The Life of Bon: AP Lit reading list- what books should I teach next year?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

AP Lit reading list- what books should I teach next year?

 This time of year my brain is filled mostly with school's almost out, lesson plans, school's almost out, grading papers, school's almost out, do we have any food in the house, school's almost out, and did someone take out the garbage?  Trust me, it's very fun to be inside my brain in May.  A very small percentage of my brain (the responsible and sometimes very annoying part of my brain) starts worrying about what I'm going to be teaching next year.  I like to make sure I read over the summer any new books I'll be teaching come fall.  I let my brain do this relaxed, summer thing where it has the book in the back of everything and slowly starts to come up with fun activities and lesson plans to go along with it.  My brain is kind of stubborn.  It doesn't like to be rushed.  If I try to read a book and think of fun lesson plans in September by brain will absolutely refuse, screaming "I can't work under this kind of pressure!"

I have my junior curriculum pretty much down at this point.  Next year will be my sixth (SIXTH!) year teaching juniors.  With all the district, state, and national testing that juniors are required to do (SAGE, ACT, SRI, CFA.  The testing madness never ends when you're 17) I barely have the time to fit my favorite books in there, so I don't plan on having time to adding anything new for next year.  (Junior books I read: Excerpts of Scarlet Letter, The Crucible, Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, The Things They Carried, and Tuesdays with Morrie.  If I change anything next year it will be not teaching The Crucible.  I enjoy teaching it less and less each year.)

With my junior classes pretty set and stone, my brain is focusing on the AP Literature curriculum.  Teaching AP Lit is a dream come true for someone like me because I get to just let the kids read book after book after book.  In my normal class I worry that we spend too much time on books and not rhetoric, vocabulary, argumentative writing, etc, etc, etc.  Basically there is so much you have to cover in a regular class but AP Lit is like this little gift from God saying, "You want to teach books and poetry?  TEACH NOTHING BUT BOOKS AND POETRY.  WRITE ABOUT NOTHING BUT BOOKS AND POETRY."  And to top it off, I get to pick the books I teach!  As long as they are of significant "literary merit" I can teach whatever my little heart desires.  It is seriously my wildest dream.

So, here's what's on the docket for next year.  In AP Lit I try to cover two books a quarter- eight in all.  Choosing books to teach is very different than choosing books to read.  The books have to be interesting to seventeen year olds, move at a decent pace, have lots of topics for discussion and writing, be of "literary merit", and due to time constraints, be relatively short.  (I usually don't teach a book if it's over 300 pages.)  With all of that to consider, here are the books I am for sure teaching in AP Literature next year and why:

Lots of symbolism- the conch, the fire, the glasses, the "Lord of the Flies"
Very interesting study of human nature, social systems, how people work (or don't work) together.
Due to ^^^ there is LOTS to write about in a potential AP prompt
Students dig it- 12 year old British boys killing each other on a deserted island?  What's not to love?
Short book
(Cons to teaching this book- starts a little slow, lots of description can weigh students down.)

Very easy to read, feels like you're talking to a friend
A great study of "coming of age" and the complexity of people- what you see on the surface isn't always the real deal.
Holden Caulfield is my literary boyfriend
Funny and interesting book to read- Holden's voice is entertaining to most readers.
Allows for great discussion on the use of slang, profanity, the purpose of language, how we use language for our own needs, etc.
Students get to read a classic without feeling like they're reading "a classic."

(Cons- you either love Holden or you hate him.  Some students definitely hate him.  And in conservative Utah, the profanity and over all "bad attitude" closes some students off to the book.)

I feel like in a literature class I absolutely need to teach at least one or two Shakespeare plays
Iago may possibly be the best villain of all time
Race issues, power issues, etc.
Emilia is one of the my favorite minor female characters- strong and brash- the only person who can give Iago a run for his money.
Makes for terrific writing prompts.
It's not as often taught as Hamlet or Macbeth which can make it a little more interesting to graders if students choose to write about it for an AP prompt.

(Cons-  It's Shakespeare, which means it's more difficult.  Anytime we do Shakespeare in class we read the whole thing in class and that eats up a lot of time.)

All the same Shakespeare reasons as listed above.
Hamlet is a fascinating character to study- is he really mad? Does he love Opehlia?  Why the hesitancy to get his revenge? MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MIND!
Like most of Shakespeare's plays, the true strength is in the characters- so many people with so many issues to write about... Gertrude, Polonius, Opehlia, Laertes, etc.
To be or not to be speech... I feel like I am robbing students if they take a literature class with me and don't study maybe the famous literary speech of all time.

(Cons- It is the longest Shakespeare tragedy and it certainly feels that way.  I get really tired of Hamlet sitting around and whining about what he should do.  When you have to read the whole thing in class, it can really drag.)

One of the few books we read that is about a woman!
One of the few books we read that is written by a woman or a person of color!
The dialect is hard for students to get, which provides an extra challenge, and I like that.  They really have to focus to read it. Kids are really proud of themselves after having read and conquered this bad boy.
Great topics for discussion- The institution of marriage, the treatment of women during this time, the treatment of black women during this time, etc.
Short chapters- students always are in to that.

Cons- Some students want to give up on the dialect right away.  If they can stick with it, most students really enjoy this book but it's hard talking them through those first few chapters.

Books I taught my first year of teaching AP Lit that I won't teach again:

JANE EYRE BY CHARLOTTE BRONTE- too long, not interesting enough to students, Jane is kind of a boring protagonist, not enough to write about for possible AP prompts.  It makes me sad because this was one of my favorite books in high school, but when I tried to teach it it just didn't have the same magic.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN BY ARTHUR MILLER- This one I'm on the fence about.  I don't particularly enjoy teaching it, but it could be I just didn't do the right activities with it.  It is one that has the potential to be very interesting, as well as lots of possible discussion and writing topics.  But then again, maybe it's just a weird play?

Books I am considering teaching next year:

THE AWAKENING BY KATE CHOPIN- it's pretty much on every suggested AP reading list.  I read it in college but literally don't remember a single thing about it, which is a bad sign for me.

IN COLD BLOOD BY TRUMAN CAPOTE- One of my favorite books, fascinating for students, and is nonfiction which is a bonus as all of our other reading is fiction so far.  I worry that it might not have enough "literary merit" to justify teaching.  Will it yield enough discussion/ possible writing topics?

HARD TIMES BY CHARLES DICKENS- I feel like I should read some Charles Dickens with students, but most of his books are so long!  Hard Times is one of the shorter ones.  I read it in my AP class in high school and enjoyed it- I also know it's on all the AP suggested reading lists.  I just don't know if I like Dickens enough to teach him.  Also I get tired of teaching all the books that are written by white British dudes.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE BY JANE AUSTEN- I have no love for Jane Austen, but I wonder if it's because I read this in high school and the satire and wit was lost on me.  I've heard Austen is very witty and very funny.  It is possible I was always reading her at face value.  I would consider teaching this, but then I also worry that the boys in the class would just hate it.  The other part of me thinks, screw you boys, sometimes you have to read books about women too, you know.

1984 BY GEORGE ORWELL- Again, it's on every single AP reading list.  I liked it in high school, but when I cracked it last summer I only got about 30 pages in before I was bored to tears.  I never make my students read book I myself am not interested in.  Maybe I didn't give it a fair chance?  Big brother and the dystopian society- pretty crucial to literature study.

MACBETH BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE-  Lady Macbeth is one of my favorite female characters ever.  And the witches are so fun.  And there's ghosts!  Who doesn't love ghosts?!  But if I teach this then I will have to take out either Hamlet or Othello because I am certainly not teaching three Shakespeares.  Teaching Macbeth in lieu of Hamlet is tempting because it is significantly shorter, but then am I robbing my students of the Hamlet/ To-be-or-not-to-be experience?  Also I have great lesson plans for Hamlet and zero lesson plans for Macbeth, so it would be more work for me.

FRANKENSTEIN BY MARY SHELLY- I haven't ever taught this, but my student teacher did last year.  The regular classes hated this book because they said it was too boring and descriptive, but I wonder if AP kids would take better to it.  The themes of nature v. nurture are fascinating but I don't know if it makes up for how hard the book can be to get through.

MORE BOOKS BY WOMEN- any great suggestions?

(I would consider teaching Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird and Scarlet Letter in this class, but most students will have just read those the years earlier.)

I am always interested to hear what you all say.  Any books you read in your AP classes that you loved?  A book you think would be great to study in a classroom study?  Books that you absolutely hate and should never be taught in a classroom?  Give me all the suggestions!

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