This week the Talons English class will be embarking on a novel study in a manner different from what we have explored in the past. Previously, the group of 28 students – completing requirements for English 9, 10 and 11 at the honours level – has undertaken the study of a single book that has provided fodder for class discussions, group work, and personal as well as critical essays. This time around the class will tackle a range of novels selected from the traditional thread of English literature, as well as a few dealing in more contemporary topics and themes.
To foster and encourage diverse student communication during the unit, the class will be using a blended means of blogging and commenting, creative and critical written pieces, as well as student-led group and class discussions, with the overall hope to build a knowledge and appreciation for reading, as well as the manipulation of language and narrative as art: a representation of the self and culture, as well as historical artifact. My hope, as stated in my new year’s post, is to communicate an honouring of these traditions of literature, and our cultural necessity for stories, written or otherwise, in forms as diverse as our imaginations will allow.
The books available for study this spring will be:
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Eng 9 10)
All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since. Earnest Hemingway
Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland (Eng 11)
Ask whatever challenges dead and thoughtless beliefs. Ask: When did we become human beings and stop being whatever it was we were before this? Ask: What was the specific change that made us human? Ask: Why do people not particularly care about their ancestors more than three generations back? Ask: Why are we unable to think of any future beyond, say, a hundred years from now? Ask: How can we begin to think of the future as something enormous before us that also includes us? Ask: Having become human, what is it that we now doing or creating that will transform us into whatever it is that we are slated to next become? Girlfriend in a Coma
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (Eng 11)
I read “The Catcher in the Rye” the average number of times for a young person my age—which is to say, every few years between when I was sixteen and twenty-six or so. When I was about twenty I read the rest of the books and stories, and when I began to teach, about ten years ago, I usually included a Salinger story in every syllabus, usually demonstrating the use of dialogue to illuminate character. His is still my favorite dialogue, the dialogue that rings truest, that’s at once very naturalistic and musical; it’s really remarkable how difficult it is to do what he does between quotation marks. Dave Eggers
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Eng 9 / 10)
I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Eng 9 / 10)
I’d recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I’ve read this year, and I’d want to get it into the hands of as many smart 13 year olds, male and female, as I can.
Because I think it’ll change lives. Because some kids, maybe just a few, won’t be the same after they’ve read it. Maybe they’ll change politically, maybe technologically. Maybe it’ll just be the first book they loved or that spoke to their inner geek. Maybe they’ll want to argue about it and disagree with it. Maybe they’ll want to open their computer and see what’s in there. I don’t know. It made me want to be 13 again right now and reading it for the first time, and then go out and make the world better or stranger or odder. It’s a wonderful, important book, in a way that renders its flaws pretty much meaningless. Neil Gaiman, author of Sandman and Anansi Boys
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (Eng 11 / 12)
Though the courtroom setting defines the present in “Snow Falling on Cedars,” David Guterson’s finely wrought and flawlessly written first novel (he is the author of a book of short stories and a guide to home schooling), this meticulously drawn legal drama forms only the topmost layer of complex time strata, which Mr. Guterson proceeds to mine assiduously through an intricate series of flashbacks. Thus testimony slides ineluctably from merely verbal recollection into remembered incident into fully realized historical narrative — past events told from the numerous characters’ points of view with all the detail and intensity of lives being lived before our very eyes. New York Times Review of Books
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Eng 11)
Marjane Satrapi’s ”Persepolis” is the latest and one of the most delectable examples of a booming postmodern genre: autobiography by comic book. All over the world, ambitious artist-writers have been discovering that the cartoons on which they were raised make the perfect medium for exploring consciousness, the ideal shortcut — via irony and gallows humor — from introspection to the grand historical sweep. New York Times Review of Books