As any audience of teachers in late May can understand, we’re in that real-time–time warp: The current school year may still be in progress but we are living in the planning of the next. So, in the interest of looking forward — and being inspired by Amy Estersohn’s recent post about book club choices and Lisa Dennis’s about a summer reading list — I thought it might be helpful to share a few titles from my inventory of “Books I Meant to Read This Year but Didn’t” as well as “Books I Knew I Would Have No Chance to Read until Summer.” (By the way, I have no personal or professional stake in promoting any of these books other than inspiring conversation among and providing potential ideas to 3TT readers and beyond.)
Mentors of Our Own
Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, 180 Days Duh. As you can see I couldn’t help but already start this much-awaited piece of pedagogical brilliance. With their perfect balance of philosophy and practicality, Gallagher and Kittle have managed to land directly in the sweet spot of books about practice. What they offer is just general enough to imagine it happening in our own classrooms and just specific enough for it to be highly practical.
Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, Beyond Literary Analysis I will never forget this question that one of my very first mentors taught me to ask: Do we seek to cultivate aspiring English majors or an informed, critical-thinking citizenry? (I know, I want both, too. Alas.) Lisa Dennis discusses in this post the limitations — and, even detriments — to student writing that the traditional literary analysis imposes. Even without having read it, just knowing this book exists fuels my determination (on students’ behalf and my own) to refuse that pain and suffering for even one more year.
Potential Book Talks (or not): Memoir
Who says we shouldn’t judge books by their covers — and their titles? I won’t apologize for instantly loving these books for their beautiful, ethereal covers and alluring titles. What a happy coincidence that each is filled with the pathos of personal experience that makes memoir so compelling in addition to an earnest and essential reminder about the human beings that live and struggle behind the headlines and the hashtags.
Based on what I’ve read so far (30–50 pages of each), neither of these would be near the top of a classroom book-talk or mentor-text list for my classes. But man are these stories irresistible (in this amateur reviewer’s opinion). Weiss’s craft is most apparent in her arrangement of alternating time periods and varying expression of voice, while Jamison’s tends toward stylistic elegance. Due to their “mature” subject matter and in the interest of healthy boundaries, I’m likely to continue reading these not as a teacher but as a regular, private citizen-bibliophile.
Music-Inspired Mentor Texts
They Can’t Kill Us ‘Til They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib. The provocative cover of this collection of music/cultural criticism has been taunting me from my shelf all year, even more so after I read an excerpt from Beyond Literary Analysis (see above) in which Marchetti and O’Dell write incisively about channeling students’ love of music into analytical writing. In the book’s introduction, Eve L. Ewing writes, “Abdurraqib makes you realize that the music you listen to isn’t about People Like Us, because it turns out all of us are People Like Us. All of us are frightened and heartbroken and ecstatic and mourning and in love and driving fast down the interstate, and we are blessed enough to live in a time when there are plenty of artists adept to holding that mirror.” Just from this mentor sentence alone, students can practice the power of polysyndeton! From there, I can’t help but imagine students building analytical bridges between the music they love and the qualities that give the music that power.
Creative Quest, Questlove. I’m pretty sure many of my students in Advanced Writing left the course still skeptical of the notion that artists — even accomplished ones — still turn to the work of other artists to inform or inspire their own. So, next year if they don’t believe me, maybe they’ll believe Questlove. In a section of this inspiring and accessible book called “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” he celebrates this practice and discusses “covering” the work of other artists not only as a way to work through an artistic slump but as an act of creativity in itself. Thanks, Questlove, for a refreshing take on the concept of mentor texts. He explains, “That’s another thing that creativity is–taking the existing world and making something new from it.” (BTW, I know that’s going on a handout somewhere.) I really loved his discussion of the MTV series Unplugged, which features popular (and typically “plugged-in”) musicians in a stripped-down, acoustic format. I’m determined to figure out a way to use the series to demonstrate the impact of form and tone.
If any of this summer reading evolves into meaningful, practical lessons, I’ll be sure to post the details. In the meantime, though, I hope there might be something here to inspire you or to add to your own never-ending lists (which I’d love to hear about)!