Friday, March 30, 2007

Random Post--What's Going On!

For my readers who enjoy the normal stream of grammar and literature related posts, I hate to disappoint you, but I'm just posting about what's going on with me today!
  • I'm running in the Ozark Race for the Cure. I'll be 5K runner with a friend and fellow runner, so it should be loads of fun--plus there's always free stuff. Incidentally, if you'd like to donate some money to Komen, click here: I'd like to have some sponsors! (I also shamelessly e-mailed some of you...)
  • I'll be teaching classes for the Little Mountain Bindery (LMB) this summer. I've been working for the owner of LMB on Saturdays, and she wanted me to teach some courses for her, so there will be three offered! Click here to see the class calendar.
  • Classes are going well, but I really need to quit procrastinating and get some stuff done. Luckily, my Professing Literature professor moved the deadline of one of our assignments, so I can concentrate on my conference paper more thoroughly. Whew!
  • I'm eating sushi today. I know you're jealous.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

When Speaking In Public: A Short How-To

When one has a public speaking engagement--be it a conference presentation, a class assignment, or anything planned--one should be prepared. Here are some tips from the position of What Not to Do When Speaking in Public.
  • Try to dress up, even if it's just tucking in your shirt. Nobody likes looking at someone who looks like they just got out of bed. Take some pride in yourself--it'll boost your self confidence! And especially if you are a graduate student planning to make academia your career, you need to get into the habit of attiring appropriately for conferences, etc.
  • Actually practice your presentation, unless you've done 1,000 presentations before...then you don't need my advice, and you'll probably do it anyway.
  • When speaking, stand. Don't plop down in a chair--it's hard for people in the back of a room to see you if you sit down. If you need something between you and your audience, make use of the podium.
  • Notes are good and necessary; relying on your notes entirely shows lack of preparation. So prepare!
  • Eye contact helps engage the audience. We are not out to get you. We are your friends and wish to hear what you have to say. By making eye-contact, you ensure that we remain engaged and feel connected to what you are saying. No body wants to be bored, believe me.
  • And finally, do not conclude with a hasty "That's all!" and tromp off. It's not professional, and it shows a lack of care--you simply "had to get it done and over with".
I write these tips because I'm sick of enduring dull, mindless, horribly presented class presentations. I'm not expecting greatness, but for people who are entering (presumably) into the world of academia, class presentations should serve as preparation for entering a job where conferences are expected, as is presenting to peers or simply students (teaching). I'm not the world's greatest public speaker, but I certainly managed to pick up a thing or two through my years in college (and in my required public speaking course), and somehow figured these things out.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It's the Most Wonderful Time...

It's one of my favorite times of year, next to the fall season and getting to buy new office supplies (I love shopping for a new planner! Oh, nice Sharpies...). It's the time when I get to "shop" for classes for the upcoming semester.

I think I'm going to take a deep breath and enroll in two courses for the fall. Possibly foolish, but that's what dropping is for, right? Right?

One class is one I've intended to take since Dr. Bernhard Jackson told me about it--Introduction to Graduate Studies. It's a course that would introduce me to some of the fundamentals of the profession--i.e. writing a bibliography, creating a proposal, conference stuff, etc. Sounds both useful and fun, and I adore Emily as a professor. (I learned so much in her course last semester).

The second is a seminar titled "The American Picaresque". Intriguing, I thought to myself. But what does it mean? Well, first I shot off an e-mail to the professor listed for the course, assuming he wouldn't mind answering a polite inquiry into the course. Then I googled the phrase...and what should pop up as the very first page but a course description for a course taught in a Dr. Michael Augspurger! There might be a lot of Augspurgers in the world, but this has got to be the one I know that was a teacher at UCA and husband of another great and wonderful person, Dr. Jane Simenson. (For one, I know that he taught in Germany).

I think the signs point to me taking the class, especially if does involve some of the same texts that Dr. Augspurger taught in his course. (I'm still intrigued and happy that I was struck by such an odd coincidence).

Two courses?!? Am I nuts? Quite possibly...but I bet I'll love it all the same! (Especially if I make good use of my summer and get a handle on the reading for both courses...)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Non-Fiction Lesson Plan: Michael Pollan

I adore Michael Pollan. I think he's witty and a smart writer--and I've always enjoyed his approach to the problems he tackles in writing. So if I were to teach a non-fiction lesson, I'd probably teach one of his essays. In fact, I selected "Why Mow" from his book Second Nature because I thought it would be a good one to give students. (If you have a chance, check out any of Michael Pollan's books--he also puts a lot of it up on his website:


Jenn Miller

Professing Literature

David Jolliffe

March 28, 2007

Nonfiction Lesson Plan: Michael Pollan, “Why Mow”

Reading Journal: Before reading Pollan’s essay, “Why Mow[1]”, have the students respond briefly (a few sentences) to the following questions: Do you (or your parents) have a front lawn? Is there a specific purpose for your lawn? Do you know anyone without one?

After reading the essay, have the students respond: Does Pollan cause you to think differently about lawns? Why or why not? Do you think lawns are related to being American and our democratic ideology? Why or why not?

Focus: Pollan says, “Every few years a controversy erupts in some suburban community over the failure of a homeowner to mow his lawn…That subtle yet unmistakable frontier, where the crew-cut lawn rubs up against the shaggy one, is enough to disturb the peace of an entire neighborhood; it is a scar on the face of suburbia, an intolerable hint of trouble in paradise” (67).

Provide a lawn case study to students. Example: Gene Hatfield, an artist in Conway, Arkansas, and a former UCA art professor was cited by the City of Conway for violation of a lawn ordinance—in other words, for putting his art out in his front yard instead of maintaining a lawn. The local art community, comprised mainly of UCA art students, took up the cause, declaring the citation an act of an overly controlling government, stifling the expression of art and violating free speech. Eventually, Hatfield and the city came to a truce; he cleaned up his yard and paid a reduced fine, but was allowed to leave some art on display in his yard.

In light of Pollan’s essay, have the students take a moment to respond to this case study. Is the city justified in its treatment of Hatfield, an artist and homeowner? Allow the students to share their responses.

Purpose: To demonstrate the ways a nonfiction essay can give a reader insight into cultural or political issues by examining the traits of an essay—the way an essay can take something as seemingly mundane as lawns and turn it into an examination of American culture.

Overview: We’ll first examine the traits of an essay (defining the genre). Then we’ll look at some of these traits in Pollan’s essay and begin thinking about the upcoming essay assignment.

Business: Do class business here.

Lecture: Discuss features of an essay (as opposed to more structured forms of writing that students are used to): the impetus (jumping point), the organization, the interrogation of knowledge, the narrative persona, digressions, and use of quotations. Students are used to the idea that writing should have a formal pattern (i.e. introduction, body—with three main points—and conclusion), so showing the essay form in opposition may be helpful.

After reviewing the traits of an essay, return back to Pollan and have the students pull these traits from his text. For example, ask the students to write down what they believe the impetus is (lawns/mowing) and then call on a few students to answer. Other questions: Name one adjective that would describe Pollan’s narrative persona. Give one example of where Pollan uses digressions. How does Pollan use quotations? (direct or implied—the first sentence is an allusion to Donne’s “No man is an island”). Does Pollan’s essay strike you as very organized or structured? What is Pollan trying to get at about lawns and American politics/culture? This will hopefully lead to a structured, useful discussion time.

Closure: This lesson is one out of a series in preparation for students to write an essay of their own. For next time, students will brainstorm some starting blocks or an impetus to write an essay (Pollan begins with mowing and ends up examining the cultural implications of lawns). Of course the impetus is only useful in that it allows the writer to wrestle with a deeper idea, so the students will come up with at least three possible jumping points and the idea they wish to explore from that jumping point. (This will allow for feedback on their writing ideas.)

[1] “Why Mow”—excerpt from Second Nature by Michael Pollan, New York: Dell Publishing, 1991.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Grad Blues

I chose to turn down an assistantship to the university I currently attend and opted instead to work full-time (for the university) and take advantage of the tuition discount. My reasoning was that I'd be able to clear out my debt (something I've almost accomplished) and save money for when I go to PhD school. It was a good plan, and I still think it's the right one.

However, the next group of my friends are starting to get their acceptance letters and offers of assistantship from various universities. Here I feel the pang--again--that I'm not a full-time student and am not on assistantship. I'm not a part of the English MA student community here because while I have classes with some very nice people that I talk to on a semi-regular basis, I don't share an office with them, I don't see them everyday, and I don't have the same problems as they do. I'm not teaching, and I miss that. I'm not in school full time, and I miss that too.

While I still feel like I'm on the right path, I'm starting to wonder if I maybe should have just taken the risk and jumped into the assistantship, even if it meant putting me further into debt instead of allowing me to extract myself. I'm still not sure. I think it may have been a situation of my being happier for present, but ultimately more miserable in the future, as I faced insurmountable challenges...

Basically, I'm jealous of all my friends who are getting to take the path I chose not to take. It's as simple as that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Homeworks

Before May 3rd, I must accomplish the following things:
--8-10 page book review (April 4th)
--Annotated syllabus (April 11th)
--10 page conference paper (April 12th)
--15-25 page final paper (May 3rd)

This isn't counting all of the reading assignments to be accomplished within that same time frame.

Whew, it's going to be a busy month.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Knitting! (and non-grumbly post)

I promised Katie that I would post a picture of Rory playing with her cat toys, so here she is:

She's so happy, with her wonderful knit mice--and she almost likes them as much as her purple bear!

Thanks again, Katie, for the wonderful color swap package.


In continuation of my lazy Spring Break posts, I give you a gripe:

I have to read The Political Unconscious by Fredric Jameson. Yes, Professor Fredric Jameson, the winner of a Bad Writing Contest. He's got some good ideas, but his writing is rough to get through. To make it worse, I know I need to have some familiarity with the book in order to write a good paper for my class. I should have read it weeks ago, but put it off in favor of other homework.

I don't want to read it, but I must. And I will be a stronger woman for it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Um, yeah...

I'm on "spring break" this week, which means I have an excuse to a little lazier than normal. Which also means I'm going to deviate slightly from the usual posts and just chatter.

I thought about writing on Terry Eagleton's fantastic book, After Theory...but I'll do that another day. It was an interesting read, though, and much more interesting than a theory book has a right to be. (He makes several cutting remarks about the current US Administration, which is both entertaining and to the point). I think I'm going to order his book Literary Theory and hope it teaches me more than my goofy class.

I've been reading Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed, which will eventually become fodder for the 10-page conference paper presentation and the subsequent 15-25 final paper. I think I know what I'm going to be talking about too, so that's exciting--luckily the book easily accepts a Marxist interpretation. I'll talk more about that another day too.

I'm proud that I've managed to post fairly regularly. I've also noticed, like Donna, blogging helps my writing. It's getting easier to phrase things quickly, concisely, and interestingly (I hope). It's the practice of simply writing something everyday, I believe, that is helping me really tap into my abilities. So far, so good.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Don't Write the Eulogy Yet...

I attempted to type out an comment in response to ADAllen's perceptive and interesting post, "The Death of Denotation?", which Blogger promptly ate. (Boo.) However, it got me to thinking even more, so I decided to create a post for my own site here about what I thought. (ADAllen and I differ slightly, I believe, on our respective approaches to language and communication, which leads us to some great conversations.)

She hopes that the death of denotation (the "dictionary" definition of a word) would signal a time where "each individual is responsible for making meaning", leading to an improvement of us as communicators. I agree with much of what she says, but I also have some problems. For one, language doesn't occur in isolation--it requires a group and community to use words and agree about what they denote. Denotation is, often, the meaning that a community of speakers/listeners have determined to be the meaning of a word.

Connotation occurs--in ways that philosophers like de Saussure, Bakhtin, and Derrida examined--when an utterance refers to other utterances in some way; it recalls the uses of language and lends new meaning to an utterance (interdiscurvisity and intertextuality). And understandings of meaning differ from individual to individual. But the word must still roughly mean the same thing from speaker to speaker for communication to take place--denotation must still exist.

Perhaps the perceived death of denotation comes with an increasing awareness of the interplay between denotation and connotation. Because we are able to think about language abstractly as systems of signs and examine the implications of certain uses of languages, this leads us to believe that denotation no longer exists. However, I have to point back to my assertion that language is not an individual making meaning--meaning is determined within a community of at least two, with a speaker creating an utterance and a listener receiving it and determining meaning based off of past experiences with other utterances. Meaning is not made in isolation; it requires the participation of others, the participation of past, present, and future listeners and speakers.

And ADAllen asserts at the end of her post that we do still need denotation because we need that neutral ground in language. (Though, many would argue that no language is neutral). Basically it ends up that no language is truly neutral because it the interdiscursive nature of text, nor is it purely connotative because meaning is made by a community. Meaning is both outside the individual and inside the individual simultaneously.

See now? I ended up disagreeing with ADAllen, coming around to her side, and then disagreeing with her again. Language is a slippery, tricky idea, (that somehow needs to be concrete) which is why so many philosophers and theorists are concerned with its use.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Response Paper: Elaine Showalter's Teaching Literature

One of our assignments for Professing Literature is to write a 1-2 page response paper to a chapter of an assigned reading and then read it aloud in class. My response paper was over Elaine Showalter's Teaching Literature. Showalter is a feminist critic who teaches at Princeton and wrote this mediocre guide to teaching literature at the college level. Here's my response to Chapter 9 of the book, "Teaching Dangerous Subjects".


Jenn Miller
Professing Literature
March 14, 2007

Response Paper to Showalter, Chapter 9

I have to admit that Showalter seduced me with the titles of Chapter 9 and 10: “Teaching Dangerous Subjects” and “Teaching Literature in Dark Times”. I was intrigued by the words “dangerous” and “dark times” which brought forth images of the Mighty English Professor, with her cape and superpowers making the world safe for literature everywhere. Showalter seemed to demand that we view ourselves as guardians of volatile knowledge and shining lights in times of dark. It is rather romantic stuff. But is that what we are, really?

I found myself both nodding and knitting my brow in consternation when I read these chapters. For one, she seemed to offer little of use besides vagaries (“underwhelming” returned again this week). Then the issue of suicide: my initial impulse was to say: hey, we’re not here to coddle students, nor are we here to be their counselors—perhaps cold-blooded, but I’m not a therapist—we’re here to teach literature. But then another thought occurred to me: we’re always going on about how literature is deeply connected to real life, and issues such as suicide and violence and sex are issues of real life that are often found in literature. Should we not expect our students to be affected by finding them in class assignments? And wouldn’t we want our students to feel they could approach us for help in their personal lives?

However, I’m still not sure that the English classroom is the place to teach topics such as suicide awareness—I remain unconvinced of the efficacy of a one-page sheet on suicide prevention—but it could be a place for students to deal with such issues. I’ve often used literature to work my way through personal problems, and I believe that I should provide the opportunity for my students to do the same. I want my students to trust me, but not feel that I’m leading a seminar on life issues—after all, I still have to teach English.

Then there’s the “other” issues, you know the things like violence, sexual language, and race. I wanted to point out to Showalter that you never know how students will react. You can assign an essay that you think will cause students to examine their own perspectives and they won’t even blink (or they’ll miss the point entirely), or you can plan to talk about a seemingly mundane short story that sparks massive controversy. You just never know; at least this was my experience.

This is important stuff—and one reason that I shied away from teaching high school. I wanted at least the perceived sense of having more control over the content of my courses, and that meant teaching sensitive material that is often censored in a high school curriculum. In the same light that giving students a space to deal with personal issues is necessary in the English classroom, then perhaps challenging their perceptions (in a constructive manner) is also a part of our role as English teachers. Teaching from a comfortable zone, staying with the “easy” topics, and avoiding sensitive material will do nothing to help students face a world that will constantly press them with uncomfortable ideas.

But how do we do it? Here’s where Showalter, again, lets us down. For example, Showalter points out that she believes “the professor’s behavior and tone are crucial in shaping students’ attitudes toward sexual language. If we are embarrassed, they will be embarrassed. If we are salacious, they will leer” (129). True, very true, but how? Instead of offering (much) practical advice on how, she challenges us not to be wimps—easy to say when you’re tenured and can easily maintain romantic notions of teacherhood from your dratted ivory tower. How are we to navigate these issues in our classrooms? Avoidance should be avoided, but it’s difficult to tread carefully when you never know how students will respond. Do we simply take a stab in the dark, and hope that we don’t get shoved out? Perhaps “dangerous subjects” are so because they pose a threat to ourselves as teachers as we attempt to guide our students through them.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Mistakes Were Made"

I'm sure we've all seen the news about the firing of the prosecutors, which may have been politically motivated. Alberto Gonzales is quoted as saying "I acknowledge that mistakes were made here".

I can't help it; when I see phrases like this, I just want to shred them, deconstruct them, and look at what is going on underneath. He starts with "I acknowledge" which implies that he wants to admit something. It's an active phrase, the subject "I" clearly doing the acknowledging. However, acknowledge implies recognition or the revelation of something previously unknown. It's not admitting--admitting would mean that he was hiding something--it's a realization about a situation.

The "I acknowledge" is countered by the next part: "mistakes were made". "Mistakes were made" is a passive phrase. There is no mention of who made the mistakes. It's a shifty phrase. It's evasive; it's an attempt to appease those who might be out for Gonzales' head. The mistakes were not made by anyone in particular, after all, they were simply made.

Together "I acknowledge that mistakes were made" had a double meaning. It's like he's casting the glamour of taking responsibility without actually doing so. It appears that he's attempting to calm those who are shouting "fraud" without attempting to point out how the mistakes were made or on whose discretion.

The word "here" is an interesting touch. "Here" is one of those directional words that only have meaning in context of the speaker. Is "here" a physical location that Gonzales points to during the utterance? Or is it a figurative "here" that seeks to give the utterance immediacy and accessibility--or serves to cut off those who are not "here" because they are "there" (at least in terms of the speaker). After all if I'm here, you must be there. If it's meant to cut out those that are outside the "here", then the whole utterance speaks a language of hiding, doubleness, and evasion.

A reader or listener who receives this utterance might be vaguely troubled, but not know why. After all, doesn't it seem like Gonzales is recognizing that something wrong happened? But in reality, he does no such thing.

The moral of the story: Don't use passive language--use the active voice in writing and speaking. Unless you're a shifty politician backed into a corner. Then you daily rely upon the passive voice to cover your ass.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Those Damn Commies

My theory class, if you've talked to me recently, has been a Marxism class. I'm fine with Marxism; it's interesting, and it certainly has valid points for both interpreting literature and living in society. I'd even go so far as to say that I have Marxist leanings, or at least am sympathetic toward the Marxist viewpoint.

However, when I signed up for a theory class, I expected to be schooled in theory (especially after my adviser and course instructor snidely remarked that any undergraduate theory class I could have taken would be sorely inadequate for my graduate career). However, in my graduate theory class, we've done a whirlwind tour of the "other" theories: New Criticism, psychoanalytic theory, feminism, poststructuralism, deconstruction, etc--one day per theory, and postcoloinalism and feminism were lumped together in the same day. And we have read no primary texts, simply 10-page summaries of the major theoretical notions. Then we settled into a several week exploration of Marxism, the theory that subsumes and consumes and IS all other theories.

However, our class is not supposed to be a class on Marxism, and my professor has a clear Marxist agenda. The kicker is that my undergraduate (inferior) theory class has this class beat with a giant stick. You see, in my undergraduate class, we read all sorts of primary texts, starting with Plato's Republic (and it's attack on poets), catching theorists such as Aristotle, Derrida, Foucault, Freud, Marx (yes, Marx), Irigary, etc. Then after we discussed these primary texts (no wimpy summaries for us), we applied these theories to literature and read critical approaches associated with those texts. Next to this "rigorous" approach, my graduate theory class seems like a joke. An extensive Marxist joke--and Marxists aren't known for their humor.

The point? I feel somewhat forced to interpret the book we have to analyze theoretically using a Marxist approach. (After all, my professor has asserted time and again that Marxism is the only theory worth knowing). I'd actually prefer to deconstruct it, since I acquired a liking of Derrida through the course of the semester, but hey. He purposely assigned a text that has clear points for Marxist interpretation--Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed.

Damn Marxists. I could so easily like you, if you didn't get hammered into my head everyday...

(I read and presented on Terry Eagleton's After Theory, which did much more for my Marxist sympathies than this theory class has...)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Meme! Books!

Look at the list of books below: *Bold the ones you’ve read* Italicize the ones you want to read* Leave blank the ones that you aren’t interested in.

I'm not going to italicize all the ones that I want to read because that'd be ridiculous. There will be commentary...

1. The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown)
Unfortunate event of my reading career. I picked it up because my boyfriend liked it, only to find out that he liked it because he recognized all the places. Bad, bad.

2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
Ah, Jane Austen. I avoided her for a while, only to fall in love with her wholeheartedly last semester. I'm winding my way through her canon.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
Of course! Fantastic!

4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
Yes! Yes!

6. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
Yes! Yes!

7. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
I wrote my senior thesis on The Lord of the Rings.

8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
A childhood favorite--I read it over and over again...

9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
God, no.

13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)

14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18 The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
This was a well-timed book in my young life. I need to re-read it now that I'm older and see if it has the same power for me.

21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)

Of course I read it. And loved it. And read it some more.

22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)

23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
Fantastic book. I borrowed it from a dear friend and enjoyed it, then passed it off to Lance, who also loved it.

26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
I discovered it in high school and adored it. It was so funny! (Though my devoutly Christian soul was troubled by his flippant comments about Christianity...)

27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)

28. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
Another childhood favorite that I read about a zillion times.

29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)

30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
My friend Kim got me to read this, and I really enjoyed it.

32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
Maybe...all Nicholas Sparks books run together in my head (they suck, in other words--and I have read two or three of them...)

33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
I read Anthem!

34. 1984 (George Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
Working on it, anyway.

43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)

44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. The Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
I've read this twice now. I read it originally for Donna's class, and loved it, and on the second reading discovered just how well she wrote this book. Barbara Kingsolver is an amazing writer and essayist. I recommend The Bean Trees. I read it in high school and cried at the end, it was so good.

52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)

53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
This was my first Dickens. I like Dickens a lot and would read more of him given the chance.

55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)

I think I hated this book in high school, when I read it independently. I might feel differently now, considering it's one of the "Great Books".

56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
My first Margaret Atwood novel, read in annoyance because I kept seeing her referred to by other authors and critics. The annoyance soon dropped away, and I enjoyed the book--it is interestingly structured and poignant.

60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
Started it!

69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
Another childhood favorite, read about a zillion times.

76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
Read it one summer and enjoyed it. Smith can be a little heavy-handed, but she tells a good story.

78. The World According to Garp (John Irving)

79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte's Web (E.B. White)
My first novel ever!

81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
This book is depressingly good. (What's up with that, Steinbeck?)

83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
Of course!

86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
I read it my senior year of high school and liked it. I need to reread it to make sure it's still as good as I remember (my tastes changed drastically in college).

87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
A beautiful story of family and bees.

95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)

Uggh, no, but I read some other horrible three word titled book by Ludlum. My critique: "The Same Story".

96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)

97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
This book fascinated me to no end. I watched the movie and liked it. Then I picked up the book and was blown away. There is so much going on that I felt the need to write for weeks after reading this book.

98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)
Has anyone really read Ulysses? I mean, really.

Hrm, 42. Not too bad, I suppose (almost half!)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Grammar Humor

I always get a kick out of grammar humor. Maybe it's because much of it is so subtle that only someone who enjoys and appreciates the complexities of grammar can get it--a sort of inside joke between grammarians and linguists. Sometimes they are just ironic and make you snort a little. And sometimes people sell grammar humor on t-shirts. And I still enjoy it.

Take "I'm a Noun". I've been tempted to purchase this because it is grammar irony, but keep reminding myself that I probably wouldn't wear it anywhere except to bed. It's the sort of thing that a hipster college kid would wear (not me), but I can still appreciate the humor.

Then there's this one--a lovely play on words. Books are good for you...just like broccoli!

I had a friend tell me that she thought of me whenever she saw this one. Maybe it's because I get a little red in the face when people confuse words like their, there, and they're or your and you're. Or it's and its. (Not that I've never not confused them...but...I'm knowledgeable about the difference.)

Ah, grammar humor. What's your favorite grammar joke?

***This post brought to you by Threadless. Mostly because I'm too lazy to look for other examples of grammar humor.***

Friday, March 09, 2007

Prose: Knitting Gathering

As I've discussed with the Secret Knitter, I love that I've found an online knitting group. However, since I knit frequently in public and at gatherings, friends of mine have approached me about wanting to learn. I decided that it was time to finally start a real knitting group. So, in a couple of weeks, many friends will gather at my apartment and we will knit and drink wine.

Why did I feel the need? I figure it'd be a good place for people of all levels of knitting to come together to share and develop their skills. Thus far I've recruited mostly newbies--people who either know rudimentary skills of skills or who are still learning to cast on and knit. I'm, I believe, the most experienced one...which doesn't mean a whole lot since I don't know how to properly teach knitting. I just say, " it like this", which isn't the most effective.

But I am looking forward to the knitting group. It'll be a good way--in some skewed sense--for me to practice my professoring skills. Or something like that. But mostly it's a way for me to develop and belong to a community of knitters in the non-virtual world, just like I have here.

(This post is mostly in obligation of some desire I've formed to actually attempt to post everyday...)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Favorite Color Swap, Revealed!

I received my package from my color swap pal the other day. Unfortunately, lacking a digital camera as I do, I was unable to photograph the wonderful goodies that she sent me. And I mean wonderful. She picked out for me a beautiful hank of red merino kettle-dyed wool, a bar of dark chocolate (yum!), a pink mechanical pencil (pink!), pink post-its, cool magnetic lady bug bookmarks, red binder clips (she read about my office supply obsession), and bamboo knitting needles, size 5. She also sent some cute things for my cat, who is now happily enjoying cat treats and two knitted cat-toys. I'll post pictures when I can get my hands on a digital camera! Thanks so much, Katie. I really enjoyed the swap, and what you sent me was absolutely fantastic.

My secret pal also received her gifts. She has a digital camera and was able to photograph what she got, so you can pop over there if you want to see what I sent! I'm particularly proud of the book that I sent. I'm glad you enjoyed them!

The color swap was a great experience--Thanks, Secret Knitter, for pointing it out for me.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lesson Plan: Fiction

I chose The Sandman series for a fiction lesson on intertextuality and an introduction to literary theory. For one, it's an interesting graphic novel likely to capture the attention of students, for another, it's a damn fine work. If you don't know Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, go read one; they're fantastic.

Jenn Miller
Professing Literature
David Jolliffe
March 7, 2007

Fiction Lesson Plan: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman

Focus: Ask the student to think about “text” (as in utterances, films, books, music, etc), and take a few moments to write down an example of something they’ve seen, heard, or read that in some ways refers to another text. (An example could be The Lord of the Rings film viewers would either watch with the books—or some notion of the books—in mind and that would affect how they receive the film).

Have the students share their examples with the rest of the class. At this point, briefly introduce the terms intertextuality and further explain what theorists mean by “text”. Point out (if students don’t bring them up) the pervasive use of intertextuality in pop culture, such as The Simpsons and Gilmore Girls which use intertextuality for humor—it’s not funny if a reader is not aware what the show is referring to.

Purpose: By the end of class, students will have a basic understanding of the concept of intertextuality and how understanding this concept can both enrich the experience of art, and lead to greater ability to interpret and understand what’s going on in film, music, graphic novels, and literature. Students should be understand that reading a text involves more than just the text itself; outside information, context, and the reader’s own experience becomes involved in the interpretation of text.

: We’re going to use The Sandman as a spring board into a deeper exploration of intertextuality and how it can be used in both the creation and interpretation of art. I’ll explain some basic concepts, and then we’ll discuss how they work in The Sandman.

Lecture/discussion: Since The Sandman is a series of ten graphic novels, I’m going to show other selections of The Sandman besides the assigned reading, and discuss the way intertextuality plays within Gaiman’s art. The Sandman has one overarching narrative that is developed throughout all the works in the series, but it also has stories that seemingly don’t feed that narrative. Sometimes a minor character from one story will show up in another, as with the character Barbie from The Doll’s House shows up as the main character in A Game of You. There’s an interaction of texts within Gaiman’s work, but then there’s the actual nature of the graphic novels—Gaiman writes the stories, but several artists, each with their own style, draws the illustrations that go with the stories. Gaiman also is constantly referring to mythology, the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, and other writers—intentional intertextuality—which he uses in his creation of art. The Sandman is actually a re-writing of an older comic book series, one to which he refers to briefly in the first book, Preludes and Nocturnes.

Some questions to get discussion rolling: What instances of other texts do you see Gaiman consciously using in The Sandman? On the flip side, do you see examples of unconscious intertextuality? (i.e. what does it remind you of?). How do you see the interaction among texts (words or other forms of “text”) playing into the creation of new text? Is it vital to creating a work that is rich and interesting?

Closure: Ask students to think about the role of intertextuality when they’re watching TV that evening, or reading a book or magazine, to consciously recognize that text can interact with other text. Also ask them to start thinking about what they’d like to do their projects on.Project: To be due in two weeks—a creative project consciously incorporating intertextuality. It will have two parts: the creative piece and a reflective piece. The creative piece can be a short story, a painting, a poem, a short film, a song, or a comic, etc (if the student is not sure about their idea, they will be encouraged to ask about it). The reflective piece will be a short essay detailing the student’s creative choices, what examples of conscious intertextuality s/he found, and if s/he discovered any unconscious examples through the writing of the reflection.

: To be due in two weeks—a creative project consciously incorporating intertextuality. It will have two parts: the creative piece and a reflective piece. The creative piece can be a short story, a painting, a poem, a short film, a song, or a comic, etc (if the student is not sure about their idea, they will be encouraged to ask about it). The reflective piece will be a short essay detailing the student’s creative choices, what examples of conscious intertextuality s/he found, and if s/he discovered any unconscious examples through the writing of the reflection.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Spell-Check Trap

Microsoft Word has a handy feature, Spell-Check that many people rely on too much. For one thing, they don't bother to try to spell things properly, relying on a machine to do their thinking, and for another, when they run spell check they don't pay attention to the suggestions and just click "replace all". And don't even get me started on that horrible grammar check (It always accuses me of having fragments. There's a subject, and there's a verb. It's a sentence!)

Anyway, my post today is that I've fallen into the spell-check trap, thanks to the Mozilla Firefox built in spell checker that puts little red squiggles under words and offers suggestions. I sometimes ignore it since it doesn't recognize certain words that are correct spellings, but I frequently rely on it to catch my errors instead of typing/reading carefully like I used to do.

My problem is that now that I have it whenever I use the Internet, I notice the lack of it when I do other things, like Google chat, etc. I want there to be red marks under the words I've spelled wrong to make sure I'm typing the correct spellings! When I felt a little irritated that there were none, I realized that I'd fallen away from my proud stance of not being dependent on machines for writing to...well...relying on machines. Am I going to expect a red line to jet out from my ink pen now when I write?

Luckily there are still some things that I don't need a computer to tell me, like the differences among write, wright, and right. Or knowing when to use "between" and "among".

Anyone else find themselves relying on spell-check a little too much?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Grammar Girl--Rockin' the Grammar World

I have an interest in grammar (duh). I like knowing how the grammar actually works instead of simply relying on the ol' "Well, that sounds right and that sounds wrong" test. Thanks to NPR, I learned about someone who talks about grammar too--Grammar Girl.

Grammar Girl provides both an online resource for people like me or for those who truly wish to understand grammar and improve their writing. She also has a podcast which is interesting, short, and is a great resource for those who are teachers--the podcasts are typically between two and seven minutes. (For a high school teacher, it might be fun to have a weekly grammar lesson based off the podcast. It wouldn't take more than about fifteen minutes, and could engage students a little more than perhaps other methods).

There's also another podcast that teaches you Spanish in 15 to 20 minute segments--or a coffee break--hence the name, Coffee Break Spanish. That's just really cool. My boyfriend and I are going to Spain, so we may use this to brush up on Spanish--him to learn, me to review the basics (I have a BA in Spanish).

The Internet really does seem to expand our opportunity for learning new things!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Lesson Plan: Drama

It's another lesson plan! We had to "teach" drama this week, and it was then that I remembered that the only plays I've read have been...Shakespeare. What a huge gap in my literature education! Quick, please recommend plays for me to read...

Anyway, I chose The Merchant of Venice because it's one of my favorite plays, and it offers much fodder for discussions of genre, race, religion, culture. And it's interesting. I think I'm going to go add the film version to my netflix queue now, since I haven't seen it yet.

Jenn Miller
Professing Literature
David Jolliffe
February 28, 2007

Drama Lesson Plan: Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

Prior to class: For class, students would have had to write a one page journal briefly exploring the similarities and differences between Act 4 Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice and the casket scenes earlier in the play. Bassanio is able to “win” Portia because he understands the rules of the game; where the other two suitors lose out because they are outsiders to society. How does Shylock not “win the game”? And how is this “game” much different than that of the caskets?

Focus: Ask the students to pull one insight from their journal and write it down in a sentence.

Purpose: By the end of class, students will understand the roles race, culture, and gender play in The Merchant of Venice. (This will be part of a continuing discussion on Elizabethan views of Jews and the Other). Additionally, they will explore ways in which Shakespeare thwarts genre, demonstrating the uses and limitations of genre in classifying literature.

Overview: We are going to be discussing today the roles that race, culture, gender, religion play in the play. We’ll also take a look at genre, since Act 4 Scene 1 of the play should make it difficult to see The Merchant of Venice as a straight comedy. We’ll then break into groups and plan how 4.1 would be set up and cast to bring out some of these ideas. We’ll come back together to share what each group has come up with at the end of class.

Discussion: Discuss the journals responses, exploring the casket scenes and the trial scene in conjunction with one another. What does this reveal about differences of race? Culture? Gender? Religion? By being a Jew, is Shylock set up to lose always? How does this affect the portrayal of his character? Does Shylock have our sympathies as readers/viewers—or is he a figure of evil?

Business: Collect journals, take attendance, pass back old assignments.

Then shift the student’s attention to role of genre. The Merchant of Venice is classified as a comedy. After reviewing the basic traits of comedy/tragedy, discuss how this scene seems to affect the play’s classification as a comedy? How is the play not a comedy? What might Shakespeare trying to show us?

Group work: Break the students up into groups. They are to discuss how they would cast/set this play if they were stage or movie directors. Would they choose to set it in a different time period? How would they cast the actors? They will have to back up their choices, demonstrating how they are interpretive choices of Shakespeare’s play. Walk around as they begin working, offering suggestions and monitoring. After a sufficient time, bring the class back together, and ask each of the groups to share with the class what they’ve decided and how that offers insight into the play.

Closure: Remind students that a play is meant to be seen, not merely read, and that hopefully with the discussion and group assignment, students will understand some interpretive techniques. Ask the students to think about how culture, gender, religion, and genre have a role in interpreting (and staging) a play. Remind them of any upcoming assignments.