Friday, March 28, 2014

Course Suggestions for Thornton Wilder's THEOPHILUS NORTH

The last of Thornton Wilder's novels, Theophilus North follows the story of a young man who, bored with his current life as a teacher, sets out for a summer of adventure. Narrated by the elderly North from a distance of fifty years Theophilus North is a fascinating commentary on youth and education from the vantage point of age. 

Course Suggestions

Long considered the most whimsical of Wilder's novels, one critic described Theophilus North as "nostalgic fantasy" stating, "Perhaps adults need fairytales too." This novel is part autobiographical and part the imagined adventure of his twin brother who died at birth. Why would an author use fiction to create an autobiography? Is it possible that like Theophilus, Wilder believes "It's so boring to tell the truth to people who'd rather hear the other thing?" 

Many other authors have crafted similar pseudo autobiographies, shrouded in mystery and mixed with imaginative fiction. In order to better understand Wilder's choices in mixing his own life with the imagined world of Theophilus, students should also take a look at other semi-autobiographical works like The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. 

Sample Questions

How do both Wilder and Plath use the imagined worlds of their characters to examine tragedies in their own? How do Hemingway and Wilder explore their own experience in World War I through their characters? How do both Bradbury and Wilder paint nostalgic pictures of their pasts through the use of fiction? What similarities can be drawn between Theophilus North and Stephen Dedalus? Joyce wrote A Portrait of the Artist at the beginning of his career, while Wilder wrote Theophilus at the end of his, in what ways do these timelines impact the messages and themes? In what ways are all these authors able to comment on the situations and people in their life by distancing themselves through fiction?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Course Suggestions for Thornton Wilder's THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY

Thornton Wilder's 1927 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey follows a Franciscan monk who tries to discover meaning in the tragedy of a bridge collapse. Wilder explained that his inspiration for the novel came out of a series of theological arguments with his parents. With this in mind, Wilder created a fascinating story that posed a multitude of questions concerning predestination. 

Course Suggestions

In The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Brother Juniper sets out to prove one of two distinct worldviews: "either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan." But throughout the novel, Wilder suggests a third worldview: perhaps it's all beyond the scope of human understanding. In order to better inform this debate and create a wide range of in-class discussions, it would be interesting to study The Bridge of San Luis Rey alongside Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, Albert Camus's The Plague, John Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany, and J.W. Ironmonger's Coincidence

Sample Questions

Compare the ways in which The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Slaughterhouse-Five approach the discussion of predestination? Does Brother Juniper's quest to find empirical proof of God's plan in the bridge collapse compare to Father Paneloux's desires to find meaning in The Plague? How does Owen Meany's tragic journey compare to Brother Juniper's? Is Owen destined to be an instrument of God, or is it his belief that he is that leads him to act accordingly? Likewise, in what ways does the monk's journey mimic that of Azalea's quest to understand the tragedies in her own life in Coincidence?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Break Must-Reads!

Spring break is an exciting time in the school year, full of promise and adventure. But most of the time adventures are messy, painful, frightening and emotionally scarring. So, you're better off curled up with a good book. To make you feel better about your spring break plans, I've provided you with my top five spring break must-read adventures that will make you glad you stayed home. 

1. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
If you're sitting in your living room with the same old people you see every day, just be glad you didn't get invited to Soldier Island to spend your holiday with mysterious strangers. 

2. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
When you're walking around your small town and wishing something exciting would happen, just be glad Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show isn't headed your way.
3. Prey by Michael Crichton
While away at spring break it can seem like everyone around you has the newest and most exciting technology, but as Michael Crichton warns, not all technology is fun.

4. The Odyssey of Homer by Richmond Lattimore
You think your two-hour flight delay is bad? Just think, it took Odysseus ten years to get home.

5. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
If your plans for spring break fell through, it can always feel like the grass is greener on the other side, but Coraline will teach you that sometimes the grass on the other side is better left alone. 

Check out my top five and let us know how your spring break reading went!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Course Suggestions for Thornton Wilder's THE IDES OF MARCH

The Ides of March By Thornton WilderThornton Wilder’s The Ides of March, first published in 1948, is a brilliant epistolary novel set in Julius Caesar's Rome. In this inventive narrative, the Caesar of history becomes Caesar the human being. Wilder also resurrects the controversial figures surrounding Caesar—Cleopatra, Catullus, Cicero, and others. All Rome comes crowding through these pages—the Rome of villas and slums, beautiful women and brawling youths, spies and assassins.

Course Suggestions
As he was writing The Ides of March, Thornton Wilder admitted to being “absorbed by Existential philosophy and its literary diffusion.” Specifically, Wilder studied the philosophy of Kierkegaard and Sartre, whose work—which promoted the autonomy of the individual over religion and society in a seemingly amoral and absurd world—spoke to many members of the post-War generation. Wilder found Caesar’s era apt to delve deeply into these Existentialists’ questions about love and religion, which act as the central preoccupations of Ides.

In the postscript to her internationally bestselling novel Memoirs of Hadrian (1951), Belgian writer Marguerite Yourcenar states that she chose Hadrian as her subject partially because he lived in an era in between Gods (the Roman Gods were no longer worshipped; Christianity had not yet taken hold). To Yourcenar, this godless period bore many parallels to the post-World War II era—and so while considering the philosophical and religious problems of the Hadrianic epoch, she would really be exploring those of her present.

How did the Roman world that Caesar and Hadrian inhabited (reimagined by Wilder and Yourcenar) serve to highlight Existential ideas popularized in Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments, Heidegger’s Being and Time, and Sartre’s Existentialism is Humanism? What parallels do we see in the post-World War II era (when Existentialism really began to thrive), and pre-Christian Rome? For references to antiquity in your course, it might be helpful to examine Edith Hamilton’s The Roman Way (which features writings from Cicero, Catullus, Horace, Virgil, Livy, Seneca, and Tacitus), and study Titus Lucretius Carus’s Epicurean poem On the Nature of Things—a poem which introduces a universe guided by chance as opposed to divine intervention.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How Well Do You Know Your Classic Literature?

HarperAcademic has a new assistant! To celebrate my arrival and the amazing titles in the Collins Classics collection, I'm doing a Twitter Takeover! Join me tomorrow, March 12th, 2014 @HarperAcademic for your chance to win bragging rights and a copy of one of the Collins Classics. The Collins Classic series features some of the most renowned and beloved books of all time. These special editions come complete with a "Life & Times" section to further explore the time period of the novel and the author's life, as well as a "Glossary of Classic Literature" to help students with some of those difficult words and phrases.
The Collins Classics
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Emma by Jane Austen
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The answer to the trivia questions will be one of these titles so follow us @HarperAcademic all day tomorrow to test your trivia knowledge and win a free Collins Classic title!   

Friday, March 7, 2014

Course Suggestions for Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN

Thornton Wilder's beloved American Play, Our Town won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1938 and has influenced and inspired students across generations. Robert Corrigan, author of The Modern Theatre calls Our Town the "most representative and significant product of the modern American theater." Set in the fictionalized town of Grover's Corner, Our Town depicts the everyday lives, marriages and deaths of two families. 

Suggested Course Use

Wilder is known for the ways in which he shaped modern drama, but it is equally as fascinating to see the ways in which classic drama shaped his work.  It would be thought provoking for students to examine Our Town along with the techniques and themes of Sophocles and Plato.

Our Town employs a Stage Manager to both narrate the action and interact in a way that connects the audience to the characters. In Sophocles' Oedipus Cycle, he uses the Chorus to accomplish the same technique. In what ways do both the Stage Manager and Chorus exist in two different realitiesthose of the audience and the characters? What does Wilder accomplish by making the Stage Manager a single character instead of a Chorus?

In the end of Our Town, George mourns on the gravestone of his late wife Emily and her ghosts comments that the living "just don't get it, do they." Emily expresses that there is no sadness in death, a theme that can also be seen in Plato's Apology, in which he describes the last days of Socrates, who like Emily, comes to understand the nature of death. How does ghost Emily's opinion of death compare with Socrates' opinion of death while he is still alive? How does Wilder use the "ghost" characters on stage to make a wider statement about death?  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

New Revised Edition of Thomas C. Foster's Classic HOW TO READ LITERATURE LIKE A PROFESSOR

How to Read Literature Like a Professor Revised By Thomas C. FosterThomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature like a Professor—the perennial favorite for AP English classes—is now available in a thoroughly revised and updated edition! This amusing and instructive guide to literature teaches students how to get more out of reading, simply by looking at literature with the eyes and literary codes of the ultimate professional reader, the college professor. Ranging from the major themes (such as seasons, vampires, violence, quests and geography), to literary models (the Bible, Shakespeare, Greek mythology and fairy tales), and narrative devices (irony, plot and symbol), Foster’s book will teach your students to utilize close-reading techniques to search for the deeper literary meanings hidden in plain sight.

This revised edition includes new chapters, a new preface and epilogue, and incorporates updated teaching points that Foster has developed over the past decade. Check out the new version here!