Miscellaneous and Random
It's been a good summer for reading and writing. I just wrapped up my six-day Advanced Institute with the Coastal Savannah Writing Project. I love getting together with other teacher-writers and sharing ideas....As a high school teacher I rarely think of using picture books as mentor texts, but there are so many beautiful, well-written picture books that are actually informational texts. And I love books that combine words and pictures, which many picture books do in surprisingly sophisticated ways. While I was looking around for mentor texts, I rediscovered a book that was given to me by the ELA coordinator for my district: Drawing from Memory by Allen Say. What a beautiful book: it is the artist/writer's own story of his journey to becoming an artist. This picture book is packed full of absolutely riveting facts (Say grew up in post-World War II Japan). Drawing from Memory is lavishly illustrated with drawings, paintings, and photographs. I was totally absorbed by Say's story of his apprenticeship to a famous Japanese cartoonist, his unusual upbringing, and his teenage years, when he lived independently from both of his divorced parents. Reading this and other picture books reminds me that mentor texts and informational texts can be found in unexpected places.
Another memoir that takes a visual form is Stitches by David Small. Wow, what a powerful book. Small is a writer and illustrator who is best known for his children's books. Stitches is a memoir written in the format of a graphic novel. It is dark, very personal, and gripping. Small recounts his childhood, and it is pretty dysfunctional. The focal point of the book is young David's illness; inexplicably, he goes through surgery for cancer, and his parents hide the truth of his illness from him. David Small's experiences are fraught with psychic pain, and his illustrations convey character and emotion in the most nuanced way. People kept telling me that I needed to read this book, and they were right! And it isn't unremittingly dark; there is humor, compassion, and redemption too. If you haven't read Stitches yet, you really should.
Oh, yeah, I've been totally engrossed in George R.R. Martin's series; I'm holding myself back right now. I've read Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords is all lined up and waiting for me. Martin's novels are just plain addicting. He creates a fantastic world filled with intrigue and action. I love it.
On a quieter note, I've finally gotten around to Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I'm nearly halfway through this exceptionally well researched and written non-fiction book. I will share my thoughts when I finish reading.
Finally (I think) I came across a splendid essay (and list) by Ted Gioia (check out his bio here to see how ridiculously accomplished he is) on "The Rise of the Fragmented Novel." The list of fifty-seven fragmented novels includes Winesburg, Ohio, The House on Mango Street, Cloud Atlas, A Visit from the Goon Squad, and The USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos. I think the novel I just reviewed, Loteria, would qualify for the list as well.
Does "fragmented fiction" work for you? Do you have a favorite fragmented novel?