Category Archives: English Lit class

Brave New World

by Alduous Huxley

A vision of our future world from Huxley’s view in the 1930’s when the helicopter was a striking new invention and Ford was changing the world with his mass production lines.  After a big disaster the world has been condensed and formed into nine World States, each with a supreme leader.  People are no longer born but are grown in conveyor-belt style, and specially engineered to fill their regimented social roles.

The reader follows some characters on the top of the scale, the Alphas, Bernard and Hutch.  One struggles to fit into his social role and the other fits easily but longs for forbidden poetry.  They both push the limits of their society and get entangled with a savage from one of the wild tribes left in southwestern America.  Their struggles carry them to the top of society and end in disappointing, exhilarating, and utterly devastating ways.

Good book to read, just to be aware of it, and for it’s good points about society and good descriptive scenes.  Some things are ludicrous, like the fact that this world structure would work, and the parts where John the Savage can argue eloquently and fully understand the depths of Shakespeare from seeing the book some while he was a child.

This book was among the ranks of Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Gulliver’s Travels that we covered in AP English my senior year.   Personally, I wanted to cover more books.   What about Slaughterhouse FiveMiddlemarchIn Cold BloodGrapes of WrathInvisible ManCatch-22The Things They CarriedOf Mice and Men Heart of DarknessDavid Copperfield?  Come on, let’s read people!

I did enjoy Wuthering Heights and Hamlet, but I think Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland would be a better substitute for Gulliver’s Travels.  I’ve heard Brave New World and 1984 compared a lot, as Orual said in a conversation about AP books on College Confidential: “I recommend Brave New World over 1984, but it depends on whether you’d prefer to read about how things we like destroy us or about how things we hate destroy us.”

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It was lovely; I really enjoyed it.  One thing though, reading this book was like living in a haze.  Maybe Fitzgerald was trying to capture the ambience of the flapper 20’s, or maybe that was how these silly characters’ minds worked.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness…” (pg. 114) These people live the decadent life of the roaring twenties. The mindless, indulgent, irresponsible life style where consequence is just an afterthought.” homework-online.com.

I encountered this story when I saw the movie last year.  Looking back I would say that the film, I saw the version starring Robert Redford, was a wonderful rendition of this book.  And I think seeing the movie first made the book better; it was easier to visualize the period clothing, parties, and attitudes, and to understand the plot to be able to look for important clues and symbolism.

> You can read the whole book online thanks to eBooks@Adelaide.

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Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

Another classic to cross-off of the NEA’s Big Read: Top 100 list!  I liked this book, especially when I got farther into the story.  The novel is framed by the premise of a new tenant learning the turbulent history of two families on the moors, the Earnshaws and Lintons.  It covers three generations, so it is helpful to have a family tree for reference.  Some books include a family tree or you can find one on the internet.  This timeline is also very helpful.

The love between Cathy and Hareton at the end was so wonderful.  When the love was realized, they were so happy together and made their surroundings blossom again.  And probably my favorite part was when Nelly confronted Heathcliff about his new mood, and he explained how he had the means right before him to completely destroy the two families forever, but couldn’t.  He looked into the young lovers’ faces and just let them be happy.  He still looked like a demon when he died but that choice to not wreck the two young people redeems him a lot in my eyes.

Critics of the time thought this to be a horrible book, and one even said, “We rise from the perusal of Wuthering Heights as if we had come fresh from a pest-house. Read Jane Eyre is our advice, but burn Wuthering Heights…” (Reader’s Guide to WH).  I am inclined to believe quite the opposite; I’ve never read Jane Eyre but from movies and my sister’s interpretation I think Wuthering Heights is far more interesting, less depressing, and more thrilling.

This is my favorite book from AP Lit & Comp this year.  Some study questions that could be turned into essays:

  • What role does Joseph play in the novel?
  • Compare the marriages of Catherine (senior) and Isabella.
  • How did Nelly alter the image of Heathcliff through her narration?

Read poignant observations and comments about this book on Only a Novel, also where the cover image comes from.

And if you’ve read this story, you must watch the Kate Bush interpretation.  It’s good for a laugh but also somehow appealing.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

The ladies have their bows and their game-faces on.

The ladies have their bows and their game-faces on.

by William Shakespeare

After reading Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Twelfth Night in English class, I can say that I truly enjoy Shakespeare.  I always loved attending the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival, a masterful production of two Shakespeare plays every summer, but until reading enough Shakespeare to get used to the prose did the words jump off the page and into imagination.  I could understand the lines in a faster manner and consequently get in to the story and experience  plot flow.  When understanding happened, I could also appreciate the word play more fully. Of which no play has more than Love’s Labour’s Lost.

“Love’s Labour’s is often thought of as Shakespeare’s most flamboyantly intellectual play. It abounds in sophisticated wordplay, puns, and literary allusions and is filled with clever pastiches of contemporary poetic forms. It is often assumed that it was written for performance at the Inns of Court, whose students would have been most likely to appreciate its style. This style is the principal reason why it has never been among Shakespeare’s most popular plays; the pedantic humour makes it extremely inaccessible to contemporary theatregoers.”

When reading one can revel in the lyrical quality of this play.  Sometimes the individual characters start talking and I forget what their prose means in context; that the things they’re saying are actually quite silly in the real world, and that the characters are delusional fools.

I did a research paper on this play and proposed that Love’s Labour’s Lost is a parody on courtly love.  Next on my Shakespeare list is definitely Taming of the Shrew, which I hear is quite good.

Twelfth Night, Act I

Already in AP English we have read Macbeth and Hamlet, now we’re reading our final Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night.  This one seems easier to understand, maybe because it’s a comedy, or maybe it’s because of the old adage, “The more Shakespeare you read the easier it gets.”

The test is tomorrow, so to review I will type up the summaries provided by our “Folger Library” books before each scene.

Act I, Scene i
At his court, Orsino, sick with love for the Lady Olivia, learns from his messenger that she is grieving for her dead brother and refuses to be seen for seven years.

Act I, Scene ii
On the Adriatic seacoast, Viola, who has been saved from a shipwreck in which her brother may have drowned, hears about Orsino and Olivia.  She wishes to join Olivia’s household, but is told that Olivia will admit no one into her presence.  Viola decides to disguise herself as a boy so that she can join Orsino’s male retinue.

Act I, Scene iii
At the estate of Lady Olivia, Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s kinsman, has brought in Sir Andrew Aguecheek to be her suitor.  Maria, Olivia’s lady-in-waiting, says that Andrew is a fool, and Andrew himself doubts his ability to win Olivia, but Toby encourages him to woo her.

Act I, Scene iv
At Orsino’s court, Viola, disguised as a page and calling herself Cesario, has gained the trust of  Orsino, who decides to send her to woo Olivia for him.  Viola confides to the audience that she loves Orsino herself.

Act I, Scene v
Viola, in her disguise as Cesario, appears at Olivia’s estate.  Olivia allows Cesario to speak with her privately about Orsino’s love.  As Cesario presents Orsino’s love-suit, Olivia falls in love with Cesario.  She sends her steward, Malvolio, after Cesario with a ring.

Once again, these summaries are courtesy of Folger Libraries.

The Tragedy of Macbeth

 

Art by princendymion on deviantArt

Art by princendymion on deviantArt

by William Shakespeare

 

A short synopsis found on eNotes.com:

 “On the level of human evil, Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy is about Macbeth’s bloody rise to power, including the murder of the Scottish king, Duncan, and the guilt-ridden pathology of evil deeds generating still more evil deeds. As an integral part of this thematic web is the play’s most memorable character, Lady Macbeth. Like her husband, Lady Macbeth’s ambition for power leads her into an unnatural, phantasmagoric realm of witchcraft, insomnia and madness. But while Macbeth responds to the prophecies of the play’s famous trio of witches, Lady Macbeth goes even further by figuratively transforming herself into an unnatural, desexualized evil spirit. The current trend of critical opinion is toward an upward reevaluation of Lady Macbeth, who is said to be rehumanized by her insanity and her suicide. Much of this reappraisal of Lady Macbeth has taken place in discussions of her ironically strong marriage to Macbeth, a union that rests on loving bonds but undergoes disintegration as the tragedy unfolds.”

This is Shakespeare’s shortest play, written for the attention span of King James.  It is loosely based on historical events.
      Watch out for Act 3 Scene 5, it is believed that that scene was added at a later date and not written by Shakespeare.  You can see that the lines are shorter, the very small part is almost superfluous to the surrounding plot, and it just doesn’t have the feel of the illustrious playwright.

Snow Falling on Cedars

by David Guterson

Very good read.  This is maybe only the second novel I’ve read revolving around a trial (To Kill A Mockingbird being the other).  I’ve read that this book was influenced by Harper Lee’s.

It is easy to see that the author knows his subject matter from the vibrant descriptions of the island where the story takes place.  I was in Washington in the summer of 2007 and got to see San Juan island, which allowed me to visualize and enjoy this book so much better.

The main theme is the necessity of individual moral action despite the indifference of nature and circumstance.  The characters deal with loss and racism, they have to find ways to move on.

Guterson leaves us with a powerful message:  “he understood this, too: accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.”

There is a movie version, I wonder if it is worth watching?  www.snowfallingoncedars.com

Click here for a summary via SparkNotes: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/cedars/summary.html

Girl with a Pearl Earring

by Tracy Chevalier

One of the recommended summer reads, this book was very interesting.  Set in 1664 in the Netherlands, it is a valuable look at life during that period.  Tracy Chevalier hypothesized the circumstances under which the painting, sometimes called the Dutch Mona Lisa, was created.  While the domestic obsession annoyed me, the setting was fascinating.

This according to ReadingGroupGuides.com: “The novel centers on Griet, the daughter of a Delft tile painter who lost his sight in a kiln accident. In order to bring income to her struggling family, Griet must work as a maid for a more financially sound family. When Jan Vermeer and his wife approve of Griet as a maid for their growing Catholic household, she leaves home and quickly enters adult life. The Vermeer household, with its five children, grandmother and long-time servant, is ready to make Griet’s working life difficult. Though her help is sorely needed, her beauty and innocence are both coveted and resented. Vermeer’s wife Catharina, long banished from her husband’s studio for her clumsiness and lack of genuine interest in art, is immediately wary of Griet, a visually talented girl who exhibits signs of artistic promise. Taneke, the faithful servant to the grandmother, proves her protective loyalty by keeping a close eye on Griet’s every move.

The artist himself, however, holds another view entirely of the young maid. Recognizing Griet’s talents, Vermeer takes her on as his studio assistant and surreptitiously teaches her to grind paints and develop color palettes in the remote attic. Though reluctant to overstep her boundaries in the cagey Vermeer household, Griet is overjoyed both to work with her intriguing master and to lend some breath to her natural inclinations—colors and composition—neither of which she had ever been able to develop. Together, Vermeer and Griet conceal the apprenticeship from the family until Vermeer’s unscrupulous patron demands that the lovely maid be the subject of his next commissioned work. Vermeer must paint Griet—an awkward, charged situation for them both.


Chevalier’s account of the artistic process—from the grinding of paints to the inclusion and removal of background objects—lay at the core of the novel. Her inventive portrayal of this tumultuous time, when Protestantism began to dominate Catholicism and the growing bourgeoisie took the place of the Church as patrons of the arts, draws the reader into a lively, if little known, time and place in history.

Amazing site detailing the painting and historical context:
http://girl-with-a-pearl-earring.20m.com/

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury

This book is ripe for discussion. So many intricate ideas bursting from the pages.  The image of the mechanical Hound was quite frightening to me and well-played by the author.  The aspects of the story that suggest a nihilistic existence, such as nothing to do but watch TV, Montag wandering around with a group of bums, etc., gave me a depressed feeling similar to the futility in other dystopian future books (1984, Brave New World).

I liked this book more after I had read the author’s note.  Ray Bradbury sounds so interesting on a personal level!  Did you know he wrote this story intending to show his great love for books and libraries?  As I read these 50’s and other early books I sometimes struggle to get into the story, they seem fundamentally different somehow.

An interesting historical note from GradeSaver.com:

Developed in the years following World War II, Fahrenheit 451condemns not only the anti-intellectualism of the defeated Nazi party in Germany, but more immediately the intellectually oppressive political climate of the early 1950’s – the heyday of McCarthyism. That such influential fictional social criticisms such as Orwell’s Animal Farm 1984 and Skinner’s Walden Two were published just a few short years prior to Fahrenheit 451 is not coincidental. These works reveal a very real apprehension of the danger of the US evolving into an oppressive, authoritarian society in the post-WWII period.

Stemming from a similar basis of a future literature-less society, The Last Book in the Universe, YA and written in 2000, is another good book to read.

Recommended Summer Book List

Recommended Summer Book List
by Mrs. in den Bosch and Mr. Kip Hepfinger

Here are the books recommended for students enterring AP English/British Literature next year. The starred ones are the ones I want to read.

The Namesake — Jhumpa Lahiri
Angela’s Ashes — Frank McCourt
Disgrace — J.M. Coetzee
* Girl with a Pearl Earring — Tracy Chevalier
The Good Earth — Pearl S. Buck
* Atonement — Ian McEwan
* Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — Jonathan Safron Foer
* Namako: Sea Cucumber — Linda Watanabe McFerrin
* Dreaming in Cuban — Cristina Garcia
* Snow Falling on Cedars — David Guterson
* Peace Like a River — Leif Enger
The Jungle — Upton Sinclair
* All the Pretty Horses — Cormac McCarthy
Night — Elie Weisel
Been Trees — Barbara Kingsolver
Animal Dreams — Barbara Kingsolver
* In the Lake of the Woods — Tim O’Brien
* Bel Canto — Ann Patchett
My Sister’s Keeper — Jodi Picoult
The Lovely Bones — Alice Sebold
The Kite Runner — Khaled Hosseini
The Curious Incident of the Dog in Nighttime — Mark Haddon
Nectar in a Sieve — Kamala Markandaya
* The Tortilla Curtain — T. Coraghessan Boyle

Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger, 1951

Banned by multiple groups, controversial, and different, this is a book that has emerged into our pool of literary classics and is increasingly taught in high schools around the US.  I read it in 11th grade with mixed emotions, first apprehension from how other high-schoolers described it, next confusion but at the same time an empathetic understanding, and finally sadness that came from the truths that were revealed at the end.

{This novel follows the protagonist Holden Caulfield through his oppulent yet empty and confused life in New York City for the period of one week after he is expelled from prep school.  The reader shares his fancies, his fears, his memories and his struggle with the death of his brother Allie, and in that way also learns about his mental illness and alienation.  It is not stated openly, but in this book Holden sees the world through something akin to OCD or depression.  His anchor in life is his little sister Phoebe, a wise and intuitive force.

His most trusted mentor, a past teacher, urges Holden to change his mind and not run away, that it is the stronger man who lives humbly, rather than dies nobly, for a cause.  Holden had the idea of becoming a “catcher in the rye,” a godlike figure who symbolically saves children from “falling off a crazy cliff” and being exposed to all things “phony,” the evils of adulthood, and losing their kindness, spontaneity, innocence, and generosity.}

The hardest part of reading this story is deciding whose side you are on, the side of reason or the side of the antihero, Holden?  Will he be happier in reality after he goes to a mental hospital?

Knowing the historical and literary context of this novel would add to understanding and appreciation.  I would caution anyone who starts to read this book to keep their head about them, and I would specifically caution adults to not base any perceptions of teenagers on the teenager portrayed in this novel.  In June 2009, Finlo Rohrer from the BBC wrote that, 58 years since publication, the book is still regarded “as the defining work on what it is like to be a teenager. Holden is at various times disaffected, disgruntled, alienated, isolated, directionless, and sarcastic.”   But I would disagree.  Yes most humans probably go through a period of feeling isolated and directionless, not necessarily as teenagers, but what Holden is feeling and how he is acting is not the norm for all adolescents.  One must also remember that his mental state is shaky, which indubitably colors his experiences.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson 1886

Great story!  Make sure to add this short novella to your list of classics to read.  It has suspense, angst, mystery and admirable development of empathy for the main character for such a short text.  The setting offsets the plot and amplifies it flowingly.

A very good man ventures into the land of the alter ego and the impulses not followed by decent people.  With a formula he discovers, the doctor unleashes the pure essence of his evil side.  His fascination with the other side is his downfall, because an impurity in the powders cannot be replicated, and he will be trapped forever, his own personality repressed while the beast rages on.  So in a last act of unselfish goodness, he manages to end his nightmare and spare society an evil madman.

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

I absolutely loved this book. I was slow to get into it, but that’s to be expected since it is written in a different style than I’m used to and it was an assigned book in English.

My favorite part was at the end when Sydney Carton meets the girl Charles Darnay had befriended. She instantly recognizes that he’s not Darnay, but they give each other comfort until the end, and Carton truly feels happy.

The author’s primary historical source was The French Revolution: A History by Thomas Carlyle: Dickens wrote in his Preface to Tale that “no one can hope to add anything to the philosophy of Mr. CARLYLE’S wonderful book”[11] Carlyle’s view that history cycles through destruction and resurrection was an important influence on the novel, illustrated especially well by the life and death of Sydney Carton.

~ From the Afterword of the Penguin Classics 2003 edition, cited from Wikpedia

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