tag: atticusbooenglish 101harper leemodern classicsscoutto kill a mockingbird

January 2010

english 101: the winners!

I’m so excited that you’re excited about English 101: The Harper Perennial Classics Book Club! Here are the randomly selected winners of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!


Get reading!

english 101 #1: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


Welcome to English 101: The Harper Perennial Classics Book Club! Today’s book is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

As I think I may have said in the introductory post, I resisted reading ATGIB for a long time, scowling in the face of anyone who suggested it to me by saying, “but it’s about a young girl growing up in Brooklyn who loves reading! And you’re a young girl growing up in Brooklyn who loves reading!” But when I eventually read it, somewhere around age 13 or 14 (oh, how I wish GoodReads had been around to keep track of my reading back then!), I fell in love. I knew just how Francie felt, wanting to lose myself in the world of books because it was so much better than what was going on in the real world, though I was young enough that I don’ think I articulated it to myself that way. ATGIB was beautiful and sad (the scene where Katie lays her head on the table and sobs after the funeral stayed with me all these years), and I remembered it fondly.

I’m so glad I first read it when I did, because the most prominent thing about it this time for me was the all-consuming, unending poverty. Collecting junk to sell for pennies. Mixing old bread with water and other kitchen scraps to make meals. Feeling the concrete through the holes in your shoes. The Nolans are always cold; always hungry. They are barely surviving.

The first time I read ATGIB, the main thrust of the novel for me was Francie’s coming of age, becoming aware of herself as a woman and as a writer. This time, the main thrust was still Francie’s growing awareness—but rather, her awareness that the Nolans’ poverty is not acceptable, and, more importantly, not faultless, and that it is within her to live a better life.

Though, the main lesson of the book is still: Don’t marry a drunk! Seriously.

I’m dying to hear what other people thought, especially if they were reading it for a second time. Also, are there any ATGIB haters out there? It’s so universally beloved that I would LOVE to hear from someone who thought it was just “ehh.” Please discuss! Either here in the comments or on twitter (use hashtag #english101).

And remember, anyone who comments here OR twitters using #english101 will have a chance to win a copy of Brave New World, next month’s book! Do both and they’ll count separately. And if you blog about ATGIB in the next few days, please leave a comment with a link for more chances to win!

And check out Roaring 20s on Monday for another perspective on ATGIB.

February 2010

english 101 #2: Brave New World

Hello and welcome to the second edition of English 101: The Harper Perennial Classics Book Club! Today’s book is Brave New World.



(The first cover is our deluxe modern classics edition, and that jpg doesn’t do it justice. The second is the regular modern classics edition.)

Confession #1: I have never read Brave New World
Confession #2: I was not psyched to read it when Kayleigh suggested we put it on the list.
Confession #3: I was excited when I realized our new deluxe modern classics edition contained both Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited, because it meant that I had much less to read than I thought.

So, with all that buildup, and after nearly falling asleep during the first chapter, I am pleased to report that I did not dislike Brave New World. A ringing endorsement, I know. But allegory is generally not my thing, and so I was relieved to grow attached to Lenina, Bernard, and John (the savage) while reading. I need that. All in all, though, it didn’t grip me, and I wonder if I would have felt differently if I had read it when I was in high school, at a time when there weren’t forty-seven other books clamoring for my attention.

I’d love to hear from people who are huge fans of Brave New World. What do you like about it? Is it similar or different from what you normally read? When did you first read it, and do you think that mattered?

Check out Kayleigh’s review (which will probably be more positive) on Monday on Roaring 20s! And remember, anyone who comments here OR twitters using #english101 will have a chance to win a copy of The Poisonwood Bible, next month’s book (which I am very much looking forward to, seeing as how I have never read any Barbara Kingsolver)! Do both and they’ll count separately. And if you blog about Brave in the next few days, please leave a comment with a link for more chances to win!

March 2010

english 101 #3: The Poisonwood Bible

Welcome to the third installment of English 101: The Harper Perennial Modern Classics Book Club. Today’s book is The Poisonwood Bible.



About the book: The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

Before I start talking about how much I liked this book, I should mention that the reason I had never read it for years was that I was convinced it was dystopian lit that took place in some sort of apocalyptic world. Why did I think that? I have no idea.

But back to the book. I think what I loved the most about The Poisonwood Bible is that it’s one of those unique books that teaches you about something, be it an era or a country or a time, without ever seeming didactic or boring. I feel like TPB gave me a taste of what happened in Congo in the 60s, and definitely left me wanting to know more and read some nonfiction about the time. Another thing in its favor is that it is told, in alternating chapters, by five different narrators, and I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book where that was done so well and so distinctly, though my favorite character by far was Leah, the smart, non-silent, non-stuck-up sister.

The only thing I didn’t 100% love about the book was that I much preferred the parts where the Price family was together in the Congo than the parts that take place in later years. A part of me almost wished that Kingsolver could have ended the book with the Prices (or most of them) leaving on the day of Lumumba’s assassination, which was also an important day in their family, and left me wondering what happened to them afterwards.

So let’s discuss. Did you love the book as much as I did? How did you feel about the later parts? Which cover do you like better? (I have to say I’m in love with our orange and yellow deluxe edition.) And can you recommend any other books that teach without being too obvious about it?

If you’re on Goodreads, we’ll also be discussing the book there in our new goodreads group, which you should absolutely join.

(More on next month’s book club pick tomorrow.)

April 2010

english 101: next month’s pick

News alert: we are switching around the order of the picks for english 101: the harper perennial modern classics book club due to circumstances beyond our control. So, April’s pick will be . . .



An orphan raised in Valparaiso, Chile, by a Victorian spinster and her rigid brother, vivacious young Eliza Sommers follows her lover to California during the Gold Rush of 1849. Entering a rough-and-tumble world of new arrivals driven mad by gold fever, Eliza moves in a society of single men and prostitutes with the help of her good friend and savior, the Chinese doctor Tao Chi’en. California opens the door to a new life of freedom and independence to the young Chilean, and her search for her elusive lover gradually turns into another kind of journey. By the time she finally hears news of him, Eliza must decide who her true love really is.

The timing works out perfectly, since our friends at Harper will be releasing Isabel Allende’s newest hardcover, Island Beneath the Sea, on April 27.

I’ve got five copies of Daughter of Fortune to give away! To win, just tell me why you want to read it. (“Because it’s free” is a totally acceptable response.) Go!

May 2010

english 101 #4: daughter of fortune

Welcome to the fourth edition of English 101: The Harper Perennial Modern Classics Book Club. Today I’d like to talk about Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune.



I first picked up this book on Saturday afternoon. My boyfriend was at the other end of his apartment, watching Mad Men, and I was in his kitchen. I knew absolutely nothing about this book. Nothing. When Kayleigh added it to our list, I was excited because I’d read Allende before, many many years ago, and liked her work, but that was as far as my awareness went. Upon reading the flap copy, I shouted down the apartment, “oh no! This takes place in 1849!”

Yes, I admit it, I do not generally like historical fiction (though what I like even less than historical fiction is fiction written in 1849, but that’s for another post.) But I grumbled and settled in with the book, and I am so, SO glad I did. Daughter of Fortune is an amazing book, beautifully written. I am still thinking about Eliza and Tao’chien days after I finished.

The story of a young woman’s life, from her abandonment as a child on the doorstep of a wealthy woman and her brother to her love for a rumored revolutionary amid the California gold rush, Daughter of Fortune completely transcended my wariness of historical fiction.

If you read Daughter of Fortune, what did you think of it? And what genre would you be hesitant to pick up?

(more info on next month’s pick on monday!)

english 101: pick #5: the sheltering sky by paul bowles

It’s time to get started on our next pick: The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. A story about three American travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II, The Sheltering Sky explores the limits of humanity when it touches the unfathomable emptiness and impassive cruelty of the desert.

As usual, I’ve got 5 copies to give away. Comment for a chance to win! (And be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you.)

And in case you were wondering, here’s our updated English 101 schedule:

Jan- Tree Grows in Bklyn
Feb – Brave New World
March – Poisonwood Bible
April – Daughter of Fortune
May – Sheltering Sky
June – To Kill a Mockingbird
July – So Big
August – One Hundred Years of Solitude
September – The Golden Notebook
October – Native Son
November – Unbearable Lightness of Being
December – Their Eyes Were Watching God

July 2010

english 101 #6: to kill a mockingbird (halfway through)

Yesterday, July 11th, marked the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird!

On Friday, I had the brilliant idea that I should re-read the book in time for this anniversary (I had always planned to do it sometime this month.) My history with TKAM is an odd one. I first read it in fifth grade and hated it. Like, couldn’t get past the first 50 pages hate. The teacher who had given it to me was appalled (as my teacher the previous year had been when I gave The Diary of Anne Frank the thumbs down.) Luckily, in eighth grade I had to tackle TKAM again as assigned reading, and things went much more smoothly. But though I clearly remember liking it, I really couldn’t remember much else about it.

So on Friday night I dug into TKAM for the third time in my life, and I’m happy to say that it’s the best so far. I feel like I can finally appreciate the clarity and simple beauty of the writing. I feel like it’s finally sticking with me in a way it didn’t the first or second times. I’m only about a third of the way through, but I’m looking forward to finishing sometime this week.

Of course, we’ve got tons going on for the anniversary, including parties and events, and you can check that out here: http://tokillamockingbird50year.com/. But mostly, I just encourage you to pick up TKAM again, even if you’ve read it before, because I think you’ll be glad you did.

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