Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Life is ridiculous. Not really bad by most standards, except it is severely lacking one thing I love without exception: reading. Usually life gets craziest for me with the busy months of the school year: March and September. This year, life hasn't let up since day one. Don't get me wrong, it's not all bad. There's time spent with family and friends and new or memorable experiences. And even things like grading papers has a good side: it means I have a job. So, I feel like I can only be annoyed at the most. Annoyed in capital letters at the least. ANNOYED.

The only books coming into my house are those on my wish list at paperbackswap.com. (Well there's Outlander #2, Dragonfly in Amber, from the library via OverDrive app...but I'm ashamed to say the number of times I've had to renew it. At three weeks a shot no less. Smh.) As the swap books trickle in I place them on my shelves, only to see other titles longingly beckon me. Titles I've waited forever to read, titles I have at my fingertips, yet they seem to elude me. Over the past few weeks, I've placed such titles by my bedside, because picking them up and stacking them nearby seems like a step in the right direction, as small a step as it may be.

So now I catch glimpses of them daily. Rushing in after work to change my clothes before heading out again. Out the corner of my eye while guiltily binging on past seasons of Survivor and Lost (just starting season 3...oh my lord, season 2 put me in a fit toward the end!). In a dead stare, grading essays and wishing that just by looking at the stack my essays would be graded and I could be reading. Between camera clicks and social media posts (my new puppy Gatsby might as well be a human infant). Fleetingly as I fall asleep.

I like to think my annoyance is becoming determination. That I will dig myself out of this never ending suck on my time and prevent it from happening again. We all know it's not true though. I enjoy time with my friends and family. I love Lost! Sleep is my next favorite thing to reading. Grading essays...haha. No. Necessary evil I guess.

But I have a goal. After this week I will be caught up on my school work. Next couple weeks I will finish up my forever read of Dragonfly in Amber (it's good, just long and my timing is bad) and read and review the newest Mitch Albom as part of a TLC Tour, which I'm excited about. I'm setting time limits to get things graded efficiently instead of dragging them out and dwindling around my kitchen table and work desk. I'm limiting the number of nights I have stuff to do per week. By Thanksgiving I will be set to sit. Sit and read...and watch more Lost. I'm starting with that special stack. And hopefully season 4 of Lost.

I've never had such a bad reading year. Anyone else feeling this?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

A favorite book blogger friend of mine, Eva from The Paperback Princess, wrote a great post this week about her blog's four year anniversary.  I love the post for all of its bookish adventure talk of course! One line in particular stood out though and I present it here for Sunday Sentence.

"I will happily die crushed under the weight of all the incredible books that currently live with me."

I LOVE IT! And I totally agree...no matter the where, when, or how, I know I will be in the middle of an amazing book and an impossible to finish to-be-read list.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Reading Shakespeare

Source: www.roomone.training
Shakespeare, man of mystery. Enough is known through public record to know that the man existed. However, any personal detail is unknown, to the point that there isn't technically proof that Shakespeare wrote the plays we read today. I personally adhere to the camp that he did write them, that we owe his friends a debt of gratitude for putting his works together in the First Folio. Why complicate things? Besides, the bigger matter is the plays themselves. Works of art that literally created a sizable portion of our English language and have lasted hundreds of years because of their eloquence and humanity. Read any Shakespeare plot line, examine the themes, and you will see present day humanity playing out before your eyes. Homo sapiens haven't changed as much as we'd like to think over the centuries.

Why all the fuss about Shakespeare on the blog today? Well, I've read multiple Shakespeare works over the years, but in my past ten years as a teacher, Romeo and Juliet is the only one that has popped up in my curriculum. I know it well and it's easy to teach because, thanks to pop culture and the nature of teenagers, everyone already knows it for the most part. This year AP Literature brings me to teaching other works, like Hamlet and Othello, and new experiences in the teaching of Shakespeare.

Ah Hamlet, emo before emo was a thing. An emotional wreck, spilling his guts and emotional distress soliloquy after soliloquy, Hamlet at first reminds me of whiny Romeo. Of course, Hamlet has good reason (Romeo not so much). In short, his father, the king, has passed away; his uncle marries his mom a month later, denying Hamlet his dreams; a rival country is planning an attack on Denmark; his father's ghost is walking the castle watch tower with a secret; a dear one commits suicide; murder and general mayhem reveal themselves. It's a mess like only Shakespeare can create and put into motion through poetry. I'm enjoying it.

Of course, some of my students will tell you differently. Pulling apart Shakespeare can be intimidating. It's never been particularly intimidating for me, although I bought new copies of each play in No Fear Shakespeare editions, just in case. Haven't needed it yet though, so I started to wonder how it is Shakespeare clicks for me. I am a reader, which helps, but even I don't know the meaning of every little odd word and detail Shakespeare uses, so how is it I understand? It came to me in a teachable moment one day.

We'd reached Hamlet's first soliloquy (Act I, scene ii), read through and settled into a worksheet to pull it apart for meaning. Immediately they felt lost and didn't hesitate in saying so. At first I thought, what's there not to get, but proceeded to reread the beginning with them (lines 129-132 in my edition):

            "Oh that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
             Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
             Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
             His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!"

I realized as I read that I was only using one phrase and two other words of those four lines to translate in my head. So I told them to pick out the familiar words and string them together for meaning, ignoring all else. Conversation progressed something like this:

Me: What happens if your flesh melts? (Indiana Jones, Shakespeare beat you to it.)
Class: You die...you'd be dead.
Me: What does "Everlasting" mean and why is it capitalized? Only proper nouns are capitalized.
Class: It means forever...so it's a name?
Me: Who is the only being we claim to be a forever being?
Class: God
Me: What does slaughter mean?
Class: To violently kill.
Me: And adding "self"?
Class: ohhhh...suicide!

And using those couple of items, they pieced together for me that Hamlet wants to die and would commit suicide, except his God has made it a sin to do so. It was a learning moment for them, figuring out how to read some of this craziness and it was a learning moment for me to be able to show them, when I hadn't been sure how to do so before. It doesn't make it easy though...it still takes time to slow down and go through the lines, digging for previous knowledge and connecting those pieces together. But it's a starting point. They'll be reading Shakespeare next year and some of them in college even, so hopefully we've made a good start of it.

What about you readers? Any luck with Shakespeare?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Literary Alchemy of Harry Potter

I went straight down to discuss Emily Dickinson's
"Soul at the white heat" afterward, based on what
he said about alchemy in writing.

When you hear that the local college, your alma mater, has a speaker on Harry Potter coming in, there's not much choice but to attend. How often is it you get to hear from a man titled the Dean of Harry Potter Scholars? I'm going to be up front with you though. I'm writing about this because it was a great lecture on a really cool topic, a book topic no less, but it's also a somewhat involved topic, all new to me. So, I apologize ahead for any gaps in my info. I'll provide information for further study at the end.

Anyway, at the end of September, Youngstown State University (YSU) held a lecture titled Literary Alchemy, featuring Harry Potter, given by John Granger, Dean of Harry Potter Scholars. I decided to go on that information alone and invited the biggest Harry Potter fan friend I have, SR. (She's read the books multiple times and is my go to for HP detail checks when my students or I write on the topic, such as parts of this post!) Then I received a flier in the mail that convinced me I had to go.

Harry Potter in connection to Lewis, Dickens, and Shakespeare? Yes please. The background they have in common is alchemy. There is so much information here, but a few points I remember pretty well. According to Granger, besides the attempts to turn lead to gold alchemists are known for, alchemy is about spiritual purification. In literature, certain authors have used alchemical symbols and tropes in their storylines to represent their character's quest for purification. For example, there are color schemes and stages connected to alchemy. The most obvious element, based on alchemy's more well known principal, is gold, the purest form a medal can achieve. When Romeo and Juliet die, their families declare peace by erecting GOLD statues in their children's honor. And what is Harry always chasing in his Quidditch matches? A GOLDEN snitch. Then there are the colors black, white, and red. Sirius BLACK? And ALBUS, white in Latin, Dumbledore? (The Twilight series book covers aren't a coincidence either.) Besides colors, there are seven stages in an alchemical cycle. There are seven Harry Potter books, with the later books' plotlines cycling through seven stages each. Each of these authors' stories reaches the ultimate goal of alchemy as well: a transformation of character(s).

And these are just the minor details. There's also the types of characters involved. Pairs of opposites working together, for example. Romeo and Juliet come to mind with Shakespeare, Ron and Hermione in Harry Potter, and Edward and Bella in Twilight. One character in each pair represents the hot sulfuric element of alchemy (Romeo, Hermoine, and Bella), while the other is the cool mercurial element (Juliet, Ron, and Edward). The two characters in each pair play off of each other, becoming more than pawns in a plot.

If you're not convinced this is not all coincidence, or if you're completely lost by my gaps in knowledge, here's some contact information to start reading further. You can always Google "Alchemy in Harry Potter" too. A little side note: JK Rowling studied alchemy in school and so did Granger, which allowed him to easily pick up on the alchemical elements Rowling so carefully pieced together. In an article from 1998, Rowling states:

      “I’ve never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that’s a different matter.
      To invent this wizard world, I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy.
      Perhaps much of it I’ll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what
      magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the
      stories’ internal logic.”

Here's the information I promised! John Granger not only invited emails, but will also connect you with further reading. Go, explore, and learn something you may have never known about the never ending wonders of our literary world.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

October is proving a busy month if this past week is any indication. Every day I was leaving my house at 7am, coming home to stay around 9-10pm, and going to bed around 1am. The days were packed with activity and in between I was devouring a study book for a four hour test I took Saturday. The cool thing is that it was all good stuff. Time with my daughters at a college piano recital and doing homecoming stuff and then the dance itself, visiting with friends for their sweet four-year-old's birthday, an amazing concert of Casting Crowns, and ending with a great movie with friends (The Martian). Work this week was pretty productive too, although my evening activities and constant studying have put me very behind on grading, so I imagine that's what this week will consist of. The schedule looks like it's slowing down after tomorrow.

Weird thing is, I have quite a few friends for whom this week was trying too. A family with the death of a loved one, two friends each with a child so sick it turned their entire week upside down, a friend who had a surgery and may already be facing another, my pastor who had umpteen evening meetings and hospital visitations, and more. It was a rough week for my little corner of the world and I'm praying this next week brings them all hope, peace, and realization that the journey is building them into the people they are meant to be.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

How bout I forgot to even post a quote on Sunday last week?! Crazy, yes, but then again, I've hardly been reading between work, binge watching both Lost and old Survivor episodes, and my family's activities. Seems to be the story of my life for 2015.

I did, however, find a quote Allison of The Book Wheel tweeted the other day from The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton. Made me want to read the book more...it is waiting for me on my shelf!

“Memory is a cruel mistress with whom we all must learn to dance."