6. Crash by Jerry Spinelli (152 pages)
7. Jane Austen by Carol Shields (185 pages)
8. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (120 pages)
9. Holes by Louis Sachar (132 pages)
10. Lady Susan by Jane Austen (with introduction) (103 pages)
Bold: read it now! It’s great
Italics: run away! It’s awful
Plain Text = various degrees of OK
6. Crash by Jerry Spinelli (152 pages) reread for teaching. A great book the deals with bullying with the perfect voice of a young teenager. Spinelli is always fantastic and never writes down to kids.
"The only good biographies are to be found in novels."--George Gissing "...the genuine arc of a human life, that it can perhaps be presented more authentically in fiction than in the genre of biography."
"The true subject of serious fiction is not 'current events'...but the search of an individual for his or her true home."
"But what did marriage mean in the context of these novels? Not a mere exchange of vows repeated in church. Marriage reached beyond its moment of rhetoric and gestured, eloquently and also innocently, toward the only pledge a young woman was capable of giving. She had one change in her life to say 'I do,' and these words rhyme psychologically with the phrase: I am, I exist."
"And in one of his judgments brother Henry was far too moderate. Jane Austen's works, he prophesied would eventually be 'placed on the same shelf as the world of a D'Arblay and an Edgeworth.' How far from the mark he was. Not only would she outdistance those all-but-forgotten names, but she would also find herself comfortably on the same shelf and in the good and steady company of Chaucer and Shakespeare."
7. Jane Austen by Carol Shields (185 pages) A short and engaging biography of the beloved author that deals not in mundane details or idle speculation, but in attempting to draw a portrait of Jane, her life, and her works. Refraining from drawing tedious or melodramatic parallels between her life and her work, the biography instead attempts to understand how a spunky, quiet, reclusive spinster, alone in the country at a time of female repression and the birth of the novel as an art form, was able to write some of the most beloved, extraordinary, realistic, psychological novels of the English language. Jane was definitely a member of the suffering and unappreciated genius club. Part biography, part literary criticism, this book is a great read. Grade: A+
8. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (120 pages) Hazel Motes, discharged from the army, sets out to be a car-roof preacher of the Church Without Christ, preaching the fallacies of faith. He becomes obsessed with a blinded preacher, and garners the obsession of a the preacher's sultry daughter, a lost young man who abducts a shrunken mummy, and a widow. Hazel Motes literally and figuratively blinds himself to the truths of life while he navigates a dark world filled with O'Connor's trademark grotesque and bizarre images and characters. Though thought-provoking and oddly beautiful, turning the oddities of life into religious symbols, the novel does not seem to be O'Connor's form. Flannery O'Connor is a refreshing literary voice and one that requires the reader to wrestle with the characters and actions in order to find meaning. Grade: B+
9. Holes by Louis Sachar (132 pages) Reread for teaching. Great book for young adults, full of humor, symbolism, interweaving plots, and great character
10. Lady Susan by Jane Austen (with introduction) (103 pages) Obviously written by a young Jane Austen, this epistolary novel details the machinations of the cruel and scheming Lady Jane who wants to marry one man, has an affair with a married one, and plans to marry her innocent daughter to a silly man. Though constrained by the epistolary form (and so lacking her trademark ironic wit that come with her distanced omniscient narrator of her later works), the novel is interesting due to its main character who foreshadows Austen's later villains, such as Mary Crawford. Grade: B