Friday, April 29, 2011

Huck Finn

Here is a really interesting link, from Costco (believe it or not), debating if "classics" should be sanitized or not. This is timely, given the recent re-working of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

As a historian and educator, I feel that we shouldn't tamper with the original works. Looking at fiction provides us with insight into the societal and political problems of a decade. For example, Huck Finn gives a modern audience information about racial issues in America. Some are critical of Twain for the language used; however, it is only a product of the times that Twain lived. As another example (although not as controversial), Jude the Obscure (one of my all-time favourite novels) shows us about the treatment of strong women during the 19th century. When Hardy published the book, he was lambasted for depicting sexual relationships outside of marriage, and, indeed, his novel critiques the treatment of these unmarried couples too (poor Sue and Jude!). When we sanitize these historic novels, we deny our own shortcomings as human beings. We need to be honest with literature and with ourselves.

Teaching Resources

My Easter break is almost over, and sadly I have not read as much as I thought I would. Somehow life and other things took over. Drat.

In other news, I've been thinking about whether or not I want to teach both The Road and Lord of the Flies in ELA B30 next year. I'm tempted to drop Lord of the Flies in favour of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. While my students really love Lord of the Flies (or they did last semester, I'm not so sure about this one), I feel like I'm ready for a change, and I do think that BMHaWK would be culturally relevant for these kids. So often, I get questions from them about the Aboriginal experience in the United States, and I can only devote a small amount of time to discussing this history with them. Dee Brown's non-fiction masterpiece might offer a little more insight.


I'm also torn on dropping Three Day Road, in ELA A30, in favour of something else. My students found the book to be long, and I kept on thinking how the entire class was seemingly bogged down in the trenches of World War One. The story of Elijah and Xavier is interesting, but fails to captivate female students - which is a problem. Maybe In Search of April Raintree instead?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chakra Yoga

I took my first yoga class when I was twenty-one (so, uh, around eight years ago), and I've been hooked on it ever since. Back then, I remember being struck by how "free" I felt when I practiced, and how yoga made it easy for me to turn off that constant inner-monologue. Yoga allowed me to feel happier and more present. 

Since moving up North (and far away from any yuppie yoga studios), I've tried to practice at least several times as week (either in the basement or on the balcony). I've also expanded my own views on yoga through dvds, magazines, and books. I've become more liberated and self-assured, along with being more flexible (although, I honestly feel that I'll never ever be able to do a decent cow face). 

In brief, I feel like my relationship with yoga is still constantly evolving and changing - this is a good thing.

As previously stated, I try to learn as much as possible about yoga.  I have books upon books about the varying styles of yoga, and I still get excited to read something new. I recently read Alan Finger's Chakra Yoga: Balancing Energy for Physical, Spiritual, and Mental Well-Being. Finger's style of yoga, ISHTA yoga, concentrates of usage of physical practice to stimulate the seven chakras. Through asanas, meditation, and chanting, Finger believes that it is possible for one to create positive energy and to balance the chakras.

Personally, I loved this book. Yep, this book is FANTASTIC!

I found Finger's writing style to be easily understood, and I liked how Finger ties personal experiences with his ideas. As a reader, these personal touches make the book to be an engaging spiritual text rather than a heavy philosophical tome. Finger should be applauded for adding important details on how each pose should be done and including pictures of said poses. Far too often yoga books include poses, but have little details on the finer nature of these poses. Alignment is important! Finally, I found that his daily chakra practices could be easily incorporated into my own routine, and really do feel that these practices have also furthered my feeling of contentment.

Whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced student of yoga, I recommend that you check this book out. The practices in here will only help to enhance your practice!

4.5/5 (I just wish there was a little more variation in the routines)

Chakra Yoga: Balancing Energy for Physical, Spiritual, and Mental Well-being
Shambhala (2005), Paperback, 160 pages

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Happiness Project

Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project, is a quirky half memoir half self-help book on happiness. It falls a little into the category of "The Reality Television of Books: When People Write Gimicky Stuff"; however, this doesn't mean that the book is crap, rather, it's quite the opposite.

This is Rubin's month-by-month quest to bring happiness into her life. She tackles different areas of her life every month, and, while doing so, goes about opening herself up to new experiences while being true to her own self-interest. Rubin's thesis, that is possible to be more happy, is proven throughout, and, as Rubin discovers, her own personal happiness creates more contentment in the lives of her family and friends.

Rubin's quest for happiness caused me to reflect on how I turn happiness away from my own life. Can be snarky? Check. Is overly sarcastic and scathing? Check. Avoids doing new things? Check. This list could go on and on. Are these things that I should avoid doing? Perhaps. Maybe I'll give my own happiness project (which Rubin pushes on her blog) a whirl, and see the damage (ha ha) that it does.

It was interesting to see that Rubin cites numerous sources. I liked that there were quotes from people like Saumel Pepys and the Dalai Lama. Doing research on how other people interpret happiness and on what brings them happiness is necessary for this type of project. It helps to bring deeper meaning to Rubin's work, and also helps to avoid this book from becoming a trite self-assertion. 

So yes, I liked this book. I'd recommend this book to others. Rubin's style of writing is easy-to-follow,. The book is engaging and perfectly suits the sunniness of spring. It's not a Pulitzer Prize winner, but it is still very good and very happy.



The Happiness Project: Or, 
Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, 
Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
Harper Paperbacks (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 336 pages

Thursday, April 21, 2011


After today, I'll be off for an entire week. This means sleeping in, doing yoga whenever I want, and yes, reading LOTS and LOTS of books. Some books on my "To Do" list are:

  • This Silent Land (Graham Joyce)
  • Invisible River (Helena McEwan)
  • The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)
  • The Letters of Allen Ginsberg
Ah, the sweet delight of curling up with a book in the mid-afternoon,

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


"O! now, for ever/Farewell the tranquil mind; farewell content!"

Oh how Othello is most favourite and treasured of all the Shakespearean tragedies! The sexiest of all the tragedies, and, indeed, the most tragic. What a warning against hubris you give to us! Beware of the darkness that lives in us all.

I read you first in high school, when I was an angst-ridden teen who hated any and all Shakespeare because it was "boring". I approached you with disdain, but by the end of the first act I was hooked. For the rest of those O.A.C. weeks, I was completely engrossed in this tale of human emotion, manipulation, betrayal, and vengeance. I wrote an astounding essay on the Moor, and it was empowering to see that I could actually understand and critique Shakespeare's language. Since then, I have read the play numerous times, watched the movies, and have, hopefully (ha ha), passed my love for this play down to my students when teaching.

The universal theme of jealousy is one that resonates throughout the play. As the audience, it touches us because many of us have been motivated out of jealousy, and have allowed jealousy to cause foolish decisions. How many of us have fought with our boyfriend or girlfriend based off a suspicion? How many of us have resented the success of others - feeling that somehow we also deserved this success?I know that I have felt this was on occasion, and, when speaking to my friends about this, they have admitted similarly,  my friends have too. Quite simply, humans are fickle like the chameleon, Iago, or the Moor, Othello.

Living in the North, I have struggled to make Shakespeare relevant to my students. When studying Othello, I do a couple of major things to help with this conundrum (aside from the usual activities). First, I have my students watch O , which is the modern adaptation of the play, as it puts the plot and themes in the applicable teen context. My students like the story of Odin and Desi, and are disgusted by Hugo. Watching the movie, triggers emotions in them. Second, I always use Spark Notes' No Fear Shakespeare: Othello to read. We read the play in modern English as a class, and, I supplement the content by doing notes and discussing Shakespearean language on occasion. I find that this version of the text is easy for my students to understand (especially since several of them are ESL), and, more importantly, they can giggle and laugh at the story.  Suddenly Shakespeare doesn't seem to unapproachable!  While we do work on other activities (essays, questions, crosswords, quick writes, film reviews of Othello, et cetera), I honestly believe that putting Shakespeare into the modern world for my students does wonders for them, and they get the play.

Needless to say, I look forward to teaching this play again next year. 

Readers, what's your favourite Shakespeare play and why?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Phantom Tollbooth

I read this article on what your childhood favourite book says about you. Now I know to thank The Phantom Tollbooth  for my obsessive behaviour. ha ha.

Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years

Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years is a biographical account of Nelson Mandela (duh). Said book examines the man before he became the mythological figure. It touches on Mandela's political alliances, his relationships, and gives us insight into the man that we know Mandela to be publicly today. 

Reading this, it was obvious that Smith is a journalist, as he uses the "exciting" journalist tone that so many journalists-turned-authors use (Robert Kaplan is also big on this). The book was well-researched, and, when reading, one can tell that Smith had passion for this subject matter. Yet, I did feel that it lacked continuity as it seemed choppy in some parts. While there were sources listed in the back, I feel that footnotes might be more appropriate for this text (given the large amount of information).

I recommend this book as an introduction into Mandela's life, but also believe that there are better texts out there on this subject. Perhaps check out Mandela's own autobiography first.

I received this book as part of the early reviewers program on Librarything.



Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years
Little, Brown and Company (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 416 pages

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book Give Away!

We all love free books. Below, I have linked to a few contests that you should check out:
  • There is a great one going on over here! Check out the celebration this blog is doing for reaching 300 readers. Leave a comment on your favourite book, and you could possibly win too.

  • There is also another ARC giveaway at The Bookish Type. If you like dystopian novels, check this one out! For me, I know my favourite dystopian novels are "Oryx and Crake" and "Brave New World".
  • Wrighty's Reads is also having a great contest. There are many young adult ARC titles that you could possibly win. As a teacher, I would love to share some of these titles with my students.
Read and follow these blogs on a regular basis. It's a great way to find out what's happening in the publishing world, and also, like I said before, a great way to get free books.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sure is Purdy!

I've been introducing my students to the wonderful poetry of Al Purdy.

I love Purdy for his uncanny ability to personify Canadian landscapes in a way that is unsurpassed by any other poet. and also for his ability to draw himself, the poet, into the poem. When I think about Canadian poets I love, Purdy is at the top of the list having drinks with Klein, Cohen, and Layton.

 I think my students have been picking up on my passion for Purdy, and that's all I could ever really want for. Hopefully Purdy makes them love poetry a little more.

And now, I present a wonderful Purdy poem:


Al Purdy
From:   Beyond Remembering - The collected poems of Al Purdy. 2000.

A hunched grey shape
framed by leaves
with lake water behind
standing on our
little point of land
like a small monk
in a green monastery

                almost sculpture
except that it's alive
brooding immobile permanent
for half an hour
a blue heron
and it occurs to me
that if I were to die at this moment
that picture would accompany me
wherever I am going
for part of the way