Portrait of a Young Reader

I’ve shared a little bit about my life as a young bookworm, but I don’t think I’ve told y’all that reading didn’t always come naturally to me. I’m not saying this to be dramatic: I was probably one of the worst readers in my Kindergarten class. I don’t know why I had a hard time picking up reading, but I was a bit of a slow reader at first. Somewhere between Kindergarten and second grade, something changed. When I look back I can’t explain it. It was just like, suddenly, all I wanted to do was read.

I distinctly remember walking out to recess one day in the second grade. I had a book in my hand that I planned to use to help pass the tedious hour in some shadowy corner. My first grader teacher noticed the book and came up to ask me how I was doing in reading. 

Proudly, I told her that I was doing great. I loved to read. I loved it so much, I even read when I wasn’t supposed to read…even during class. That probably wasn’t the best thing to tell a teacher. She was bound by the “teacher code” to give me a stern talking to, but I think she was suppressing a smile.

Third grade was when I started giving my teachers a hard time about restricting my library privileges. I did not like being told that I couldn’t check out a book because it had an upper level sticker on the spine. That was also the year that I discovered Harry Potter. I had no trouble finishing those books in a week and taking the mandatory reading test.

The school library was quickly growing smaller and smaller in my mind. Que the public library! It was a world filled with wondrous stories and new worlds to explore. I think  I nearly floated off the ground when I was handed my first library card. It took me some time to learn that I could also look for books online. I was bored one day, so I decided that I would practice my computer and internet skills. But what should I look up? With a shrug, I typed in “books.com” and – pow – I discovered Barnes & Noble. It was heaven!

My early reading days were filled with many wonderful discoveries – book stores, high library shelves, stories filled with dragon and wands and magical lamps! *Sigh* Those were the days.

By the time I was in 5th grade, I was a mini book worm. I would have been my father…you know if I like reading mystery novels, and if I was a guy, and if I was a father…Okay, that took a weird turn. You get the idea!

I completed every extra credit reading project. I got 100% on all state reading tests. I was allowed free access to peruse every corner of the school library. I was spending as much time in the public library as possible. I was sleeping next to a large stack of books. And I was writing my own short stories. 

Still, nothing could compare to the excitement I felt about going to middle school. No grade stickers on books and freedom to read while walking down the hallway. Score!

So what happened in those early years that turned me into such a bibliophile? Well on some level, I think God just created  me this way. My wild imagination can only be tamed within the pages of a book. My teachers also deserve some credit, especially the two that I call parents. I’m so thankful that I got the opportunity to grow up in a world full of books. I don’t want to even think who I would be without them.

So…what’s your story?

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The Appeal of Dystopias

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Image Credit: http://lordlawson.org.uk/year-9-dystopia-project/

My husband and I were having lunch one day and, out of nowhere, our conversation took a weird turn. This isn’t anything new for us. We usually come in at opposite sides of the conversation, though.

He was getting excited (perhaps a bad choice of word) about the possibility of a virus that could be introduced into the human brain through a connection to a computer system and if it would be currently possible to create an AI program that could evolve quickly enough to battle the brain…or some smart thing like that.

So I waited for a long pause and jumped right in with the only thing I could think to say: “You, my love, have stumbled across the next great American novel…if only you could write.”

“But, Melody, I’m not talking about fiction. This could actually happen.”

Aha!

I think I actually did shout, “Aha!” I find that it’s better to act like you’ve planned these things.

Why the “Aha?” Because, as I told my dear husband, that’s the basis behind any truly good (read relatable) dystopian story. Think about the last dystopian world that you read about. What was the first thing that drew you into the story?

I know the probable answer: The problem.

Was there a nuclear holocaust? Is the environment polluted? Does everyone live under military rule? Has the people’s history, rights, minds been taken away from them? Has a plague of nanobots wiped out the human populace?

In my opinion, readers tend to be drawn toward dystopian stories that have some level of realism. We go, “Oh my!” when we see characters going through difficulties that we might have to face ourselves.

And there’s the other appeal to dystopian novels. The messed up worlds draw us in and the characters hook us. This is especially important for teenagers and YA dystopian books. They need to know that young people like them can make a difference.


So, in conclusion:

-I believe that we are pulled to dystopian novels FIRST because they show up the horror that our world could become;

-And SECOND because of the characters who strive to make a better world;

-Also, my husband could be a good novelist.

Do you share my opinions about these book? What’s your favorite dystopian story?

So Many Adaptations…So Little Interest

One mark of a popular story is the number of adaptations that it has inspired. Think of how many Pride and Prejudice, Romeo and Juliet, and Cinderella adaptations you’ve seen. This includes books and movies.

I don’t know if I’m breaking some kind of Shakespeare Society rule by saying this, but I think that adaptations based on the plays can be gateways. You might be surprised how many books and movies are actually based on these plays. If you love one of those, then you already have one foot in the door. But you have to choose wisely.

Here are some popular Shakespeare adaptions that you should check out if you’re looking for something to read/watch next. These are my own opinions, so please tell me if you don’t agree or you think I’ve missed something. I’ve tried to include a variety of options for those who might be interested in finding out more about these Shakespeare-inspired books and movies.

Here we go…


BOOKS

Ophelia by Lisa Klein, published in 2006 – The story of Hamlet is told from a woman’s perspective. While the author employs a different point of view and plot structure, she gets major points because she leaves the original story line intact.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/293583.Ophelia?ac=1&from_search=true

The Taming of the Drew by Stephanie Kate Strohm, published in 2016 – The tables are turned in this story as the girl set out to tame the boy before he ruins her chances of playing the lead in her school’s next play. I’m a fan of authors who can tweak one detail of a story and create some entirely new. This The Taming of the Shrew adaptation is spot on!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25877358-the-taming-of-the-drew?ac=1&from_search=true

Enter Three Witches by Caoline B. Cooney, published in 2007 – This author delivers a surprising retelling of Macbeth from Lady Mary’s perspective. It’s truly refreshing to see one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies from a new set of eyes.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/601436.Enter_Three_Witches?from_search=true

Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty by Jody Gehrman, published in 2008 – This book is inspired by Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Anything. It’s full of YA romance, comedy, and coffee. That’s a winning combination!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1248692.Confessions_of_a_Triple_Shot_Betty

Ariel by Grace Tiffany, published in 2005 – This adaptation of The Tempest is told through the eyes of the wild and powerful spirit, Ariel. The author explores the darker aspects in the original play and sheds fresh light on this classic tale.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/238120.Ariel?ac=1&from_search=true

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, published in 2003 – Jane Smiley has earned multiple awards for her modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Family and farm life are at the heart of this heart-changing story.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41193.A_Thousand_Acres?from_search=true

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, published in 2012 – This well-known rendition of Romeo and Juliet combines the classic story with zombies. The young couples fight for love is combined with their fight for survival. Plus the fangirling potential is high!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15842439-warm-bodies?from_search=true

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Clarence Palmer, published in 2010The Tempest gets a steampunk makeover in this beautiful retelling of Shakespeare’s play. A young man trapped aboard a Zepplin drifts between the real world and a dream world where he fights for his love’s life.


MOVIES

Macbeth (2015) – If you’re looking for a Shakespeare adaptation that doesn’t leave bloody war scenes to the imagination, look no further. I respect the directors of this movie for bringing out the dark themes in Shakespeare’s original play and creating a movie that appeals to modern viewers.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2884018/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Chimes at Midnight (1966) – This classic movie includes story lines from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Parts I and II, Henry V, and the Merry Wives of Windsor. The result is a completely new piece of art that circles around the iconic character, Falstaff.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059012/?ref_=nv_sr_1

The Lion King (1994) – Yeah Disney! This iconic Disney movie is loosely based on Hamlet. Simba stands in for the prince who must seek revenge for his father’s death and take back his “crown.” You might have trouble finding the original play underneath the cute animals and family friendly themes. But rest assured, it’s there.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110357/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Romeo and Juliet (2013) – I deliberately saved this movie for last. I grew up in a world where the 1996 version of this play was considered the best thing ever. While I admit that I like watching the two young lovers in that adaptation, I just couldn’t get into the updated feel of the movie. In comparison, this latest adaptation of Romeo and Juliet simply took my breath away. From the costumes to the acting to the sets, I just loved it! I dare you not to cry during the death scene!


So what’s your favorite Shakespeare adaptation? How does it compare to the original play?

Quotes for the Shakespeare Lover’s Soul

I heart books

Let’s continue Shakespeare week with some inspiring quotes. Since it’s not hard enough to pick out a few quotes from a rather large and iconic literary collection, I’m going to take it one step further. Here are my top 15 lines from Shakespeare’s plays. (These aren’t in any particular order.)

Let me know if they’re yours as well!

1. Love’s Labor’s Lost

For when would you, my lord, or you, or you,
Have found the ground of study’s excellence
Without the beauty of a woman’s face?
From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They are the ground, the books, the academes,
From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.

2. As You Love It

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.

3. The Taming of the Shrew

Say she rail; why, I’ll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.
Say that she frown; I’ll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly wash’d with dew.
Say she be mute and will not speak a word;
Then I’ll commend her volubility,
and say she uttereth piercing eloquence.

4. Romeo and Juliet

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
 

4. Hamlet

This above all: to thine ownself be true.
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand,
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover’s fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!
 

6. Macbeth

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
 

7. Julius Caesar

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

8. Romeo and Juliet

Swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

10. Hamlet

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die: to sleep;

 

13. Twelfth Night

If this  fall into they hand, revolve. In my stars I                                                                               am above thee; but be not afraid of greatness: some                                                                     are born great, some achieve greatness, and some                                                                        have greatness thrust upon ’em.

14. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgment taste;
Wings, and no eyes, figure unheedy haste.
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.

And, of course, I couldn’t leave this famous Sonnet out:

15. Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Well, there it is. Did I leave out your favorite passage? Let me know!

When I Learned to Love Shakespeare

shakespeare-love

Image Credit: TheLongelyHearts Etsy store (It’s actually totally awesome wedding confetti)

Contrary to what I would like my former classmates to believe, I haven’t always enjoyed reading Shakespeare. I was excited when I saw Shakespeare on my 6th grade syllabus, because I liked the story of Romeo and Juliet (I learned about their tragic ending later the hard way)…and that was about it. Needless to say, my first year studying the great playwright was an unhappy one. I didn’t fall head over heels for Shakespeare the first time I read one of his plays. I’d like to know if anyone has.

Most of my classmates seemed to be enjoying the Shakespeare plays that we read in class. I didn’t have a harder time understanding them. I just didn’t enjoy them, and that crushed my heart. I read the assigned plays at home. I researched the history of Shakespeare and the early theater. I practiced vocabulary and watched filmed performances.

I even had to memorize passages from one of his plays and perform them out loud for everyone to score. That was, perhaps, the hardest part for little middle school me. I still hadn’t fallen in love with Shakespeare’s plays, which meant that it didn’t matter if I understood what I was saying. I just couldn’t get through the performance. (Not that I didn’t try.)

No, it wasn’t until many years later, after I’d struggled through English Shakespeare in middle school, did everything finally fall into place. Sadly, that’s where I started to leave my classmates behind. I owe a lot to my ninth grade reading teacher. She allowed me more freedom than I had ever been allowed to before. I wrote stories for credit. I got to choose which projects to complete. And I got to read out loud in class.

I don’t mean just a few popcorn reading sessions or oral reports. My ninth grade teacher (whose name I should probably remember) didn’t believe in reading Shakespeare silently at all. The first time I heard her perform a monologue from Julius Caesar, I could feel the wheels grinding in my head. My vague appreciation for Shakespeare grew into a love in that classroom. The truth is, I took every opportunity to read books out loud when I was home alone. They just seem to come alive in a new way when the words jump off the pages. How could I ever have expected to learn to love a play that is meant to be read out loud on a stage if I didn’t hear it?

It took some practice to be able to read Shakespeare out loud as confidently as my 9th grade teacher did, but it was entirely worth it. I look at my memory of 6th grade me quaking in my shoes while I tried to read a passage out loud for my classmates and my memory of reading that same scene out loud while everyone joined along with me, and I smile. 

Me, the girl who usually sits in the back of the classroom and doesn’t answer any questions. My classmates used to ask me if I was deaf or mute. I actually remember enjoying reading out loud in class. 🙂


Remember I said this was about the time that I started to leave my English classmates behind. I believe I can sum up their big mistake in one word: SparkNotes.

I was in 12th grade and my English teacher was still telling me that I should invest in a copy of Shakespeare SpartNotes. I understand that language is the biggest barrier that makes Shakespeare hard for students to understand, but no matter how many times a teacher says, “Don’t use it as a crutch. Just reference it when you don’t understand something,” 90% of young students are going to use it as a crutch.

I borrowed a copy of my study partners SparkNotes one time because I forgot my book at home, and I was just floored. Why? Why did my 12th grade teacher tell her to buy Sparknotes? Why is that the one she always brings to class?

I don’t want to go on a long rant. Maybe it’s just me. I’m sure these study materials are really helpful for young readers, but I’m so glad that I didn’t follow my teachers’ advice when they told me that I would need to buy Shakespeare SparkNotes if I wanted to make an A in English class. And I’m soooo grateful for a teacher who took the time to show me how Shakespeare is meant to be appreciated.

If I hadn’t found my way without SparkNotes, I might have been the student who was thrown out of class in college because I pulled out a SparkNotes copy of our first play. My college Shakespeare teacher was so upset! Thank you Mrs. 9th grade teacher!


So, in conclusion, here are my some tips that I would give to students, or anyone really, who have always had a hard time connecting with Shakespeare’s plays:

-If you never have, try reading some scenes out loud. It makes all the difference!

-Start out with an “easy” well-known play, like Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet.

-Do not depend on SparkNotes. They have some useful tools, but they are no substitute to the real plays.

-Research the history behind the plays, but expect that not everything will be accurate.

-Read the play through more than once. The second time around you will be able to focus on the foreshadowing and little asides that you might not have noticed at first.

-Don’t read Shakespeare passively. Don’t trust any character just because they seem trustworthy/loyal/comical/amorous or whatever. These plays are filled with unexpected twists and turns.

-Don’t worry so much about the language difference at the expense of getting into the story. Vocabulary can be practiced.

-On that note, go ahead and familiarize yourself with some common Shakespearean vocabulary before beginning to read.


When did y’all first learn to love Shakespeare? Do you share my opinion about SparkNotes? Do you have any more tips?

Shakespeare and Selfies…Wait, What?!

One of the best and worst attractions of Shakespeare is, in my opinion, the fact that he coined so many new terms in his plays. No wonder we can have a hard time figuring out exactly what the playwright is trying to say!

My favorite Shakespeare play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a perfect combination of romantic comedy, ancient stories, and fantasy. I mean, come on: 

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,

And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgement taste;

Wings, and no eyes, figure unheedy haste.”

That’s pretty good!

Funny enough, this play is chock-full of Shakespeare’s infamous phrases. Here are just a few that you might recognize:

  1. Fancy free: MSND Act II, Scene I
  2. Swift as a shadow: MSND Act I, Scene I
  3. Critical: MSND Act V, Scene I
  4. Flowery: MSND Avt IV, Scene I
  5. Manager: MSND Act V, Scene I
  6. Mimic: MSND Act III, Scene II
  7. Moonbeam: MSND Act III, Scene I
  8. Rival: MSND Act IV, Scene I

You might not be a big linguistics fan, but you’ve got to admit, that’s so cool!

No wonder Shakespeare is taught so much in schools! If only making up our own languages was as lucrative as it was back then.

Okay, I totally didn’t plan to write this down, but I just thought, “Wow, so like Shakespeare is basically the ‘Selfie’ and ‘Bromance’ person of his day.”  😀

Here’s a few more Shakespearean words that just blew my mind:

-Gloomy: Titus Andronicus

-Laughable: The Merchant of Venice

-Bedroom: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

-Majestic: The Tempest

-Lonely: Coriolanus

-Hurry: Henry VI

-Generous: Hamlet

-Courtship: The Merchant of Venice

-Rant: Hamlet

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this is pretty cool. What other words should we thank Shakespeare for?

So, yeah, it’s okay if you don’t get Shakespeare at first. I’m sure his contemporaries didn’t completely get him back then, either. If someone came up to you and said, “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?,” wouldn’t you want to say, “Chill! He’s right over there.” I get it. 

But don’t give up! That’s my first tip for reading Shakespeare. I’m going to share a few more tips in my next post.

In the meantime, what are some of your favorite Shakespearean plays? I’m sure there’s at least a half dozen words in it that Shakespeare coined himself.