1/09/2012

Reading List -Classwork

What have I read this past year that is interesting, or useful? Mostly professional, technical material for my graduate English classes. (Such as: Cross Talk in Comp Theory, The Norton Anthology of Literary Criticism, or various texts on the teaching of writing by George Hillocks.)Here is a brief recap of some of the titles that might be interesting for personal reading or suitable to teach at the secondary level:
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Border Zones : Global Literature in the Modern Era
This class focused on half Mexican American authors, and half on Islamic authors of the near east. The basic premise was that where cultures collide, new ideas and viewpoints are formed.
The literature we read was diverse and interesting.
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Mother Tongue, by Demetria Martinez. Easy to read and comprehend love story between two characters, one a Mexican American girl not particularly in touch with her cultural identity, the other a young man, a freedom fighter from El Salvador, on the run from the law, who seeks asylum and to raise awareness for his cause in the USA. The world where they intersect raises each to new levels of understanding. Suitable for high school reading lists, little violence or sex.
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Zoot Suit and Other Plays, by Luis Valdez. Short play and other writings about Chicano identity in Los Angeles in the 1940's. This title is actually on the current AP IV "free response" reading list, so I included it as an option in my syllabus.
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Borderlands/la Frontera: The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzaldua. Seminal work in feminism, l/g/b/t literature, anthropology, sociology. The author analyzes Spanish and American history, religion, Mexican American culture, language, and identity from her unique perspective. Discusses validity of "Spanglish" as a form of expression. This book is a combination of poetry and prose. Challenging text for high school; more suitable to college level reading.
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Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi. One of my book clubs read this title a few years back, and I got to hear Ms Nafisi speak through the Dallas Museum of Art "Arts and Letters Live" (author talks) series as well. The story of a female college prof in Iran during the Revolution of the 1980's, and how she subverts Islamic rules restricting women from intellectual pursuits by running her literature classes from her home once the new govt shuts down the university to female teachers and students. It is interesting how titles we take for granted in the west, such as The Great Gatsby, are beacons of freedom in cultures across the globe. Suitable for high school advanced readers.
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Farthest Home is an Empire of Fire: A Tejuano Elegy, by John Santos
This creative work combines poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction as the author traces his family roots from south Texas back to Spain. Where he cannot find fact, he fills in with imagined encounters with ancestors that address personal identity and meaning in the modern world.
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Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih
Written by a Tunisian author, this story follows the journey of a young man from a small rural village along the Nile, to London, and back home again. Along the way the main character must confront various versions of himself as others see him, and discover his own personal identity, woven from various cultures. Challenging text for high school readers, suitable for advanced or college level students.
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The Selected Poetry of Yehudi Amichai. One of the best new discoveries ( for me) in recent years, I absolutely loved Israeli poet Amichai's work. I plan to teach some of his poems to my AP students; he is also on the reading list for secondary IB students. I suggested this book to my school librarian who was offended that the cover art depicts a naked man. I simply took a magic marker and drew swim trunks on him, so I could bring him to school. Amichai's themes involve love and war, personal identity and the modern world.
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Contemporary Anglophone Drama
(drama of English speaking nations, mostly Britain and America) Curriculum development, state testing, and other educational trends have recently re-emphasized drama as a long- forgotten genre. Reading a play out loud in class is a fun activity, often pushed back till the end of the school year until there is no time left in class to give it the proper attention it deserves.
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works of Caryl Churchill:Traps, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Mad Forest, Thyestes, Top Girls, Ice Cream, Clouds. For some reason, I had difficulty getting "into" British playwright Churchill. She reminded me of Stoppard, only even more brittle, detached. Interesting themes: feminishm in the modern world, but just didn't resonate with me. Adult themes more suitable for college than high school.
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works of Edward Albee: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an AP Lit title, The Goat or Who is Sylvia contains adult themes and situations.
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works of Tom Stoppard: Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead appears on the AP reading list, which is where I draw material for my classes, and makes a nice tie- in with Hamlet or Waiting for Godot. Stoppard is delightful to read simply for pleasure. I rec Arcadia and The Real Thing, as well. A master wordsmith, remember, Stoppard wrote the witty script for the film "Shakespeare in Love". My prof used to say, regarding both Shakespeare and Stoppard: "Verbal fluency equals sexual potency". Think about that for a bit, my friends.
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works of August Wilson: The Pittsburgh Cycle. Wilson's ten play cycle with titles such as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Radio Golf, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Gem of the Ocean and others , explores evolving African American identity through a set of re-occurring characters in one fictional Pittsburgh neighborhood over a span of 100 years. Wilson has a play for each decade, and the characters, settings, and themes develop and overlap through time as members of his neighborhood struggle to overcome the legacy of slavery and form a new and functional cultural identity in the modern world. I wrote my paper in this class on Wilson, and have developed a new-found respect for his work. Twenty years ago, I taught Fences, but the students at that particular school (wealthy mostly white students at a private school) didn't "get" Wilson's themes. maybe I didn't, then, either. I plan to teach him again later this year, and will let you know how it goes with a more diverse student population.
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works of Susan Lori Parks: I absolutely loved her plays, witty and critical and funny and brilliant commentaries on women, African-American identity, feminism, revisionist history, and modern society. The America Plays and other works, Topdog/Underdog, and Venus. A genius. Adult topics, language and themes.
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works of Sarah Ruhl: The Room next Door( The Vibrator Play). Critical acclaim when it was on Broadway a few years back. Highly interesting but not suitable for kids.

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