Teacher to Teacher
...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.
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.
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.
Books For You
Word Playgrounds, by John O'Connor ("Reading, Writing and Performing Poetry in the Classroom")
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
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.
Reading Like a Writer
Here are some favorite books by famous authors. For more lists go to: Top Ten Books.
Top Ten list for Sandra Cisneros:
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)
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.
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."
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)
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)
If you're looking some strong historical fiction, you might want to try DISSOLUTION, DARK FIRE, and REVELATION by J.Sanson.
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.
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.
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."
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:
Historical fiction is a rich subject. Here are some of the favorites of my teacher/writer friends:
My favorite is Russell Bank's Cloud Splitter, a fictionalized biography of John Brown. You should also check out historical whodunits and graphic novels.
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:
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.”
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.
After three days of steady, inconsolable rain,
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
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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