Archive for the ‘Books’ Category


I read a lot. As an English teacher, part of my reading addiction is work related. However, since I was young I have found that reading is something that allows me to block out everything else. The only other “escape” I have found is alcohol and playing the guitar. The former was toxic to me and my well-being. The latter is a growing passion.

Anyway, there are lots of sites popping up helping you organize your stuff. The first one I tried was Listal, but I found that it was geared to organizing all kinds of media. It didn’t speak to the bibliophile in me. Then I found LibraryThing.

It’s a dead simply site with all the required Web2.0 goodies: ajax, tagging, comments, reviews, ratings, sharing, etc. I have only begun putting my books in and seem to have been limiting myself to new purchases and the few books sitting within arm’s reach at any given moment. There are hundreds on the shelves behind me and in the bedroom which need to be put into my catalog.

The site is free for a certain number of books and the pricing for larger accounts is reasonable. It seems that this is a one-man show and is not necessarily “built to flip” so perhaps it’s worthy of a purchase.

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New Senior Class

Our English department is developing new electives for our seniors to take. These are year-long classes that each teacher develops based on their own personal interests in literature. They range from outdoor writing to science fiction to Greek myths. My class will focus on contemporary literature, predominantly novels. For the purpose of the class, I am defining contemporary as nothing older than 20 years ago and a significant number of the novels are within the last 5 years. The poetry is a bit older.

What follows below is the short write-up I put together to give to my department head. Let me know what you think.

Contemporary Literature Roundtable

Time creates perspective and history tells us that it is impossible to name a movement of art or thought while living within that movement. Accepting that as a given, we will try to take a circumspect view of the literature of the last 10-20 years. This will include poetry and fiction from several genres including graphic novels and children’s literature. Our goal is to arrive at some understanding of the interests and pressures affecting today’s writers. Not for those with short attention spans.

First Trimester

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Book 1: The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in UK)

Book 2: The Subtle Knife

Book 3: The Amber Spyglass

Excerpts from John Milton’s Paradise Lost and William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience as needed.

A fantasy trilogy that features as its literary heart a rewriting of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Touches on themes of bildungsroman, myth, religious tolerance, sin and redemption, loyalty, and honor.

Second Trimester

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathon Safran Foer

Deals with themes of history, familial obligation, linguistics, wordplay, the Holocaust, myth, cultural differences, and the search for place. Recently made into a movie.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

A love story complicated by the uncontrollable time travel of the husband in the marriage. Tackles the gnawing sense of loss and regret we have all felt as part of our emotional responsibility while also dealing with how much do we know or want to know about our loved ones.

Little Children by Tom Perrotta

Skewers the beautiful façade of modern suburbia. Through subplots of infidelity and a pedophile returning home, Perrotta mirrors the lives of children against the lives of adults attempting to recapture that childhood invigoration.

Third Trimester

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Limited, yet unique point-of-view drives this novel of the disintegration of a family at the hands of modernity. A flailing protagonist wanders through a maze of deceit which he can’t even see.

Parasites Like Us by Adam Johnson

Satire dealing with academia, science, fear mongering, biological terrorism, consumerism, and love.

Watchmen by Alan Moore

Graphic novel (originally published as individual comic books) dealing with themes of nuclear threats, moral responsibility, and other geopolitical issues. Also provides and interesting view of narrative structure based around the metafiction it uses as ephemera.


Contemporary poetry will be interspersed throughout the second and third trimesters as needed thematically or as mental breaks from the fiction. Some poems may not be within the prescribed time scale, but it will be published in the timeframe and should be from the past 50 years or so. Poetry including Billy Collins’s Sailing Alone Around the Room, Kenneth Koch’s New Addresses, Wislawa Szymborska’s Poems New and Collected, Fernando Pessoa’s A Little Larger than the Universe, Seamus Heaney’s Opened Ground: Selected Poems, and other work from the last 10 years (all provided by me).

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The Real Jesus

I had a moment of synchronicity recently. I have been reading “The
Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. One early chapter
has a long discussion about the nature of religion and its function
across cultures. Campbell proposes that our current “economy of
religion” (my phrase, not his) focuses so greatly on sin and salvation
that we have lost the idea of living in a heaven on earth. It’s more
nuanced and complicated, but that might get to the heart of the matter
fairly closely.

So, in the midst of these ideas, I pick up last month’s issue of
Harper’s magazine. There is an article on Thomas Jefferson’s Bible and
the Gospel of Thomas. Essentially, the author makes the case that
Jefferson’s edited Bible echoes the same sentiments of the Gospel of
Thomas. They both try to make Jesus less of a supernatural figure and
more of a soothsayer or simply someone who spouts wisdom using
seemingly nonsensical stories, or myths.

I then come across, and I have forgotten where, a discussion of
Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” that makes the claim that
Shylock’s insistence on the concrete letter of his agreement is an
example of how someone who has lost his touch with the myth and magic
of the world falls apart.

All of this is surrounding the Christmas season, which celebrates a
magical virgin birth complete with celestial fireworks. The
synchronicity of these ideas coming at me all at the same time has
really piqued my curiousity. I have been lead to the “Quelle,” the
Gnostic gospels, and several other texts which are amazingly
interesting. Add to all of this the fact that I am developing a course
on “Myth and Epic” to teach next year.

It’s a fascinating topic and an interesting coincidence of how it
has all fallen in my lap at once. What I am taking away from it is
something I have long suspected. The current situation of organized
religion in America is a complete sham. The really sad part is that
many of the people involved in perpetuating this real destruction of
the truth of religion and spirituality in the world don’t even realize
that they have been fooled.

This is a preliminary thought, but it seems to me that the idea of
building a “Republic of God” (thanks Pullman!) starts within each
person. It doesn’t start by confessing what horrible people we are, but
by recognizing how much we really have to offer to the world and those
around us. This recognition of the faltering of organized religion is
not a loss of faith at all, but is instead an affirmation of our own
being and its power. It’s an affirmation of our ability to share in
God’s splendor now and to promote that splendor not by knocking on
doors, but by drawing people to the light we create.

The Kite Runner

I am 30 pages from finishing Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. It has caused me to cry about 5 times now. The book is amazingly powerful on many levels.

I find myself drawn to the story of the two boys which is the spine of the novel. There are other subplots, but their friendship which is ripped asunder absolutely floors me.

I’ll post a longer review after a bit of contemplation, but for now know that this book is one of the best I have ever read.

*caveat* There is a melodramatic plot event toward the end of the novel, but it can be overlooked.