Two years ago, the senior English classes at Wamogo High School were reorganized to provide student choice in electives. One of the choices offered is Memoir, a class where students read two or three assigned memoirs and create their own memoirs in response to prompts-ex: “My Favorite Food Memory” or “That’s Me in the Photo”. Students are also required to read memoirs independently. Because of the used book market, we are able to offer a wide selection of memoirs and allow for student choice.
The department had previously purchased a class set (20-30 copies) of A Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. These memoirs have been assigned as the course texts over the past two years. I have added at least 10 additional copies of each of these titles through the secondary market.
I have also purchased a minimum of 4 to 20 copies of the following books in the secondary market to offer students to read independently:
Lucky by Alice Sebold
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
Lost in Place by Mark Salzman
Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman
A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
Ambulance Girl: How I Saved Myself By Becoming an EMT by Jane Stern
Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
This Boy’s Life: A Memoir by Tobias Wolff
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford
All over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg
The Tender Bar: A Memoir by J. R. Moehringer
A Child Called “It”: One Child’s Courage to Survive by Dave J. Pelzer
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote
Marley & Me by John Grogan
Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman
The Road to Coorain by Jill Ker Conway
Waiting For Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire
It’s Not about the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong
If the average cost of each of the above books is around $12.00 (trade copy), four new copies of each of the 23 titles above would have cost $1,104.00. In contrast, by purchasing four of the 23 titles above for $1.00, our total cost is $92.00. That marks a savings of $1012.00. Furthermore, students have the opportunity to try out texts that might interest them at little expense to the department.
I have started to collect other titles that are starting to find their way onto used book tables:
Lit by Mary Karr
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison
Escape by Carolyn Jessop and Laura Palmer
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy and Ann Patchett
Investment so far on these six titles? $11.00 total.
12th graders are particularly interested in authors that discuss life-changing decisions since they themselves are in the process of making many life-changing decisions. Many of my students are already adults (18 years or older), so I am comfortable providing memoirs that would not be recommended for younger students. The variety of personal experience offered in memoirs informs students about the real world; for some students, authentic voices are more credible than standard high school fiction selections.
Jack Gantos read this post! He wrote back:
This is wonderful! Thank you for posting your comments and article on my talk at the LC event. I had a grand time speaking in the church. It was soooo big and the audience was so receptive. I loved every minute of it and your article brought it all back to life for me. Thanks.
And thanks, too, for your kind words about HOLE IN MY LIFE. That book does allow me to speak to a lot of teen readers who otherwise I would never meet.
Hope you are doing well after the storm. My wife, daughter and I returned to Boston on Sunday after I spoke on Saturday. Boston was not hard hit, but NY and NJ were and still are heartbreaking.
Be well. Jack