Well, I did it to myself again, but…it’s that time of year when I allow my students to choose from a list of novels to read. This year, I was dumb and let them choose from TEN selections. This was complicated as it meant I had a lot of singleton picks that I couldn’t accommodate (since the readings and discussions essentially happen in book club format). A number of those singletons were absorbed into other groups or gladly moved when they realized they’d be stuck reading and doing assignments all alone (ha, clever teacher trick).
Also, several of these books I hadn’t read in awhile, so I’m not only doing the breezy, refresh-the-details reads I do concurrently with the kiddos on ALL the books, I also need to do an in-depth read of a couple (which also requires making new quizzes, assignments, and book talk questions for the new selections in our “book club”). Luckily (or not?), I still ended up with only five classroom novels going on simultaneously across my two advanced classes. A couple of snow days early on threw off our reading schedule but gave everyone (including me) a chance to get firmly ensconced in the novels and now they all seem to be super-excited to read something “for fun.”
Here’s what we ended up with this year: The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, Toxin by Robin Cook, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Check out my first two tries at this teaching fiasco here and here.
Other choices in the running this year were Les Miserables (adapted, abridged version), A Separate Peace (still no takers this year! I really think it is time to revise the blurb), Cold Sassy Tree (which I had never read but I remember liking the film with a young Doogie Howser from years back), Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, and old favorite Flowers for Algernon.
I really tried to add some new genres (historical fiction, narrative nonfiction, Southern literature, romance/classics, etc.), but the old favorites seemed to win by a landslide.
Since I’ve reviewed a bunch of these in the past, I’ve attached links to them above and since I’m SO VERY BEHIND ON MY BOOK BLOGGING and I’m also reading Gone Girl for book club and Catching Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at home with my own kids, I am solely focusing on the ones I haven’t read/reviewed here before which turns out to be: hmm, only Sense and Sensibility.
Okay then, here goes!
I did really like S&S when I took my Jane Austen seminar in college. Still do, in fact, although it will never be my favorite Austen novel. However, now that I’m reading it with students, I realize why I want to fall asleep in some parts; the language can be dense and unfamiliar and sometimes it requires several reads to achieve full comprehension. The humor is still subtle, pointed, and amazing as in all Austen writings. (The kids ADORED that John Dashwood’s wife was named Fanny, for example.) I still empathize with Elinor and want to smack Marianne, although I do understand why she is the way she is.
However, my biggest complaint is this: it is sort of frustrating that the major moments we wait for throughout the whole novel get brushed off with barely a comment, but the ridiculousness of toothpick cases, how tall children are, and how many pounds per annum a person has, get expounded on for ages. I KNOW that’s sort of the point, but it does annoy me that we don’t get a major Edward/Elinor proposal (although he does seem a frightful dud) and the Colonel Brandon/Marianne marriage gets merely a page at the end of the novel (almost as an afterthought and half of that is dedicated to Willoughby!).
Again, I do like this book, but for a 21st century reader used to EVERYTHING in TV or reading being explicit, I get what my students are saying. After all, it’s really hard to embrace a moment like this between our main character and her beloved:
His errand at Barton, in fact, was a simple one. It was only to ask Elinor to marry him; –and considering that he was not altogether inexperienced in such a question, it might be strange that he should feel so uncomfortable in the present case as he really did, so much in need of encouragement and fresh air.
How soon he had walked himself into the proper resolution, however, how soon an opportunity of exercising it occurred, in what manner he expressed himself, and how he was received, need not be particularly told. This only need be said;– that when they all sat down to table at four o’clock, about three hours after his arrival, he had secured his lady, engaged her mother’s consent, and was not only in the rapturous profession of the lover, but in the reality of reason and truth, one of the happiest of men.
WHAT?!?! My emphasis above is added, but I do have to admit, I DID throw the book across my bedroom at that point.
THAT sort of cop-out resolution is annoying. My students also were really troubled by the hair jewelry thing, the idea that pregnant women were “confined,” and that people would just gallivant around the countryside staying with their acquaintances for weeks or months on end but sometimes found writing LETTERS too forward, and so we researched those things a bit.
All in all, I think I’m still dumb enough to retry this assignment in the future (although if I have half a brain, I’ll do it with less choices). This year’s added book club element allows each group to bring snacks and activities based on the novel to share with the class and after that, I will likely require they all read a SECOND novel on their own at home based on what they’ve seen in the presentations. MORE READING for them, less headache for me. I mean, I want them to enjoy it and all, so whatever it takes to get them reading, I’ll likely do. But, sometimes I worry that I’m the only one learning anything!
And, that’s about enough of that. Now that my winter break is due to end in less than TWELVE hours, I’m going to try to read something that feels a little dangerous, a little brainless, and a little less like work!