As noted earlier in the week, I recently found out that next year, I’ll be taking over the Advanced Placement literature class at the high school where I teach. I am thrilled about this for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is actually getting to put together a course reading list without worrying about the reading levels of my students. That is, within reasonable limits, I can teach whatever I want.
And what better topic for a blog post here? So, without further ado, here are the books I’ll be teaching next year (probably. There’s still a little wiggle room) along with a bit of commentary:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare: So much high school curriculum is focused on Shakespeare, but many students never read anything beyond tragedies. I really like this play, I think it’s accessible, and I think students can stand to see a bit of his lighter side.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I found a nearly complete class set in the book room and was tickled. I don’t think anyone has taught this at my school for years. Again, I think it’s good to throw in some stuff that isn’t all doom and gloom. Besides, you can’t do better than Austen for early 19th century.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy: I think this book is just fascinating. It would be considered at least fairly progressive if it came out today, but it was published in 1891. Hardy is dense, and I know some of my students are going to struggle to get through this, but it’s such a compelling story and tries so hard to represent the woman’s perspective that I have to teach it.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton: I love Edith Wharton and can’t imagine teaching an AP class without her. This short, but ponderously grim volume is not my favorite (though I do like it), but we had it in the book room at school, so there you go.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: Again, I don’t know how you teach AP without Hemingway. This is second only to A Farewell to Arms among his works if you ask me. Hemingway feels amazingly modern when you compare his work to Ethan Frome, published just 15 years earlier. It’s also nicely short and a very quick read. I definitely look forward to talking about impotence with my students (no, I don’t).
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller: High school students are so driven by money. It’s good to show them the dark side of that equation.
Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee: I was pretty thrilled when I saw how often this fairly recent (1995) book has appeared on the test. Lee is one of my favorite contemporary authors. He writes stunning prose and this is a great novel about cultural assimilation and dealing with loss. I think my students will love it.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood: Atwood has had no fewer than six books appear on the AP test. That’s amazing for a living author. Given that, and my unabashed love of her writing, I had to teach an Atwood. There was a dust-up at my school about The Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago, so I chose this book, which I love just as much. I’m sure the students will be shocked by some of it, but that’s what you get in a college level class.