Monday, January 7, 2019

Back to School

I've got so many books that I've started wearing them on my back. Marie Kondo, mondo and all that jazz. Are ya'll watching that show on Netflix? I plan on checking it out as I've resisted that whole cultural phenomenon that appears to cater primarily to the privileged with me, privileged but rather content in the organized clutter that I call home.  Right now I'm trying to get into Circe, a book that was recommended by a slew of people whose opinions I admire and trust, but it's sort of mythological and sort of fantasy and -- well -- I just can't get into it. I'm at the age where I don't continue reading books that haven't grabbed me by, say, page 50. Bye, bye Circe. Hello Elaine Pagel's Why Religion. I've read Pagel's writing, and it's difficult and fascinating and right up my alley. I guess some of you would argue that religion is fantasy and myth, so then given my aversion to both genres, why would I read it? I don't know what to tell you, other than at one point I looked into getting a Master's degree in Religious Studies/Comparative Religion.

In any case, I STARTED MY NEW JOB TODAY. Yes, Sirree Bob, as they say. I've got this new job teaching English to 11th and 12th grade girls in a very, very strict religious school. It's not a Catholic school by the way, so I'm not dressed as a Flying Nun, but I'm dressed in a way that is not customary for me, and while it's not uncomfortable, I do feel a bit like an embedded journalist in a country far, far away. Taking notes, with deep respect and curiosity and a tiny bit of ambivalence about the culture in which I am thrust, black clad and modest.

I love Los Angeles as it's a place where all these different cultures collide -- under the sun, of course, with a new governor and a whole lot of lefties and a smattering of conservatives (just enough to add some "diversity" but not enough to encroach upon our liberal ways). And what the hey is going on with the POSPOTUS and the government shutdown? I'm sorry if you're a furloughed worker and hope that this is all resolved, and we can quit thinking about walls and spikes and concrete and hordes of terrorists rabidly climbing over and into our lives.

The girls were wonderful today -- bright and sweet and outspoken and even a little outrageous. I had some exchanges, stared into some very warm brown eyes and knew immediately whom I was going to love because love is a serious word (she told me) even as I'll be driven crazy.

It's all good.

Tell me what you're reading. Tell me what you'd like to read if you were an 11th or 12th grade girl and have some strict reading guidelines (no sex, no violence, no molestation, etc.). I'm making up a list of book suggestions and need your help.


  1. Good books for young women.

    The Book Thief. I just realized has violence in it.

    I got nothing that fits that criteria. I just finished reading "Mrs. Fletcher", a book about sex which is beyond boring. I kept reading it, hoping that something would come of it, but nothing.

    "American War" by Omar el Akkad was excellent and "The Year of the Flood" by Margaret Atwood.

    Teaching young women English seems like a perfect fit for you:)

  2. I have a suggestion. Call your local public library and ask if there is a librarian there who specializes in YA (young adult) literature and give that person your guidelines. They can help. Another option would be to locate a school media specialist (basically a school librarian) for the grade level you are working in and ask. School media specialists are found in public schools so you may want to ask people you know with kids in public schools. I hope this helps.

  3. "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes" - Henry David Thoreau. That said, seems like a perfect job for you Elizabeth congrats!
    I'm reading The Library book by Susan Orlean, and attempting to re-read Proust's Swan's Way.

  4. I "read" Circe as an audio book and as I recall, I tromped miles and miles with that book in my ears, chastising myself for not really getting into it. It wasn't too bad, though.
    I just finished Tara Westover's "Educated" which I know you loved and I did too. But it would not fit the guidelines. Jeez. Every book I think of that I love has some sort of sex or violence in it.
    I adore thinking of you in a classroom. And of course you are going to fall in love with some of those girls. And they with you.

  5. We have Circe. I haven't read it, but I too have seen the positive reviews. Not sure I'll try.

    It's actually very hard to find completely "clean" YA or adult fiction books! How about "The Bell Jar"? I loved that book when I was a teenager -- it's edgy enough to be interesting and has literary chops, but, as I recall, no sex or terrible language. Hardly new, though.

  6. I love I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and have bought copies for my niece and another teenage girl. They both loved it too.

  7. Oh Elizabeth! I am so excited about your new job and your description of warm, receptive brown eyes and souls you are already growing to love. A whole new journey for you, I love your gusto as you embrace it! I will give some thought to books I might have wanted to read in 11th and 12th grade, that did not have sexual or disturbingly violent themes. Hmmm, not so easy, is it? In any case, can't wait to hear more!

  8. Many congratulations on your new job. It sounds like a great fit for you. I second and third the suggestions to consult with a librarian or school media specialist. I would also encourage you to consider selections from world literature, there's so much great work in English or in translation that exposes students to the wide world. Even with that vague restriction on no sex no violence? Those criteria would even rule out the Bible and many religious books ...
    I've always been a book lover and avid reader. What would you do to draw in students who don't like to read?
    I wish you a wonderful experience in this school. The students are lucky to have you. - S

  9. In my senior year in high school (1966-1967) in what was then called an Advanced English class, we had an extraordinary teacher. It is occurring to me that she was someone much like you. She brought to our classroom a poet named Hilary Ayer Fowler who lived 25 miles away in the Haight-Ashbury district and who read some of her poetry to us. For the life of me, I cannot remember a single book we read in that class except that poet's self-published book. My guess is that there was a strict curriculum for California schools in 1966-1967 that English teachers were required to follow and that our teacher was stepping outside the curriculum in introducing us to a contemporary women poet.

    With a little Googling, I was able to figure out that our English teacher was 37 years old. She was younger than my parents but still "old" in my eyes. Funny to think that I thought 37 years old was "old." Mrs. Marilee Sorotskin was a passionate reader and writer and human being. She stands out in my mind as someone who affirmed and embodied the importance of the reading and writing life.

    While recovering from a lingering upper respiratory cold that began on December 20, I haven't felt like reading anything except back issues of Parabola magazine. My mother subscribed to it for me and for her for Christmas in 1984. At that time, I was full of anger towards my mother and felt annoyed by pretty much everything in the magazine. It appears that I cancelled the subscription before receiving all the issues that my mother had bought because I only have 5 issues of that subscription. It is a quarterly magazine. I'm not sure why I kept those issues, but I revisited them a few years after my mother died and by that time in 1997, I was open to hearing voices from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions. It was refreshing to read one point of view after another, some in complete contradiction to the previous point of view. The process helped me sort out what rang true for me and what didn't. It became absolutely clear that no single tradition spoke to my experiences. I continued subscribing until 2017, when my income dropped to poverty level and I began utilizing the public library for the majority of my reading needs. In recent years, I have not gotten as much out of reading Parabola magazine, but my collection from 1997 to 2017 is a treasure that I know I will return to for the rest of my life. Each issue has a theme. I'm currently reading the summer issue of 1998, and the theme is "Ecstasy."

    As for books for 11th and 12th grade girls in a strict religious school, I wonder if the school would allow them to read Tolkien, despite the violence involved. I was that age when I was introduced to Tolkien's books. The experience of reading them was a rich and memorable one for me. Another book that made a lasting impression on me as a young woman was Ursula LeGuin's novel, A Wizard of Earthsea.

    Teaching 11th and 12th grade girls sounds like a great adventure!

  10. A little more.

    I first read Denise Levertov's poetry when I was close to the age of your students and The Stream & the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes much later.

    This was one of the first of her poems I read:


    The artist: disciple, abundant, multiple, restless.
    The true artist: capable, practicing, skillful;
    maintains dialogue with his heart, meets things with his mind.

    The true artist: draws out all from his heart,
    works with delight, makes things with calm, with sagacity,
    works like a true Toltec, composes his objects, works dexterously, invents;
    arranges materials, adorns them, makes them adjust.

    The carrion artist: works at random, sneers at the people,
    makes things opaque, brushes across the surface of the face of things,
    works without care, defrauds people, is a thief.

  11. Understood Betsy by Dororthy Canfield Probably a little young for them
    Anything by Jane Austin or Mark Twain
    Anything by Georgette Heyer except the murder mysteries
    A Man called Ove by Fredrik Backman
    My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman
    Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

  12. Very Far Away From Anywhere Else, by Ursula LeGuin- it's a teenage boy narrator but totally spoke to me in high school
    Room with a View- EM Forester
    It's a poem, but Lady of Shalott by Tennyson- I remember analyzing that in English class and loving it as a picture of the life of an artist

  13. Circe didn't work for me either. I'm currently reading Hotel Silence. So far, a very lovely and fun read. As for 11th and 12th grade girls? Hmmm. I don't know any at the moment or I'd ask them. The Secret Life of Bees? The Princess Bride?

  14. If this school is religious and possibly muslim, I recommend these two books, if only as background reading:

    Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi
    Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad, by British journalist Bee Rowlatt and Iraqi teacher May Witwit

  15. Rereading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    I'm waiting for 'There, There' to come out in paperback
    I love the magazine 'The Sun' but don't know if it's a good fit for young women...
    Poetry! Hafiz, Rumi, Naomi Shihab Nye

    Wonderful your new job.

  16. I love that you're doing this, that you're already having 'exchanges.' What a boon you will be for these girls and their education! I have also resisted the Kondo thing for a multitude of reasons, but the show mostly because I am weary of self-improvement. I am choosing to revel in things that make me feel good about accepting myself and my life right now for what it is - celebrating it, even. Anything that purports to tell me how to be better (especially superficially by cleaning out my house) is not something I feel like investigating right now. I'll think about books and let you know. No violence - hmmmm - so many different kinds of 'violence' to consider. XOXO

  17. Perfume, by Süskind
    Adie from Amsterdam

  18. Congrats on the new Path Teaching, how exciting! When we traveled extensively abroad it was always exciting to have more exposure to different cultures and ways of Life, even if it wasn't always comfortable nor familiar and in most ways I could not see myself living like that all of the time, for a time, it was educational and the exposure was mostly positive and always memorable. Being an all Girls School would be different, have no point of reference for that in my own educational process... went to School with diversity of cultures, religion and both genders blended and whether abroad or in the U.S. it was similar enough.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...