I just finished teaching Hamlet in AP Literature, and I was reminded of how many other texts reference the play, which made me think of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which made me remember the “Calamity Song,” based on the Eschaton scene in that book. (My friend Keith shared this literary-musical genius with me as I was reading IJ). So I decided this week’s Friday Five should be about songs with literary references or about literature. I have a feeling this may become a regular feature here–I posted on Facebook asking friends about literary songs and there was a deluge. So here’s 5 to tide you over–these 5 are all related to my AP Literature texts. Look for next time when we do a Lord of the Flies song list…
- The Decemberists “Calamity Song” was written to depict the Eschaton scene in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.
- James Blunt’s “Tears and Rain” references Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
- The Police’s “Don’t Stand so Close to me” references/retells Lolita (Just like that old man in that book by Nabokov)
. I also find this song exceedingly creepy as a teacher, but Sting looks so young in the video…hard to decide my feelings on this one.
- The Cure’s “Killing an Arab,” retells the story of Albert Camus’s The Stranger is a sort of cliff notes version of the novel.
- Finally, Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” gives us Samuel Taylor Coleridge in all his glory if he’d been in a heavy metal band.
My thanks to all my friends and colleagues who contributed to this list–I think it may become a regular feature here. Feel free to comment with your personal favorite literary songs.
Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA
My book club chose Beautiful Ruins this month as it is also the Centre County Reads book. Jess Walter will be coming to town next month, so we thought it would be fun to read the book and then attend the talk. I’ve actually had multiple copies of this on my bookshelf over the past two years, but I’ve given it away to people interested in reading it. Have you ever just not been pulled in by the description on the book jacket? And yet, once you start reading you think, “had I known this book was about THIS, I would have been reading it sooner!” This was one of those books. I could not put it down once I picked it up. Plus, a number of people I work with are also reading it right now, so it was fun to talk about it in class. I even decided to incorporate it into my College Prep English 11 class as there is a writing contest for the county. We are reading A Streetcar Named Desire in class and I thought they could write about the concept of Beautiful Ruins in the play, and then submit a separate piece of writing about Beautiful Ruins of their own imagining/observation as the final assessment.
Books with multiple perspectives/narratives are some of my favorites. This one hops from person to person and from 1962 to modern day. From the set of Cleopatra to small Italian islands, to modern day Hollywood to clubs in Edinburgh, the characters, inextricably tied to one another, pull you in to their stories. When you step back, you can see the people, places, and things throughout the book that might be classified as Beautiful Ruins, but you can also see the beauty there is in truly connecting with another human being, in seeing beauty in unexpected places, and finding hope in an initially hopeless story.
If I were asked to name my favorite character in this story, I’m not sure I could do it. Often in a story told from multiple perspectives, I become impatient with one of the storylines, but in this book, I felt and equal pull to all the stories that made up the mosaic of this tale. I highly recommend it, and if you’re anywhere near Central Pennsylvania, come hear Jess Walter speak on March 17.
- “His life was two lives now: the life he would have and the life he would forever wonder about.”
- “Life, he thought, is a blatant act of imagination.”
- “He found himself inhabiting the vast, empty plateau where most people live, between boredom and contentment.”
- “At peace? Who but the insane would ever be at peace? What person who has enjoyed life could possibly think one is enough? Who could live even a day and not feel the sweet ache of regret?”
- “All we have is the story we tell.”
Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA
The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith is a compelling story about the collision of alternative universes. In this sci-fi fantasy thriller, Jack, the main character, encounters a series of unfortunate events that lead to his acquisition of an unusual pair of purple sunglasses. Jack soon finds out that wearing these lenses transports him to a world where Earth has been replaced by a place called Marbury. Marbury is essentially a post-apocalyptic planet where everything is in various stages of destruction and it’s every man for him/herself. Jack, along with his allies, must navigate between Earth and Marbury– although the line of distinction between the two places becomes increasingly blurred. Jack and his group must create balance between the many different worlds and “save what is good.” Full of action, friendship, adventure, and two-foot long black bugs that eat the dead, The Marbury Lens is sure to confuse and entice you at the same time.
I have read and enjoyed other books by Andrew Smith, such as Grasshopper Jungle and Winger, so I was excited to read his other stories. What I love about this book, and all of Smith’s books, is how relatable the characters are. Jack and his friends live in California, attend high school, and have normal relationships. He is a teenage boy and has some of the same issues that most teenagers do– dealing with alcohol, sex, friends, and school. Smith inserts these accessible characters into a wild universe where life is anything but normal, which is what makes the plot so captivating. Jack describes the worlds he jumps into like “… one of the Russian dolls that you open up, and open up again. And each layer becomes something else.” However, this metaphor can be applied to the book itself: each page you turn twists the plot more and more until you end up somewhere completely opposite of where you started.
Today’s post is by Shannon Trozzo, a senior at Penn State and an intern in the State College/Penn State secondary English intern program where she teaches 11 & 12 grade students.
Here’s a list of 5 authors you should definitely have on your classroom bookshelf if you teach teenagers. You would also probably enjoy the stories as an adult, too. These authors deal with important issues for teens, and while the content is mature, these authors create characters who work through struggles with grace, poise, and humor.
- Andrew Smith–author of Winger, Grasshopper Jungle, and 100 Sideways Miles as well as the Marbury Lens & Passenger.
- A.S. King–author of Everybody Sees the Ants and Please Ignore Vera Dietz.
- Matthew Quick–author of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock; Boy 21, and Sorta like a Rockstar.
- Bill Konigsberg–author of Openly Straight and Out of the Pocket.
- David Levithan–author of Two Boys Kissing, Every Day, and Boy Meets Boy.
I started reading A.S. King only recently and I’m kicking myself for not having read her sooner. Perhaps, though, you read books when you need to read them. I was just finishing teaching The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, which explores the emotional burdens Vietnam veterans carried with them. Everybody Sees the Ants also explored the impact of the Vietnam war on people, but instead of focusing on the soldiers, it examines the impact the war had on the families–for example, the families of the POW/MIA soldiers.
Lucky Linderman’s grandfather never came back from Vietnam, and his grandmother and his parents struggle with grief and loss. In his dreams, Lucky visits his grandfather and helps him plan his escape. These dreams allow him an escape from his regular life, which involves a bully who won’t stop harassing him and other students, and adults who can’t seem to understand what it means to be a teenager: “It is as if they’d never known one single teenager in their whole lives.” Lucky and his mother go out to Arizona to visit her brother, Dave, and Dave gives Lucky some advice: “escaping assholes is about as easy as escaping oxygen.” This is similar to the advice his grandmother offers: “the world is full of assholes. What are you doing to make sure you’re not one of them?”
I enjoyed the writing style of this book and also the playful nature of the ants…at first I was a little incredulous, but I learned to look forward to the descriptions of what the ants were doing. (I don’t want to offer any spoilers, just be forewarned you need to suspend your disbelief a little bit as you read.) The parallels of being a POW and being bullied make sense, and King offers us a strong character to root for in this book. She begins part 3 with a quote from Robert F. Kennedy: “Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” Lucky begins to see the world a little differently after he goes to Arizona, where he begins to appreciate his father and is exposed to other forms of bullying. I particularly liked how King included the Vagina Monologues in the text as another example of oppression/bullying. The construction of this novel seems flawless, and I immediately went out and bought two copies for my classroom bookshelf. Go. Get a copy, you won’t be sorry.
Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA
I picked up this book at the library because it was mentioned in one of the author speeches I’d seen at NCTE in Washington last fall. When I checked it out of the library, my trusty librarian told me it reminded her of Winger because of the setting and some of the topics. I ended up agreeing with her.
Openly Straight follows Rafe’s journey as a popular soccer-playing high school junior from Boulder to a private East Coast boarding school (Natick) where he wants to try on a new personality–that of a straight guy. His parents are open and accepting of his sexuality, and ever since he came out his community has embraced him. His best friend Olivia doesn’t want him to go East because she will miss him, but nobody knows the real reason he wants to go to private school all the way across the country.
When he arrives, Rafe is finally treated like just one of the guys, and he plays flag football with the jocks on his first day there. He forms a strong friendship with his roommate Albie and Albie’s best friend Toby (who happens to be one of the few out gay students at the school). Rafe struggles with who he is and who he identifies with as he sorts through the reasons why he wanted to hide who he is. When Olivia and his parents find out, they can’t understand why he would want to go back into the closet. Rafe ends up falling for his best friend Ben, and complications arise since he has been dishonest about who he really is.
I enjoyed this book for the complexity of emotions and the honesty about how hard it is sometimes to be yourself when everyone seems to think they already know who you are and have labelled you. I especially enjoyed the journal entries dispersed throughout–Rafe’s English teacher Mr. Scarborough, has assigned him to write about his conflicts, and Rafe uses the writing as a discovery tool. By the end of the book, he’s learned to let go in his writing and discovered a few things about himself.
Some favorite passages:
*“It’s hard to be different,” Scarborough said. “And perhaps the best answer is not to tolerate differences, not even to accept them. But to celebrate them. Maybe then those who are different would feel more loved, and less, well, tolerated.”
*“The world needs people who are more comfortable standing still. We keep the earth on it axis when everybody else is bouncing around.”
*“You can be anything you want, but when you go against who you are inside, it doesn’t feel good.”
Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA
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