Favorite John Steinbeck Novel (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks
Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


What is your favorite John Steinbeck novel?

To date, I have only read three Steinbeck novels: The Grapes of Write, Of Mice and Men, and Tortilla Flats.  I enjoyed the first two, but Tortilla Flats is supposed to be humorous, and I just didn’t get it; it’s not my brand of humor.  If I have to pick a very favorite, it’s The Grapes of Wrath.

I was not always a Grapes of Wrath fan. I read it once in high school and thought it slow and generally odd.  It has “interchapters,” which are chapters about the general state of the country, which separate the chapters that are actually about the novel’s characters or the “main action.”  Teenage me thought this was stupid, including the infamous “turtle chapter” where readers simply read about a turtle crossing the road.  Good times, right?

However, I reread the book last year, and I think I “get” it more now.  The interchapters are important.  They’re interesting.  They offer great commentary on the main action and the message of the novel, and I don’t think it would be complete without them.  And I find the main characters and their story interesting, as well.

Steinbeck occasionally gets on a soapbox about his pet causes and the messages of his own novels, but this is not a huge deterrent for me.  It’s the style of some books, and I’ve learned to roll with it (I’m looking at you, 1984.)  Altogether, I think this is an engaging and fascinating read.  It looks long, but it’s worth it.

Are you participating this week? Leave us the link to your post in the comments! Or just comment with your favorite Steinbeck novel.

Briana

Adult-ish by Cristina Vanko

Adultish

Information

Goodreads: Adult-ish: Record Your Highs and Lows on the Road to the Real World
Series: None
Source: Publisher for review
Published: April 4, 2017

Official Summary

My first real job.

The first plant I kept alive more than a year.

The first relationship I kept alive more than three months.

In this hand-lettered and illustrated guided journal, you will have a place to record the firsts of becoming an adult. A new twist on baby books, “My Book of Grown-Up Firsts” is a charming and cheeky celebration of what it means to finally be a grown-up (sort of).

From the first time you visited home without bringing dirty laundry to the first time you truly felt comfortable in your own skin, the small victories and meaningful milestones in this quirky, charming, and insightful journal make it a great gift and appealing journal for anyone starting out on the path of adulthood.

Review

When I first opened Adult-ish, I worried I was the wrong audience for the book. I hate the word “adulting” and I don’t find it charming when high schoolers, much less college students or, worse, college graduates, talk about how their parents do their laundry, or how it’s such a struggle to keep a plant alive or do the dishes or just generally be responsible.  So I worried that this book would be overly self-congratulatory about the completion of ordinary tasks.

In some places, it is.  It does, in fact, ask readers to “draw the first houseplant you managed to keep alive.”  However, many of the prompts are truly thought-provoking, like “When was the first time you spoke up for something you really believe in?” or “Describe the time you did something you were really afraid of.”  Other prompts are sentimental—“Draw the first bouquet of flowers you’ve ever received or sent to someone special”—or just plain fun—“Design the coaster that commemorates your first legal drink.”

Several years ago, a relative gave me one of those lifetime moment journals that asks you to write about big life events: graduation from high school, your first car, your first job, your first kiss, your proposal, etc.  This book is like that journal, only looking at smaller moments instead of traditionally recognized “milestones.”  The prompts are sometimes random and some I wouldn’t even know how to answer.  However, they’re thoughtful enough to evoke interesting responses, and that’s what these types of books are really good for—to prompt you to record memories that you can look back on later in life, or that you can hand on to children, grandchildren, etc.  Right now answering the question “What was the first hobby you took up as an adult” is not overly compelling to me; however, I may find my response entertaining to reread years down the road.

The artwork is fun and reminiscent of doodling, very inviting and just asking the reader to start writing in the book, as well.  The pages are nicely diverse, varying emphasis on words or pictures and switching between fonts for each prompt.  Some of the fonts are heavy on the flourishes and took me some squinting to read, as did some of the parts that are in light gray rather than black (presumably so you can write over top it).  The fonts are generally quite pretty, however, and this was not a deal-breaker for me.

This interactive book is a great choice for anyone just embarking on adulthood and for people who are interested in journalling but want meaningful prompts instead of having to face down a blank page.

4 stars Briana

Izzy Kline Has Butterflies by Beth Ain

Izzy Kline Has Butterflies

Information

Goodreads: Izzy Kline Has Butterflies
Series: None
Source: Publisher for review
Published: March 7, 2017

Official Summary

Fourth grade is here, and Izzy Kline is nervous! There are plenty of reasons for the butterflies in her stomach to flap their wings. There’s a new girl in her class who might be a new best friend. The whole grade is performing Free to Be . . . You and Me–and Izzy really wants a starring role. And new changes at home are making Izzy feel like her family is falling apart. First-day jitters, new friends, an audition . . . How many butterfly problems can one fourth grader take?

Review

Middle grade verse novels seem to be becoming increasingly popular, and they are a nice way to give impressions—both small and big moments—of an entire academic year in a short space. Personally, I struggled with the fact that this one is written in first person. The voice seems wrong for a fourth grader; I cannot imagine someone who is ten years old sitting down and putting her thoughts into verse of this form, nor can I imagine her making some of the observations she does. Indeed, some of the thoughts seem more like reflections from the older author, realizing in retrospect things about fourth grade she did not entirely understand at the time, than like thoughts springing from the mind of an actual child.

Beyond the voice issue, however, the book is a charming one and covers topics and situations that will be relatable to many young readers. Izzy deals with everything from the divorce of her parents to practicing to audition for a part in a school performance to navigating the tricky waters of friendship. Small milestones are marked: the first day of the new school year, a friend’s birthday party, the day of the performance. Even if readers have not experienced some of these things themselves, they surely know other students who have.

Izzy herself is a wonderfully realistic character. She has many admirable qualities, such as caring about her friends and knowing when to laugh at herself, but she also has some common fears, like not really knowing what the right thing to do is sometimes. While I do think parts of the book sound like they are coming from someone older than Izzy, there are other times Ain gets fourth grade just right; she clearly remembers what it feels like to be a child learning to navigate the world.

The book is framed around Free to Be…You and Me, which is a “children’s entertainment project” (according to Wikipedia) that I had never even heard of. (A reviewer on Goodreads remarked that it was popular in the 1980s.) While familiarity with Free to Be…You and Me is not necessary to understand the novel—I got the gist that it’s supposed to be empowering and the title might be alluding to it—I could not help but wonder if the book would be more powerful if I actually understood the references and connections. I also doubt the target audience for the book will know it, and I do question the decision to center the novel on an allusion many readers will not recognize, as this creates distance between readers and the text. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is odd.

Overall, however, Izzy Kline Has Butterflies is a relatable yet charming snapshot of Izzy’s year in fourth grade. I don’t think the book has enormous crossover appeal for adults, but I do believe it will be a hit with its target audience of young readers. It could also be a great discussion starter about poetry, since verse tends to be prevalent in picture books but peters away with middle grade.

4 starsBriana

What Distinguishes Academic Writing from Other Types of Writing?

College Advice

When students thinks of academic writing, they often think about stylistic features such as whether they “are allowed” to use the first-person, if they should use active or passive voice, or if they should format their papers in a certain style such as MLA or APA.  However, though mastering the stylistic features of a discipline can help students present themselves as in the process of mastering the type of discourse valued by a discipline ,arguably these markers are not the most important features of an academic essay.  Rather, if I had to choose one feature that distinguishes academic writing from other types, I would suggest that it is the sense that a writer knows what they are talking about.  They have done the research, read and reread the texts, and solved any conundrums they may have encountered along the way.  They are an authoritative voice.

Of course, there is a place for musings and ponderings in learning environments.  Instructors may assign journals, free writing, or short response papers that allow students to discuss things that interest or puzzle them, without having to forward an argument or come to any conclusions.  However, the academic essay is the place where these musings are supposed to come together and puzzles are meant to begin to be resolved.  The difficulty for students is, of course, that they often still in the process of learning about what they writing about, they are unsure what types of things they ought to know, and they are still in the process of figuring out what kinds of information they should provide to their readers.  But they still have to act like they have mastered the topic.

Fortunately, there are some easy ways to get started in terms of mastering a new topic and presenting yourself as one who knows.

Make More Specific Claims.

Writing “Taylor Swift is really popular” is a vague claim.  It is true that few readers will likely contest this claim, but you can strengthen it by adding specific details.  What is her estimated worth?  How many followers does she have on social media?  How many albums has she sold?  Details make your claim more interesting and provide some scope for your readers.  After all, popularity can be relative.  Maybe X book is really popular and it sold 20 million copies this year.  The next most popular book sold 6 million copies and the third most popular book sold 3 million copies.  Wow–it seems that X book is really popular!

Be Careful Making Historical Assumptions or General Historical Claims.

“Everyone knows the Middle Ages were a time of religious oppression,” you think to yourself, so you write all about how creativity was stifled and no one dared question the Catholic Church or write about anything but God.  Then your instructor directs you to all the medieval texts available about topics other than God, several of them seemingly condoning adultery.  Or “Everyone in the Renaissance accepted misogyny,” you think, so you write all about how The Taming of the Shrew was accepted blindly by the unthinking masses of earlier eras.  Then your instructor points out that John Fletcher responded to Shakespeare’s play with The Tamer Tamed.  Oops.  Rather than assume stereotypes associated with the past, do some preliminary research before writing.  Better yet, don’t fall into the trap of assuming that people in a historical period all thought the same.  Just like people today, people of the past were capable of independent thought!

Read All the Matter Contained in the Texts You Are Assigned.

If there is an introduction to the book, footnotes, or endnotes, read them.  These give you extra information that will help you make stronger claims.  These can provide information about historical context, information about the author’s biography, or ideas about how various scholars have interpreted a  line or allusion.  Likewise, you should also glance at the copyright page to get a sense of the work’s publication history.

Be Wary of Scare Quotes.

Sometimes students place scare quotes around vocabulary that is new to them.  So they might spend pages writing about “meter” and “rhyme” as if meter and rhyme do not really exist in the work or are some artificial construct, when that is not what they mean to say at all.  If you are working with new words, it is likely that people familiar with the topic you are writing on or people familiar with the field you are writing in know these words, so you should act like you know them, too.

In the same vein, try to present yourself as knowledgeable about other content that experts will likely be familiar with.  Try not to refer to “a text called Hamlet” as if Hamlet is a new concept or that must be explained or qualified.  If you are writing about Renaissance literature or Shakespeare, your readers surely know Hamlet and you’ll want to act as if you do, as well.   It’s an easy but effective way to give yourself authority.

Do the Research and Use Authoritative Language.

Present yourself as knowledgeable about your topic by doing the research and using authoritative language.  Make assertive statements and claims.  Take out anything that reads, “I am not sure but,” “I think that,” “Personally, it seems to me,” and so forth.  Simply present the claim without any qualifiers.  You can also use active language such as “I argue,” “I propose,” “I extend the work of X,” and so forth.

Fact Check Yourself.

Before writing all about how Shakespeare had to tailor his plays to Henry VIII, double check Shakespeare’s timeline and see which monarch was on the throne.  Before writing all about how Shakespeare is indecipherable because he writes in Old English, search the history of English (Shakespeare was writing early modern English!).  Doing an Internet search for such matters typically can save you from headaches down the road.

Providing evidence for any claims you make often works as an automatic fact check.  If, for example, you write that, “Author Y writes in blank verse and it’s not effective for their work,” and then go to find a relevant quote to explain why the blank verse is not working in a particular area, you may realize in the process that, actually, Author Y is not writing in blank verse at all!  (And, if you are new to poetry, it may also be beneficial for you to recheck the definition of blank verse before you make this claim.  Blank verse, free verse, and iambic pentameter often get jumbled up by novices!)

Read Other Articles on the Subject.

Reading published scholarly articles can be daunting prospect.  However, doing so will give you a good idea about the types of things others are talking about.  It will also enable you to see what kinds of information they assume experts already know.  And, if you read enough, you will be able to see which scholars are repeatedly quoted–they tend to be influential in their fields.  You can model your work on the experts by learning how to discern relevant information, how to frame your argument, and whom to begin with when you do research.

Conclusion

Writing a strong academic paper typically comes down to research.  Indeed, you may find that the bulk of the work of writing a paper is not always the physical act of sitting down at a laptop and typing, but rather the hours spent tracking down, reading, and verifying sources, as well as the hours spent rereading texts.  It will be hard work and sometimes you may spend hours only to feel like you have not made much progress.  That’s what makes your paper valuable–you’ve gone and done all this work and now you are qualified to speak as an expert on the matter.  And you should be proud of that!

Poison’s Kiss by Breeana Shields

Poison's KissInformation

Goodreads: Poison’s Kiss
Series: Poison’s Kiss #1
Source: For Review
Published: January 10, 2017

Official Summary

Marinda has kissed dozens of boys. They all die afterward. It’s a miserable life, but being a visha kanya, a poison maiden, is what she was created to do. Marinda serves the Raja by dispatching his enemies with only her lips as a weapon.

Until now, the men she was ordered to kiss have been strangers, enemies of the kingdom. Then she receives orders to kiss Deven, a boy she knows too well to be convinced he needs to die. She begins to question who she s really working for. And that is a thread that, once pulled, will unravel more than she can afford to lose.

This rich, surprising, and accessible debut is based in Indian folklore and delivers a story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Review

I was intrigued by the concept of Poison’s Kiss, the idea that a girl could be an assassin who kills with a single brush of her lips.  Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting a hardcore assassin or an epic story, but rather one that incorporated some minor assassinating with lot of romance, and that’s pretty much what I got.  I think it’s a stretch to compare this to bestselling books like those of Sarah J. Maas (though the publisher goes for the comparison with gusto), but it’s a solid YA fantasy and a fun read.

The plot follows Marinda as she begins to question her role as a royal assassin–only after she’s instructed to kill a boy she likes, of course.  This seems like a pretty cliche YA move, but I think it’s a nice point in that it shows Marinda questions the motives of her employer when she knows the victim and cannot imagine someone so seemingly good is deserving of murder.

Frankly, the love is instalove.  I think both characters have really compelling qualities on their own, but their romance could have a lot more build up.  They go from thinking “Oh, he seems like a nice guy/girl” to head-over-heels in love so quickly that I didn’t feel invested in the romance at all.  The relationships between Marinda and her brother and Marinda and her friend/coworker are much more complex.  In fact, Marinda’s relationship with literally everyone else she knows in the book is more convincing and realistic.

The plot in general is well-paced and exciting. It took a couple of turns I genuinely did not see coming, which I always appreciate in a novel.  I also thought the end sets up the story perfectly for a sequel.  Readers get enough closure from book one to feel as though they’ve read a full story, not the first third of one, but the action leads readers right into expecting epic things from book two.

Poison’s Kiss isn’t necessarily my favorite read of 2017, but it’s entertaining, and I like the Indian-inspired setting.

3 stars Briana

Is It Possible to “Hate Classics?”

Is It Possible to Hate Classics

It’s a common statement: “I hate classics.  They’re boring and old and difficult.  I only read [age range or genre].”  However, a classic is not a specific type of book.  It does not mean one written in old-timey language, nor does it mean literary fiction.  A classic is a book that is considered to have stood the test of time.  That’s it.  That means in a few decades The Hunger Games, Twilight, or Divergent could be considered if they last long enough.  We’re all constantly in the act of reading potential classics!

However, since we cannot predict what will be considered a classic years from now, we can still take a look at the wide array of books considered classics.  It’s quite possible that most readers have read and enjoyed at least one of these books–scary classic status aside!

Fantasy Classics

  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
  • Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
  • The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

Science Fiction Classics

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

Romance Classics

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • Villette by Charlotte Brontë
  • Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • North and South by Elzabeth Gaskell
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot

Modern Classics

  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
  • Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

Adventure Classics and Swashbucklers

  • The Three  Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
  • The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Mystery Classics

  • Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton
  • Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie
  • Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie
  • Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene

Children’s Classics

  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Conclusion

Classics encompass every time period, country, and genre.  You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that, even if you thought you were a classics hater, you’ve read and loved some of these titles!

 

William Shakespeare’s King Lear: A Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds

king-lear-hindINFORMATION

Goodreads: King Lear
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2007

SUMMARY

Approaching old age, King Lear determines to divide his kingdom among his daughters.  But is a king still a king when he has given up all the trappings of royalty?  Gareth Hinds adapts one of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies.

Review

Gareth Hinds presents what seems to be a scholarly adaptation of what some consider Shakespeare’s best tragedy.  Complete with a preface about variations between the Quarto and Folio versions, a dramatis personae, and endnotes about the changes and excisions made, the work seems poised to save students everywhere from failing their Shakespeare exams.  But the seriousness of the text raises it above a study guide.  It’s clear that Hinds respects his source material and wants to present it in a way that’s both accessible and beautiful.  And he succeeds.

This adaptation does not have the rich colors of Hinds’s Romeo and Juliet, but it’s still in full color and Hinds makes some interesting stylistic choices sure to raise questions in the attentive reader.  The play begins in pastels but will encompass a variety of illustrations, including pages that are mostly white space and scenes shown as negatives.  Black-and-white drawings end the tale.  Each choice contributes a certain mood to the story, even if sometimes it seems like the message is too blatant.  “Bad stuff is happening here!” cry the negative drawings.

Some of the action becomes so cluttered that Hinds unfortunately has to provide lines to show the progression of the story. This, assuredly, is not the best layout option for a graphic novel; you want the scenes to flow without such obvious markers.  I’m not sure if we could argue that even these lines provide some sort of meaning to the story.  We’re all lost and confused like Lear?  We’re directionless without the king?  The world has gone crazy and what used to have meaning no longer does?  I guess we could stretch our interpretive powers, but it seems as if we shouldn’t have to.

Altogether, however, the book does a nice job illustrating the story and suggesting to readers the power the play can have.  Readers new to drama often need time to learn  how to stage the plays in their heads, how to hear the emotions, how to read the stage directions implicit in the dialogue.  The graphic novel brings this life.

3 starsKrysta 64