Monday, July 14, 2008

Favorite Novels to Assign for Creative Writing Class

Okay, world, I have another favor to ask:
This next year, for my Creative Writing Class, I'm going to assign some independent novel projects to students. I need some titles that I can put on my list. Here's what I'm looking for:

1. First and foremost, the book must be an example of truly exceptional writing; not just a great story and an important book in its historical context, but something so well written that students can learn from the style and quality of the prose.

2. The novel has to be appropriate for high school students (and something that won't freak their parents out). I think Nabakov's Lolita is one of the best examples of English prose ever, but I'm not going to fight that battle with the parents or the school board. Also, I really enjoy Umberto Eco, but I'm not going to assign him to a sixteen-year-old. So don't try to show off by recommending Joyce' Ulysses.

3. The novel can't be a part of any other class' curriculum. Give me lots of suggestions so I can eliminate some and still have plenty to work with.

4. Ideally, it's something I've read. Of course, I can always pick it up if it sounds like a winner.

So far, I'm thinking about
For Whom the Bell Tolls
A Prayer for Owen Meany
Catch-22
Lord of the Flies
and maybe, maybe The God of Small Things (think kids could handle that one? Think their parents would agree?)
It's been a long time since I've read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I remember being deeply affected by the book, but without a copy handy I can't remember the quality of the prose. Anybody have a take on that one?

Any suggestions would be welcome. Thanks, world.

8 comments:

Jamie said...

Your post sent me straight back to AP English my senior year. Our entire focus was style and quality of prose. It was the best class I took in high school. I still remember most of our syllabus. Here is some of what we read:
- Sections of the King James Bible (mainly Old Testament)
- Things Fall Apart (just re-read this last year and I wasn't as struck by the prose this time around)
- All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (another Angelou classic about her time in Africa)
- Out of Africa (HIGHLY recommended - I loved it - I remember it being so rich and full and vivid - never saw the movie but I hate meryl streep so no loss for me)
- Heart of Darkness and other Joseph Conrad short stories (these were my other favorites)
- A Farewell to Arms
- Mosquito Coast
- Ferenheit 451 (maybe I read these last 2 junior year; can't remember)

Looking at this list my prof must have had a thing for Africa...

I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in high school and remember being totally horrified that she was raped as a girl and thinking "I'm too young to read this". But I think that was early high school. I don't think I would have been as freaked out about it by my senior year.
Hope this helps; especially considering that it's coming from an engineer! : )

@bdul muHib said...

I don't know this Ulysses, but I found Finnegan's Wake enjoyable reading.

:-)

I'd recommend two foreign novels. Pedro Paramo, a magical realism by a giant of Latin literature, and the more recent The City of Dreaming Books, originally in German. The latter is about talking dinosaurs and seems silly but is really exceptionally written, and at the top of a number of bestseller lists. It's all about writing and reading and books, and what is truly good writing, and truly good life, but in a fantasy mileu.

Benjamin Gorman said...

Thanks to both of you for the thoughtful suggestions. Unfortunately, Jamie, Things Fall Apart is in somebody else's goody-bag, so I can;t use that, because, you're right, it's a great book, and marvelously written. Abdul Muhib, thanks for reminding me of books not originally in English. I'll have to check out The City of Dreaming Books, but it reminds me of Calos Ruiz Zaphon's Shadow of the Wind, a wonderful book about a hunt for a lost book, essentially a victorian gothic novel set in Franco's fascist Spain. I highly recommend it and will add it to my list. You've both given me some titles to read, and I hope to get to some of them soon. Thanks for the input! My students will be grateful as well.

Anonymous said...

No book suggestions, but don't you thinking signing off the post "Thanks, world" is a bit presumptuous about the level of readership you're achieving? ;) Hope all is well in Oregon! Say hi to Paige! - Bill

Benjamin Gorman said...

True, Bill. I wanted to sound inclusive, and addressing the post to "both of you" might have made someone wonder, "Am I one of the two readers? That's kind of creepy. I'm navigating away from here before this guy starts stalking me." And then, as I sat in that person's bushes and watched their online activity, I would begin quietly crying. So I thought an open letter to the world would be safer for my ego. See? It's not presumptiousness. It's an act of psycological self defense.

Benjamin Gorman said...

by the way, Bill, stop surfing the net in your skivvies.

Anonymous said...

I knew I forgot to turn off that web-cam. Were the skivvies at least the Batman ones? - Bill

@bdul muHib said...

See- it does too work! I just read some of Finnegan's Wake to some of my students. ;-)