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I took AP English my senior year of high school. It was easily one of the hardest and greatest classes I have ever had (and that include some very awesome classes in college). I loved the class because it was engaging, it was interesting, and the teacher really wanted to hear our opinions. (Anyone who goes to Monroe High School will understand the awesomeness that is Scott McCloskey.)

The hard part of the class (aside from being required to write a 50 page Novella) was reading all of the demanding material. We also had a lengthy summer reading list which we were to read and write reports on before school began. I think most of my class waited until the very last minute to read anything on the list. But, most of us did get it completed (or at least read the Cliffs Notes, not that I will admit to doing this).

Ok, so what is the point of talking about my high school English Class? I’ve been thinking about those books we had to read for school. If you are anything like me, being told you HAVE to read something automatically makes it less appealing. I belong to an awesome book club, and even though I helped select all of the books we read I still usually wait until the last minute.

But, here is my point. Some of the books we are required to read in school are actually (gasp!) great books!

I polled my facebook friends and asked them which books they enjoyed reading even though they were required reads for school. Most of them selected books which I liked as well. In case you never get assigned these books for your classes, these are books that may be literary or classics, but they are also really good reads.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I think this is one of those books I could read a hundred times and never get tired of it. It has everything you could want in a great book- mystery, intrigue, and great characters. I LOVE this book, and many of my friends also said they loved it as well. If you are not familiar with the plot the story is told from the perspective of young Scout Finch and her brother Jem as their lawyer father represents a black man accused of raping a white woman in a southern town during the 1930’s. This book won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a pretty awesome movie.

1984 by George Orwell. This is another book that can be read over and over again without losing its appeal. Even though Orwell was a little wrong in how our future would enfold, the premise is still pretty haunting. It’s set in a world where the government controls pretty much every aspect of human life. This is the book that brought us the phrase “big brother.” It’s a great read, whether it’s a required book or not.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Ok, full disclosure, I have actually never read this book. I’m including it in this list, though because my cousin Shannon was pretty obsessed with it throughout high school and it was mentioned by several of my friends. It’s on my to-read list, so someday I will read it and I’m sure I will love it just as much as they do. School Library journal explains the book like this: “The volatile world of male adolescence provides the backdrop for John Knowles’ engrossing tale of love, hate, war, and peace. Sharing a room at Devon, an exclusive New England prep school, in the summer prior to World War II, Gene and Phineas form a complex bond of friendship that draws out both the best and worst characteristics of each boy and leads ultimately to violence, a confession, and the betrayal of trust.”

Hamlet and/or Macbeth by William Shakespeare- I’m lumping these two together because they are both Shakespearean tragedies I read in high school and depending on when you ask I will go back and forth between which one I like best. Hamlet has some of the best quotes in all of Shakespeare. Macbeth has some of the best characters. Hamlet tells the tale of the young Prince of Denmark as he fakes insanity to get his Uncle to admit to killing his father. Macbeth tells the story of a nobleman who kills the king to take the throne, but things don’t go so well for him once he becomes the King. For those of you who think you don’t like Shakespeare, I invite you to watch it performed. A good performance of Shakespeare will change your mind about not liking him. Check out Kenneth Branaugh’s version of Hamlet. It’s long but it’s SOOOOOO good.

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut- I was never actually required to read this in school, but a lot of schools do have this on their on their reading lists (it’s also regularly on banned lists- which in my opinion makes it even better!). I picked this book up off the shelf in my sophomore English teacher’s class and it began a love affair with the works of Kurt Vonnegut. I have read this book at least a half dozen times since, and I’m sure I will read it a half dozen more. The story follows Billy Pilgrim as he becomes “unstuck in time.” It explores Billy’s past as a prisoner of war during World War II, an experience that mirrors Vonnegut’s own. I don’t think I can begin to explain how much I LOVE this book.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Ok, here’s another one I haven’t actually read, but since many people enjoy it I wanted to include it in the list. It’s another one that has been on my to-read list for many years. Wikipedia describes the book as being, “ Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of sharecroppers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in financial and agricultural industries.” This book also won a Pulitzer Prize.

So, that is my list. How about you? Do you have books you were required to read in school that have turned in to favorites? How about books you really hated? Let me know what you think?

 

9

Aug

2011

Old Faithful

By Alaska. Posted in Alaska | No Comments »

My parents were out of town one time a few years back, so it was just us kids. Well, don’t go calling social services yet, there were a couple over 18. Anyways, at one point, there was an issue with the toilet. And by issue, I don’t just mean it was overflowing. It was shooting water out like a geyser. I didn’t really know what to do, since my oldest sister had run to the store. I decided I would shut the door. Yep, that was my fixer. I guess I assumed that if the door was shut, the toilet was not shooting up like Old Faithful. Luckily my sister came home, and oh I don’t know, called a plumber, before any real damage was done.

I do this kind of thing all the time. I will ignore a bill if I don’t want to see it, ignore the news if it’s bad, etc… If I can’t see it, it’s not there. It’s sort of like when a little kid is playing hide and seek, and to hide, they close their eyes. That’s my move. I don’t see you, you must not see me.

I guess I sometimes do this when I’m picking up books too. I especially do it if I know the story is based on real events and is absolutely horrendous. But, I think sometimes I need to come out from under the rock where I live, and hear these stories. I owe it to these people, it’s the least I can do. I will say I need them in small doses though, if I watch too much or read too much, I get depressed and am no fun to be around.

We all learned about World War II, and it is absolutely horrific. But, I really don’t remember learning about what happened to people in some of these other countries, specifically the Baltic states including Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In this story, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Lina is just sitting at home with her family when the Soviet Police barge in and deport them. They are put on a train with no idea of where they are going. There is no food, and several people do not make the journey. They are sent to a work camp in Siberia where they live in a small shed, and work in unthinkable conditions. They are given one tiny slice of bread per day, and are constantly beaten and tortured. I will warn you, this book does not sugar coat anything. Things like this really happened.

It is so important to learn about these things, and for many reasons. Of course, we’ve all heard we need to learn about history, so that we don’t repeat it, and I agree with that. Another reason of course, is to remind ourselves just how good we have it in this country. At one point in the book, Lina lives in a jurta (mud hut) in the Arctic Circle. I just bought a house, and it seems to have so many things wrong with it, but it is not a jurta in the Arctic Circle. So, for instance when I saw water seeping in places it’s not supposed to, I say “I do not live in a jurta. I do not live in a jurta.” Say it with me, “I do not live in a jurta.” Good, right?

Now, this book is not just about all of the bad things that happened to these people. I know it sounds cheesy, but it really is a book about the human spirit. The people you read about in these pages become your friends, and you feel every small victory. At one point Lina is arguing with her mother about how she wishes one of the guards would get sick and die, and her mother reminds her that is not how they are. She says, “Lina, think of what your father would say. A wrongdoing doesn’t give us the right to do wrong. You know that.”

This is also a story about love, wait until you meet Andrius. Swoon. And I haven’t even gotten to the art. Lina realizes that no one knows what is happening to them, so she documents everything through her art. I’m not usually able to see things in my head when I read them, but let me tell you I could see every single one of Lina’s drawings. They sprang to life from the page. And, don’t skip the epilogue or author’s note. Read every page, you won’t regret it!

 

2

Aug

2011

Shark Attack!

By Alaska. Posted in Alaska | No Comments »


Well boys and girls, this week is one of my favorites of the year. It’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel! I’m not sure why, but I just cannot get enough! In fact, as I type this, I’m having to strain to keep my eyes open because I stayed up way too late watching. They have a pretty cool website, you can play games, puzzles, etc…I have a healthy respect (fear) of sharks. I think they are magnificent creatures who may eat me while I’m swimming. That’s why I’m more of a swim in a pool next to the beach kind of girl. What’s sad is not the real footage that scared me most, it’s the brilliant film making of the classic thriller Spring Break Shark Attack that did it. I’m not sure why IMDB only gave it 3 1/2 of 10 stars, that’s just a shame. I even had a shark visit us at the library, here my nephew is fending it off:

Luckily for all of you, I’m lame and watch a lot of shark related footage, so I can tell you that sharks are a bit controversial. There have been times of the year where there is an increase in shark attacks, and number of sharks spotted near public beaches. They are mostly juvenile sharks, but you still don’t want to mess with them. Anyways, Australia had a problem a few years back where there were quite a few attacks in a small period of time, and an especially nerve wracking one in the Sydney Harbor. Anyways, some areas use shark nets to try and keep sharks out of beaches, but some shark specialists believe there are better ways since a lot of sharks die in these nets. Now, some people think that’s a good thing, while others obviously not so much.

I couldn’t help but think of this issue while reading Kristen Chandler’s Wolves, Boys & Other Things That Might Kill Me. This book takes place in a small town outside of Yellowstone Park.  There are several ranchers that live in that area, and they were having problems with the wolves killing their cattle, so the wolves were eventually killed off. The Wildlife Administration reintroduced the wolves to Yellowstone, and this was causing problems. The main character in the book, KJ, has always been fascinated with the wolves. She lives with her dad and helps him with a store they own and also on elk hunting and fishing expeditions to tourists. When a new boy moves in town, Virgil, KJ’s life begins to change. She is assigned to start writing about the wolves for the school newspaper, and a lot of the people in the town have a lot to say about it. Dangerous things start happening to those around her. I was really concerned when I saw the title of this book, that it was going to turn into KJ becoming a wolf or something, no worries, doesn’t happen. Although, if you like that sort of thing, I have a few good titles for you!