Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Summer Reading for Incoming Woodrow Seniors

Class of 2014, your summer reading books for Mr. Black's AP English IV (AP Literature and Composition) are as follows:

Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

...and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Both of these books will instantaneously and immeasurably increase your coolness quotient. Just purchasing these books may cause the sales clerk to inquire as to what you may be doing later that evening. You have been warned.

Incoming IB folks, you will need to pick up:

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

...and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I would highly advise AGAINST watching the movie version of Atwood's classic. Really. While it will not necessarily literally scar you, it may very well drive you to ritually scar yourself, and that would be a pity, really, because you have such nice skin. Wear sunscreen.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Wretched Excess: AP/IB Summer Reading 2013

My personal and professional opinion of assigned summer reading is that it should be a lot like summer romance: short and sweet, and maybe just a little bit torrid. The selected texts were chosen specifically because they meet these criteria, and because I like them.

Please note that students (ie, incoming IB and AP English juniors at Woodrow Wilson) should have both novels read by the start of the fall semester 2013-2014; students should further anticipate that there will be a diagnostic exam based on the material for the purpose of figuring out approximately your skill level and potential needs.

The following books are the "official" summer reading books for both IB and AP Language:

The Great Gatsby is the classic "Lost Generation" novel of post-WWI disillusionment with the American Dream and all its wretched excess. Yes, there is a famous classic movie for this one, but no, I would not bother watching it in spite of its cinematic heritage. This book has gangsters, rum-runners, war-heroes, flappers, golfers, debutantes, Old and New Money... You can only aspire to be as cool as the people in this novel.

Oh, and apparently there's a newer version out, too, in cinemas.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the second novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, and it is not the story you anticipate. I will fully admit that I was skeptical upon opening the book, but I was quickly disabused of any concerns--in fact, I couldn't put it down. A political thriller, this novella is a classic story of post-9/11 disillusionment with the American Dream and all its wretched excess. Part-spy-thriller, part-romance, this story will make you think.

Somehow, I missed this in the theaters, but I hope to change this soon.

And, while you are reading, consider the following questions, any of which would make an excellent essay question for the summer reading test on the first week of class (hint, hint):
  1. Both Fitzgerald and Hamid offer a dim view of the archetypal American Dream by the end of their novels. If Gatsby's 'rags to riches' story reflects the idea that any kid from Middle America, no matter how poor, can aspire to wealth while Changez' version reflects the same story from the immigrant's perspective, then what are these authors ultimately saying about the American Dream? Do these authors view it as dead, or do they offer some hope for it? Discuss the state of the American Dream as presented in The Great Gatsby and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
  2. Over the course of his monologue, Changez delivers more than a few critical appraisals of American life, culture, society, values, and politics. Is it fair to say that these criticisms grow sharper—or cut deeper—as the story progresses? Why or why not? Identify a few such criticisms, explaining why you do or don’t agree with them.
  3. Who is most responsible for Gatsby's death: Tom, Daisy, Myrtle, or Gatsby himself? Using examples from the text, present a case which establishes not only the moral responsibility of the guilty party but exonerates the other characters.

IB: The Wisdom of Philip K. Dick

For your consideration, food for thought, conversation fodder, etc:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

IB Blade Runner Movie Project

Students shall demonstrate the ability to interpret and evaluate complex works of literature by:
  • describing the elements and structure of literature, the artistic intent, and the historical, cultural, and social background of the selected literature;
  • applying specific critical criteria to interpret and analyze the selected literature;
  • describing how particular effects are produced by the artist's use of the elements of literature; and
  • communicating an informed interpretation using the vocabulary of literature.
  • Students must use evidence from the film to support their claims. (No less than 3 pieces of evidence must be supplied.)
  • The essay's length should be no less than 600 words and no longer than 900 words typed.
Possible Essay Ideas:
  1. How is imagery used throughout the film to achieve the themes of the film? Elements you may want to consider are:
    1.  Discussion of the image of the eye. What might it symbolize?
    2. How is rain used in the film, and what is its significance?
    3. How is light used throughout the film? What does this achieve?
  2. Discussion of the environment and architecture.
    1. How and where do most people live?
    2. Advertisements, lights, and everyday things.
    3. Compare where Tyrell lives to where J. F. Sebastian lives.
  3. In Blade Runner, replicants are suppsoed to be neither free nor equal to man; however, when replicants were created, there were given the ability to reason and a conscience. Are replicants human?
    1. What rights should they be given?
    2. Is it just that replicants have killed to save their own lives?
    3. Should replicants be "retired" simply because they want to exist for longer than 4 years?
  4. Who is the hero in this story?
    1. Is Deckard on a hero quest or simply a little person doing his job?
    2. Is Roy Batty a hero?
  5. What are the Biblical images and themes in Blade Runner, and how do they relate to the themes of the film?
    1. Can Tyrell be seen as a man trying to play God? How is he punished? Is this ironic?
    2. Can Roy and Pris be seen as a futuristic Adam and Eve? Compare their fall from life to the story of Genesis and the Fall from Grace.
    3. What is the significance of Miss Salome (Zhora) dancing with her snake?
    4. Can Roy be seen as a Christ figure? Is he paying for the sins of humanity?
Any outside topic must be approved no less than one week in advance of the due date by Mr. McGhee.

No exceptions.
(This means you.)