Tuesday, August 30, 2005


We homeschool our son Jake, not for religious reasons, but by necessity. He tests out past the twelfth grade in math and English. Homeschooling is the only way we can keep him interested in learning. He's almost ten and has the emotional maturity of a ten-year-old. Keep that in mind when I come kvetching for advice (below). This year, I'd like to have him read some of the classics of 20th century literature. To help me generate ideas, I found this list of 'great' works of the 20th century, courtesy of Random House. Try to ignore the righthand column (Ayn Rand for the number one and two slots? L. Ron Hubbard for number three? Come on!) Here's my pick. I'm open to advice from y'all. The Great Gatsby Brave New World As I Lay Dying (lower on the list than Sound & Fury, but I think it would be easier for Jake) Animal Farm Slaughterhouse Five Lord of the Flies The Maltese Falcon The Postman Always Rings Twice To Kill a Mockingbird I'm leaving out a lot of books I dearly love because I don't think Jake is ready for them yet (Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, for example). As it is, I'm not sure he's ready for Gatsby yet. Thanks, everyone. D.


Blogger mm said...

I always liked books about other kids at that age - David Copperfield, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Anne of Green Gables... Rather earlier than the time frame you're aiming for, though.

TKAM is told from a child's POV, but a child who lives in a home where the parent speaks plainly. It isn't childish. It would get my vote, but then again it's a book I've always loved.

8/31/2005 03:48:00 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Ditto on TKAM. I read it when I was thirteen, and loved it.

One way I really got interested in reading the classics was because of involvement in drama class. I don't know what theatre is available in your area (or if your son's into this) but attending productions of Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, etc. got me used to the cadances of language found in many 20th Century classic books.

8/31/2005 06:41:00 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

Slaughterhouse-Five? Ye gads, man.

On the other hand, I read The Forever War at the age of eight, and I turned out just fine. Didn't I?

If he's up for it, I'd suggest adding Dune to the list. It's got a teenaged protagonist, and plenty of court intrigue, action, etc.

And there you have my 2¢.

8/31/2005 07:29:00 AM  
Blogger Demented M said...

What about 1984? Or some Shakespeare? Moliere?

Also, congrats on the good feedback from Ms. Snark.


8/31/2005 08:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll leave it to you to determine the age-appropriateness but here are my picks, in no particular order:

The Odyssey
Plato's Dialogues
Death Be Not Proud
The Grapes of Wrath

8/31/2005 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger Lilith Saintcrow said...

I'd suggest 1984 and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as well as The Old Man And The Sea to sneak in a taste for Hemingway. (Give 'em to me while they're young...) I'd wait for a few years for Gatsby, though, and read Gatsby, Lolita, and Ada while reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, say at about the thirteen-year-old mark.

I would also suggest leaving plenty of time for the boy to explore on his own. Reading what other people want you to read can kill the joy of literacy very quickly. :) I told my daughter I don't care what she reads on her own time, as long as she reads at least a little; she has now become voracious.

8/31/2005 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

I'd say just try what he likes, but don't make him finish a book if he says he finds it boring, that could kill his interest in reading. And add those you think he isn't ready for, you might be in for a surprise. Children often have different ideas about what makes a good read.

Says she who read the Illiad at the age of eight. In hexameters. :)

BTW Karen might check out this blog of a writer I know via FM and try to indentify that eight legged cawlie for her.

8/31/2005 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

*crawlie* dangit.

Why has blogger no option to edit a post? :(

8/31/2005 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Bernita said...

Stevenson's The Black Arrow?
Answered your question on my blog, but in case you do not drop by again - the source line is through Eliot's Wasteland to Ariel's song in The Tempest.

8/31/2005 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Kate R said...

Could be too schlocky but Catch-22? My 14-yr-old loved it--of course he likes Machiavelli and those endless Patrick O'Brian books about life at sea..he also liked Life of Pi. So did my 12-year-old.

Catcher in the Rye? Franny and Zooey? Damn, they make me feel old when I pick them up.

They read Salman Rushdie and liked his kids stuff and fantasy. Good way to integrate world political studies and literature, but I never got into the books. Fun to read Haroun aloud though.

Hey, don't you want him out of high school lit? My kid read Lord of the Flies, The Prince and Animal Farm in 9th grade, Mockingbird in 8th (he's in public high, too).

Almost all those books you've got are on his suggested reading list, along with Harry Potter and Black Hawk Down. He starts 10th grade TOMORROW [insert happy dance] Maybe it's not the books--it's the depth of analysis?

How about old New Yorker essays? I love Thurber and EB White and there are great lost writers there, like Joseph Mitchell. He wrote Bottom of the Harbor--a bunch of cool essays about the NY waterfront.

The more current writers like McPhee and Theroux tell great stories even if they usually write non-fiction. My kids love David Sedaris. Heh. Heh. The rooster.

Okay maybe Travels With Charley by Steinbeck. Ummmm I still like Lewis Thomas even though my husband says he's dated.

How's about some short stories? William Carlos Williams. Hey what about poe-tree? Huh?

I can't believe they're pushing Rand on any impressionable humans. My husband read that monstrosity in high school and still hasn't recovered. He lapses into Rand-lousehood now and then.

8/31/2005 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger Kate R said...

bugger. What Gabriele said. EDIT feature.

8/31/2005 09:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Garianne said...

Hummmnnn... How about these:

A Separate Peace
Robinson Crusoe
Last of the Mohicans
Red Badge of Courage
The Three Musketeers
Around the World in 80 days
Swiss Family Robinson
Treasure Island
Canterbury Tales

There is a book out by "ARCO" that is called 'Reading Lists for College Bound Students' that I really love. Basically it has recommendations from major universities (Harvard, Cal-Berkeley, Georgetown, Notre Dame, etc...) as to what they would like their incoming students to have already read. In addition 'Arco' put together an index of the top 100 books and the top 10 authors (compiled from the reading lists). It might prove useful in your homeschooling efforts.


8/31/2005 12:53:00 PM  
Anonymous fiveandfour said...

I think for kids that one thing that's key is introducing them to books they can revisit later and get something new out of as they grow and mature.

I agree that Slaughterhouse Five might be asking a bit much of someone with the emotional maturity of a 10 year old.

Additional suggestions beyond what others have mentioned would be:

*My Antonia
*The BFG and/or Matilda
*Joan Aiken's Dido Twite books
*Collection of myths - take your pick of Norse, Greek, Celtic, Hindu, Native American, etc. - but I believe reading myths gives you a good basis for understanding many of the themes in our classic novels

I first read an abridged version of The Odyssey around age 10 - not really a "kids version" with pictures or anything like that, it just used modern language and sped up the pace of the storytelling a bit - and that really whet my appetite to want the real version when I got older. I think that's a perfectly acceptable way to get kids interested in classic must reads such as this one or Robinson Crusoe that are a bit hard to make out in their natural state even for some adults.

8/31/2005 03:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Candy said...

Am I late to the party? I DON'T CARE.

Here are some suggestions for 20th century lit for your brilliant manchild. I don't know how many of these are suitable for kids, because my parents didn't bother supervising my reading as a kid, so I ended up reading voraciously and omnivorously--I'm probably the worst person to ask when it comes to kid-suitability of books. Anyway, I'm consciously trying to include a few more females and brown people than the average "Greatest Lit Hits of the 20th Century" list.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
Catcher In the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Definitely some Orwell--Animal Farm, 1984, Down and Out in Paris and London, take yer pick
The Jungle by John Updike
Weeds by Edith Summers Kelly
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

Some fun children's books that won't insult his intelligence (if he hasn't read these already):

The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce
Just about any YA novel by Joan Aiken
The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White
My Family and Other Animals by Geral Durrell

8/31/2005 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Lots of great suggestions, y'all. Thanks! Maureen, I never really thought about it before (mostly because I haven't read TKAM) but isn't your NiP a bit TKAMish?

Pat: definitely Forever War . . . maybe not the kind of thing colleges care about, but it's one of the best SFs ever written IMO.

Hey Anonymous -- Plato's Dialogues? Ya want my kid to kill me? Just kidding ;o)

DM: yes, we picked up 1984 today, too. If nothing else, I need to read it (tail between my legs). And it occurs to me: I don't think anyone has written 2084.

Lilith: I might try him out on "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" first. It's shorter and it's about kids, so that might whet his appetite for more Fitzgerald.

Gabriele, you geek, if Jake was as gifted as you, I wouldn't need to work this hard!

Kate, he's read all but the most recent Harry Potter. He's been on a Piers Anthony kick for the last two years and has read a ton of PA. I've been struggling to get him to break away from PA. Managed to turn him on to Lemony Snicket, which ain't exactly edifying.

Garianne: thanks for the ARCO tip and the other suggestions, and welcome to my blog.

fiveandfour: welcome. Thanks for the suggestions. We did a fair amount of mythology last year, which he enjoyed. Time to branch out into Norse mythology if we can find a good source. Oh -- Jake has read a lot of Dahl, too, including some of Dahl's adult short stories.

Candy: sorry, too late. Just kiddin.
Thanks for the suggestions -- esp. the reminder about The Sword in the Stone. He might dig that.

Thanks everyone!

8/31/2005 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger Kate R said...

if he'll still do kids books, does he know Artemis Fowl and Diane Wynne Jones? We don't need literachure 24/7, eh?

8/31/2005 06:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Candy said...

Holy fucking shit. I just realized I wrote down "John Updike" as the author of The Jungle. It's UPTON SINCLAIR, dammit.

God, I might need to surrender my English degree for making that mistake.

9/02/2005 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Candy -- ha! Well, kick me in the nuts too, cuz I missed it.

9/02/2005 07:44:00 PM  
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