Outside Reading- Help Wanted!


One of my favorite, and least favorite, things is making my students complete their outside reading requirements. Each semester they have to read a certain amount of pages (800 for my juniors this upcoming year) and complete some sort of accountability piece. I love playing Literary God: "yes, you may read Michael Chabon and Nick Hornby" and "no you may absolutely not read Stephanie Myers and no way is The Hunger Games going to work!" I also enjoy hearing them admit at the end of the year that they've found new authors to love and are finally getting the hang of determining what makes a book literary. I hate the grading part. With a passion.

In the past I've had my students complete a dialectical journal- one quote, with analysis, for every ten pages they've read. My rationale has been that it was the only way I could easily check to see if they've read- spacing out the quotes makes it harder to go online and just pull work off the internet. Unfortunately, this is incredibly tedious, both for the students to complete and for me to grade. This year I'm trying something new that will hopefully making grading easier for me- I'm going to provide the students with a list of thirty questions (when we go back in August) that they should be able to answer for each of the books they've read that semester. At the end of the term I'm going to take a few days and ask each student approximately five questions on the books they've read, in front of the class. Their grade on outside reading will be based on how well they've BSed answered and convinced me that they've read. I'm also giving them a "hot list"- a list of thirty books (I'll share those later after I've written my syllabus and can just copy and paste) that they will receive five extra credit points for choosing to read.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help me come up with challenging questions to give to my students that apply to either fictional and nonfictional texts (although mostly fiction). Nothing easy! No "If you could be one of the characters which one would you be and why?" nonsense. I'm talking more like "Choose an important symbol from the text and talk about how it contributed to a character's development" or "What were some unique aspects of the author's writing style? How did that impact your reading of the text?" 

Please and thank you. Extra credit for those questions that are used. Get down with your inner teacher. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up below!

1. Wouldn't it be fun to just dedicate a Pinterest board to really inappropriate pins to freak people out? Maybe one on tantric sex (or go the opposite and put one for coping with a cheating spouse). Or some sort of disgusting foot fungus. Maybe another one on the best way to rob a bank. One, when I first joined Facebook I wrote "Does anyone know a good divorce lawyer?" as my status and my husband and I made a bet on who would anxiously respond first. It was fun.

2. This is my new favorite quote and has pretty much been the story of my summer/life:

3. I really have no business spending more money on kids books right now, but I couldn't resist this adorable custom made book Lostmy.Name book for Sawyer. I scoured the internet for a code and ended up getting it, with shipping, for like $22. It's from England, so it's extra fancy (although I'm worried they're going to "misspell" words like "colour" and I'm going to have to explain to him when he's older not to do it).

4. Hilary needs to make up her mind. 2016 is basically around the corner and I need to know whether or not to start making posters.

5. I had lunch with a student the other day and it was so nice to see a member of my most favorite class. She had just gone to Europe and made me want to travel so badly! I'm already sad about starting the school year soon and not having "my" kids there.

6. I'm starting to worry that registering for the half marathon in February was a mistake. I've been running three days a week for about a half an hour, but I know once school starts I'm going to be so short on time between my job, family, household stuff, and having some shred of a social life. It's non-refundable, but I could sell my bib on Craig's List when the time gets closer. I know it's far away and I probably could buckle down and train in ten weeks- I have like 28. Things are overwhelming right now and I'm not going to make any dramatic decisions yet.

7. I'm pretty sure Fight Club 2 is a mistake. 

8. I'm leaving Sawyer for a few hours at the daycare provider's house on Friday morning in order to prepare them for the real thing on August 11 (I plan on doing it another morning well). Actually, let's be honest. It's for me. I can barely even think about leaving him every day without crying. Ugh. I enjoy my job and really, really miss being around people all day, but I've gotten very used to being with him. I know everything about the kid and the day care lady will not- she won't know his cries, how he likes to be jiggled around when he's falling asleep, or that he loves to look at himself in the mirror. I mean I guess I could tell her those things, but still. Or what if he's a pain the ass and she hates him? He's a fairly easy baby, but still, he may act differently with her and a new place. What is she doesn't change him enough? What if she doesn't... Sigh. It's a necessary evil, and I know it will get easier as time goes on, but in the meantime my heart will just keeping breaking a little every single day

9. My husband and I have spent some time recently talking about The Goldfinch, since he read it before I did. It's been years since we both read something at the same time, or in close proximity, so I had forgotten how nice it is to have a live-in sort of mini book club. I'm a huge proponent of partners having separate interests, but it is nice when you share a few hobbies. 

10. I pulled out my writing project from last year and reread it. I like it enough to keep working on it, but I did start noticing some flaws- like some of dialogue (natural dialogue can sometimes be such a challenge). I've left the docs open on my laptop, hoping that every day I'll just add to it. Or at least think about it...


Notes on The Goldfinch

I'm going to preface this post by admitting that this is basically just a hodgepodge of notes on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt so that I have something to refer back to before book club in a few weeks. Also, I must admit that some of the below points came to fruition after talking about the book with my husband, who definitely knows his shit (none of these are his thoughts, though, just things we both agreed on). Everything that could be interpreted as a spoiler will be in blocks of italics.

- Initially I was a little daunted by the size of the book, at nearly 800 pages. It in fact, it ended up being a fairly "quick" read for me, taking just shy of two weeks (last summer I would have pounded it out in a week). 
- This book almost made the Trifecta of Literary Merit requirements for me- writing, characters, and plot. Here's why:
- Writing: the writing was superb, despite a few overused metaphors here and there. Her attention to detail and ability to describe a scene are impressive and I never felt bored. The dialogue was natural, the transitions flowed, and the text never felt forced.
- Characters: For the most part I thought the characters were developed well. Theo's father was not, but this was because he really wasn't a direct influence in his son's life, therefore the lack of depth mirrored the actual flatness of his presence. Pippa was not either, which really bothered me. I know she was supposed to be this elusive, mysterious little waif, but the fact that Theo was so enthralled with her and didn't seem to have any substantial reasons for being so made the attraction far-fetched. There needed to be more.
- Plot: Tartt's storytelling abilities are amazing- this was what we call "crafted" (it did take her eleven years, after all, so it better appear this way). I did have a problem with some of the coincidences, though. First of all, Theo's dad dying at the point in which he did was just an easy, lazy way out on Tartt's end. Running into Boris towards the end was also just too coincidental- somehow he just manages to bump into him at the moment he needs to in an area he never frequents? The ending was also a tiny bit problematic for me in Amsterdam. Boris appears just as Theo becomes absolutely frantic over his missing passport? Oh, and with a huge chunk of change that Boris can just take back the United States and use to placate everyone he's wronged without any legal repercussions? There was also some discrepancies in terms of timing. The present must be told in the future, because of the mention of iPods and iPhones in the past story segments, which are supposed to be fourteen years old. Those devices are newer than that! 
- I know some people hate the Vegas section (just read the Amazon reviews!), but I thought it read quickly and was necessary to develop the relationship between Theo and Boris and to demonstrate how directionless Theo's adolescence was.
- Hobie reminds me of Hagrid and I love them both
- I'm glad Popper stuck around. 
- I remember looking at the painting of The Goldfinch before I started reading and thinking how uninspiring it was. But, as I read (including, begrudgingly, the ending pages, which I actually thought was a little bit of a sentimental eye-roll inducing brain-dump on Theo and Tartt's part) I had to admit that that's why art is so awesome- it affects everyone differently. The connection one person has with a creative piece, whether a poem, a painting, a sculpture, or a song, is truly personal and subjective. And the question of whether or not it's acceptable to idolize objects is also an interesting thought to ponder.
- I am such a sucker for a literary Bildungsroman.
- This is an interesting article on the critical reception.
- I do think that this is a literary novel that is actually accessible for "the masses." It moves at a steady clip, can be interpreted at different levels, and is entertaining. I think it's also a book that people feel proud of reading- it's long, a Pulitzer winner, and is about the art world. Someone who maybe reads more James Patterson than Jeffrey Eugenides could get through this and feel proud of themselves while discussing it at a cocktail party. I think that's a good thing.

I definitely recommend it! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up below!

1. Summer is almost over- 25 days. I know that most adults don't get summer, which sucks, but we are all in charge of what career we choose. This year is ESPECIALLY hard for me, since I'll be leaving Sawyer at daycare. I will have been able to spend almost four months with him, which beats the hell out of the standard six week maternity leave, but still. We're pretty attached. Necessary evils suck.

2. Our neighbor abandoned this stuffed gorilla on the sidewalk. I'm concerned for Boris (obviously this name was taken from The Goldfinch). Last night he had to endure the horrible Southern California elements (read: sprinklers) and is starting to look a little ragged. I may need to call animal control.

3. I need fun, fast-paced new running songs. Suggestions? No country, please. And yes, I already downloaded "Fancy."

4. Whenever I post I always have it in the back of my mind that students may be reading. I've also Facebook-friended a few new people from work, so I guess I'm feeling more and more... exposed. Because somehow, despite putting my thoughts and opinions up on the internet, I didn't before? Nothing is really changing, I'm just a tiny bit more guarded.

5. If you have a few minutes and want a good laugh, read the reviews for Unicorn Meat on Amazon.

6. Last Sunday afternoon was amazing. Sawyer went down for a two hour nap, the dogs and I laid by the pool, and I was able to read uninterrupted in the sun. All that was missing was a cocktail... womp, womp, womp. I did this every day last summer and totally took it for granted.

7. So many people tagged me in that Weird Al grammar song yesterday. I'm going to take it as a compliment.

8. I've had some serious cabin fever lately so have made more of an effort to make plans. Yesterday I had brunch with a good friend and her son, and tomorrow I'm headed out to Newport with another friend for Sprinkles (we read the article about the cupcake industry being in jeopardy and thought we'd do our part). Saturday my mother-in-law is babysitting so we can go to dinner alone and next week I have plans with an old student and another friend, and then a quick baby-friendly hike and dinner with our couple friends. Fuck you, cabin fever.

9. Speaking of "couple friends" I was recently read an blog post (I think Brittney, Herself-?) about the importance of couple friends. This is something I must say we're lacking- we have maybe three couples we go out with? It's never been a big deal, but I think the distinction between friends you go out with alone with and couples is interesting. Why don't you go out with the significant others of said friends? It's weird. We were making a great deal of headway brainwashing our cool next-door neighbors to become couple friend number four, but things have come to a standstill (perhaps we should make an actual effort-?).

10. Another "speaking of"- one of the aforementioned couple friends noted in number nine just got engaged. They're both my really good friends, so I'm beyond excited for them. I literally squealed with glee when I got the text, and I am most definitely not a squealer. I don't think they read this, but if they do, they should know I effing squealed for them. And it wasn't even a shock.


Things I Wish I Did Better/Skills I Wish I Had*

Because nobody's perfect.

1. Knitting
2. Hanging floating shelves
3. Making rice krispies without a recipe
4. Walking away from an argument
5. Not worrying to the point of obsession
6. Upside-down French braiding
7. Dog grooming
8. Believing that there is a God
9. Returning essays in a timely manner
10. Running faster
11. Inversions
12. Remembering more of what I read
13. Not gossiping 
14. Not crying when angry
15. Commenting on blogs
16. Using my cookbooks more often
17. Not rolling my eyes as much
18. Ironing
19. Writing neatly
20. Sitting nicely through meetings
21. Laundry
22. Paper correspondance
23. Visiting my grandparents regularly
24. Eye makeup
25. Trying strange foods 
26. Gardening
27. Optimism
28. Figuring out Wordpress
29. Using coupons
30. Going on little sleep
31. Prioritizing writing projects
32. Forget people's mistakes
33. Painting my nails
34. The ability to easily participate in small talk
35. Ignoring the obnoxious neighbors

* Working draft