What are your favorite memoirs? I am looking for essays/pieces of rhetoric to add to my AP Lang class for next year. I am also interested in your favorite dystopian works for a possible unit in this class. Any suggestions and your reasons for them would be appreciated. Thanks!
I just finished reading Mitch Albom's Have a Little Faith, aninteresting discussion of faith and life and what matters most. It is a story of two men, two faiths, two races, two cities, and two styles of ministry. Both men, one a Jew and one a Christian, are effectively acting out their faith. It ends with a eulogy, which might prompt some interesting written work, as well.
I always wanted to teach David Sedaris in my class. His humor is very quirky, but contains a much deeper (and often darker) underlying issue, and it would be interesting to see how a class of high school students reacted to him. I realize much of his work could be considered borderline inappropriate (especially in a conservative district) which would make me nervous. I'd probably get administrative approval first.
Also, when I first read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (by Dave Eggers) in my early 20s, I really liked it. I think my reaction would be much different now, but again, would be interesting to see the reactions and reflections of high school students.
To add one more to the list of dystopias, the short story "Harrison Bergeron" satirizes the unrealistic liberalism of the 1960s that Kurt Vonnegut saw leaning beyond reason in the future. There are parallels that can be drawn between incidents in this story and the No Child Left Behind law.
Dystopian Lit: I currently teach 1984 in English 3 Honors which is our Intro to AP Lang. class. I would like to teach Brave New World, but the AP Lit. teacher offers that as a choice novel. For the past several summers for AP Lang. summer reading, I have included Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged as a choice, and I always have several students read and enjoy it. They appreciate the pure challenge of the novel's length but end up liking it as well. Some of them choose it because of the annual Ayn Rand scholarship essay contests.
In regards to memoirs, my students and I love David Sedaris's essay "Me Talk Pretty One Day" from his book of the same title. I've also had success with "Hair" (an excerpt from Malcolm X's autobiography), The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, and excerpts from Nomad by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This year, I included a new book entitled In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White as a choice narrative/memoir for my students, and those who read it raved about it. I was so pleased when they liked it, because I enjoyed it too. It's the tale of White's imprisonment for fraud at the last leper colony within the continental U.S. It's rich with characterization and irony.
If you are also looking for argument pieces, I would suggest John Grisham's open letter to Oliver Stone about his movie Natural Born Killers and Stone's letter in response. My students love analyzing the letters for fallacies, tone, appeals, etc., and it encourages vigorous debate about the role of entertainment in our culture.
The Color of Water by James McBride is an excellent memoir. It is the story of the author's mother -- a Jewish white women from the south who married a black man and lived in Harlem. She ultimately raised 8 (?) amazing kids and is just a truly remarkable lady. It is well written and very readable for high school students. I don't recall anything too "racy," but there was some abuse in the mother's childhood. We have talked about doing it as summer reading at our school, but haven't made a final decision yet. I would also second mshurn's recommendation of David Sedaris. We have never done a complete work, but students enjoy his tone and sense of humor.
Here are some of my favorite essays. They would be good choices, I believe, because they are topical and well written, demonstrating a variety of rhetorical devices. The writing is crisp, and the content, tone, and style make them very humorous, fun to read and discuss. They would provide a change from the usually serious fare of AP readings.
- "Breakfast at the FDA Cafe" by John R. Alden
- "Farewell to Fitness" by Mike Royko
- "Santa's Little Helper" by David Sedaris
- "Your Basic Language Snob" by Joseph Epstein
The four of them are included in Motives for Writing (Miller and Webb), 2nd Ed.
As far as dystopian works go, how about using some of Atwood's classics such as A Handmaid's Tale or Oryx and Crake? You might want to do a comparison between 1984 and the original work that is was based upon, We.
AP Language extracts are plentiful, but I really enjoy some of the non-fiction of Mark Twain such as Innocents Abroad or Roughing It. Lots of irony and hyperbole to focus on and talk about. I always use a trusty collection of American essays as well.