (need to double-check on this). In other words, I need to make sure I don't go too crazy with novel lengths. That's a factor.

(The list I have to work from is right here.)

Additionally, I'm noticing that two of the novels I'm considering are very modern (Adiga and Atwood), and that could be a factor. I love modern literature, but I want them to be prepared for something less modern as well, especially as it might appear on the IB tests. This is a factor that I must consider.

The course is a 2 year course, so some of these things could have been factored in already. Last year, we read Allende, Puig, Kundera, Shakespeare, Plath, Shelley, and Murakami. Shelley's the only 19th century author. Wonder if I should worry about getting another in there?

Just thinking out loud here. Next up is July's People (Gordimer). It's only 150 pages or so and I'm already about a quarter into it - should have it done by tomorrow. Then God of Small Things (Roy). Then, perhaps, House of Mirth.