Posted in Literature, Uncategorized

Stuck at Home?

Turning Down Time Into Brain Gain

I rely on Libby, an e-lending app from my public library (icon pictured here). Other such apps include Overdrive and Hoopla. Do you use something else?

Let’s say your local schools are closed. Could be the coronavirus, could be a snow day–here in Texas we get hurricane cancellations. When that closure drags past a day or two, parents often become concerned about learning time slipping away. How can you make these hours count?

I suggest reading the classics (you knew I would, right?). You and your teen can stick your toes in the water quite easily. You can even take on a selection together. It’s always more fun to trade ideas about your reading.

Begin by consulting online reading lists for the SAT/ACT (here’s two:, Note: many lists say that they are “College Board recommended,” but I see no direct evidence of that.

Use the list as a menu and choose a play. I’m going with Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman because I know I can borrow it through my elibrary. And BONUS! I can also watch the movie version for free on Amazon Prime.

Dustin Hoffman stars as Willy Loman in the 1985 movie version of Death of a Salesman.

Read for 10-15 minutes about the American dream (click here for the Wikipedia entry, which is perfectly adequate).

And then jump in! Divide your daily reading into acts. You can even proceed by scenes if acts feel too overwhelming. As you read, take breaks and compare to the movie version. Ask yourself:

  1. What do I understand better from watching the movie?
  2. What does the movie change from the written play? Why might those changes be made? What effects do they have?
  3. What are the main conflicts I see developing?

If you start with Arthur Miller, you can move on to his contemporaries, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, both of whom take on similar themes in their plays. You’ll be taking a huge stride on the trail through American plays, which are often short and use accessible vocabulary while still stretching literary analysis skills. (Parents, these playwrights take on serious adult themes of violence, sexuality, etc., so you may want to research them.)

If you or your high schooler want to discuss your reading, start a reading group, with each other or friends. You can also comment below. If popular demand indicates, I’ll create a private discussion board for Death of a Salesman and/or other plays.

Happy stay-at-home time!

And come back tomorrow for more ideas for self-study . . .

Posted in Literary Genres, Literature

Isn’t That Tragic?

Spoiler Alert!

I never was a huge Shakespeare fan, though I enjoy his plays when I read them. These days I mostly read them along with my students or my kids. Right now it’s Julius Caesar season.

Sometimes I find tallying the dead bodies in Shakespearean tragedies amusing. If you don’t find humor here, you’re missing out. That’s why I love this graphic, which gives a body count for each play. And we’ve got some unique modes of death–to say the least! Characters eat hot coals!? Are stabbed and baked into pies!? There’s some food for thought (pun intended).

On a serious note, I wanted to define “tragedy” and “comedy” in a traditional sense. We’ve all heard of the elements of tragedy, like the fall of the tragic hero and DEATH. Comedy is more confusing, especially when referring to classic literature: it doesn’t mean funny, like “ha-ha.” It is the opposite of tragedy, in which the outcome of the play/story is usually marriage, or at least couples pairing off and metaphorically walking hand-in-hand into the sunset.

The happy ending of a comedy carried over into novels as they began appearing in the eighteenth century. Novels had only one traditional ending: marriage. Of course that’s changed over time.

So, do you prefer a tragedy or a comedy?