Category Archives: Reading

Facing the Changing Father Figure in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman

During the glorious summer weeks leading up to the July 14th release date of Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee’s second novel and sequel to every 11th grader’s favorite, To Kill A Mockingbird, I’d heard everything. From admonitions from those who descried a sequel, to controversies about Ms. Lee’s mental state, there was no shortage of opinions or speculation about the relative merit and eventual  legacy of Ms. Lee’s follow-up to the coming-of-agWatchmane story of Scout, Jem, Dill (remembering these names yet?), and Boo Radley.

Thanks to my student membership in Amazon Prime (highly recommended), my crisp copy of the book arrived on release day.

I was all set to write a simple review, with a tongue-in-cheek, under-qualified “thumbs up/thumbs down” at its conclusion, but then I felt I would be doing the book a disservice in comparison to the deep cultural reactions from my friends as well as those folks covered in the press.

I wondered, perhaps even aloud, “What could I do to make my reading of the book meaningful to others?” I decided that I would take up as my audience an imagined version of my students, themselves bound to wonder if their instructors actually practice what they (t)each when it comes to doing critical reading.

They do . . .Watchman 2

The story itself features but a handful of characters, few of whom can be found in Mockingbird. I was unprepared to learn quite early on that Jem, Scout’s older brother, had dropped dead. Yes, he just dropped dead (this knowledge becomes more significant later on, but as I read it the first time I found myself writing a NSFW response in the margin of the text), so I wouldn’t be reading about a successful cannery that he and Dill incorporated, or about his exploits playing football for the Methodists.

No, this read what going to be much different from what I expected. Jem had been killed off so that we might focus more closely on Miss Jean Louise Finch, still referred to as “Scout” by family members and the other inhabitants of Maycomb, Alabama.

As I read, I made copious notes in my journal…Watchman 3

The events in Watchman take place twenty years after those of Mockingbird, although at points in the book we get brief snapshots of other time-bound events (without reference to the actual times to which the events are bound, of course). I later realized that this bit of foreshadowing allows us to better apprehend the import of Scout’s fragmented memory. It, much like the self-consciousness and conscience about which she was so proud, is not consistent. This is not really a surprise, though, since twenty years have passed.

However, what is surprising is that Scout has received a college education. The fact itself is not surprising, but as the story reaches its climax we are presented with reactions and thoughts from Scout that belie this education. This might be seized upon as a way to read the text against itself, but that paper would really belong in a different forum with an amazingly smaller readership.

The climax of which I speak is Scout’s clandestine attendance at a town meeting called to debate and discuss potential NAACP actions in Maycomb. At the same time as Scout does, we learn that Atticus Finch is not as perfect as our memories would like. One of the admonitions that stuck with me as I began the book concerned Atticus. In essence, many readers of Mockingbird did not want what their idealized father, Atticus, to be shown as anything “less than,” and they swore off reading Watchman to keep that ideal father alive. Continue reading

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Paperback Book Day

National Paperback Book Day

Join The Central Pen in celebrating Paperback Book Day!  On July 30, pick up your favorite paperback (or maybe choose a new favorite!) from your local library or bookstore.

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by | July 30, 2015 · 8:00 am

Need some help to get inspired?

Slide1Winter is an excellent time to get your creative juices flowing, since few of us are going to brave the cold, wind, and wet that waits beyond our doors and windows.  But even on these inspiring early evening, we all could use a little inspiration to pick up our pens or to put our fingers on the keys.  Lucky for us, creative writers have always been willing to pay it forward and offer us advice and support to get us in the writing mood.  Many of them offer practical advice about getting started and getting published, but they all talk about their personal relationships with writing, and why they continue to write and talk about writing years after their careers first began.

Here are our top ten favorite books about writing by writers:

  1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  2. Earnest Hemingway On Writing edited by Larry W. Phillips
  3. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamont
  4. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
  5. On Writing by Eudora Welty
  6. Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut edited by William Rodney Allen
  7. Why I Write by George Orwell
  8. Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman
  9. First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process edited by Robert D. Richardson
  10. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir by William Zinsser

Pick up one of these books today, and maybe someday, we’ll be adding you to our top ten list!

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Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s Poem on Climate Change Shows the Power of Poetry

kathy_jetnil-kijinerKathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a 26-year-old poet, writer, artist, and journalist from the Marshall Islands, recited her poem about climate change and its effects to a delegation of world leaders at the United Nations who had gathered for the Climate Leaders Summit earlier this week on September 23.   Jetnil-Kijiner had been chosen to perform her piece alongside the impassioned speeches of presidents, prime ministers, and celebrities, including Al Gore (Chairman of Generation Investment Management and the Climate Reality Project) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Actor and UN Messenger of Peace).

Her performance, which ended with her being joined by her newborn daughter and husband, brought many world leaders to tears:

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Jetnil-Kijiner’s home is the Marshall Islands, a group of low-lying coral atolls in the northern Pacific Ocean, which have already witnessed the effects of rising ocean levels.  Her poem, ocean161marisl_003‘Dear Matafele Peinem,’ was written to her daughter: “You are so excited for bananas, hugs and our morning walks along the lagoon.”

The lagoon becomes a key metaphor for her, her daughter, and the future of the Marshall Islands:  “I want to tell you about that lagoon. That lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise. Men say, that one day, that lagoon will devour you.” The rising ocean levels have caused the waters in the lagoon overflow their banks, slowly ‘devouring’ the land around it.’  

But in Jetnil-Kijiner’s poem, the lagoon does not yet win:

“And we are canoes blocking coal ships. We are the radiance of solar villages. We are the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past. We are petitions blooming from teenage fingertips.

 

We are families biking, recycling, reusing, engineers dreaming, designing, building, artists painting, dancing, writing.

 

“We are spreading the word. And there are thousands out on the street, marching with signs, hand in hand chanting for change NOW.”

Her performance received a standing ovation from world leaders and summit delegates, proving (yet again) the power of poetry.  You can see Jetnil-Kijiner performing her piece at the UN Summit here and watch a high-definition video for it here.

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(I) Read Banned Books!

The Central Pen joins the American Library Association (ALA) in celebrating Banned Books Week (September 21-27, 2014) where we pull out all of those so-called ‘naughty’ books that have been challenged, banned, defaced, and sometimes even stolen from our nation’s libraries because of what some view as contested themes, depictions, or characters.

Banned Books

Banned Books Week is an opportunity to celebrate free speech, literacy, and creativity.  It also is an opportunity to focus our attention on an issue that is rarely discussed when we talk about education: censorship.  Literature and censorship have a long, fraught history precisely because the written word is so incredibly powerful.  It can shape ideas and narratives.  It can push political and social issues and opinions.  It can persuade and inform.  It can be used to uplift people and ideas just as easily as it can be use to destroy them.


Here are some of The Pen‘s favorite banned books from the 21st Century:

  1. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    • Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    • Reasons: offensive language; racism
  3. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
    • Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  4. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
    • Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
    • Reason: sexually explicit
  6. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    • Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    • Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
    • Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence
  9. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    • Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  10. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
    • Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group

Don’t just read banned books–share them!  Leave your favorites in the comments.

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The Joy of Text

Favim.com-29936You’ve taken final exams, submitted final essays, and talked to your professor for perhaps the final time.  Throughout the term, you’ve thought about this moment, where you would get home, flop on the couch, and relax in front of your 1080p LG 3D HDTV without a single thought of class, assignments, studying, or…..reading. This works for a while, but soon you find yourself longing for an escape from endless reruns and I.Q-lowering reality television. You’ve sought to escape the reality of textbooks and paying attention, but you never thought that reading, reading for pleasure, could provide the escape you were looking for. After all, aren’t you used to reading to memorize, reading to analyze, and reading to criticize? Well, what about reading to fantasize?

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