We thought we’d write a shorter post today just letting you all know what we’ve been reading lately, and also asking our readers about what books you’ve been reading this spring.
From HarperCollins: “A Wall Street Journal writer’s conversation-changing look at how reading aloud makes adults and children smarter, happier, healthier, more successful and more closely attached, even as technology pulls in the other direction.
A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book, a voice, and a bit of time into complex and powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. Grounded in the latest neuroscience and behavioral research, and drawing widely from literature, The Enchanted Hour explains the dazzling cognitive and social-emotional benefits that await children, whatever their class, nationality or family background. But it’s not just about bedtime stories for little kids: Reading aloud consoles, uplifts and invigorates at every age, deepening the intellectual lives and emotional well-being of teenagers and adults, too.”
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My interest in reading aloud was sparked decades ago by the first edition of The Read Aloud Handbook. Ever since, I have been a sucker for any book that had "read aloud" in the title. The Enchanted Hour promised not only to discuss reading aloud, but to put it in the context of the latest neurological research. And how it did deliver! Written in an engaging narrative style, it can't help but resonate with parents, the primary audience for the book, as it did with me. I have just gotten a second copy so I can annotate it, as Rebecca suggested in her Shakespeare post last week. Now I am going to read the book a second time, looking up the notes in the back and marking in the text the lines of inquiry I would like to pursue. Perhaps some may surface in upcoming blog posts! — Lisa
From Penguin Classics: “In her great historical epic Kristin Lavransdatter, set in fourteenth-century Norway, Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset tells the life story of one passionate and headstrong woman. Painting a richly detailed backdrop, Undset immerses readers in the day-to-day life, social conventions, and political and religious undercurrents of the period. Now in one volume, Tiina Nunnally’s award-winning definitive translation brings this remarkable work to life with clarity and lyrical beauty.
As a young girl, Kristin is deeply devoted to her father, a kind and courageous man. But when as a student in a convent school she meets the charming and impetuous Erlend Nikulaussøn, she defies her parents in pursuit of her own desires. Her saga continues through her marriage to Erlend, their tumultuous life together raising seven sons as Erlend seeks to strengthen his political influence, and finally their estrangement as the world around them tumbles into uncertainty.
With its captivating heroine and emotional potency, Kristin Lavransdatter is the masterwork of Norway’s most beloved author—one of the twentieth century’s most prodigious and engaged literary minds—and, in Nunnally’s exquisite translation, a story that continues to enthrall.”
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My mom gave me a beautiful old set of these books for Christmas this past year, and I've just begun to read the first book of the series, The Wreath. My interest in Scandinavian literature has developed significantly over the past year, so I was especially excited to receive these as a gift. I haven’t gotten very far into the first book yet, but the setting and Undset’s writing are both beautiful, and I’m looking forward to reading more! — Rebecca
From the Twisted Tree Farm website: Trees of Power is written by Akiva Silver, owner and operator of Twisted Tree Farm. This in depth book covers the propagation, cultivation, uses, and ecology of trees. It is a catalyst and a guide for those of us who already work with trees or those who want to start.
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A year ago this weekend I was involved with launching a farming enterprise with two of my neighbors on 24 acres of land. Mark Shepard, author of Restoration Agriculture, led the workshop here to build earthworks and plant 1000 chestnuts and 1500 hazelnuts over the course of three days. But Akiva Silver, author of Trees of Power, was the inspiration for it all. Every spring and fall for a half dozen years, he visited our neighborhood, bringing trees to plant and stories about them to share. Because of his enthusiasm for trees we became passionate as well. We were delighted when Trees of Power came out this spring. It included some of the stories we had heard, but so much more too, especially about the importance of each tree in its ecological niche and how best to propagate and care for them, empowering us as planters of trees. — Lisa
From Columbia University Press: “From the seemingly mundane to the food fantastic—from grilled cheese sandwiches, pizzas, and soft-boiled eggs to Turkish ice cream, sugar glasses, and jellified beads—the essays in The Kitchen as Laboratory cover a range of creations and their history and culture. They consider the significance of an eater's background and dining atmosphere and the importance of a chef's methods, as well as the strategies used to create a great diversity of foods and dishes. This collection will delight experts and amateurs alike, especially as restaurants rely more on science-based cooking and recreational cooks increasingly explore the physics and chemistry behind their art. Contributors end each essay with their personal thoughts on food, cooking, and science, offering rare insight into a professional's passion for playing with food.”
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The Kitchen as Laboratory is a collection of 33 essays written by different gastronomists, chefs, and scientists about the chemistry of cooking. And it’s just as quirky and technical as I wanted it to be. The essays themselves are fairly scientific, with hypotheses, experiments, data and interpretation, etc. However, the question that each essay addresses is relevant to both cooks and eaters, and the writing is clear and compelling. If you love cooking and also chemistry, this makes for a really fun read! — Rebecca
What about you all? What have you been reading lately? What book is up next on your “to read” stack? Please share any recent recommendations you may have in a comment below!
This post is the second of a two part series on introducing young readers to Shakespeare. You can read our first post here. In it we addressed which plays to begin with and the benefits of knowing the story before reading the play. We also covered the importance of seeing live performances, and the value of returning to the same plays again and again.
For many of us — especially middle and high school-aged readers — sometimes it’s best to take a multi-sensory approach. Hence, reading a Shakespeare play and listening to a recording of it at the same time can be incredibly helpful. This is a particularly beneficial practice for anyone struggling to understand the language, or grappling with its syntax.
This is a literacy technique that I first tried for myself when reading The Canterbury Tales in Middle English. There, I often found that I could identify words from their pronunciation but not their spelling. Other words were utterly incomprehensible from their pronunciation, but spelled almost identically to their modern counterparts. Between both reading and listening I was able to begin piecing sentences together. Listening to a more experienced reader give proper inflection to the language was also a boon. A tremendous meaning can be conveyed just through pitch, intonation, emphasis, and other forms of vocal modulation!
This same technique can be just as useful in reading Shakespeare’s works as in Chaucer’s. With Shakespeare, however, complex syntax is typically problematic for readers, as opposed to the medieval spelling/pronunciation of Middle English.
And here I do prefer the combination of reading and listening over simply listening to a recording. Firstly, it’s much easier to remain focused when you’re listening and reading than when you’re only listening to a recording. More importantly, however, reading along with the recording does help readers cultivate the ability to read Shakespeare for themselves. And this is the ultimate goal.
Readers may not want to always read and listen to a play simultaneously. It may be something you only want to do for one act, or for the first play a student reads. But in any event, it can of great help to those just getting started.
I cannot overemphasize how much I love annotated editions of Shakespeare plays. Some of them even have the text of the play on the right hand page, and detailed notes about the text on the other. The Folger Shakespeare Library publishes beautiful copies of the plays in this style. Other editions such as Signet Classics or Penguin simply include a few footnotes at the bottom of each page. The Folger copies (which you can often scout at thrift or used book stores) include definitions for individual words and also for longer phrases that are no longer in our common vernacular. Since an entire page is dedicated to notes, there is space both for more definitions and greater depth of explanation.
We’ve also enjoyed using Dover’s Shakespeare Lexicon set for more refined searches. It’s also been wonderful for learning more about language usage across all of the plays. This 2-volume set is a great investment if you’re serious about reading Shakespeare’s works over and over throughout your life. However, I would definitely recommend at least beginning with the annotated Folger plays.
Book-lovers often cringe at the thought of writing in their beloved books, and I totally understand this sentiment. However… I do find annotating to be an extremely helpful practice. It is particularly useful when it comes to Shakespeare plays or other similarly complex works. For one, annotation slows the reader down and encourages them to read more closely. For another, it helps readers create their own map of the text that they can return to again and again. When you annotate, you're constantly asking yourself whether you understand each part of an argument or speech. You’re also noting the places where you do have questions, instead of just skipping blithely forward.
There are numerous ways to annotate a text. Readers may circle words they want to look up later and write comments or questions in the margins. Some like to underline key arguments or phrases, or highlight portions they want to return to later on. While annotations are ultimately a huge asset in preparing for a conversation or for a writing assignment, their more immediate and practical purpose is in turning a spotlight on portions of text that you’d like to be able to easily locate in the future.
Readers should be given a lot of latitude with the style and format of their annotations. We don’t all have the same intellectual approach to texts, and we certainly don’t need to have identical annotations. You might make suggestions as to what to include, but ultimately I would leave it up to the individual.
It’s also worth noting that annotating serves a completely different function than keeping a reading journal. Annotations should be compact and relatively terse, and making them shouldn't significantly slow down the reading process.
Lastly, if you're someone who dislikes writing in their books, you may want to find separate editions specifically for annotation. You can easily find second-hand copies of the plays or even print them yourself from websites like this. I personally have an older edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare that I use for reference and wouldn’t dream of writing in. So whenever I want to study a play more carefully, I pick up an inexpensive and/or used copy for notes.
Incorporating excerpts from Shakespeare’s works into all of your lessons can help to acquaint your students with Shakespeare in a non-assuming but effective way.
For example, when I taught English grammar and had to find examples of different grammatical concepts, I often looked to Shakespeare. I always did my best to find examples from a play we had already read together, but I also chose other famous lines that the students would probably have heard before, or would be likely to encounter later in their lives. I loved using Shakespeare for this purpose because his language use is often striking and because his sentences are rich with meaning. In addition to highlighting the grammatical concept in question, the lines also contained interesting and important ideas for students to consider.
You could also use Shakespeare sentences for copy work with younger children (if you aren’t already, that is!) And if your students work with sentence diagramming at all, Shakespeare sentences are the best to diagram. They are particularly good to give students who love an extra challenge.
While the Language Arts provide the readiest opportunity for studying Shakespeare, you can certainly incorporate short passages from Shakespeare’s historical plays into history lessons, as well, perhaps by finding monologues or scenes that describe characters. (For instance, Enobarbus’ speech about Cleopatra in II.ii of Antony and Cleopatra.)
Furthermore, if you are reading Plutarch’s Lives (or any of the wonderful retellings such as Our Young Folks' Plutarch or Plutarch's Lives for Boys and Girls), you might want to consider including portions of the Roman plays in your study, as Shakespeare himself used a translation of Plutarch’s Lives as his primary source material for those works (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Titus Andronicus.) There are many particulars – both large and small – included in his plays that come directly from Plutarch, and it can be exciting for readers to see just how significant Plutarch’s influence was on Shakespeare. (Shakespeare also turned to Chaucer for several of his plays, so you could do the same thing in that case, either with the original text or with a retelling for younger children.)
If your children or students ever have the opportunity, I also encourage them to act in plays themselves. This can be a great experience even if they aren’t otherwise passionate about theatre. Reading Shakespeare aloud is much more fun than reading it silently, and acting it out is even better. Most community theatre and children’s theatre groups will put on abbreviated plays periodically, as do many schools.
If you live in a more rural area with fewer cultural resources, you can also put on your own productions of plays with resources like Shakespeare in a Box. Each Shakespeare in a Box kit contains scripts for each character, as well as a handful of props. Actors can use their own closets for the rest of the costumes!
I did two of these “productions” with a group of girl friends when I was in 8th and 9th grade, respectively. The plays we performed were King Lear and Macbeth. Each year we had a sleepover/rehearsal on a Friday night then put on the production the following afternoon for all of the parents and other siblings. It was by no means award-winning theatre, but we had a blast. We were also engaging with the text and spent our Friday night in deep discussion about Shakespeare!
Reading and/or teaching Shakespeare is daunting enough without discussion of meter. And as with Organic Chemistry or English Grammar, a lot of people would probably prefer to go their entire lives without ever encountering it. However, being familiar with meter actually makes reading Shakespeare much easier and more enjoyable. When read in pentameter, the text seems to open itself up and becomes far more accessible to most audiences. But, we found there was so much to say on this subject that we’ve decided to save this discussion for another day when we can dedicate an entire post to the topic.
Check back again soon to learn more about the importance of reading in meter!
Lastly, we are about to publish a new Yesterday's Classics book on Shakespeare: Historical Tales from Shakespeare by Arthur Quiller-Couch.
This book retells the stories of Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, John, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, and Richard III in chronological order. In this text, Quiller-Couch does a wonderful job of drawing connections between each of the stories, thereby creating a sense of continuity throughout the entire book.
We expect Historical Tales from Shakespeare to be available for purchase through www.yesterdaysclassics.com within in a week or two, and available at Amazon shortly after that!