An Informal Reader Query

Gentle Readers, I’ve a question to pose.


Frumteacher asked me, in a comment she posted today, what I intended to teach in next semester’s literature class.  The question brought me up a little short.

To be honest, I’d not really given the content of the class that much thought yet; I’m still neck-deep in this term’s class and am pretty focused there. I know what I’m doing NOW; we’re going to read a few short stories on Tuesday, I’m going to give them the Thanksgiving “weekend” (because it’s really six days – that ain’t no weekend!) off, then we’re coming back to view Gibson’s Hamlet as literature (with some selected readings from the play itself, of course). Once we’ve finished that, I’m going to give them A Christmas Carol (with selected film viewings, namely Patrick Stewart’s version and, of course, the Muppets).  That will bring us to the end of the term, at which point I’ll start thinking about the curriculum for the January class.

Here’s my question to you: what would you like to see included if you were going to take a literature class? What works would you be excited to see on a syllabus? What would you dread and consider dropping the course over? My parameters are only that we hit a bunch of different genres (short story, poetry, plays and / or dramatic readings, and at least one full-length novel) and a bunch of different themes (identity, love, loss, hope/despair, that sort of thing). We work out of this textbook, but I don’t mind using other resources, too (I printed Frankenstein off the internet for my students this term – it’s in the public domain and is easily accessible).

So, what do you think?

photo credit



Filed under Literature, Poetry, popular culture, Questions, self-analysis, Teaching

24 responses to “An Informal Reader Query

  1. This one is easy for me. One of the things I hated about my Lit classes ALL through school was that there is very little science fiction (Old Frankie not withstanding). I was so bored. The only time I was excited about reading was the rare moments when we got to read things like The Hobbit.

    And on the poetry. Ugh. Why does it have to be impossible to understand to be considered important? I finally discovered a modern poet that I LOVE to read (and that is special coming from someone who really struggles with it). Ted Kooser, a recent Poet Laureate of the US, writes accessible, wonderful poetry. If you can get a copy of the poem “Memory,” it would be a good representative work of his.

    I also just read a fantastic translation of The Little Mermaid. The craft of writing was exceptional.

  2. wordlily

    I love the poetry and plays of TS Eliot. Tolkien is always good.

    What about spreading it out in another way: from various countries?

  3. i think kurt vonnegut’s “welcome to the monkey house” is a great collection of short stories, with lots of different kinds of themes in the different stories. i loved teaching that when i got the chance to do so. 🙂

  4. Since you asked, you deserve an answer! How about Cry, the Beloved Country for your novel?

  5. Eliot’s Little Gidding is a nice thing to read now with all the war imagery and war survivor imagery.

    Billy Collins is a super contemporary Brit poet.

    What about Eleemosynary, a play by Lee Blessing. It’s generational and about women and quite good.

    What about the movie/script Clueless, which corresponds to…uh…that Jane Austen book? I think it’s Emma.

    I love Faulkner. As I Lay Dying is pretty easy to get into.

    What about Young Adult Fiction – Robert Cormier, one of the Dark is Rising books (also fulfilling the sci-fi request), a Harry Potter, Beauty or anything else by Robin McKinley.

    I love the idea of doing original fairy tales. They’re fabulous.

  6. Laurie

    I learned of Katharyn Howd Machan’s poem “Hazel Tells LaVerne” ( at an AP Lit workshop. My tenth graders loved it, and I’m looking forward to doing it with my AP kids. Reading it aloud for effect is almost guaranteed to get a laugh; my rotten tenth graders asked me to read it again.

    Flannery O’Connor is always fun. I’m fond of “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” but all of her stories are great.

    Dystopian fiction is nice. Ursula LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (Wikipedia article: is creepy and fun. Ayn Rand’s Anthem is cool. George Orwell’s Animal Farm provides an opportunity to talk about Russian history, if that’s your cup of tea.

    I have heard that Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon applies to any and all AP Lit exam questions. I haven’t read it and am skeptical; it seems reasonable to assume, though, that it would illustrate most literary elements.

    If your kids struggle to read, there is always Roberty Lipsyte’s The Contender. It might be too easy for some kids, but the kids who don’t read well love it.

    (I have to say that I do know that book titles should be underlined, but I don’t know how to do that here.)

  7. First of all, I love you guys – each and every freaking one of you! THANK you for sharing yourselves with me; I’m a much better person for the ways in which you all encourage me to think.

    Seester, poetry DOESN’T have to be inaccessible to be considered good, but I see your point. A lot of erudite academic types feel threatened if any slob can understand and appreciate a poem. I mean, if Joe Blow on the street understands it, then what does that say about the years I spent studying this stuff?!

    My favorite poems are ones that speak to ME. I tend to shy away from teaching poetry because I DON’T hold to the idea that beauty and profundity can be found in every poem (in other words, I’m liable to let slip that I think a poem sucks), but also because I’m drawn to certain poems that OTHERS might think suck. It’s a tough line to tread gracefully. I’ve also seriously considered bringing DADoES into my next class, too, Seester – both for the SciFi aspect AND because I think I’d benefit from another go-round with it.

    Lily, I’d be totally open to spreading it around geographically – do you have any particular suggestions?

    Lara, I’ve not read much (any?) Vonnegut. I should look into correcting that…

    Oooooh, CTG! That’s one I’ve never read before, and have been meaning to! I’m going to look into that; thanks!

    Kizz, how would I go about getting hold of Eleemosynary? Also, I love the idea of adding some Faulkner – thanks for reminding me. (Here’s where I admit that I’ve never – ever – read ANY Jane Austin. Terrible, I know – and here I am calling myself an English teacher…)

    Laurie, I teach “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” with my Holocaust unit – I think there’s a lot of value in that story in a lit. survey class, too. I haven’t read any Flannery O’Connor since high school; perhaps I should give her a second look.

    Not that I care at all whether my commenters underline book titles, but I TOTALLY understand why it would bug you to not be able to do it (when I switched to WordPress, I made it my life’s mission to figure underlining out). Here’s how you do it: before the word you want to underline, type a right-facing alligator mouth <, a u, and a left facing alligator mouth, <, with no spaces in between. Then type your word (again, with no spaces between the last alligator mouth and the first letter), then type another right mouth, a backslash, another u, and another left alligator mouth. Sadly, I can’t show you what it would look like because it would actually DO the underlining function. Observe:

    This is how you underline.

    **Okay – nevermind that whole lesson – it seems that underline code doesn’t work in WP comments. What. Ever…

  8. Ooh Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. If you want one to compare it with (from the point of view of Literary style) then part 1 of Suite Francaise is very cool.

  9. I SO desperately want Suite Francaise – it’s on my Amazon Wish List but, alas, that’s as close as I’ve come to having it…

  10. I’m with Kizz and you at the same time… Faulkner rocks… and I’ve never read Jane Austin either! My first thought was Absalom, Absalom! As I Lay Dying was one of my favorites too. I’m pretty sure you’ll hit all of your required themes with one of his stories.

    When it comes to poetry, what about Allen Ginsberg? His poems are always a good for creating discussion…

  11. The Kite Runner
    A Thousand Splendid Suns

  12. nhfalcon

    And here I thought I’d be the only one to suggest Tolkien…

    You know Bowyer and I could be of tremendous help to you (sorry for sounding immodest there) if you decided to do “The Hobbit” or “The Lord of the Rings.”

  13. What? Are you going to act it out, nhfalcon?

  14. Don’t challenge him, Seester – he could totally do it.

    I suppose I ought to remind everyone of a couple of things; first of all, TCC is a technical college – they offer two year degrees in things like medical assisting and graphic arts. As a result, the emphasis placed on the Gen. Ed. courses isn’t all that high. That’s not to say that I can’t set the bar in my classes wherever I think it needs to be, but it IS to say that the culture of the college, combined with the fact that there are NO enrollment standards (if you can pay your tuition, you get to be a student) means my practical choices should probably be a little less complex than Tolkien.
    Second, you all need to realize that I’ve only got eleven weeks. In order to give LoTR or The Hobbit the investigation it deserves, I’d need to use the entire semester, and I can’t really do that.

    I CAN, however, use a film as literature, and the thought occurs to me to use the first film as a part of next semester’s investigation into the themes of personal responsibility – and responsibility to concepts greater than oneself – and of overcoming fear….

  15. I am in the same situation, with no enrollment requirements. Only we are the second two years (jr/sr). I get it.

  16. redroach

    Jorge Luis Borges for short stories.
    James Dickey, either Deliverance or To the White Sea (i think that is what it is called.).


  17. Poetry – Taylor Mali. TAYLOR MALI TAYLOR MALI! I cannot say enough lovely things about his work. Oo, and I second Billy Collins. I also like … uh… oh bother. Whatsername. “Fueled.” Lemme look it up… Mary Oliver! Sometimes she kind of goes on and on about nature a bit.

    Um. Hm. OO! Maybe you could do a Hero’s Journey unit! Because not only would Hobbit fit but if you had people who went “ewww, hairy FEET?! Yuk!” you could throw in all kinds of other fun adventurey stories. And you could have different students reading different books at the same time but tying them together thematically.

    Plays are kind of tricky, because they’re not really MEANT to be read, and that’s what you wind up doing, because the students don’t pay attention to a performance. ;p I could rant on about that, but I think I’ve soapboxed enough!

  18. Alright – SEE? THIS is why I love you people! “have different student reading different books at the same time.” That’s frickin’ BRILLIANT! THANK you, Clix!!

  19. nhfalcon

    What’s wrong with hairy feet?


  20. Oh, I love this post, and the image, and the comments!

    I love the poem Ozymandias, and I remember really really enjoying WWI poetry in high school.

    Something else that could be interesting is reading books and poems that are written from an adolescent’s perspective, such as Catcher in the Rye (but I am sure there are tons of more recent books like that) because the students can relate to that.

  21. fermat

    You could try some nice short gothic fiction. That would keep some interest. How about Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or Wuthering Heights.

    Many of the popular young people’s books have a female protagonist. There are a few out there that feature a young man: Holes by Louis Sachar (and you could get the film) or Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

    The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a great short story with a great twist at the end.

    For poetry you could try Christina Rosetti’s The Goblin Market and discuss its attitudes towards women.

  22. Dan

    I love Orwell, particularly down and out in Paris and London and also 1984.

    I’m addicted to P.G. Wodehouse too.

  23. wordlily

    As I read the comments here, I thought of Patrick O’Brian’s writing. They’re sea stories, set in a time of war, and the movie Master and Commander was based on one of his novels. It’s great literature, although I don’t recall the film (which I saw before I’d read any of the books) being particularly interesting.

    What about Amy Tan, as an example of other-culture literature that may still be accessible. I guess I’ve heard that her The Joy Luck Club is used in curricula, somewhere. I read what’s apparently the foremost Chinese novel earlier this year, The Story of the Stone, by Cao Xuequin. The translation I read, though, is five hefty volumes. There’s another, much shorter translation called The Dream of the Red Chamber. The short one is apparently a literal translation; I chose the version I did because I wanted the poetry to still make some sense, but the shorter one may be an option for you.

    (I really hated The Lottery when I read it sophomore year of high school, but I may be in the minority on that. Orwell is grand.)

  24. nhfalcon

    Hey Mrs. C.,

    I don’t know if you’re still looking at comments to this post, but here’s a suggestion for you…


    I haven’t read the tale myself, though I have a passing familiarity with the plot. I suggest it now because I just got done watching a movie adaption of it called “Beowulf & Grendel” starring Gerard Butler of “300” fame. There are some very interesting themes going on in this movie.

    If this movie is even remotely like the original tale, then I’d say it’s worth a read. I know there are several adaptions of it currently in print. In fact, I got Cookiemaker the version done by Seamus Heaney for Christmas. This version is notable because it presents the tale in it’s original Anglo-Saxon and then translates it into modern English.

    Just a thought.

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