Top Five Friday: American Classics

Today, I finished reading a really interesting adaptation of a classic novel. I don’t want to say any more about it now (I’ll save it for my review!), but it got me thinking about my favorite classics. This is such a wide category that I thought for today, we’d narrow it down to classics in American literature. I don’t think it’s the English major in me that makes me love these stories. Some of the books I had to read in high school, I absolutely loathed and swore never to teach when my time came (I’m looking at you, Huckleberry Finn). I think I loved these particular books because they stuck with me, demanded that I think and feel something, and made me go back to them over and over. Sometimes, I read books that make hardly any impression on me at all, but each of these books left its mark in some way. So for today’s Top Five Friday, here is my list of favorite American classics.

 

 mockingbird 1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s strange to me that I love this one the way that I do. Even I have to admit that not a whole lot “happens” for the first third of the book. But by the time Lee introduces Tom Robinson, I’m always hooked. Sometimes, I pull it off the shelf and just read the trial scene. Do I hate Mayella Ewell? Do I feel sorry for her? It’s a different story every time I read it. And I can’t, absolutely CANNOT, ever stop reading until the end once I get to chapter 27. I cry every time. I love Atticus and Dill and Boo Radley and the whole crew, and there is something really magical about Lee’s writing style.
 OM&M 2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I think that somehow, of all the book characters I’ve met in my entire life, Lennie might be the one who touches my heart the most. That’s saying something, isn’t it? There must be hundreds of thousands of book characters rattling around in my head, but Lennie inspires the most compassion of any of them. I’ve given up trying to convince Brad to read this – he knew the minute that Lennie got a puppy that things were headed somewhere he didn’t want to go. I know I’ll never get Brad to see it my way, but I think this has to be one of the most beautiful stories I know.
 little women 2 3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. This is a comfort read for me. I used to imagine that this book must be exactly what it’s like to have sisters. I love the episode of Friends where Joey reads this and has to put it in the freezer, and I especially love the Broadway musical original cast with Sutton Foster as Jo.
 streetcar 4. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. Can I include this one, even though it’s a play? There is just so much going on in this play that, every time you read it, something different jumps out at you to focus on. Blanche is really fascinating to me. I always hope it will end differently, and I can’t help being sad when it doesn’t.
daisy miller 5. Daisy Miller by Henry James. I always think it’s interesting to watch the way Americans behave abroad. Beth and I were talking not too long ago about how so many people seem to want to experience other cultures and countries, but when they get there, they spend their entire trip wishing for things to be just like home. It’s especially interesting to get perspective on this from an American author who spent most of his life living in Great Britain.

 

What are your favorite American classics?

Have a wonderful weekend.

Top Five Friday: Books from the Teaching Years

People frequently ask me if I miss teaching high school. I find this question surprising, because when I was teaching, people inevitably had one of two reactions when I told them about my job. Most people said, “What’s that like?” in a tone that suggested they would rather have all their teeth pulled at once without any anesthesia. Alternatively, they would just shake their heads at me and say, “Oh, I could never do that,” with varying degrees of implied “Bless her heart,” or “What is wrong with that girl?”

The answer, by the way, is no. I don’t miss teaching. What I do miss, in addition to some great teacher friends and a handful of wonderful students, is the books. Teaching gave me a great opportunity to interact with some of my favorite books alongside my students. We made edible models of Frankenstein’s monster, learned to dance the moresca from Romeo and Juliet, and played quidditch after a test on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on a regrettably muddy afternoon. You don’t get to do those kinds of things with books when you read them by yourself. I do miss that particular aspect of teaching.

So this Friday, here are my top five favorite books from the teaching years.

OM&M 1. Of Mice and Men. Oh, how I love this book. I read it aloud for my CP kids twice a semester for four years. I NEVER got tired of it. It generated so many great conversations, and several times, students had some deep thoughts on the ending that I found really moving. The only thing I didn’t like was that, for some reason, students love to spoil the end of this book for the next class. I had to threaten them with my eternal fury to convince them not to ruin it for the students who would read it the next semester, and I’m sure several of them ignored me.
 romeo and juliet 2. Romeo and Juliet. Listening to the kids read Shakespeare aloud in their hilarious NC accents (not judging – I have one too) was priceless. One particularly enthusiastic pair of students insisted on being allowed to act out the balcony scene, and they brought in their own homemade “balcony” for the day. Also, each group of students did a project with R&J where they basically made me an illustrated version of each scene of the play using bingo dotters. I loved these. Some of the kids spent so much time on them and came up with some really beautiful work.
 mockingbird 3. To Kill a Mockingbird. The students never really got excited about the first half of the book, but by the time Tom Robinson enters the story, they were into it. The last six or seven chapters especially would just fly by. One year, when we were talking about Tom Robinson’s trial, I asked the kids offhand if they felt sorry for Mayella Ewell. I didn’t have to say another word for the rest of the class period – several of the kids had very firm and very opposite opinions on that subject, and they just ran with it. It was fun to watch.
 hound 4. The Hound of the Baskervilles. I only taught British lit for my last two semesters, so I only had two groups of students to read this one. I was surprised by how many said it was their favorite thing that we read. Now I just wish that the Benedict Cumberbatch “Sherlock” had been out at the time so I could have shown them an episode.
 streetcar 5. A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s hard to pinpoint why I enjoyed teaching this one as much as I did. I didn’t start using it until my third year of teaching, but each class that I used it with did a great job with it. There is just so much to work with in the play, and a lot of the students picked Blanche as the subject of their projects for the end of the semester – she was always a fun character to talk about.

Have a wonderful weekend!