Archive for the Vacation Category

Reading nerds: The Literature Draft

Posted in Entertainment, Novels, teaching, Vacation with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2014 by Mike

A few weeks ago I was watching the NFL draft waiting to see where Johnny Football would be drafted when I started thinking (it’s a problem – it usually leads to all sorts of work for me). My initial thought was what a literature draft would look like; that is, if a group of people were drafting works of literature, who would pick what first, and how would those choices be justified? I mean, James Joyce’s Ulysses is considered by many to be the single most important work of the 20th century, but I wouldn’t take it in a draft because it’s nigh-unreadable (I tried once). Okay, maybe that’s a little unfair to Joyce, but there are other novels higher on my list.

It was this thought that led me to, on a whim, post to my “Books” Facebook group (a cadre of English teachers who post about what they’ve been reading) the following:

Silly idea: let’s have a novel draft. We could use, say, Time’s Top 100 list (or something better) and compile our own squad of books, then read them (if we haven’t already).

This might have been the end of it, as it got only 4 “likes”, but then eLaffint commented with

Yes let’s do that. But please explain more.

So eLaffint forced me to think about this some more, and closer to the end of the school year I woke up one morning with the following rules in my head:

1) There’s a $10 entry fee – this will be important later.

2) We will each choose 4 works from one of two lists: either the AP title list or the “Top 100 Works in World Literature” (

3) The four works must include a) an American author b) a female author c) an author whose original language is not English and d) a play. None of the choices may be a work taught at the school or something you have already read (you’re on your honor).

4) The draft will be done by email – the order will be pre-determined and everyone in the group will “reply all” when it’s your turn. It doesn’t matter what order you “draft” your works, but no repeats are allowed.

5) Once your list (“team”) is complete, you have pretty much the rest of the year to read them.

6) Once finished, you must write a brief essay (3-5 pages) that reflects on what you’ve read. 10 point font, Times New Roman, double spaced.

7) These essays are due to me by December 12, 2014.

8) An independent panel of three judges (three people not in the draft) will read these essays and determine the winner. All essays will be published to this site, as well as to any blogs the participants might have, with the “winning” essay designated as such.

9) The winning essay’s writer will receive all the money collected from the entry fees. There is no second place. If we have 10 people enter, the winner will receive $100.

A couple notes: I decided on the AP list because it’s quality literature and diverse.  Selecting from that list could also benefit teachers who are looking for literature for their class libraries and want to branch out from young adult fiction and the more common works that most high schools already have on their reading lists (I’m looking at you, Gatsby).  Plus, it’s a pleasure to read. [bonus points for identifying the allusion]. The other list I found through Google, and thought it might help find works that help fulfill requirement “c” on number 3.

The essay requirement was a bit of a worry as I thought that might turn off possible participants, but I wanted something more to happen than “I read it, and it was _____” posts on Facebook. The opportunity to reflect on what you’ve read is an important part of the reading process, and I wanted to give everyone a chance to demonstrate their writing chops.  Hell, it’s something we ask of our students all the time, so, physician, heal thyself, IMO. Let’s put ourselves in our students’ shoes a bit, but also show off what we can do. We’re English teachers for a reason (okay, one of our group is not, but J-ROY’s a reader).

Eight of us decided to give this a shot.  We held our draft on Saturday, and, after a bit of delay due to J-ROY’s travelling, we each have our four works selected:

RAINY Invisible Man The Color Purple In the Time of Butterflies Glass Menagerie
E-E-RON House Made of Dawn When the Emperor was Divine History (Elsa Morante) Zoot Suit
JAX A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Handmaid’s Tale Purple Hibiscus Trifles
DEE-DEE Love Medicine Alias Grace A Thousand Splendid Suns Hamlet
eLaffint Cat on A Hot Tin Roof Wide Sargasso Sea Lysistrata Equus
J-ROY All the Pretty Horses Cat’s Eye The Trial Mother Courage and Her Children
BRP In the Lake of the Woods Member of the Wedding Gargantua and Pantagruel No Exit
ME Old School – Wolff God of Small Things Blindness Doctor Faustus

I think we’re all looking forward to reading our selections, but I’m particularly anxious to read their essays.

I’ll periodically post on my progress here.

How Led Zeppelin won me a Royal Caribbean Cap (or, My Vacation, part I)

Posted in Vacation with tags , , , , , , , on February 16, 2011 by Mike

My wife and I went on a cruise to Cozumel, Belize and Roatan last week (which explains why there weren’t any updates to my blog last week…well, I suppose the lack of posting could be just par for the course, too.  Shut up).  Great time – the countries are beautiful and we were accompanied by friends from Arizona whom we don’t get to see often enough.

...and the air was just right for drinking.

I’ll write at more length about the places we visited later, but wanted to brag about our victorious day 6 of the cruise in this one.

We had been competing in the various trivia sessions held on the boat while at sea with some success but never winning the valuable prizes.  But after our last excursion in Cozumel (swimming with sea turtles for the wives; ATV mudding in the jungle for the guys), we came back to the ship and, looking through the rest of the day’s schedule, saw that the 4:15 trivia’s theme was “’60s and 70s Rock.”

Oh yeah.

Jeff and I got there a bit early to get seats and had a few beverages to pass the time.  Soon enough, the host, Fritz from Philly (the Phillipines, that is), started setting up and, while doing so, cranked some Journey for those who had gathered.  Jeff started talking to me about Journey’s new singer, Arnel Pineda, and how the band had discovered him. The dude sounds EXACTLY like Steve Perry – it’s amazing, really – and is from the Phillipines.  If  you’re not aware of the story, read it here.

So while Jeff is telling  me this story I’m listening to the Journey blaring and recognizing that the songs sound remixed (slight differences in instrumentation) and suggest to Jeff that we were listening to the Pineda incarnation of Journey (it made sense – Fritz, as I said, is Filipino).  Jeff went to ask about that and when Fritz found that Jeff knew about Arnel, he immediately  came over and sat down with us and told us all about him.  Apparently Fritz was good friends with him before he was discovered. Fritz was a character – every time he cracked a joke he’d give a low “mwuah-ha-ha” laugh after (which grated when we first attended one of his sessions, but then became  endearing).

So then the trivia began.  Fritz would play a snippet of a song and we’d have to name the title AND artist. I gotta admit, I was pretty confident – I KNOW classic rock as it’s all I practically listen to these days, whether on terrestrial radio or Sirius. Fritz started off with Styx’s “Come Sail Away” (appropriate, being on a boat and all that), moved into Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” and Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do?” and then “Sgt. Peppers…”.

We didn’t miss one. Here’s the list:

How would you have done?

Checking the score sheets was a blast: Fritz would play more of the songs and most of the time the whole bar would start singing along.  Damn near sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” in its entirety.  And Fritz could WAIL.  Awesome. After scoring, only one other group had a perfect score (out of about 20 groups) so it came down to the tiebreaker song –  I immediately recognized “Black Dog” and only had to turn around to see the other group looking at each other trying to come up with the name of the song to know we had won.  Fritz asked for both group’s “final answers” and when the other group said “Rock and Roll” I started in with the high fives among my group, a kiss for my wife.

Come to find out the prize this time was a Royal Caribbean cap – something sold on the ship for about $20.  Everyone in the group got one and then we had a picture taken with Fritz:

We Are the Champions

During the game Laura kept saying that I would have/could have won by myself – which is true – although I would have had to buy my own beer (we had what I thought was a sweet arrangement with our friends). But I also know that I have friends here at home who would have been able to match me song for song – we’d probably still be trying to break that tie if BRP had been competing against me.

Anyway, thanks to Led Zeppelin for the hat: