Bob Boone


...More Good Books for Teachers

 

OPERATION MINCEMEAT by Ben Macintyre

It's hard to imagine anyone, especially a teacher of writing, who would not like this true WW II story describing how a few eccentric and brilliant British intelligent people concocted a scheme -- involving a dead body -- that fooled the Germans at a crucial time in the war. It's especially exciting and interesting because the writing is so powerful.

Macintyre shapes huge quantities of information into a highly readable book. He creates places and people quickly and thoroughly.


July 2011

Chicago Public Library Foundation Book Beats 2011 Summer Reading Program Book Beats!
2011 Children's Summer Reading Program and Book Beats Summer Reads for Adults.


June 2011

SUMMER SHORT STORIES FOR YOUR YOUNG WRITERS.

You might ask your students to read several short stories by a single writer. Recommend writers who are both enjoyable and instructive. Here some authors I recommend every summer. By each is the name of a story that my students really like.

  • The Sound of Thunder, by Ray Bradbury
  • The Dew Breaker, by Edwidge Dandicat
  • A Rose for Emily, by William Faulkner
  • Charles, by Shirley Jackson
  • The Treasure of Lemon Brown, by Walter Dean Myers
  • Shooting an Elephant, by George Orwell
  • A Perfect Day for Banana Fish, by J.D. Salinger
  • Gaston, by William Saroyan
  • Guess Who's for the Dinner, by Roddy Doyle



Books For You

How To's:

Word Playgrounds, by John O'Connor ("Reading, Writing and Performing Poetry in the Classroom")

*Poetry:

Poetry 180 (Contemporary poems selected by Billy Collins)

*Serious Fiction:

The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman;
Let the Great Earth Spin,Colum McCann

*Detective Fiction:

Any of the Maigret books by George Simonon

*Non-Fiction:

The Bridge, by David McCullough;
Methland, by Nick Reding

*Teacher Stuff:

anything by Alfie Kohn or Gerald Bracey


April 2011

Here are a few stories in which the narrator plays an especially significant role. You might want to read some of these aloud to the class and then discuss what the narrator means to the story.

  • Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe
  • A Rose for Emily, by William Faulkner
  • Bartleby the Scrivener, by Herman Melville
  • Esme with Love and Squalor, by J. D. Salinger
  • Haircut, by Ring Lardner
  • Maria Conception, by Katherine Anne Porter
  • The Boarding House, by James Joyce
  • The Open Window, by Saki
  • A Kind of Murder, by Hugh Pentacost
  • Marigolds, by Eugenia Collier
  • Honor, by Betty Dahlin
  • Gaston, by William Saroyan
  • The Death Trap, by Paul Gallico
  • Indian Camp, by Hemingway
  • Miss Brill, by Katherine Mansfield
  • The Bear Came Over the Mountain, by Alice Munro (movie version is Away From Her)
  • Cheating at Canasta, by William Trevor



Reading Like a Writer
In Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose shares how she enhanced her own writing ability through careful, deliberate, slow reading. "Like most, maybe all, writers,I learned to write by writing and, by example, from books." This is a good reminder of the simple tenet for the rewards of reading. While Prose concedes that talent can't be taught, she maintains that good reading can help prime the pump.

Chapters offer lessons in the fundamentals of writing (words, sentences, paragraphs), as well as the craft of writing (narration, character, dialogue, details, gesture). Prose uses an (over)abundance of excerpts and examples to illustrate her points. She concedes that, "reading this way requires a certain amount of stamina, concentration, and patience." Prose's writing is witty and her insights into her own teaching experiences are thoughtful.

Prose ends with a list of "Books to Be Read Immediately." While this a good start for a list, there are some notable, newer names missing (Steinbeck, Morrison, Updike). She urges the reader to use reading as a way to learn to write. Her approach is straightforward and refreshing. In a world filled with MFA programs, pedagogical discussions and summer writing workshops (which all serve their own purpose), Prose focuses her concentration on studying the text itself, rather than context or theory. Her basic premise is the best way to learn to write is to read – first for enjoyment and later for craft. (FZ)


January 2011

Here are some favorite books by famous authors. For more lists go to: Top Ten Books.

Top Ten list for Stephen King:

  • The Golden Argosy, by Van H. Cartmell & Charles Grayson, editors
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  • The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
  • McTeague, by Frank Norris
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  • Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • The Raj Quartet, by Paul Scott
  • Light in August, by William Faulkner
  • Blood Merdian, by Cormac McCarthy



Top Ten list for Sandra Cisneros:

  • The Time of the Doves, by Merce Rodoreda
  • The Ten Thousand Things, by Maria Dermout
  • Stones for Ibarra, by Harriet Doerr
  • The Burning Plain and Other Stories, by Juan Rulfo
  • Good Morning Midnight, by Jean Rhys
  • La Flor De Lis, by Elena Poniatowska
  • Borderlands, by Gloria Anzaldua
  • The Book of Embraces, by Eduardo Galeano
  • Dream Tigers, by Jorge Luis Borges
  • Maud Martha, by Gwendolyn Brooks


Crime Fiction
Lately I have been reading Michael Connelly. The last book was Black Echo. I think Connelly deserves to be called one of the greatest living crime writers. Great characters. Gruesome crimes. Grim humor. Many plausible outcomes. I never feel cheated or tricked. If I were to use this with a class -- and there's a good chance I will -- I'll talk about his dialogue, his descriptions; and his knowledge of the subject.
Who are your favorite crime writers? (RSB)

ENGLISH JOURNAL,
Green English, January 2011. A good source.



November 2010

Here are three novels and one short story that beautifully illustrate what character means to story and what story means to character. What happens is a result of who the characters are, how the characters develop is a result of the events they have created.


The Lazarus Project, by Aleksander Hemon. Part of the story is based on a murder in Chicago in 1904; part of the story takes place during the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s; and part takes place in present with the author/narrator searching for meaning in these past events. We read to discover why characters did what they did. (RSB)

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. A character returns to her family home in southern India, where years before, events prompted by all-too-human decisions ruined the lives of most of her relatives. The author moves back and forth through time. In each you'll find driven, betrayed, naive, secretive characters pushing and pulling the story along. (RSB)

Love And Summer by William Trevor. It takes place in Ireland in the 1950s, but it is totally engaging because what the characters feel -- loneliness, love, and loss -- are not dated. Treveor sets up the characters early and we read to see what their interaction will lead to.(RSB)

"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker. An old lady and her two children. One child is little and the other older and aspiring. By the end we know more about each, especially what they stand for. (RSB)


October 2010

FALCONER by John Cheever. Imagine this as the October book in your Writing Teachers' Book Club. Here are a few questions to get you started.
        
  • How does this novel differ from the standard prison story?
  •     
  • Farragut hears the stories of the others in prison with him? Which ones did you find he most moving? Which added the most to his story?
  •     
  • We learn right away that Farragut's (the protagonist) is in prison for killing his brother. We don't learn why until the end. Did the brother deserve to be murdered?
  •   
  • How does the Marcia's character advance the story?
  •     
  • Was Farragut likable at all?
  •    
  • Which scenes were the most vivid?
  •     
  • Did the ending work? For who would it not work?
  •     
  • For some the book feels more than realistic; Cheevers exaggerates. Do you agree? Does this take away any of the power.
  •     
  • John Gardner calls this one of the great novels ever. Do you agree?
  •    
  • How would you use this in writing classes?


The genre of craft books and "How To Write" books can be redundant. There are some good ones but they all seem to cover much of the same ground: the writer's process, individual tips and methods, examples from literature (good and bad), quotes from authors and books/stories references. Ironically, these books themselves, are the kinds of distractions most writers warn against.

Ron Carlson Writes a Story (by Ron Carlson!) is a short book offering practical advice for creating a story. Carlson essentially gives his notes and insights, as he walks the reader retroactively, through his process when writing the story, "The Governor's Ball."
The main gist of the book is advice for combating a writer's desire to impose his "will" on a story and how to battle the urge to procrastinate. Carlson's advice can be summed up with: "Don't think" and "Don't stop." His narration and comments are enjoyable/helpful. This is a quick read with some helpful tips. (FZ)



September 2010

This year we will continue to mention books of special interest for creative writing teachers. These might be straight forward "How to" books; they may be books that provide great models of description, or dialogue, plotting; they may be just plain old good books to inspire our young writers to keep going; or, they might be book to inspire us teachers keep writing and teaching. We will include longer reviews like Mark Larson's review of the Howard Bahr's The Black Flower. We will have a number of shorter ones. Naturally, we would like you to share with other creative writing teachers the books you find the most useful and inspiring.

Here are a few books that I especially recommend for creative writing teachers:

Love and Obstacles, Aleksandar Hemon (Easy to read and reread because so much is going on. Wonderful characters. Simple, clear writing. Though fiction, these stories follow the life of Hemon as he moves from Bosnia to Chicago and settling in.)(RSB)

When Things Get Dark, Matthew Davis (True story about an American living in Mongolia. You learn a lot about a different culture and even more about the author. Great description.) (RSB)

Matterhorn, Karl Malentes (Battling for a hill in the Vietnam War. Many narrators. Parts are truly horrifying. A wrenching ending.)(RSB)

Every Writer Has a Thousand Faces, author David Biespiel has written many books and is the founder of the Attic, an independent writing studio in Portland, Oregon's historic Hawthorne district. You can read an interview with him here. (RSB)

The Death and Life of the Great American School System, by Diane Ravitch. This is a book that all teachers, not just creative writing teachers, should read. It is also an example of clear, logical, well-supported arguments. For a longer review, click here. (RSB)



June, 2010

Here are two books that creative writing teachers should like. Along with providing you with models of strong writing, they just might stimulate you to write something of your own.

Goodbye Stalin, by Sigrid von Bremen Thomas, is a memoir of a survivor of both the Nazis and the communists. The story starts in Estonia, where Thomas lived as a child in the early part of the 20th century. It moves to  Siberia where her father was sent after World War I. It moves to Poland in the 30's where her family and other Baltic Germans were supposed to Germanize eastern Europe. In 1944, to escape the Russians, she and her family move to Germany and ended up behind the Iron Curtain. Eventually she moved to the West and finally to America. All the way through, Thomas attends to the particulars which are so essential to a good memoir.

We Should Never Meet is a book of connected short stories by Aimee Phan. The subjects are survivors of the Vietnam War. Some stories take place in Vietnam others in the United States. The writing is spare, tight and powerful. It's hard to find a better example of "less is more."

Who's Writing This, edited by Daniel Halpern. Halpern asked numerous well-known writers to reflect briefly on the “fictional persona,” the “behind the scenes alter ego” that accompanies creation. Who is really controlling the pen? The result is: Who’s Writing This? Fifty-five Writers on Humor, Courage, Self-loathing, and the Creative Process. (FZ)



April 2010

If you're looking some strong historical fiction, you might want to try DISSOLUTION, DARK FIRE, and REVELATION by J.Sanson.
These mysteries, which take place in the time of Henry VII, have ingenious plots and extraordinary descriptions.  I have never read anything, which gives me such a strong feeling of the past. These books might give you some ideas for your classes or for your own writing. (RSB)



March 2010

For the Love of the Game by Billy Lombardo. Read the review in New City. (FZ)



Francine Prose is a veteran writing teacher who approaches the craft of writing through the art of careful reading. Her book, Reading Like a Writer, emphasizes the importance of reading slowly and deliberately. Using a wide range of literary examples Prose (ironic last name) explores the specifics of writing - chapters are simply titled and address basic writing points: words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialog and details. Her wonderful, wide range of literary examples, exemplify her points within each. She believes to understand why and how classic writer's works endure and achieve timeless significance; one needs to return to literature with a fresh, concentrated outlook. Prose's observations and examples make this book very readable and not so much a "How To" book, as an interesting guide to reading and writing. By the time you finish her book, you will find yourself inspired to reread, or read for the first time, many of the works she cites as examples.



February 2010

Check out the writing's of Louise Rosenblatt. This article highlights her views on responding to literature.

In her book, Talking about Detective Fiction, widely acclaimed mystery author P.D. James gives an interesting, educational and historical look at the genre of the "detective story."
While "storytelling is…an ancient art" James feels "the detective story at its highest can also operate on the dangerous edge of things, it is differentiated both from mainstream fiction and from the generality of crime novels by a highly organized structure and recognized conventions." James examines the evolution of this literary model, from its origins, beginning with Charles Dickens (Bleak House) and Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White), ending with present day writers Colin Dexter and Henning Mankell. She covers a multitude of authors and characters, offering many examples of what she admires and what she doesn't. She cites many of her favorite authors and their many styles of trickery. She raises interesting questions. She discusses detective fiction as social history, as well as the stylistic elements of the genre. For crime fiction fans, this book is a lot of fun.



January 2010

Whale Song is a novella by Jay Amberg, written from the point of view of a sperm whale. It follows his life story, discussing climate change from this ocean-dweller's point of view. The writing is soothing, despite the subject matter - man's self-destructive tendencies. It is also a warning of a future with more war/terrorism because the human race seems unable to grasp "that understanding, embedded in each of our cultures because of who we are as beings, supersedes whatever differences exist. Our languages and customs may vary, but our connection to sea and sky, air and water, does not." We need to realize "whatever our differences...…we are bound together in this world."

Amberg reflects on man's "astonishing knack for destruction." He points out that our "technological destruction is…unnatural." The human condition demands "that [we] are part of the fabric of life, not separate from it - and certainly not above it." In many ways modern man has become a careless "Destroyer" and "at what point does the destruction and pollution, the emissions and toxic wastes - the flotsam and jetsam that you insist on flinging overboard - provoke the planet?" We need to remember, "we are all in this together as living creatures, as mammals, as social beings who share a home."

Amberg is optimistic that man will ultimately, "comprehend that the solutions to our current global problems lie not in more and larger Marvels, but in balance, in letting [ourselves] be touched by the world……in taking action that affirms life." Modern man must keep in mind the intrinsic value of human connectedness. We need to recognize, "we are, as a species, in life together." While we have "become the Destroyers" we remain "the world's best and only hope." His hope is that "the very egocentrism that drives so much of [our] lunacy may now compel [us] to rescue our world." At the end of the day, "in the face of the current climatic cataclysm, self-interest and altruism become one. The only way to save [ourselves] is to save us all."

This is a good book for teachers and students. It makes you think and reconsider the environment and man's relationship to it. As the protagonist says at the end: "Now is the time to take action, to take your place as we wheel through our lives and the life of this planet. This is your brief moment. Seize it."
Grab this book and seize the opportunity for an enjoyable, quick, worthwhile read.




 

DECEMBER 2009

In her book Thinking Write, Kelly Stone teaches you how to use the power of the subconscious mind to capitalize on your writing sessions. Proven techniques for accessing this hidden tool are revealed with a mix of anecdotes, exercises, and guided meditations. Writers-both professional and aspiring-will take away:

  • A working understanding of the subconscious mind and its benefits to writers
  • Practical techniques for developing a bridge to the subconscious mind
  • Easy-to-use strategies for using the power of the subconscious mind to assist with writing endeavors and become successful as a writer
  • Proven psychological methods for building self-confidence as a writer
As a bonus, the book includes an instructive CD with guided meditations specifically for writers. The exercises on the CD bolster the material in the book and will have you putting pen to paper in no time!

OCTOBER 2009

Historical fiction is a rich subject. Here are some of the favorites of my teacher/writer friends:

  • Death Comes to the Archbishop, Cather
  • Ragtime, Doctorow
  • Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett,
  • All Quiet on the Western Front, Remarque
  • The Siege of Krishnapur, Farrell
  • I Claudius, Graves
  • Augustus, John Williams
  • Johnny Tremain, Forbes

My favorite is Russell Bank's Cloud Splitter, a fictionalized biography of John Brown.  You should also check out historical whodunits and graphic novels.

AUGUST 2009

Almost all of the authors who write the introductions for the annual Best American Short Stories struggle with how to define the short story as a literary form and as to what makes a good one. Each of these authors read through hundreds of stories and picked his or her top 20. A tough assignment they all concurred. Here are some provocative remarks from the guest editors:

E. Annie Proulx:
“The reader comes to the short story subliminally expecting enlightenment…” “Manner and Right Behavior stories…Perceived Social Value” stories…..Rites of Passage…”

Garrison Keller:
“I get disappointed by stuff in which there's nobody home, just Really Fine Writing about somebody's vague unhappiness and unease.” Good stories have “basic age-old themes.” “Mostly people seem to want to spin everything their way…..so people come to the house of fiction, hoping to hear the truth.” “Reality is what we crave.” “A story that carries its lesson under its arm is immediately distrusted.”

Amy Tan:
“I think the stories we love to read may very well have to do with our emotional obsessions, the circuitry between our brain and our heart, the questions we thought about as children that we still think about, whether they are about the endurance of love, the fears that unite us, the acceptance of irreversible decay, or the ties that bind that turn out to be illusory.” “With fairy tales, you could immerse your imagination like your big toe in a tub of hot water and retract it if it didn't agree with you.” “In stories you could hide or escape.” “I discovered that the short story is a distillation of the personality of a whole world.” “I feel that the short story is more akin to a poem than a novel in how it should be read.” “I know how quickly stories can blue into sameness and fall away from memory. The splendid ones are left standing. But in the end, only the vivid remain.” “What I look for most in a story, what I crave, what I found in these twenty-one, is a distinctive voice that tells a story only that voice can tell.” “I think the best of fiction is by its nature and its virtues. It can enlarge us by helping us notice small details in life.”

E.L. Doctorow:
“What makes the short story a distinct literary form, says O'Connor (who published a study of the genre entitled The Lonely Voice), is “its intense awareness of human loneliness.” “We are left with the not terribly useful truism that the story as a form deals with the human condition.” “…tendency of the short story to isolate the individual.” “The scale of the short story predisposes it to the isolation of the self.”

Barbara Kingsolver:
Doing the work of picking out the short stories would be “a trial by fire, I thought, {it} would disclose to me the heart of the form and all its mysteries.” “..the genre of short fiction, with its economy of language and revealing plot-driven engine.” “{I} tried to divine why it is that I love a short story when I do, and the answer came to me quite clearly: I love it for what it tells e about life. If it tells me something I didn't already know, or that I maybe suspected but never framed quite that way, or that never before socked me divinely in the solar plexus, then the story is worth the read.” “..whether it was sand or gemstones I held in my palm when the words had trickled away.” “Probably the greatest challenge of the form is to get a story launched and landed efficiently with a whole worthwhile journey in between.” “A good short story cannot simply be Lit Lite; it is the successful execution of large truths delivered in tight spaces.”

Sue Miller: “Most of what a writer is likely to admire in others' work is what she herself is unable to do, and this always encompasses a wider range of kinds of writing than what she is able to do.” “…..make me believe again in that place - the place where ideas come from.”

Walter Mosley:
“…if novels are mountains, then stories are far-flung islands that one comes upon in the limitless horizon of the sea. Not big islands like Hawaii, but small, craggy atolls inhabited by eclectic and nomadic life forms that found there way there in spite of tremendous odds.” “A good short story crosses the borders of our nations and our prejudices and our beliefs. A good short story asks a question that can't be answered in simple terms.”

Lorrie Moore:
“There is no thoroughly convincing theory of the short story - it is technically a genre, not a form, but resists the definitions that usually cluster around both.” “Perhaps this limitation accounts for the prevailing sadness of short stories.” “Unlike novels or poems, but more akin to a play, the short story is also an end-orientated form, and in the best ones the endings shine a light back upon the story illuminating its meaning with both surprise and inevitability.” “…a story - with its narrative version of a short man's complex - aims for quick eloquence and authority in voice and theme.”



March, 2009

Noted two-term American Poet Laureate Billy Collins is known for his ability to be user-friendly and "accessible" -- a term apparently he loathes -- he prefers "hospitable." He has gained broad popular appeal and mostly critical acclaim. He is recognized for his witty descriptions and wry comedic observations. Collins' book, Nine Horses, is a nice collection of poems. Most are quiet meditations about everyday life. Collins attempts to find beauty in the simplicity of life. He writes about animals, trains, jazz, insomnia, parades - mostly using plainly stated language but with wry twists.

Rooms

After three days of steady, inconsolable rain,
I walk through the rooms of the house
wondering which would be best to die in.

The study is an obvious choice
with its thick carpet and soothing paint,
its overstuffed chair preferable
to a doll-like tumble down the basement stairs.


Collins has often times been compared with Robert Frost. This book, however, fails to inspire on a Frost-like level. Nine Horses is full of comfortable prose, but isn't as magically transformative as The Road Not Taken. A writing teacher might use Nine Horses or any one of Collins' many books to illustrate that poetry does not have to be stiff and distant.

In Wordplaygrounds, John O'Connor offers concrete, tangible, practical lesson plans as well as great observations on poetry, students, teaching, and life. He intersperses his own casual/non-regimented classroom prompts and ideas with many student writing examples to make his points. His classroom activities range from simple - list making, word associations - to the more complex - metaphors, using historical personas - and even venturing into Performance Poetry. Above all his emphasis is on making poetry fun and accessible for everyone - he really wants to show that you shouldn't FEAR or be intimidated by poetry. Even a novice could 'teach' a poetry class using this book as a guide - and that's saying a lot.

In the chapter Avenues to the Past, O'Connor focuses on using memories as a source for artistic material. He points out, "What and how we choose to remember say a great deal about who we are." His suggestions range from using sensory descriptions and photographs to unlock memories to juxtaposing 'unrelated' memories.

Stories of the Poets, by Suzi Mee profiles poets. Her essays summarize the "story" of a particular poet and his/her work. ISBN 0-590-35584-8




February, 2009

In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard shares short, semi-rambling essays about her own writing and life experiences. While she writes eloquently, parts are rather sparse and oblique. This is not a "How To" manual on the forms and conventions of fiction writing. Dillard is practical, advising that, "appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark." This is about as nuts and bolts as she gets. Dillard does impart her own wisdom throughout, encouraging writers to, "spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place."

Much of The Writing Life has to do with the frustrations writers can feel: "It should surprise no one that the life of a writer – such as it is – is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation." Some of Dillard’s insights are wise: "There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by." Others amusing. When trying to explain her profession to a "member of the real world" she notes, "as I spoke he nodded precisely in the way that one nods at the utterances of the deranged."

Ultimately, The Writing Life illuminates the dedication, absurdity and risk-taking that encompass a writer’s life in a friendly manner.




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