For Moderate to Strong Readers
"Father and I" by Par Lagerkvist
[A son is devastated when he has a panic attack during a nature walk with his father.]
"The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs
[An elderly couple and their son are granted three wishes from a magical talisman.]
"The Beginning of Grief" by Larry Woiwode
[A widower with five children. struggles to connect with his middle son.]
"The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe
[A haughty prince and his courtiers quarantine themselves within a monastery and celebrate their immunity from a plague that has already wiped out half the kingdom. An unexpected guest arrives in a ghoulish costume and terrible things begin to happen.]
"The Bet" by Anton Chekhov
[Two impetuous young upstarts enter into an implausible bet and must deal with the unforeseen consequences of their rash, youthful commitments.]
"The Storyteller" by Saki (H.H. Munro)
[A bachelor entertains three unruly children with a slightly improper and unconventional story about a good little girl.]
"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut
[In a future, dystopian American where everyone is "finally equal" such that no one has any advantage over anyone else, a young genius attempts to foment revolution with the tv cameras running.]
"The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield
[A girl who is smitten with a dollhouse and its "perfect little lamp" makes - goes out on a limb (unlike her peers) to bring two little outcasts into the fold - and is punished for her good deed.]
"In Another Country" by Ernest Hemingway
[Soldiers at the end of WWI, recuperating from war wounds, wonder what the future may bring.]
"The Egg" by Sherwood Anderson
[A boy watches and his parents struggle to achieve the American dream - with the help of chickens.]
"Day of the Butterfly" by Alice Munro
[A young Canadian girl tries to find the courage to befriend one of the less popular girls in sixth grade.]
"The Piece of String" by Guy de Maupassant
[An old farmer suffers gossip and innuendo from his fellow villagers - all because of a piece of string.]
"The Secret Lion" by Alberto Alvaro Rios
[Two boys discover their perceptions of the world are constantly changing as their move through their adolescence.]
"Gryphon" by Charles Baxter
[An eccentric substitute teacher comes to visit a 4th grade class in a small, midwestern town and ends up provoking her pupils to learn how to distinguish "fact" from "fiction."]
"Mother Savage" by Guy de Maupassant
[An old woman worried about her soldier son turns into a quiet avenger after receiving some bad news about her son's fate.]
"The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell
[A scary scenario of hunter vs. hunted plays out on an island in the Caribbean.]
"The Body Snatcher" by Robert Louis Stevenson
[A supernaturally-tinged, gothic tale about grave-robbers and the demands of science.]
"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula Leguin
[A social contract in a prosperous, happy community is founded on the ongoing suffering of a single child.]
"Winter Dreams" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
[A young caddie struggles with unrequited love for an elusive rich girl.]
"The Sniper" by Liam O'Flaherty
[A sniper is caught up in a firefight with the most unlikely of enemies.]
"Thank you M'am" by Langston Hughes
[A formidable woman befriends a young, would-be thief.]
For Especially Strong Readers
"Once Upon a Time" by Nadine Gordimer
"The Child by Tiger" by Thomas Wolfe
"The Nose" by Nikolai Gogol
"The Overcoat" by Nikolai Gogol
"Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor
"Revelations" by Katherine Mansfield
"The Man Who was Almost a Man" by Richard Wright
"Barn Burning" by William Faulkner
"The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane
"Paul's Case" by Willa Cather
"Teddy" by J.D. Salinger
"The Scapegoat" by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving
"The Birthmark" + "Rappaccini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
"The Swimmers" by John Cheever
"A Jury of Her Peers" by Susan Glaspell
"Four Meetings" by Henry James
"The Three Strangers" by Thomas Hardy
"The Withered Arm" by Thomas Hardy
"The Sisters" by James Joyce
"After the Ball" by Leo Tolstoy
"The Happy Man" by Naguib Mahfouz
"The Last Judgment" by Karel Capek
"Poor Fish" by Alberto Moravia
"The South" by Jorge Luis Borges
"The Sphinx Without a Secret" by Oscar Wilde
"The Beggar" by Anton Chekhov
"The New Villa" by Anton Chekhov
"In the Ravine" by Anton Chekhov
"A Hunger Artist" by Franz Kafka
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Posted by T.W.S. at 8:07 AM
Recommended for Honors Level English
“Father and I” by Par Lagerkvist (Sweden)
Setting: in a small rustic village in Sweden, near the railroad tracks, sometime in the early 1900s
Subject Matter: childhood, innocence, youthful perception, growth/maturation, fathers/sons, nature’s two-sidedness, ego separation, fear/anxiety, loneliness, darkness and future contingencies
Plot Synopsis: A boy has a panic attack of sorts along with the first glimmer of an ongoing existential crisis while taking a nature walk with his father.
Symbolism: nature walk, day/night, sunshine/darkness, railroad tracks, river, Daddy’s home, flowers, trees and telephone poles, ghost train, mother-at-home
Possible Themes: Maturity requires a willingness to face sometimes fearfully new situations. One’s perceptions and experiences are not completely interchangeable with another’s – even one’s own parents. Two people can view or interpret the same phenomena very differently depending upon temperament.
“The Egg” by Sherwood Anderson (United States)
Setting: near Bidwell Ohio, sometime in the early 1900s
Subject Matter: fathers and sons, parents and children, depression/anxiety, destiny/opportunity, success/failure, entrepreneurial ambition, the “American dream,” chicken farms, cyclical patterns, chickens and eggs
Plot Synopsis: A son looks back on his father’s ill-fated attempts to make a “success” of himself and follow the American dream.
Symbolism: eggs, chickens, chicken farms, loaded wagon, bald head, Christopher Columbus
Possible Themes:. Ambition is both a blessing and curse when mingled with insecurity. The demand for social betterment at all costs exacts a heavy toll. Certain phlegmatic individuals are disinclined to upward social mobility; in fact, the relentless aspiration to a better life will destroy such a person. Children derive their own life-script from the drama of their parents’ lives. Over and over, it seems, the apple does not fall far from the tree – i.e. it is difficult to break a vicious cycle of despair. The American dream does not allow for the possibility of failure.
“Day of the Butterfly” by Alice Munro (Canada)
Setting: a small town in Ontario, Canada, sometime in the 1940s or 1950s (?)
Subject Matter: childhood, friendship, peer groups, teasing/bullying, acceptance/rejection, personal identity, misfortune, birthdays, cancer, loss/regret
Plot Synopsis: One girl of uncertain social status debates whether to befriend another girl who has already been shunned by the popular clique.
Symbolism: Myra’s oil hair and over-sized dresses, Cracker Jack prize: butterfly brooch, spelling, arithmetic, comic book characters, birth stones: sapphire and rubies, future plans (help mother at store vs. become an airplane hostess), birthday party (in March instead of July), hospital, children playing in the street, the last snowballs of the year
Possible Themes: Children are often cruel and thoughtless. Friendship can be dangerous when the person you are befriending is unpopular. It takes some degree of audacity to be a genuine friend, as opposed to a “fear-weather” ally. Social outcasts exist to make other people feel special and superior. The rare moment of insight is when we see ourselves in others and they see themselves in us. The worst fate perhaps for a person to fall into in this life: to go completely unnoticed by others, to fade into oblivion.
“The Black Sheep” by Italo Calvino (Italy)
Setting: a small village in Italy in the 1920s or 1930s (under Mussolini)
Subject Matter: politics, small towns, political corruption, fascism, honesty, thievery, social change/transformation, morality
Plot Synopsis: An honest man who keeps to himself unwittingly disturbs the balance of common “thievery” in a corrupt town.
Symbolism: thieves, homes, skeleton keys, shaded lanterns, honest man, books, bridge-at-night, water, rich and poor
Possible Themes: Let justice be done though the heavens may fall. All it takes is for one person to change (or subvert) the existing paradigm. Honest scruples are not responsible for bad results…or…Disruption of any sort brings with it its own form of oppression. Sometimes the medicine is just as bad as the disease. True reform requires first chaos and destruction followed by a new system of order. Civil society is a form of organized criminality.
“The Doll’s House” by Katherine Mansfield (New Zealand)
Setting: New Zealand, in the early 1900s
Subject Matter: childhood, peer groups, poverty, social status, snobbery, class consciousness, personal identity, random acts of kindness, dolls and dollhouses
Plot Synopsis: A young girl, passionate about a dollhouse (and its perfect little lamp) wants to show it to everyone in town, including two young misfits.
Symbolism: green or green dollhouse, oversized parent dolls, the little lamp, owl eyes, chickens, cats
Possible Themes: Random acts of kindness are far easier to give out than are random acts of cruelty. The playground is a microcosm of the adult world with all of its petty hierarchies. The disparaging of others is a wretched cure for insecurity. Snobbery is a side-effect of desperation. Awareness of class differences is an unavoidable component of social identity.
“Poor Fish” by Alberto Moravia (Italy)
Setting: Rome, Italy in the 1950s
Subject Matter: physical appearance, personal identity, normality/freakishness, perception and imagination, romantic love/romantic illusions, character, confronting bullies, the circus as a microcosm of life,
Plot Synopsis: A man marked by physical deformity and self-described “freakishness” finds his counterpart in a woman who offers him unconditional love and a chance to prove himself in front of some hostile “beautiful people.”
Symbolism: narrator’s small, crooked rickety, spider-like body, dishwashing, housekeeping, circus, horses circling the ring, horse-trainer, clowns, acrobats, lions, lion-tamer, wild animals and tame animals (zebras, elephants, horses and dogs), rows of cages, bear’s cage, attractive young couple, poor fish, elephant ride, First Aid post.
Possible Themes: Another person views you differently than you view yourself. Love requires illusions and flights of imagination. Friendship is a compensation for an otherwise sordid reality. The “freaks” of society are more noticeable/eye-catching than the beautiful people. Willingness to face adversity is the most revealing indicator of character. To lose the battle is often to win the war. Imperfection and vulnerability are more lovable than sheer perfection. Embarrassments and humiliations that build solidarity are nothing akin to failure.
“The Balek Scales” by Heinrich Boll (Germany)
Setting: a village in Germany in the 1800s
Subject Matter: village life, family dynasties, monopolies of power, oppression/exploitation/injustice, systematic inequalities, political dissent, political repression, social change
Plot Synopsis: A young boy takes issue with the corrupt economic practices in his village going so far as to accuse the ruling family of corruption and deceit; the spontaneous rebellion of peasants that follows his lead, alas, proves to be short-lived.
Symbolism: flax sheds, wild mushrooms and herbs, the Balek family’s chateau, the Balek scales, the swinging pointer, poachers (rebels/law breakers), the priest and the reeve, coffee, lemon drops, five pebbles in a kerchief, high mass on New Year’s Day, wet feet walking two hours through the forest, villager’s silent protest, attack by the gendarmes, basket weavers, the outlawed hymn, “The justice of this earth, O Lord, hath put Thee to death”), basket-weaving, the voice in the traveling cart singing,
Possible Themes: Power corrupts especially when a monopoly is involved. What is “old and familiar” is oft mistaken for what is good. The “daily grind” of work discourages curiosity. The poor have few outlets to make their voice heard. Oppression grows invisible when it becomes habitual. Society is class-warfare in slow motion. A rebellion cannot succeed if the authority or ruling power is totally discredited. Bearing witness to the truth is always a victory, however minor. Civil society is a form of organized criminality in which entire segments of the population are excluded from consideration.
“The Last Judgment” by Karel Capek (Czech Republic)
Setting: a celestial courtroom in the afterlife, time-frame unknown
Subject Matter: criminality, crime, punishment, God and the afterlife, final judgment, redemption/forgiveness, ultimate knowledge, court systems, courtrooms, judges
Plot Synopsis: In a celestial courtroom, God offers testimony, not final judgment, concerning the life and times of a killer named Kugler.
Symbolism: recording angel, Book of Life, Marka buying thread, nine people killed: fellow prisoner (killed in a brawl), an unfaithful sweetheart, an old man, a night watchman (with a wife and six children), an old married couple (killed with an axe and who hid $20,000 in a straw mattress), an immigrant to America, a passerby during police chase, and the policeman that killed Kugler, drunken beggar, Kugler’s alcoholism, glass-colored marble, Kugler’s periostitis, God as witness – not judge, hell
Possible Themes: What goes around comes around. Justice is painfully slow and late-in-coming, but very thorough and sometimes merciful. To know all is to forgive all. No one can truly judge of forgive a crime except for the victims. What we do in this life matters, because on some level, it is never forgotten. Where there is crime, punishment is sure to follow. Every person is a complex array of good and evil.
“Saboteur” by Ha Jin (China)
Setting: China during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1969)
Subject Matter: police brutality, communism, ideology, China’s Culture Revolution (196-1968), resistance to oppression, conformity/non-conformity, torture, corruption, criminal justice system, resistance to oppression, revenge, disease/epidemics
Plot Synopsis: A professor plagued by illness, is falsely accused by police officials, and seeks vigilante justice upon his release.
Symbolism: air like rotten melon, hepatitis, Mr. Chiu’s liver, spilled hot tea, wet sandals, injured fingers, police station, cleaver chopping rhythmically, Cultural Revolution, lecturer at Harbin University, witness statements, fever and chills, heart disease and hepatitis medication, Fenjin’s torture, jaundiced face, soup-sampling
Possible Themes: Political repression creates a backlash effect. Those to whom evil is done [will] do evil in return. You must become the dragon to fight the dragon. State-sponsored injustice sets a bad example for all and opens the door to amorality in general.
“Tokyo” by Fumiko Hayashi (Japan)
Setting: Tokyo, Japan during the 1940s (WWII)
Subject Matter: survival, wartime, poverty, work, love, empathy, compassion, fate, random acts of kindness, grief/loss, joy amid the ruins
Plot Synopsis: A desperate street vendor deals with love and loss during wartime, but is renewed by random acts of kindness performed by people who share her plight.
Symbolism: windy afternoon, rucksack, rusty iron, street vendors, Shizuoka tea for sale, stove fire, Shitaya district, Siberia, Amur River, cabin on the bomb site, Asakusa district, Goddess of Mercy, garish lantern, “Merry Teahouse,” rain storm/downpour, movie theater, Rho’s wet hair, two bowls of spaghetti, quilted bedrolls, Ryo and Tsuru’s embrace, bomb site, accident on narrow bridge, sketchbook, pile of broken concrete, body of dead kitten, four sewing women around oil stove, busy needles, feeling of warmth
Possible Themes: Change is the only constant of life. The wheel of fortune keeps turning for good or for ill. Life keeps handing us “surprises” whether we want them or not. Kindness and compassion can redeem/make up for the worst situations. The ripeness [of the moment] is all [that counts].
“The Secret Lion” by Alberto Alvaro Rios (Mexico/United States)
Setting: southern Arizona, near Nogales, 1960s or 1970s (?)
Subject Matter: childhood/adolescence, youthful perceptions, memory
Plot Synopsis: Two boys notice the changes in themselves and the world around them while stumbling through their adolescent years.
Symbolism: lion, teachers, girls, forbidden words, arroyo, grinding ball, sewage water, the color green, picnic, golf course,
Possible Themes: Everything changes. Things get taken away. The “heaven” of our youth turns into something more complicated and less enchanting. Life keeps moving forward; there’s no going back. You can’t step into the same river twice. You can’t “go home” again. Knowledge can spoil the magic of childlike perception. Life involves letting go of the past.
“Gryphon” by Charles Baxter (United States)
Setting: Four Oaks, Michigan, 1970s or 1980s
Subject Matter: school, education, teachers, students, knowledge and curiosity, intelligence, fact vs. fiction, myth and legend, lies vs. creative embellishments, credulity, change/metamorphosis, maturation, the process of thinking, death and personal transformation
Plot Synopsis: A wacky, Sphinx-like, substitute teacher challenges students to sort through the montage of “fact” and “fiction” that she hurls at them in a major departure from the assigned lesson plans.
Symbolism: Mr. Hibler’s cough, Heever the chameleon, terrarium, large-leafy oak tree, chignon hairdo, Broad Horizons textbook, mathematics (6X1168?), proper spelling of balcony, Distant Lands and Their People (geography textbook), pyramids, planets, ancient Egyptians, George Washington, gryphon (half-bird, half-lion), “humster,” National Enquirer, diamonds, Beethoven, Mozart, angels, the Sphinx who speaks in riddles, Venus fly trap, tarot cards, insects in ditches and swamps
Themes: Education involves more than just remembering “facts.” Students are not passive receptacles, but rather active participants in the endless task of sorting truth from falsehood. To learn we must first be inspired – our imaginations must take flight. Enchantment is the mother of science. A little bit of unexpected “magic” is necessary to spice up a dull routine. Preparing someone to face the unsolved “riddles” and uncertainties of life is the best form of teaching. The awareness of change as the major constant in life is the beginning of wisdom – enough even to cure the fear of death.
Posted by T.W.S. at 6:50 AM