Guest Post by Tess Mueggenborg
This transition has not been easy for me. It’s taken me several years to get comfortable with the idea of giving students more choice – even free choice – in what they read. Part of it is that I’m a bit of a ‘control freak.’ Part of it is that, as I freely admit, I’m a classical canon sort of gal – and I want to share my passion for classical literature. But I know that my job is to help my students, not to spread my own personal gospel of literature. So I’m changing – and the results have been surprisingly, rewardingly positive.
I started this transition last fall, allowing my GT sophomores to choose their books (from a long list … though I also allowed them to bring in other books and convince me that their book was worth reading), and giving them time every week to blog about their reading. I’ll admit: not every student finished their book. But not a single student complained – not once – that they didn’t like their book or that I was ‘making’ them read something boring. So that was a nice change of pace. And, truly, most students DID read. And they ALL blogged. Even if they didn’t read, they still wrote. And every English teacher knows that just getting them to start writing can be a challenge – even with GT students.
So here are a few excerpts from their blogs, in response to this prompt: ‘Persuade me, Professor Mueggenborg, whether or not I should read your novel.’ Some are funny, some are poignant, some obviously leave much to be desired. I have not edited the responses, so all mistakes are the students’ own. It’s a work in progress.
Dillon read Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan
If you have not yet had the absolute pleasure of reading this book you should stop what you are doing right now and go get a copy of it; if you have had that pleasure you should do it anyways. I’ll tell you what I am going to do. I will tell you something so irresistible that you will have to read this novel.There is a dance routine with an ox and ghost children. I refuse to tell you the page it is on so that you must read until you find it. At this point if you haven’t rushed to a library of bookstore to at least find that in the book there is nothing more I can say except that this work of art shows genius in contemporary literature the likes of which I have never witnessed and I am truly grateful for having gotten the opportunity to experience it.
Freddie read Transatlantic by Colum McCann
If anyone else is considering reading this book, I strongly recommend it. I loved this book from start to end. I advise, however, not to get discouraged if the first three chapters seem completely incoherent (which they pretty much are). The imagery and similes such as “A chandelier of snot from his nose. The blood backing off his body, his fingers, his brain.” (pg. 31) help the reader imagine what the protagonist was seeing and feeling.
Janice read Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton
I absolutely suggest that anyone and everyone should read this book. The book is insightful, interesting, emotional, and thought-provoking. Throughout the entire time I was reading it, I was somehow able to connect to Chanda. Stratton did an amazing job. Honestly, I never thought I would be able to connect so deeply with a girl that has experienced practically the worst of the worst. Her parents both die, her sister died, she was raped, her best friend is a prostitute with AIDS, her neighbors all gossip about one another, and she was forced to leave school in order to make money for her family. All of these things are horrible and I’ve never experienced anything close to the troubles she goes through, yet I can still feel close and bonded with Chanda.
Andrea read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
I have seriously been waiting for this question for as long as I have had this novel. YES. 100% yes! I enjoyed it so much and you will too! Although, if you don’t want to get attached to characters, do not read this novel. If you don’t want to get your heart ripped out of you because of said characters, do not read this novel. If you don’t enjoy reading about death and medical things, do not read this novel. But please, what’s the fun in reading a book if none of those things happen?
Alissa read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The best part I love about this novel is that it’s actually reality like these things happen in real life, it’s not just make believe. The things that happen in this novel happen to most people in the world and can relate to almost anyone. There are some very important lessons in this novel that led me to caring about my parents and my culture more.
Emilio read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
I believe you should read this novel if you are interested in looking up a bunch of Spanish words or phrases you may not know. This is also a great book for those people who like to try and cook random dishes just try them. You have to be pretty interested in learning about Mexican dishes, even I didn’t know about some.
Ellen read In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
I really enjoyed this book. I usually don’t say things like that (especially about a book) because I just don’t really like reading. Like if I were to finish a book, I would always end up telling myself, “what a waste of time”. But this time, it was actually different. When I finished reading this book, I loved it! It helped me as a woman feel better about myself and it also shows us that if we were to have hope, things will get better in life.
Andrew read Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Before reading this book, please consider you mental state. If you have no hallucinations, sleep soundly through the night, and plan to keep yourself that way, do NOT read this book. You will likely lose your mind to the ravenous punctuation devouring demons that reside deep in these pages. They are evil creatures that will eat your quotation marks. Seriously. However, if you are already mad, are not fond of your sanity, or feel that you need something a bit different, it should be relatively safe to read this. I wouldn’t recommend it but it could be done. While this book does have an interesting approach to character development, a somewhat interesting plot, and a cool name, all of that, when calculating how much of your time this is worth, equates to the value of a dead gnat. For one reason. QUOTATION MARKS. I know, I know, I have already complained about this, but it really is that big of a deal to me. Every new paragraph I find myself rereading and checking to make sure that I am on dialogue (or not). Quotation marks serve a legitimate purpose in literature. They show dialogue, sarcasm, and well, as the name implies, quotes. They are NOT for decoration.
Matthew read And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
I never read and I personally can’t stand reading. The first time I picked up this book was because I finished all my work in one class and nothing else to do so I started it and from the very first paragraph I read I was hooked. This story broke my heart and then sewed it back together and gave it warmth and then did it all over again. The stories in this book are so heartfelt and they teach so much about the people and lifestyles of other cultures. I would tell anybody to read this book. In a way this book changed the way I felt about everything. It was crazy to think about what some families have to go through. The way that families in America value one another is ridiculous compared to those of the lower classes. I love how the ones that are in poverty and living in lower standards have very good family values. The way that they love and cherish and would do anything for each other is amazing. This book grabbed a hold of someone that cant stand reading and got him to read it and enjoy it which makes that book amazing because otherwise i wouldn’t have read it.
That last selection, from Matthew, is the one that sealed the deal for me on this whole “give them choice” concept. Awesome.
“Professor” Tess Mueggenborg teaches English (and anything else with which her students need help) at RL Turner High School. Her academic passions lie in comparative language and literature. The Professor lives in Dallas with her husband, Jeff. Tess’ on Twitter @profmueggenborg