March 13, 2010

Building a Class--Want to Help?

I pulled up the Course Outline for the classes I'm supposed to teach in the Fall. I was given a plum of a course, Literature (rarely awarded to an adjunct), but at a really terrible time: MF 11-1. The Friday slot is new to our campus, because someone in the President's office wants a "college hour," so is disrupting these carefully honed schedules in order to shoehorn one in. So the MW class is now MF. (The other course I'm teaching is, as my mother calls it, Bonehead English. She's right.)

Luckily at my college, we are given free reign with what we assign for textbooks. Yay. That almost makes the Friday slot palatable. The idea of the course is to introduce them to the elements of literature: poetry, drama, novels, short stories. Oh my. For an English teacher this is like being a kid in a candy shop. I have some short stories I love to teach, and ditto the poetry.

So for ideas for the novels, I prowled my parents' bookcases, and asked them for their favorites. My mom said it was always the one she was reading, and then she'd let it pass from her mind. My dad pulled out some heavy hitters: Gaddis, Stegner, Hemingway. It's a big world of books out there, isn't it?

So, the novel (or two?)--I still have no idea. But you, my fellow Slicers, might. If in the comments you wouldn't mind leaving me the title of the novel that you've liked the best, plus a one line addition as to why, I'd appreciate it. I'm looking at everything, but would prefer the slimmer novels, with some meat on those bones.


SOLSC Day 14. Click to return.


  1. Congratulations on getting such a great course! I think you want to avoid stuff they have read in high school. You need to decide if you want to stick with a US writer, or go foreign. How about Dostoevsky, maybe *The Idiot*? Nobody reads the Russians any more. Too long... Margaret Atwood's *The Handmaid's Tale*? There's plenty to discuss in that one. It's set in a theocracy of the future where women are not allowed to learn to read or write, and a breeder group are kept in houses of rich but infertile women to produce kids for them. Another great but horrifying book is Kazuo Ishiguro's *Never Let Me Go*, which I had the privilege of reading without knowing what it is "about", so I won't tell you, except that it talks about young people, sacrifice, and do-gooders. The book jacket says "an oblique and elegiac meditation on mortality and lost innocence." AUUGH. See if you like it, but if you are feeling fragile, don't read it right now.

  2. What level? I am assuming this is college or am I wrong?

    I might suggest "The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel, which is an interesting fictional narrative that goes to the heart of "point of view" and reality versus fantasy in the eyes of the narrator.


  3. I'm sure you can't use any books with religious references, but there is one book I think everyone should read, "Evidence Not Seen". The book was written by a missionary (Darlene Diebler Rose) to New Zealand during WWII. Her husband was killed by the Japanese and she was held in a concentration camp. The book is an account of her trials that came during that time. Even if you can't use it, I think it is that one book everyone should read.

    My husband things Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead". A tale of three generations from the Civil War to the 20th century. A story of fathers, sons, and spiritual battles that still rage today. She writes in the tradition of Emily Dickenson and Walt Whitman. (The description is from the publisher).

  4. I like mysteries there is so much to explore. The writers style, culture, community. Real life and fiction. An author study might be interesting. Two of my favorites are J.D. Robb and Catherine Coulter. It might make an interesting comparison to parallel read them with one of Ann Rules true crime books. All three authors are excellent writers.

    I have also been reading Lucinda Franks "My Father's Secret War" (memoir) lots of issues, centers around WWII.

  5. Hmm ... so many novels, so little time!

    Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is an enduring favorite of mine. It's tiny and comes with a equally tiny novella at the end of the book, "Moonlight Shadow," a story I adore.

    Allan Gurganus' Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All was wonderful and surprised me in its ability to make me care about a character I thought sure I wouldn't be able to relate to.

    Fledgling by Octavia Butler is one I've read again and again. If any of your students succumbed to the Twilight craziness, they need to read this book.

    Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith by Gina Nahai is another favorite. I think it falls apart a little in the end, but it still works for me.

    Hmm ... others that come to mind:
    Nicole Krauss' The History of Love, Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss
    Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine

    Ok, I'll stop. Have fun putting together your course. I'm curious to know what you decide!

  6. Lucky lucky you!!!

    I have to agree with Molly's suggestion for The Handmaid's Tale. My favorite book of all time and totally teachable. I wrote my master's thesis on this novel, so I'm a bit partial to this novel, as well. Regardless, my students enjoyed it immensely. I also just finished Olive Kitteridge, which won the Pulitzer. It is more like a collection of short stories, however. Persepolis would also be fun, if you want to delve into the world of the graphic novel.

    Can't wait to hear what you select!


  7. I will put in another vote for Handmaid's Tale. I read it first many years ago and it has forever effected the way I think about "women's" issues in the political arena.

    If you want some science fiction,Orson Scott Card's book "Ender's Game" is one I am always recommending to people.

    I recently read a book called "The Glass Castle" which is a memoir by...Jeannette Wells (I think) and I loved it!

    I have made these recommendations while thinking about the people I went to community college with. I think you are doing them a favour by chosing contemporary things. My friend just finally, at age 43, finished her high school diploma. The teacher chose books from the current best seller list and my friend was so grateful because she was able to participate in book discussions with friends because we were all reading the same things and this really helped her with her motivation and grades. Also, she could easily get them from the community library. :)

  8. I'd suggest Nicholas Sparks's The Lucky One. It's written in limited third-person omniscient voice, which you can read more about by going to I think the structure of the book is very interesting, as is the storyline. While it might not be very collegiate, it does tackle a lot of social issues and could lead to excellent discussions.

  9. Wow. I don't envy your task! So many books, so little time!

    Some of my favorites:
    1. The Alchemist by Paulo Cohelp
    2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
    3. Rabbit, Run by John Updike

    PS What is a "college hour"?

  10. I too loved The Handmaid's Tale - still remember that it resonated with me back in college. The other title that springs to mind is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. This is a powerful story that when I Googled it to check name spelling says it is considered "seminal work in African American as well as women's Literature." Good luck on your quest!

  11. I've loved reading through the comments (and had to go grab my Reader's Notebook to add to my "Want to Read" list.

    Is it possible students could choose their own novel for the class? Just looking at the discussion started here, I think it would be interesting to give some choice -- if possible.

    I've been spending my time reading lots of YA (which I'm not sure you're interested in for the scope of your class), as well as books about human trafficking and modern day slavery. Not for Sale is one I would recommend.

    Thanks for starting such a great discussion,

  12. Oh! "Things Fall Apart" I vote for that one too. I love that book. I loaned my copy to a friend years ago and never got it back. Perhaps it is time to replace it.

  13. Ooh, I second Beth's suggestion for Zora Neale Hurston. I love her. That also reminds me that I would add some Jamaica Kincaid and Toni Morrison to the list as well. Though, for Jamaica Kincaid, her works that I like are memoir, so that might not work for your class.

    @alotalot, I definitely need to re-read it. I bought a copy awhile back, intending to do so but other, newer books distracted me!