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Brown Ajah Book Challenge 2021 Discussion


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this is where we chat about what we're reading, our goals and whatnot for the book challenge. have at it!

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You mentioned Bradbury in the other thread and Fahrenheit 451 is the first book I'm teaching this semester! Well, that alongside The Odyssey! Love the idea for getting outside of the reading 'comfort' zone too! 

 

For classics, for me, I need to choose a classic I've not read/taught before. Started Don Quixote not too long ago and have been struggling to get into it but I shall persevere!

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Thank you, Jeannaisais!

Fahrenheit 451 is such a great book, and Don Quixote sounds like a challenge; I have a friend who read it in the original Spanish. Apparently, it was a nightmare. I'm rooting for you!

 

Here's my first discussion prompt: since so much of the challenge this year is about stepping outside your reading norms, what's a book or series that you love to reread for the sense of safety and comfort it offers you?

 

I have a couple of these: the Tearling trilogy, which was the first adult fantasy series I read (although it wouldn't have been all that remarkable to me if I didn't also think it was great); The Stormlight Archive, which is just fantastic for escapism since the world-building is so in-depth; and the Ranger's Apprentice series, which were my favorite books as a young kid.

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I think my safe books to read are the ones I teach because I spend so much time reading, discussing, analyzing, and finding new details in them with each new group of students. So The Great Gatsby, The Crucible, Fahrenheit 451, Hamlet, etc. are all stories that I really enjoy digging back into each school year. And each year I discover new things I didn't see before - crazy just how many details can go into writing!!

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Read another fifty pages of Don Quixote today (I do reading Friday's with students and model the behavior)..... you guys, I don't know if I can finish this book. It's not necessarily the prose - I'm used to flowery prose in classic literature - but man, I can NOT get into this book! It feels like the same thing keeps happening over and over and like the story is going nowhere. I know some adore Don Quixote but I'm struggling. I think I may need to shelve it again for a while and try when I'm not as overwhelmed about work related stressors. Instead, I shall concentrate on my reread of Fahrenheit 451 as I teach it! 🙂 

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Hey, reading (except for educational purposes) is supposed to be something you enjoy! If Don Quixote isn't doing it for you, there's nothing wrong (in my book) with putting it down.

 

In other news, I just read Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. It was incredibly difficult; not in the way that classics are sometimes hard to read, but because of the issues it covers. Wintergirls has an incredibly realistic, relatable, and painful depiction of anorexia. The book starts the day Lia learns her best friend Cassie is dead. We see her struggle with body image and self-harm and learn about how she and Cassie fed off each other's toxicity and motivated each other to starve themselves, and we see how it affects her family; not just her mom and dad, but her step-sister Emma. It was positively heartbreaking. Highly recommended with a strong trigger warning.

Edited by PiedPiper
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Oh I know - the English teacher in me both does and does not want to finish Don Quixote. I tell students all the time it's okay to DNF books but have the hardest time doing so myself. I want to finish everything I start.... it's a learned skill, to me at least, to DNF a book lol

 

Have you read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson? It is also pretty intense theme/content wise - a girl enters her freshman year after attending a welcome back to school party that goes awry for her. She eventually works up the courage to tell her once best friend what a guy did to her but no one believes the main character because this guy is 'perfect'. The main character goes through so much and it's heartbreaking but heartwarming in the end because the main character does get the help she needs!

 

I'm excited to dig in to my reread of Fahrenheit 451 - it's one of my favorites to teach (I have a lot of those though lol). As for aside from rereading... I'm thinking I'll start Feist's The Magician's Apprentice this week and see how that goes!

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  • 4 weeks later...

I have another discussion prompt for all of you!

What are some books that surprised you? I'm purposely leaving this open-ended; it can mean you expected it to be bad and was surprisingly good, or vise versa; it can mean there was a crazy plot twist; it can mean that it was surprisingly durable when you threw it across the room.

Discuss!

 

And Jennaisais, I have not read Speak, but I am somewhat inclined to further explore Andersen's oeuvre (can that word be used for novelists? I don't know, but I also don't really care). Speak will certainly be next, when I get around to it.

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After so many people raved about The Great Gatsby, I found I couldn't make it through 50 pages of it.

 

On the other hand, I started to hate-read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and finished it with tears in my eyes. That I was the father of a young boy the same age as the boy in that novel didn't help things, that's for sure. 

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On 2/4/2021 at 10:58 AM, PiedPiper said:

I have another discussion prompt for all of you!

What are some books that surprised you? I'm purposely leaving this open-ended; it can mean you expected it to be bad and was surprisingly good, or vise versa; it can mean there was a crazy plot twist; it can mean that it was surprisingly durable when you threw it across the room.

Discuss!

 

And Jennaisais, I have not read Speak, but I am somewhat inclined to further explore Andersen's oeuvre (can that word be used for novelists? I don't know, but I also don't really care). Speak will certainly be next, when I get around to it.

Speak was definitely worth reading - hope you enjoy it!

 

As for books that I was pleasantly surprised by: Jane Eyre by Bronte was one I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did! Then, the opposite, I thought I would adore Don Quixote but as of now, I have set it aside to try again at a later time.

 

I'm trying to remember what other books have surprised me in some way.... hmm oh I thought I would be somewhat scared by Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children but I ended up annoyed because the plot was, for me, lackluster.

13 hours ago, JamesBrown said:

After so many people raved about The Great Gatsby, I found I couldn't make it through 50 pages of it.

 

On the other hand, I started to hate-read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and finished it with tears in my eyes. That I was the father of a young boy the same age as the boy in that novel didn't help things, that's for sure. 

I have plenty of students who would not finish The Great Gatsby without being told they had to, and some who choose to look it up on SparkNotes to complete their assignments... I did not enjoy it in high school and it's definitely not my favorite story to teach but I do still enjoy teaching it.

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I've never read the Great Gatsby, but now I'm thinking of picking it up just to see whether I love or hate it!

 

Best of luck when/if you do try Don Quixote again.

 

I'm curious -- do your students tell you they're using SparkNotes? Or is there something in their writing that makes it easy to tell? And you mentioned that The Great Gatsby is a comfort book; have you come to love it since just from reading it a bunch? I know I have that with my piano practice: sometimes I'll start working on a piece and decide I hate it, but the more I work on it, the more I enjoy it.

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My high school teacher didn't preface Gatsby well enough before we started reading - sometimes I do so successfully, other times i don't. And I figure out students read SparkNotes when they know details which occur later in the text than where we are currently reading. Also, writing style is a big giveaway in written responses because high school students rarely write the same way as the creators of Sparknotes pages (or other reading aid sites). Oh I also typically concentrate on just one or two themes per text so when a student starts writing about a theme we did not discuss in class, it's usually a giveaway that they read the SparkNotes page. Granted, this is not *always* the case - but those are usually the signs which make me double check what info is on SparkNotes to see if they're cheating. I don't mind if they read chapter summaries of reading it themselves to double check they understood what they read.... the problem lies when some students legit copy and paste the summaries on Sparknotes or CliffNotes and submit it as their own work (and yes, students do this much too often, sadly).

 

I would say Gatsby has become a comfort book because it's become so familiar now. I always end the Gatsby unit with a discussion about whether or not it should still be considered "the greatest American novel ever written". Most students will disagree because they dislike having an often unreliable narrator. They often then compare Gatsby to other novels they've read (usually to The Crucible, The Outsiders, and Of Mice and Men). Often, students place Gatsby at the bottom of the list when discussing what books they liked/disliked in English class and not because of the writing or plot issues, but because they're mad at the characters lol

 

Oh I'm now reading Magician: Apprentice by Raymond Feist. Interesting story idea but there's been a lot of telling instead of showing in the first 100 pages - hopefully that gets better!

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Mad at the characters -- I love that! I can't believe they would copy/paste anything from the internet; they've got to know you'll notice. It's hardly like it was before the internet, where you could write down something from an obscure textbook and your teacher would never know. You know what I'd do if I was so intent on doing no work that I wanted to copy/paste Sparknotes? I'd cultivate a writing style that sounded exactly like those study sites, so when I did just take things straight from the internet, teachers wouldn't find it suspicious enough to look up.

Of course, that's actually more work than just reading the book...

 

Moving on: what do you mean by "prefacing" Gatsby? Is there something specific you warn your students about? I imagine there are some things that are easier to deal with if you know about them in advance, kind of like why they have trigger warnings or maturity ratings, but maybe I'm way off the mark here. I'd be curious to know what you tell them?

 

I also read Magician: Apprentice once, but DNFed  it at 40 pages -- unintentionally, actually. I happened to start it right before going on a vacation and forgot to pack it in my suitcase, and then sort of forgot about it by the time I got back. It does read very much like older fantasy, even though I'm pretty sure it was written sometime in the '90s. I'll have to check.

 

It was published in '82. Which is right on the edge of old enough for me to forgive that kind of stuff. But I do plan to try it again, because it's a favorite of my grandfather's.

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New discussion question!

 

Do you prefer standalones or series? Why?

 

I prefer series, because they help stave off book hangovers.

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I'm open to either. I also enjoy recurring character series, so that I'm not constrained to read them in a particular order.

 

One risk of reading series is the author not finishing the series **cough--George R.R. Martin--cough--Patrick Rothfuss--**

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On 2/8/2021 at 10:30 AM, PiedPiper said:

Mad at the characters -- I love that! I can't believe they would copy/paste anything from the internet; they've got to know you'll notice. It's hardly like it was before the internet, where you could write down something from an obscure textbook and your teacher would never know. You know what I'd do if I was so intent on doing no work that I wanted to copy/paste Sparknotes? I'd cultivate a writing style that sounded exactly like those study sites, so when I did just take things straight from the internet, teachers wouldn't find it suspicious enough to look up.

Of course, that's actually more work than just reading the book...

 

Moving on: what do you mean by "prefacing" Gatsby? Is there something specific you warn your students about? I imagine there are some things that are easier to deal with if you know about them in advance, kind of like why they have trigger warnings or maturity ratings, but maybe I'm way off the mark here. I'd be curious to know what you tell them?

 

I also read Magician: Apprentice once, but DNFed  it at 40 pages -- unintentionally, actually. I happened to start it right before going on a vacation and forgot to pack it in my suitcase, and then sort of forgot about it by the time I got back. It does read very much like older fantasy, even though I'm pretty sure it was written sometime in the '90s. I'll have to check.

 

It was published in '82. Which is right on the edge of old enough for me to forgive that kind of stuff. But I do plan to try it again, because it's a favorite of my grandfather's.

1 - Crafting that writing style would be more difficult than just reading and responding to the questions but, alas... the plagiarism happens 😢 

 

2 - Prefacing means setting up the story, doing anticipatory sets to get students in the right frame of mind for the time period and the characters. We discuss who Fitzgerald was as a person, we review what the 1920s looked like for all races by reading pieces of Harlem Renaissance literature before digging into The Great Gatsby. These are all things I didn't do well with Fahrenheit 451 this year and will need to make adjustments for next year. I know seasoned readers are decent at opening a book and just diving in but a lot of my students have reading abilities several grade levels below the one they are in so it is vital to create interest first. 

 

In the past I haven't done trigger warnings but I'm going to have to before we begin Hamlet (one of the senior girls died in a freak car accident on Feb 1st and Hamlet deals with a decent amount of death). I'm still going to teach it but there are definitely some things I warn students about and other things I don't depending on the content on the group I have.

 

3 - I hit the 200th page of Magician: Apprentice yesterday. It is definitely older fantasy. Relationships between characters are moving too fast for my liking but the plot moves too fast sometimes and much too slow at others. For example, chapter one spans like over a year but chapters 2 & 3 are like less than a week. Oh and the chapter lengths... they're like 40-50 pages each which makes it difficult to sit down and read one chapter!

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13 hours ago, PiedPiper said:

New discussion question!

 

Do you prefer standalones or series? Why?

 

I prefer series, because they help stave off book hangovers.

I find I often get disappointed with standalones because if I enjoyed it, I want more! So I would have to say series so I get to hang out with the characters for much longer!

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Exactly. And if you get really attached to a world, it's comforting knowing that you'll be able to spend that much more time in it. For example, I love Roshar from Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive. So the fact that there are four books that are each the length of three novels -- plus two novellas -- means that I can stay in Roshar that much longer. And it's also better for rereads that way, because insofar as it's a longer series, it takes me more time to get through it, meaning that there's a lot less repetition than there would be if I were, say, rereading my favorite middle grade trilogy from when I was young.

 

You know, I actually love the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes is one of my favorite poets; I did a year-long research project on him in high school.

Wow, the education system is just fantastic. I didn't even think of difficulty picking up a book as one of the ramifications of a lower reading level, but now that I put some thought into it, it does make sense.

God, that's awful to hear about the senior. Must be tough for them. Do you teach seniors?

 

Oh man, pacing issues are some of the toughest ones for me to overcome. The book is around 400 pages all in all, right?

 

2 hours ago, JamesBrown said:

One risk of reading series is the author not finishing the series **cough--George R.R. Martin--cough--Patrick Rothfuss--**

I think of Rothfuss and Martin as outliers. They're notable outliers, to be sure. But if you think of the sheer number of books being published and series in the works, there aren't actually that many series that are left hanging like that.

Edited by PiedPiper
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I know some readers who won't pick up a series until the last book has been published. No matter how raving the reviews, no matter how much they want to dive in, they won't touch it until the author is done.

 

I'm not that hard-core, but I can sympathize.

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Harlem Renaissance is the best! I did a presentation on Alice Dunbar-Nelson and really enjoyed her "April is on the Way" poem. In fact, Harlem Renaissance poetry is probably my favorite type!

 

I don't teach seniors but I had this year's group of seniors last year. She was also a part of the group I sponsor and was always helping out with things around school. One of those kids that almost always had a smile on her face and would say hi to you every day. She's missed, for sure.

 

I have the first three of Stormlight but am just not ready to dig in to that world yet. I think once summer hits and I have a little more free time it won't feel as daunting, ya know? But I totally get that about the re-reads - there's so much I learn with each reread of WoT. Well, I've actually only read it twice. Been avoiding another reread as I don't want to be too influenced before the show finally comes out.

 

Magician: Apprentice is around 400 pages, almost 500 actually. It just hasn't hooked me at all. I don't feel connected to the characters much either. I understand them but I can read it, or not, and be okay. I'm sure I'll finish book one but I'm not sure about the entire series. Depends on how well book one concludes I suppose.

 

 

I used to be one of those who refused to begin a series until it was complete. Then someone recommended From Blood & Ash and silly me didn't do her research to know it wasn't a completed series yet... 6 planned books and book three is set to release this coming April. So ready for that book to come out lol

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I can also sympathize with the "not picking up a series until it's complete" philosophy, although I do think it's a little extreme. I know some people who look at an author's track record before picking up anything by them; are they known for finishing their books on time? Do they have other completed series? Things like that. So the philosophy I can understand better is one where people won't start specific series like KKC, ASOIAF, and the Gentlemen Bastards until they're finished.

 

I love The Stormlight Archive so much, but I've never actually recommended it to anyone, because I know it isn't for most people. Between the fact that four books out of a planned 10 have been released and each books is well over a thousand pages, I get that most aren't inclined to pick it up. If you just hear about it in a casual conversation, it doesn't seem to have much going for it.

 

Your WoT thing is smart! I'm often actually a little sad that I won't be able to judge the series as its own piece of art -- I am still glad that I read the books first, though.

 

You are planning to finish Magician's Apprentice, then?

 

I've heard a lot about the From Blood and Ash series. In fact, I know the names of all the books, even though I haven't read a single one of them. It's not even intentional; I've just absorbed them through osmosis or something because everyone's talking about them. My friend likes to make fun of me for that.

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This is unrelated to the discussion questions, but I wanted to talk about this book.

Last night, I finished reading Lore by Alexandra Bracken; and I so, so wanted to love it. I really did. It started out great, really engaging, and I loved the history of the world. There were a couple clunky sentences here and there, but I could forgive those. She had kind of a clunky sentence structure sometimes, just often that I noticed it but not enough to bother me significantly. And so until around page 250, I flew through it. But about 1/2 - 2/3 of the way through, I got to this section that I just found to be so uninteresting, and that lasted around a hundred pages, which, for a book that's 450 pages long, is a relatively significant portion. In the end, I think it took me 2-3 weeks to read the book (which is slow, for me), specifically because it took me so long to read that one section.

 

The last 50 pages, though, were great. I loved the climax of the story and the overall themes, and Athena's character arc especially stood out to me. I would have liked a bit more falling action, but that's a picky thing. It's just that the last page did this thing -- and I won't go into specifics because I don't want to spoil it -- that kind of felt like it undermined some of the thematic intent in the book, and that kind of bothered me.

 

So I really couldn't say whether or not I recommend it; I think I need a little more distance from it before I can finalize my thoughts.

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