Welcome friends! I have started this entry in the global technosphere because I have been in love with books since the age of 2. Among the busy business of being a new teacher, this is my outlet for sharing thoughts on a love of reading a wide variety of books. My inspiration can be summed up with a yearbook quote from a teacher written when I was 8: "To the only girl at recess I see reading a book. Good for you!"
My blog title is quoted from a classmate who asked me this once. Believe it or not, I've also heard it as a teacher :D

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Harking Back...Part III: University (Year 1)

“Time it was, and what a time it was
It was a time of innocence
A time of confidences…”
~ Simon & Garfunkel, “Bookends”

To give you an idea of my background, I started my first year at university taking about 1-2 courses from different humanities departments, plus a stint in psychology (don’t know what I was thinking there?!?). I soon realized that my original goal of going into communications & multimedia was not working for me and I soon discovered what I had known all along: I ought to be an English major. This explains why Year 1 only has one course in English lit, but soon it became the most comfortable arena of my 4-year experience.

My memory of Years 1 & 2 are sketchy as I had some growing up to do and became more dedicated to succeeding in my courses. Plus, I got a full-time spring/summer & part-time fall/winter job at the campus library, and volunteered in a Gr. 4 class in my 4th year to apply for teacher’s college, so I learned a great deal about balancing schoolwork with everything else life throws your way. It was the best time of my life so far and I’ll always think of it as the beginning of my bildungsroman.

Longer Genres
My one & only English course of my 1st year was a focus on modern novels & plays.  I would have gotten more out of this course as a 3rd or 4th year student. It’s too bad in a way as I had a wonderful, passionate professor and I was lucky to have her again in a 4th year seminar when I was more dedicated, but the material was (overall) quite challenging at the time for me.  Here's what I remember reading:

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High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
This was a brilliant novel to start a 1st year English course with as it appeals to young adults and makes many references to music & movies in popular culture. Hornby is one of the best contemporary British writers around and has great admiration for musical taste without hesitating to criticize the mundane. I’ve gone on to read About a Boy and enjoyed it equally. He makes excellent contrasts between vapid, self-centred protagonists, their strange & sometimes bitter friends, and the free-spirited, admirable strangers that are gradually accepted despite and because of their flaws, ironically by the most flawed individual in the story.
Rank:  (A)- Highly Recommend

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The Concubine’s Children- Denise Chong
A memoir about the generational gaps between a Chinese-Canadian family prior to, during, and after immigrating, and the divisions between cultures. I could not get into this book, but don’t remember my reasons. Ironically, I wrote an essay on a book with similar themes (see Year 4) in Balzac & the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, which I enjoyed much more.
Rank:  (DNF)- Did Not Finish, Don't Recommend

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Running in the Family- Michael Ondaatje
This became a notorious bane of the course. Nobody seemed to understand this novel. I may try it again down the road but I had a much better experience with In the Skin of a Lion. Have yet to read The English Patient, but the movie version bored me, so I may need a lot of convincing to try it.  The only vivid image I have of Running is a woman holding onto a handrail bannister during a hurricane.  It's an unforgettable image.  Enough to get me to try, try again.  Maybe...
Rank:  (C)- Didn't Finish, Just Okay

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A Taste of Honey- Shelagh Delaney
I think this was from this course...Controversial at the time, this play featured the interracial relationship between a teenage white girl and a black man, the pregnancy that results, and her friendship with a gay roommate all in 1950s Britain. Being naïve to issues of censorship in decades past, I could not understand the shock value of this play, because I believed in its reality in the present. Delaney was brilliantly ahead of her time, but the play seemed locked in place and was difficult to slog through.
Rank:  (B)- Recommend

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Who Do You Think You Are?- Alice Munro
A short story from a collection of the same name. Munro is revered as one of the greatest Canadian writers in the country’s literary history, but I’ve never been particularly fond of her. I much prefer Margaret Laurence. I don’t remember much about this story, except an unforgettable image of the female protagonist feeling liberated by going topless onstage during a play performance. I’ve since read & reviewed the short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain, adapted by Sarah Polley for the film Away From Her, which I liked much better but I am not likely to read any more Munro.
Rank:  (C)- Just Okay

…Oh dear, there were more texts read in this course but I can’t remember them! I was not the most studious in my first year, though I did find time to reread 2 John Grisham novels…ouch, sorry Professor.

Update:  Thought of one more.  I feel like I just added another coin to my memorybank :o)  I came across Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett in the college-bound list & remembered this one:

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Endgame- Samuel Beckett
We only read Endgame as far as I remember and it is such an unusual, satirical play that you cannot possibly forget it.  My favourite line is the eerie "It's finished, it's nearly finished," the opening line that echoes suggestions of the ultimate "Endgame," whatever that may be.  The play is minimalist in nature: one act, four characters (two of whom spend the majority of the play hidden inside trash cans), and only one of whom is able-bodied, all trapped in the dank basement-like room with a faint orange glow outside, what many critics interpret as the aftermath of an apocalyptic "endgame."  It's a weirdly wonderful play and I highly recommend giving it a try.  If you don't understand most of it, you're not alone, and that is intended to be, in the tradition of Theatre of the Absurd, the penultimate point.
Rank:  (B)- Recommend

Coming soon...Year 2.

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