Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Huckleberry Finn”

From SparkNotes to Sparky Sweet, PhD

Read the Sparknotes

Read the Sparknotes (Photo credit: kevin dooley)

There are two basic reasons for reading classics:
1. Pressure
2. Enjoyment

Reason One:

Pressure comes from teachers assigning novels that no one wants to read, but students must read in order to complete the course. Mark Twain hit that one spot on:

Classic–a book which people praise and don’t read- Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New

I am THAT teacher who literally pressures students into reading. Granted, I get my own pressure from the curriculum powers that be. Certain novels must be taught, which means I must find ways to entice students to read them. Over the years I have gathered up sources I point out to students so that they may better understand the stories, poems, and novels I toss out to them. Some teachers promote the erroneous idea that to utilize a resource like Sparknotes is cheating. Huh? That’s like me handing out To Kill a Mockingbird to my ninth graders, instructing them to sit down in a closet, and I shut the door. They might as well read in the dark if they don’t understand what they are reading. I know some students who never read assigned books and only Sparknote them (an AP student admitted this to his teacher, tsk 2 honesty 1). My thoughts on this are: a)it’s not like Sparknotes are contraband or are damaging to young minds b)at least he is familiar with the novel now. Some reading, even if it’s through summary, is better than no reading.

The other kind of pressure comes after we have left school and feel the need to fill in the holes of our education by reading all those classics we weren’t assigned or assigned and didn’t read. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Crime and Punishment, Robinson Crusoe, the list goes on. Just because we are in college or are college graduated, older, smarter, more aware, yada yada, that doesn’t mean we understand Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, any better. We can also get by with a little help from our friends, those marvelous lit aide sites:–the go-to site for understanding a novel. It covers content, facts, chapter summary, characters, theme, major quotes, all the biggies. There are even quizzes to test comprehension plus videos (major spoilers though).–never mind the name, it delivers the same sort of information in a somewhat different style.–if you are as old as me then you remember those wonderful little yellow and black booklets (anyone else think they resembled bees?–and if a teacher caught you with them you got stung?) that helped shed light on Hamlet, Huckleberry Finn, etc. They are now adding videos to their venue. Mmm, I’d say the videos are at about middle school level in approach, although most of my ninth graders liked the silly humor.–I used to rely on this site for my insights when preparing a unit, but then I discovered…–a most excellent and diverse site for pulling in understanding for both contemporary (mainly prevalent bestsellers) and classics. Prepared by smartypants PhD students (so they say) there is a break down of overview, analysis, theme, essay questions, characters, and a roundup of the best of the net. Videos are often a part of the lineup which are designed to evoke discussion (great for Socratic seminars) and are crafted with cunning.–another site when needing deeper analysis needs. While basic, it nevertheless provides great insights.–new to the scene, it’s difficult to know what to do with this venue. Sparky Sweets, PhD, is an erudite street talking armchair lit critic. The paradox of foul-mouthed summary offset with finely constructed analysis makes this video series a conundrum. I know the students would appreciate how he brings literature to an understandable level, yet there is need for more beeps or I would be answering to the admin. For a bit of entertainment and enlightenment I present as a choice with caution to those who prefer to not have their classics fouled.

There are more sites out there, and I would appreciate hearing your faves.

Reason Two

If you read the classics for pleasure then you will still appreciate the above-mentioned sites as they add to the reading experience.

Read the classics, no matter if you have to or want to, for they are the foundation of all we read today!

"To be successful at reading comprehensio...

“To be successful at reading comprehension, students need to …” (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)


#7: Saw the Movie, and then I Read the Book (or intend to someday)

Though a professed Book Booster, I  freely admit I haven’t gotten around to reading all that I desire, or for that matter, should.  With time and interest constraints I tend to be selective in my reading, which can be received as either justification or a lame excuse.  I view my dosing of classics like one who would rather take a vitamin rather than endure the indignities of measured broccoli consumption.  Often I will watch a movie and decide, “Well now, I get the gist of the plot, let’s test drive the book.”  Or words to that effect.  Here are some movies which have prompted me to finally read the book:

1. Huckleberry Finn: As much as enjoy Mark Twain as a personality I’m not much for reading his books.  A  couple of summers ago I attended a week-long conference on Mark Twain, complete with experts and workshops, and still did not become a fan.  I will go on professing his genius and his contributions to literature, although I am a reluctant reader.  When I watched the movie I became drawn into the complexities of how a young man, namely Huckleberry, came to shed the baggage of his culture, slavery, being the biggest bag. Twain is an unmerited expert in taking on such a huge issue and presenting it so that it palatable.  Then again, Twain’s presentation creates a lump hard to swallow for many people, which is why Huckleberry Finn continues to be a challenged list somewhere at any given point.

Cover of "Les Miserables"

Cover of Les Miserables

2.  Les Miserables: Someone told me how they suffered the reading of this classic in their French class, and it made me leery.  He said it was not the  struggling through the actual reading of it–it was the sad, sad nature of the book.  I think absolutely depressing, was the term used.  Not exactly the best encourager to check it out for myself.  I watched the Liam Neeson version and went on emotional alert.  The acting, the story, the cinematography–all riveting. I wept, I commiserated, I rankled at the injustice, I shivered with anticipation, I was exhausted when the final credit rolled by. Shamefully,  I still haven’t read the book.  I am concerned I would compare it too much to the movie.  Yes, the movie was that amazing.

3. Little Dorrit, Bleak House, Great Expectations, Oliver–okay, okay, pretty much all of Dickens.  I’ve professed in a previous post my grievance of Dickens’ penchant for overwriting; nevertheless, it is no excuse for me not to read his books.  Again, I respect his tremendous literary influence, especially in terms of how his writings brought about social reform (child labor laws, especially). There is so much profundity in his writing I cannot properly chew and digest. Literary indigestion, I’m afraid.  Hence, I pop that cinematic vitamin pill and feel vindicated that at least I’m experiencing Dickens.  This is why I adore the British Broadcasting Company. All of the Dickens adaptations watched have been BBC productions viewed via the Masterpiece Theater on-line option.  My latest viewing involved the newest version of Great Expectations with Gillian Anderson as the imposing Miss Haversham.  Wow and my goodness, she was incredible.  Having invested heavily into the Thursday Next adventures by Jasper Fforde, I thought it essential to understand who and what Miss Haversham was all about.  Gillian Anderson provided the answers.

4. The African Queen: Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.  How could I resist such a combination? After watching their captivating performance I sought out the book.  For once I will state  the movie proved better than the book.  Especially the ending.  No spoiler. Nuff said on this one.

Cover of "The African Queen (Commemorativ...

Cover via Amazon

5.  True Grit: My dad and I watched plenty of John Waynemovies together and I couldn’t believe someone would be bold enough to remake the one movie, his signature movie.  Staying true to the Duke I snubbed the Coen’s remake and simmered.  After hearing all the good reviews, and prompted by family members I relented finally and checked out the DVD.  This was no remake, but a recreation.  The Coen’s found an actress, Hailee Steinfield, who delivered a stunning performance.  She reminded me of Mary Badham’s performance in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I promptly checked Charlie Portis’s novel and found the Coen had paid fine tribute to a beautifully written story of forgiveness and redemption.  I plan on making this a required reading for my sophomores. Unfortunately, the publisher has no plans of reissuing it in a more affordable format as can be found for TKAM.  I plan on adding this movie and the book to my favorites list and will be revisiting them from time to time.

I might revisit my #7 at a later time.  Five seemed a good number for now.  Now, I pose a question for you:

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