Big Book Initiative

“Big Book Initiative”

I have begun what I am calling my “Big Book Initiative” designed to encourage my students to tackle works of literature (fiction & non-fiction) which are a minimum of 500 pages in length. The purpose of this initiative is to help young people develop the confidence necessary to take on any subject they feel in their gut they should be tackling.

When I was in grade school I knew I wanted to read Count Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” I couldn’t say why exactly, but the book beckoned from my parents’ shelves. For years this desire remained in the back of my mind and finally, as an adult, I took the plunge and completed it. I believe that the benefit of having done so is that nearly any book I pick up now seems, by comparison, a relatively simple affair.

I believe that when students challenge themselves and then meet those challenges, they become empowered in all avenues of their lives. I am not saying that reading a 500 or 1,000 page book is going to give you the confidence to become a deep sea diver or climb a 20,000 foot mountain, but what it can do is show you that you have a discipline, drive and reserve of dedication and energy which will serve you well in life. It can also show you that you are “smarter” and more intellectually capable than you ever imagined.

But there is more. We live in a time in which distractions are manifold. Often what purports to be informative, engaging and even “good for the mind” is paltry and a waste of time. It is easy to become caught up in gossip rather than ideas and to become distracted by the play of events without learning how to gauge their causes. Learning to read demanding, mature and intellectually challenging literature does in fact help us to develop not only a deeper understanding of the human condition; it also enables us to develop our analytical minds as well as our perceptive capacities which we can then turn towards society, community or any other endeavour of our choice.

I am proud to report that a student of mine recently read the entirety of War and Peace with me. This was an exciting project for both of us which produced some highly engaging discussions. I should also add that she is just 14 years old, proving, I think, that age -nearly any age- need not be an encumbrance to undertaking ambitious work. In this spirit, another student of mine who is 13 is now mulling over such reading options as Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”, Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy,” Marguerite Young’s “Miss Macintosh, My Darling” and George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” to mention but 4 possibilities.

Anyone who is interested in undertaking a “Big Book Initiative” with me is welcome; I would be delighted to have you. I also am happy and available to recommend books geared toward your specific field of interest.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

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New Course Offered

I am very pleased to announce that I have drawn up a new literature and cultural history course that I am now offering to students. The class is based on Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris and is aimed at giving students (of any age) a greater familiarity with the literature, painting, sculpture music and film of the 1920s expatriate community in France.

Here is an abbreviated version of the outline:

Midnight in Paris
(Painting, Photography, Poetry, Literature and Film in the 1920s)

Outline:
This is a class devoted to learning about and appreciating an unusually rich and controversial era in Western cultural history. Over the course of 8 weeks we will read and view and listen to a wide range of artists from France, Spain and the United States who left an indelible influence in the fields of painting, photography, poetry, literature and film in ways that are still felt to this day.
It is my hope that by the end of the course we will all be able to sit down and watch the film “Midnight in Paris” and easily identify each of the numerous artistic luminaries portrayed in the film. I also hope that the humor and cultural references used to depict these characters in the film will make sense to everyone now having become intimately familiar with their work. I recommend watching the film before class starts and then watching it again at the end. I think you will be pleased at just how much you will have learned!

Assignments:
The materials we will be reading, viewing and listening to is challenging and therefore the only assignment is to do the assigned reading each week. There will be no final paper however if students are interested in doing individual projects I will gladly accept creative projects that are inspired by a particular luminary or artistic movement.

Discussion:
Our class will be discussion based but will be slightly different this time because the works we will be using will involve different media: audio-visual as well as print. I will be responsible for running discussions each week but I come prepared to ask a lot of questions. Again I expect that everyone come fully prepared and very familiar with the assigned reading, listening and viewing. What I am looking for -as always- is a scintillating discussion. I suspect that if we delve into the works assigned that will not be difficult to achieve.

The books, plays, poems and short stories:
Ernest Hemmingway, The Sun Also Rises
Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
Malcolm Cowley, Exile’s Return
Jean Cocteau, Orpheus
F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Scandal Detectives”
Archibald MacLeish, The Pot of Earth
Note: Music, painting, film clips and photography will be sent to each of you.

Reading & Viewing Schedule:
Week 1: The music of Sidney Bechet and Orpheus by Jean Cocteau

Week 2: The music of Cole Porter and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway

Week 3: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein; selected paintings of Pablo
Picasso

Week 4: The paintings and sculpture of Joan Miró and Amedeo Modigliani; “The Scandal
Detectives” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Week 5: Selected poems from The Pot of Earth by Archibald MacLeish; selected paintings of
Salvador Dali

Week 6: “Paris Pilgrimages” in Exiles Return by Malcolm Cowley; “The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock” and “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot; the photographs of Man Ray

Week 7: Selected clips from the films of Luis Buñuel; the paintings of Henri Matisse

Week 8: Into La Belle Époque: Paintings and drawings of Toulouse Lautrec, Paul Gaugin
and Edgar Degas; music from Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Under World.

A note on the availability of our sources:

Here is a link to the Western Library search engine: http://alpha.lib.uwo.ca/ and another link to the London Library system: http://www.londonpubliclibrary.ca/

Works by Hemmingway and Stein are available in the London Library system and through Western Libraries. There is one copy of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in the London Library system and Western has four copies. London Library has nine copies of The Sun Also Rises. Western has six copies of Malcolm Cowley’s Exiles Return. There is only one copy of Orpheus available in English at Western. I will procure the copy and then share it with everyone (the challenge will be that each student will need to read it quickly). If you are interested in purchasing Cocteau’s play it can be found at Alibris and Abe Books for a low price (Amazon is much more expensive).

I will provide each student with a pdf copy of Fitzgerald’s “The Scandal Detectives” and I will also send out copies of the poems we will be using. If anyone is interested, Weldon Library at Western has a copy of The Wasteland and the Western archives own a copy of Prufrock and Other Observations for special viewing (but no loans). I recommend both books very highly.

Where painting and photography as well as music and film clips are concerned I will be sending each of you emails with links to the selections I will be using in class. I will also look for books that people can check out for themselves which contain collections of these materials whenever possible. Please feel free at any time to go looking for artistic collections that you feel would be of use to you. The more exposure each student gets to the materials the better!

Literature Seminar

I am currently teaching a 7 week long literature seminar. The course focuses on Canadian and American literature from the 20th century. I have included here an outline of the course for those who are interested.

I have a background in modern literature and am available to teach courses in American, Canadian and British literature. I have also been expanding my knowledge of post-colonial literatures from Africa, South Asia and South America.

Canadian-American Literature Course

Introduction:

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to a small collection of books and one play that are considered modern literary classics. As the instructor, I have read each of these books and I have also taught several of them in a public school setting. I am personally familiar with each work and can vouch for their literary quality.

The books:

I have selected six books and one play. Three novels are Canadian, two novels are American, 1 is British and there is one play written by an American playwright. I am looking to give each student a sampling of great literature. Also, a number of the books on this list are frequently taught to high school students in both Canada and the United States.
The books I have chosen are:
1.) As For Me And My House by Sinclair Ross
2.) Son of a Smaller Hero by Mordecai Richler
3.) Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock
4.) As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
5.) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
6.) The Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
7.) Lord of the Flies by William Golding

All of these books are available for free through the London Public Library System or the Western University Libraries.

Goals:

I would like each student to come away from this course with a feeling that they have received a strong (and enjoyable) introduction to great works of 20th century literature written in the English language.
The books I have selected are challenging and I expect that each student will approach the reading of these works with a sense of commitment and a desire to engage the manifold meanings and ideas each work introduces.
When the course is completed each student will have read literature they likely would have encountered in any public or private high school. These books are also important because they will help students broaden their cultural literacy.

Expectations:

Since this is a seminar course it will be structured around weekly hour-long discussions of the assigned reading. Every student (and the instructor) will come to class prepared to discuss the material and participate in a disciplined, courteous and friendly discussion of a set of questions prepared either by the instructor or one of the students.
Each week a different student will be assigned a book that will be under their “supervision.” They will be expected to prepare a set of questions that will structure our discussion for that week. I expect each student to have their questions prepared the night before we meet so they can email each one of us a copy one day in advance of class meeting time. I also expect that each one of us (the instructor included) will come to class having read over the prepared questions. It is my intention that we arrive having already thought about the questions we are expected to be able to answer.

Discussion:

I will moderate the discussions each week using the questions that have been prepared. I plan on participating in this activity myself and will provide each student with a set of questions for our first week of class. Students should come to our first session having read the assigned book for week 1: As For Me And My House by Sinclair Ross.
It is very important that each student come prepared; the success of this course depends on their efforts. I also expect each student to be courteous, respectful, and not to interrupt while another person is talking. In other words, basic rules of etiquette apply.
I believe very strongly in encouraging questions and discussion. There is no such thing as a foolish question. However, I expect that students will do their work and that their participation will reflect their efforts at preparedness.

Discussion Questions:

Each week a select student (or the instructor) will provide a minimum of 10 questions for discussion. Of course, we cannot guarantee that all 10 questions will be taken up (or answered) during class time. The purpose of the 10 question requirement is to ensure that students come prepared to keep a discussion going for the full hour.
It is important to keep in mind that good questions are based around discussions of theme, plot, character development, use of language, narrative style and other forms of literary mechanics that students may pick up on while reading. We want to avoid yes/no questions or simple inquiries that can easily be answered and do not invite discussion. In other words, questions should be broad, challenging, and seek to engage the text at a deeper level of understanding. This is a very good skill to learn because teachers and professors will expect this more and more as students move through high school and enter college or university.
Paper Assignment:
There will be one paper assignment due on the final day of class. The assignment is as follows: Students will pick one book and write a 5 page paper discussing one of two possible topics:
1.) What is the role of the main character in the telling of the story? Discuss how the main character either makes things happen or has things happen to him/her. Explain how the author’s use of the main character impacts the development of the plot.
2.) Is there a message to this work? Does it have a moral? Is it an allegory? If so, explain what you think the message is citing (and discussing) examples from the book.
There is also a third and more challenging option:
3.) Pick three books that we read and write a paper explaining how you think these works are related. Do they share a common theme? Are the works in some way a form of social or even political commentary? Do the authors appear to share a common perspective on modern problems? Support your argument using examples from all three books.

Seminar and Small Session Classes

I am available to teach seminar and small session classes to students.

Currently I am completing a Modern European History course which I have taught seminar-style to 12 and 13 year old students. I am now preparing a modern Canadian and American literature course which will run from May-July 2014. The course includes books by Sinclair Ross, Mordecai Richler, Stephen Leacock, William Golding, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Arthur Miller.