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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Tales From The Classroom

("Tales from the Classroom" is a feature posted occasionally here at this blog.  All tales are true and present matters about which I have personal knowledge.  Note: If you must have politics, please scroll down to other posts)

Over the Christmas break, each of my British Literature students independently reads a classic work from English Literature. Then the students submit a written book report and present an oral book review to the class.

I strive to assign each student a book that fits that student. Criteria: book that the student has never before read except in a very simplified edition, student's reading level, student's interests, student's personality. This year, I had two misses, both of them students new to the homeschool group I teach. One student really disliked 1984, which he found too negative. The student who read The Picture of Dorian Gray didn't care much for her assigned book, either; she said, "The book gave me nightmares."

This year's list of books read, with the student's grade level in parentheses:

1. The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith (10)

2. 1984 by George Orwell (9)

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (11)

4. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (12)

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (10)

6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (11)

7. Dracula by Bram Stoker (9)

8. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (11)

9. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (9)

10. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (11)

11. Animal Farm by George Orwell (9, IEP student, non-verbal autistic)

12. The Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis (12)

13. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (9)

14. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

15. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

How may of the above classics have you read?

The most amazing book report of the 2014-2015 was that of a ten-year-old middle schooler, who read an unabridged translation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. And she understood the novel, too. This little child is the child of immigrants — her father from China and her mother from South Korea. And, no, they are not tiger parents.


  1. I've read all of the above except for The Vicar of Wakefield and The Pilgrim's Regress. I also admit to not having even heard of the C.S. Lewis book, and I thought I had read everything he ever wrote.

    All of the above are some of my all time favorites.

  2. I've read exactly three of the suggested readings - all in high school back in the mid 1970's (Dickens, Orwell, along with Shakespeare, Buck, Miller).

    Very specific, task oriented "how to" books were preferred reading material. I was always a reluctant reader when it came to fiction. To this day, I have difficulty sitting quietly in a theatre watching films in which I find any scene preposterous.

    9/11 finally changed all that. I tolerate reading the fiction of Islam and Islamic history if only to juxtapose those "peaceful" fantasies against facts with data points with archaeological proof of evidence against believers falsehoods.

    Neither can I read while reclining or relaxing comfortably without a rapid onset of fairly loud snoring.

    FWIW, reading, for me, is more akin to a sport or a task, rarely does reading any book cover-to-cover function as pure entertainment.

  3. Speaking of Lit. did you notice Harper Lee is publishing a new one.

    Scout is grown.

    1. Certainly new to the reading public, Farmer.

    2. I shall be very interested to see what comes of this project. I have admired To Kill a Mocking Bird since it first arrived in the scene. It achieved a kind of perfection, which made it a tough act to follow, indeed. One would think if a sequel were ever to be written, it would have come out long ago.

      The comparison may be shallow, but Margaret Mitchell's longed for sequel to Gone with the Wind never materialized, but the author's life was cut short by an automobile accident not long after she achieved her great success. Harper Lee, the childhood friend of Truman Capote must be well into her eighties by now, so one can't help but wonder if she, herself, has any real interest in this project. I suspect it will be a pastiche and reworking of old notes largely produced by editors, but who knows?

      In any event I look forward to reading it to find out for myself.

  4. I've read 9.
    Haven't read the horror works or Goldsmith or Jayne Eyre(hate Gothic) or C. S. Lewis.

    1. Tell us, please, have you EVER -- even ONCE -- made a statement of any kind abut ANY subject that did not include a gratuitous assertion of your dislike, disapproval, denigration, distaste or dismissal of something others probably respect and enjoy?

    2. Nope. My likes and dislikes are fundamental in deterring my reading list.

      Now why don't you tell us how you feel about contemporary pop music. You're quick to express your blinkered opinion there, you hypocrite.

      What you mean is that you expect your opinion to be ascendent. Think again, buddy.



      WOO HOO! You've done it AGAIN, Canardito.

      The sneering, dyspeptic, contemptuous streak in your warped personality, and the bitterness in your inveterately captious nature comes to the fore EVERY SINGLE TIME.

      You really ARE incapable of joy, mirth, satisfaction and contentment on ANY level.

      You live primarily to debunk, denigrate, deny, denounce, and degrade anything an everything that crosses your withering glance.

      That, of course proves beyond a shadow of doubt that you are a COMMUNIST -- a tinpot Rosa Luxemburg at best.


    4. Marie N. Badde said

      YAY, FT! You really told him off good and proper. Three cheers for you.

    5. Now now FT, I have to agree with Ducky on this one (a rare occurrence in and of itself), he simply stated a personal dislike of Gothic novels rather than declaring it the root of all evil as you have opined on several musical selections over at Western Hero. I too disliked Jane Eyre not because it is Gothic but because it is of the Bildungsroman genre, I do not like coming of age novels.

    6. I've read a lot of that, and only about half did I care for. It's just a really wide selection. I never liked 1984, to be honest. Just a style thing, I guess.


    7. My problem with Canardo, Finntann, -- an opinion shared by a large majority who've suffered wit his obnoxious presence in the blogosphere for many years -- is exactly what I said it was -- a RELENTLESS determination on his part ALWAYS to say something disparaging and contemptuous in virtually every response he makes on every subject.

      No one in his right mind could properly accuse me of anything remotely like that. I am always honest in stating my views, unless I'm trying to be funny. Unfortunately the dearth of humor on these blogs seems to render most deaf, dumb and blind to attempts at levity.

      Perhaps all of us take ourselves too seriously? I don't know, but the lack of curiosity, conviviality and any sense of comradeship makes the blogosphere grim, tedious and depressing in too many instances.

  5. Five. But mostly on my own. I went on a classic lit binge several years ago as it was a big lacuna in my education. We read Lord of the Flies at the same grade (9) and IT gave me nightmares for a long time. I still hate that book. But I can commend a Cliff Notes version of it and 1984 for the squeamish. The concepts are too important. Alternately, consider We (Zamiatan) or Darkness at Noon for dystopian reading.

    1. Interesting that you mention We Baysider.

      It's well worth ranking with its more famous brethren in a dystopian trilogy.
      They all share an emphasis on authoritarian surveillance and control of the individual's sexuality which is tatamount to control of the individual in toto.

      In fact, the latter is one reason for my severe distrust of the American right.

  6. Six, but I prefer Greek, Roman and American authors.

    1. That's funny! Our mutual friend Slavoj Zizek is none of those things. He might possibly be considered a British author now, since he emigrated to London, but he's anything but American, and certainly not ancient. ;-)

      At any rate for the record I much prefer English writers and quasi-English writers like Henry James and Edith Wharton and your friend T.S. Eliot to American authors, except for our better nineteenth and early twentieth-century figures like Hawthorne, Emerson, Dickinson, Whitman, Sarah Orne Jewett, James, Wharton, WILLA CATHER, Robert Frost and Dorothy Parker.

  7. These are the three I have NOT read, and I’m ashamed to say I did not know about the two works of C.S. Lewis cited.

    The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith

    Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

    The Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis

    I’m rather astonished at the heterogeneity of your list. Juxtaposing light fiction and horror novels such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and Conan Doyle’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with works by Dickens, Orwell and C.S. Lewis, as though all had equal weight, strikes me as a bit odd, but I suppose getting any young person actually to read ANYTHING these days should be seen as an accomplishment..

    1. FT,
      Here's how I choose which book that students should read....

      The student must list on a 3x5 card three choices of classics (typically books published before 1950), and a parent must sign off in approval of all three books. Students have a few weeks to research the books, all of which must be written by authors of a particular literature course, this year's course being British Literature. Next year's course is American Literature; the year after that, the course is World Literature.

      Shakespeare is off the list for independently-read books, BTW, because we study a major Shakespearean play every school term, no matter which course is the one for the year. This year, we are reading Richard III as a class.

      Once the 3x5 cards for possible book reports are submitted, I choose one of the three books on each of the cards. I try to work things out so that no two students are reading the same book.

      To some extent I must acquiesce to the students' interests and to the parents' goals for reading for their children. This is homeschooling, after all.

    2. FT,
      I highly recommend The Vicar of Wakefield. Oliver Goldsmith also wrote She Stoops to Conquer.

      Oliver Goldsmith was a good friend of Dr. Samuel Johnson.

      Please take a moment to read about The Vicar of Wakefield:

      In literary history books the Vicar of Wakefield is often described as a sentimental novel, which displays the belief in the innate goodness of human beings. But it can also be read as a satire on the sentimental novel and its values, as the vicar's values are apparently not compatible with the real "sinful" world. It is only with Sir William Thornhill's help that he can get out of his calamities. Moreover, an analogy can be drawn between Mr. Primrose's suffering and the Book of Job. This is particularly relevant to the question of why evil exists.

      The novel is mentioned in George Eliot's Middlemarch, Jane Austen's Emma, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Sarah Grand's The Heavenly Twins, Charlotte Brontë's The Professor and Villette, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, as well as his Dichtung und Wahrheit. Goethe wrote:

      “Now Herder came, and together with his great knowledge brought many other aids and the later publications besides. Among these he announced to us the Vicar of Wakefield as an excellent work, with a German translation of which he would make us acquainted by reading it aloud to us himself. … A Protestant country clergyman is, perhaps the most beatific subject for a modern idyl; he appears, like Melchizedek, as priest and king in one person.”

    3. WOW! That is one helluva recommendation, AOW. I hope the text is available online, since that is the only way I can read anything with any degree of ease and comfort these days, as you know. Even the Kindle, which I enjoyed briefly before the last eye infection robbed me of 50% of the limited sight I had then, is useless to me now.

      And then there is the matter of time, "as the days dwindle down to a precious few. September! November! ..."

    4. Thanks, AOW. I'll get it bookmarked forthwith.

    5. Would it surprise you FT that we have not read the same three books?

    6. I'll have to read the Vicar of Wakefield now AOW. Might I suggest Malevil by Robert Merle as having a similar moral theme as the Lord of the Flies. It's categorized as Science Fiction but the story is one of society descending back into a feudal order following a nuclear war; in the original French if you have a particularly troublesome student ;)

  8. o/t sorta - What do you make of this social media movement?

  9. Future burger flippers and taco makers? Without social media would anyone care about this man with the bad teeth?

  10. Every book on the list is certainly not one of my favorites.

    As I stated in the blog post, however, my goal as a diagnostic-and-prescriptive teacher is to fit the book to the student.

    Because different books were read and reviewed to the class, I hope that at least some of the students will explore another classic of literature.

    Because the homeschool group is a Christian one, many of the students read new Christian "literature." Eeeeek! So often so poorly written!

  11. BTW, the middle school student who read Les Misérables is now reading John Milton's Paradise Lost -- and loving it.

    I suggested to her yesterday that she might want to read something a bit easier such as Johnny Tremain. Her response: "After reading Les Misérables, I find that other books I've tried have no depth." And that's a verbatim quotation, too.

    This from the mouth of a ten year old!

    I then suggested The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She says that her parents have that book in their home library.

  12. Well, you've convinced me to read the Vicar book. I found it right away at my local library in audio, but I'll be darned if I can download it. We (me and the librarian, then me and the audio provider) have been trying for an hour. So I'll report back if/when I can actually get to it.

  13. PS - very impressed with your system of choosing books for your students to read.

    1. Baysider,
      It's all the years of experience that I have. ;^)

  14. I may not have read all the books but I did see the movie. Does that count?

    1. Mike,
      Some of the film versions are excellent, some a travesty.

      So my answer to you is "It depends"!


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