Preface: I’m the English teacher who doesn’t teach novels. I have many reasons for this, but here are the facts that I know to be true. Most students, unless they major in some type of Literature or English degree, are not going to be expected to read many novels after high school. Even as adults, we read our news from Twitter, we get The Skimm in our email, and we read short stories if everyone is talking about their brilliance. Some people eat poetry, some people never see a poem unless it’s plastered on a street light at their height level. I find that I can get a lot more from my students, in a student-centered room, when I teach smaller texts. Granted, this makes it impossible to rely on the novel as a backbone and I’m constantly having to reinvent the wheel, but I don’t mind. I’m anything but a lazy educator.
This year, I’m facing the great Advanced Placement Literature course. This course scares me for two reasons, it gives my students college credit so it desperately needs to be on a college level and part of the exam is literally a list of novels that the students must use in order to prove a point in an essay. They can use two of these novels in most cases. This means that they must have, at some point, read at least two novels on this list of random. It changes every year. There are a few constants (there’s always at least two Shakespeare plays), but mostly the books are classics from the white man’s canon.
To sum up: this whole course goes against some fundamental beliefs I have as an educator AND I believe that it needs a SERIOUS update in order to reflect what colleges are doing with English majors, or just English 101 courses. Don’t get me started on the problems I’ve heard from friends about English 101. My professor had a jungle theme…literally. Everything we read was jungle based.
Here’s how I want to WRASTLE this gator. I have a list of “must-reads,” not really any classics and then I have some options. I need your help and your votes on which should be read and discussed and applied to the world at large in this course.
Here are my MUST-READS
- The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
- Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (this might be an “other option” but I’m feeling good about it at the moment).
- Hamlet – Shakespeare
Here are my OTHER OPTIONS (I will be using excerpts from some of these or can use the whole book if my arguments for it are good enough).
- The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
- In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
- Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safron Foer
- The Woman Warrior – Maxine Hong Kingston
- No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
- Atonement – Ian McEwan
- Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
- The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Addams
- Something by Louise Erdrich
- Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
- Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
- Something by Hunter S. Thompson
- Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
- Absolom, Absolom – William Faulkner
Please, please, please let me know which of these you would fight for and why. Some of them I have to read, or reread. I’m currently reading In Cold Blood and then I’ll take on Absolom, Absolom. If you know any other books that I don’t have listed that I should, OR there are books that you’re like “ABSOLUTELY, NO, NO, NO!” I need that advice too.