Archives For Coming of Age

The Simpson’s creator Matt Groening is a great satirist. In one episode in an exchange between the cartoon character Lisa Simpson and her Grandmother, he also demonstrates his ability to be a great literary critic:

Grandma Simpson: Don’t be bashful. When I was your age, kids made fun of me because I read at the 9th grade level.
Lisa: Me too!
Grandma Simpson: Although I hardly consider A Separate Peace the ninth-grade level.
Lisa: Yeah, more like preschool.
Grandma Simpson: I hate John Knowles.
Lisa: Me too.

I value Lisa Simpson’s opinion on literature, after all, this is a character who has been seen clutching copies of  The Bell JarEthan FromeMan and SupermanThe Corrections, and the more age appropriate Pippi Longstocking. So when she says she hates John Knowles, I feel validated. I have always disliked John Knowles’s A Separate Peace.
However, there are others who call this same book  “A masterpiece”(National Review) or ” deeply felt and beautifully written” (The Observer) or “Intense, mesmerizing, and compelling” (School Library Journal). The English Language Arts Common Core State Standards gives its recommendation since the novel has been, “Hailed as a literary masterpiece,” and that ” A Separate Peace is a classic novel with numerous teaching resources available.” The CCSS analysis of the text complexity reads:
“When considering the qualitative measures and the reader-task considerations, this novel is well placed at the 9th-10th grade complexity band. The complex themes, use of first person narrative—but with multiple flash backs and flash forward indicate higher level reading skills are needed by the reader. The Common Core Standards Text Exemplars also place the novel in the 9th -10th grade complexity band.”
 In a  2004 study titled A SeparatePeace:Four Decades of Critical ResponseLois Rauch Gibson writes:

“Rejected at first by American publishers, John Knowles’ A SeparatePeace appeared in England in 1959, where critics admiringly compared it to Salinger’s writings. American critics, responding in 1960 to the American edition, generally noted its depth, sensitivity, and ‘disturbing allegories'(Aitken 754). They did not entirely agree about what the allegories might be, nor have the four decades of critics since.”

I would argue there are no allegories in this short story “Phineas” that was expanded (unnecessarily) by Knowles into a full length novel. This is a fairly straightforward story of young white males at an exclusive prep school and their conflicts and competition during a last summer before entering the very grown up world of competition and World War II. I found the story dated when I read it in 1973, but Gibson felt the novel could  speak to today’s readers:

“As we approach the forty-fifth anniversary of the American edition of A Separate Peace,in a world where the all-male, all-white prep school environment has become exceedingly rare, John Knowles’ novel nonetheless continues to speak to adolescents. Once we fought wars against fascism, then against communism, now against terrorism. Before this background, teenagers attend school, bond with peers, lose their innocence, encounter hate and ignorance and what Knowles calls blind impulses; and each one inevitably struggles to develop an identity-sexual and otherwise. As the world continues to change, no doubt the next four decades of critics will have much to say about this resilient and compelling novel.”

I have always considered A Separate Peace to be the poorer literary cousin to J.D. Salinger’s 1951 classic Catcher in the Rye. Unfortunately, I like A Separate Peace’s  Gene less than I like the deluded Holden from Catcher in the Rye, and I like the object of Gene’s angst, Phineas or Finny, even less. This is a critical problem in the novel according to Slate Magazine’s Dec 2009 review The Secret of A Separate Peace by Stephen Metcalf:

“We do not love Phineas as Gene does. His charm for Gene exceeds his charm for us. The less we are seduced by Phineas, the more we experience him not as an Apollonian boy-god lacking the normal ratio of ill-character but as a love object for Gene, and Gene alone.”
I remember reading the climatic moment of the novel, when Gene reflects back on the accident in the tree:
 “He [Phineas/Finny] had never been jealous of me for a second. Now I knew that there never was and never could have been any rivalry between us. I was not of the same quality as he. I couldn’t stand this. . . . Holding firmly to the trunk, I took a step toward him, and then my knees bent and I jounced the limb. Finny, his balance gone, swung his head around to look at me for an instant with extreme interest, and then he tumbled sideways, broke through the little branches below and hit the bank with a sickening, unnatural thud. It was the first clumsy physical action I had ever seen him make. With unthinking sureness I moved out on the limb and jumped into the river, every trace of my fear of this forgotten.”
“What the heck?” I distinctly remember thinking, “He intentionally caused him to fall! What kind of friend is that?” He lost me at “forgotten.” I considered the final “apology” of the novel a fraud:
“I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there. Only Phineas never was afraid, only Phineas never hated anyone.”
It’s a lie. Gene was responsible (indirectly) for the death of Phineas, and in this statement he is contradictory about killing his “enemy.” Apologetically glorifying Phineas at the end is probably meant to be sincere, but to me the conclusion reeks of Freudian dishonesty. Gene could never really know Phineas, so he destroyed him and then made him a god.
 Still, our 9th grade honors classes read A Separate Peace.
When I asked the teacher why she replied casually, “Well, they can read it in a weekend. They like it.”
“Do you do any real lessons with it?” I pressed her.
“No. They generally get it.”
“Get what?”
“Friendship, betrayal. Teenage angst.”
Ah, yes. A Separate Peace is awash in teenage angst. So is high school, which probably is the reason the book remains in the high school canon. That and the accumulated hundreds of copies available in English Department libraries. Of course, this wallowing in the imposed angst of teenagers reminds me of another brilliant Matt Groening observation, this time provided by Lisa’s brother Bart. Heading into an alternative rock and roll concert, Bart is heard commenting, “Lisa, making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel.” Which explains why Lisa hates John Knowles.
Me too.

“Chance favors the prepared” in the used book market.

Saturday is my day for running errands which takes me to Brookfield or New Milford, two Northwest Connecticut communities. Each of these towns has a their own Goodwill store located on Route 7, and I make regular stops to their bookshelves of donated books looking to see what has been most recently donated.

This past Saturday morning, I did just that. In fact, I stopped at both stores and purchased a total of 47 books for $41.43. WhenI came home, I noticed that WebEnglish Teacher had posted a link to a website listing the 100 Essential Reads for the Lifelong Learner  organized by Online Schools. These books were organized by discipline: fiction, non-fiction, autobiography/memoir, biography, world literature literary theory, history, political science,science/math/social science. Her question was “How many of these essential books have you read?” I was happy to see some familiar titles on the list, but many were new to me.

I could not help but notice that I had just purchased five of the suggested titles on this list for different classroom libraries that very day! There were other titles on the list available on thrift store shelves that I did not get since our libraries either already had enough copies or the titles are available online in the public domain.  The Online Classroom Essential Reads List is organized so that each title had a designated number, not a rank, and link provided for each book with a short explanation. Some of the links are helpful.

Here is a list of the 5 PURCHASED ESSENTIAL READS and the grade or class that uses them:

35. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This fictional account of a platoon in Vietnam is based on Tim O’Brien’s experience in the war himself and explores the fear and courage that are necessary to bring one through to the other side.

-This is a text that is used in our Grade 11-American Literature classes. The book is one of the few texts that students will willingly complete; once they finished the first story, they are hooked which is a tribute to O’Brien’s writing style. The prose is artistic but not difficult for even our lowest readers. Our students are curious about Vietnam, a part of history that is chronologically left for those lazy days of June. We use film clips (Platoon, Apocolypse Now, The Deer Hunter) in our unit with this text. We also eat MREs in class, and organize lists as to what each of use “carries.”

43. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. Wolff recounts his life as a boy and teen struggling with his identity as he lives with his divorced mother and her second husband in the 1950’s.

-This text will go into the English IV elective Memoir. There is a possibility that a 9th grader will choose this as an independent reading book in the non-fiction unit. The narration captures teen angst very well, and could work as a non-fiction companion piece to Catcher in the Rye in Grade 11. If Common Core wants classrooms to integrate more non-fiction, this is an excellent piece to add.

61. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Discover how to find the beauty in life no matter what your experience as you follow the life of a young shepherd who gains so much from his journey of life.

-This book is assigned as summer reading for incoming English II honor students. We require a dialectic journal with 30 quotes from the texts as the summer reading assignment. Despite the burden of writing, students really enjoy this book which allows us to segue from “the journey” archetype taught in Grade 9 to the different types of perspectives in Grade 10 World Literature.

94. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Carson’s powerful writing on the topic of environmental justice creates a book that will make the reader think seriously about humanity’s relationship to the Earth.

-I got this book for the environmental studies teacher. So far, I have found five nice copies this past year. She offers this as optional reading to her students, and I think this should be required reading for students interested in pursuing an environmental science…or any science, for that matter.

100. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. Psychology student or not, this book will appeal to anyone who has an interest in the curious way the mind works–and how it does not work. Several of the most bizarre cases are detailed here.

-I rarely find copies of this book, so finding one in good condition is a score! The psychology/sociology teacher loves to lend this book to her students; they are fascinated by the case studies. I am always excited to find a gently used copy for her to share.

Here is a list of the 10 essential reads I LEFT ON THE SHELVES (and where they are used in our curriculum)

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.-Grade 11; we have enough copies

12. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. -AP English Literature; text is in the public domain so students read this online.

14. The Call of the Wild by Jack London.- Grade 9;  text is in the public domain so students read this online.

15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. -Grade 11; we have enough copies

28. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.- AP English Literature; we have enough copies

33. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.- Optional read for Grade 11 Coming of Age unit OR Advanced Placement English

34. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. -Grade 10; We have enough copies

58. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. AP English Literature; we have enough copies

82. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White.- Resource for AP English Language and AP English Literature and Creative Writing

98. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud.-I will need to check with the psychology teacher!

 Both Goodwill stores, Brookfield and New Milford, regularly offer a wide variety of used books, and our classroom libraries are currently well-stocked with titles puchased used for $.50-$2.00.
This past Saturday, the  total cost for the five  “essential” titles I did purchase? $5.18. Getting these essential reads into the hands of our students? Priceless.

The New Fairfield Public Library Book Sale  took place on a lovely fall day; a crisp and cool Connecticut beauty of a day. Unfortunately, the sale also took place in the same locale where the local highway department was painting the parking lot lines at the front of the building,  and where the soccer club practice with team coordinators were handing out team jerseys at the back of the building. The actual book sale was held in a meeting room and a small entry hallway. At 10:00 AM, shopping at the sale was challenging between finding a spot to park outside and negotiating cramped quarters inside.

There were, however, some bargains to be had. Browsing was a shared experience with several other buyers; I would remove a box piled with books to one section, while another person would replace that box with another. Crawling along the front hallway floor which held boxes of trade paperbacks, I was able to locate copies of Codetalkers by Joseph Bruchac and A Yellow Raft in Blue Water-Michael Dorris for the Contemporary Native American unit that is being taught this month in Grade 11. I was also able to add to our curriculum collection:

The Giver- Lois Lowery
Night-Elie Wiesel
The Great Gatsby-F. Scott Fitzgerald
Lord of the Flies-William Golding
Brave New World-Aldous Huxley
The Road-Cormac McCarthy
The Handmaid’s Tale- Margaret Atwood

An independent choice book for Grade 11.

The “score” of the morning was a new copy of Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell.  This is the fourth copy I have found this summer, and the book will be placed in the “Coming of Age” unit in Grade 11 as an independent choice novel. The School Library Journal reviewed this book for high school students saying, “In the poverty-stricken hills of the Ozarks, Rees Dolly, 17, struggles daily to care for her two brothers and an ill mother. When she learns that her absent father, a meth addict, has put up the family home as bond, she embarks on a dangerous search to find him and bring him home for an upcoming court date. Her relatives, many of whom are in the business of cooking crank, thwart her at every turn, but her fight to save the family finally succeeds. Rees is by turns tough and tender. She teaches her brothers how to shoot a shotgun, and even box, the way her father had taught her. Her hope is that these boys would not be dead to wonder by age twelve, dulled to life, empty of kindness, boiling with mean.”  When I read the novel, images of the witches from Macbeth came to mind!

For the independent reading shelves, I also located a copy of Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Book Two The Ruins of Gorlan in The Ranger’s Apprentice Series by John Flanagan , After by Francine Prose, and Ape House by Sara Gruen (surprising since this is a recent release).

New Fairfield’s sale offered far more hardcover fiction texts than trade paperbacks, and the children’s picture books were overflowing the small table to which they had been assigned. This could be an indication of a shift in population to more elementary aged choices….the New Fairfield babies are growing up!

Once I brought my two baskets to the counter, the volunteers at the checkout were gracious and accommodating. They were prepared with bags for purchases, and at my request  one quickly designed a receipt for me. (“Last year, I had a pile of receipts, but no one need them, wouldn’t you know?”)

Hardcovers were $2.00, trade paperbacks were $1.00, and small paperbacks were $.50. Sunday was “Bag day”-all books in a bag for $10.00.  I purchased only trade and small paperback on this trip and spent $26.00 for 32 books. These will be added to the school’s “book flood“.

The volunteers picked a perfect weekend for people looking for book bargains. Perhaps next year there will be better coordination of traffic outside the library and inside the sale so the efforts of the Friends of the New Fairfield Public Library are fully supported.

The impending arrival of Hurricane Irene made many of the good people of Fairfield County a little insane. I have watched Connecticut, the “land of steady habits”, develop a paranoid streak since the advent of 24/7 weather coverage. Media hyped hysteria ensues whenever a storm-summer or winter- approaches. So, there was no surprise in witnessing gridlock for the gas stations and deteriorating conditions in grocery aisles this weekend.

Instead of confronting the hysteria, I traveled to the Friends of the Bethel Public Library’s annual summer sale (August 27-29, 2011) where I found calm and order among the patrons quietly shopping for books, videos, records, DVDs and other media.

This sale was held in a large room in the municipal center across the street from the Bethel Public Library. I know the room as the “GP” room (general purpose) since I attended grades 7 & 8 in this building; I even performed on the stage which housed the young adult collection of books for sale!

The books were organized on tables by genres, and there were signs on each table that indicated genre. There were very few “misplaced” books; obviously the organizers know their titles.  The fiction tables were a mix of hardcover and trade copies, and they were not in any particular order. I was an early attendee of the sale, and there were several boxes of fiction trade books under the tables. I imagine the volunteers planned on filling in the tables with these books as the sale went on, and there were many volunteers already busy at work. These volunteers demonstrated a remarkable resistance to apocalyptic predictions of  weathermen; one even was quite confident that the sale would go on as scheduled on Sunday despite the predictions of tropical storm winds and steady rain.

Books for the Wamogo classroom libraries from the Bethel Library Book Sale

There were many good books at the sale that I can add to the classroom libraries. There were three new copies of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, a copy of Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris, and a copy of Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant for independent reading by juniors. There were also copies of books that we teach including:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Kite Runner by Khaled Houssani
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Our Town by Thornton Wilder

There were also five copies of classic story The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter which we use in our Native American unit in Grade 8. The coming of age story was published in 1953, and combines historical places and incidents centered in Northeastern Ohio in the 1750s. The book has been in continued use in middle school curriculum largely due to Richter’s ability to  portray the consequences of hostilities between the Native Americans and early European settlers of the American Midwest.

In little under 30 minutes, I picked up 72 books for $105.00; prices ranged from .50 -$2.00. The retail price at Amazon for the 15 books in the picture above would have been $158.38. My cost for these 15 books PLUS  57 other books was $105.00.

Community book sales provide an opportunity for a buyer to do a little cultural study on the reading habits of its residents. Obviously, Bethel residents enjoy fiction and the number of cookbooks was greater than the number of military history books. However, the biggest surprise was the number of tables dedicated to the genre of romance novels. I grew up in Bethel (on Grand Street from 1972-1980), and I would never have suspected that the town has developed such “passionate” interests!

I received a postcard to remind me of the upcoming sale, but I had already planned to attend since the sale was also listed on . Even Hurricane Irene could not stop the calm and dedicated volunteers of the Friends of the Bethel Public Library from succeeding in putting on a great sale with donated books.

Southington Goodwill Store book haul....16 quality texts for $33.33!

Traveling back from an afternoon in Massachusetts, I stopped for quick break at exit 32 on I-84 (Queen Street) in Connecticut. Lucky for me, I noticed the Southington Goodwill Store store. In ten minutes, I collected a bagful of titles worth bringing back to school.

This Easter Seals Goodwill Industries store opened in January 2006 with 8100 square feet of space. According to the website, the mission of the store is to “to enhance employment, educational, social and recreational opportunities for people with disabilities and other challenges in the greater New Haven area.”

The prices for the books at this location were a little more expensive than the $1.00 or $2.00  books at the Goodwill Stores in Danbury, Brookfield, and New Milford. Maybe the Easter Seals affiliation has a different pricing criteria? Books here were marked $2.99, $1.99 or .99. These prices are still far below retail, and there were many bargains I left on the shelves for others to find. The organization of the books was excellent at this location.  Titles were correctly placed in genres (non-fiction, fiction, children’s literature, cookbooks, etc) and the quality of the books was very good.

I located five core texts: The Giver by Lois Lowery, No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman (Grade 7), Nothing but the Truth by Avi (grade 8), Night by Elie Wiesel and an edition of Brave New World (grade 10) by Aldous Huxley that matches our collection.

I also located a copy of Soldier Boys by Dean Hughes for our War and Conflict unit and two copies of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson for our junior year Adventure unit or Transcendentalism study and a copy of Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom for Coming of Age. Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton, Peak by Roland Smith and two texts by Mike Lupica, Miracle on 49th Street and Heat, can be placed in literature circles for grade 7.  Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire, and Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin (we now have four copies) will go into 9th grade independent choice. Finally, I am looking to include a historical fiction unit in middle school; Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi is a possible choice.

While I was on the webite for the Southington, CT store, I noted that Goodwill sells books on Amazon under the heading of Ivy League Books. The proceeds from sales on this site “help Easter Seals Goodwill Industries to enhance employment, educational, social and recreational opportunities for people with disabilities and other challenges.” Visit to see a list of  available titles.

The Easter Seals branch of Goodwill Industries also “owns and operates 11 secondhand retail stores and 1 outlet throughout south-central and eastern Connecticut. All proceeds from store sales directly support the mission of Easter Seals Goodwill Industries. The stores also provide employment to Easter Seals Goodwill Industries’ clients with disabilities and other special needs.”

I am always pleased to shop at Goodwill. The budget for my department is stretched even farther with great bargains, and all proceeds help a worthy organization. I will make sure that Queen Street in a regular place for me to take a break on 1-84 because shopping at the Southington Goodwill location was a win-win!


Book Sale flier 2011

New Milford Public Library  in New Milford, CT, stages its annual sale run by the Friends of the New Milford Library in the cafeteria of the New Milford High School, usually the middle of July. This library has a very dedicated set of volunteers who make this sale a very easy sale to attend. 

There is an “early bird” charge of $5.00 for buyers before 10:00 am, but the crowds were still very manageable even after there was no admission charge to enter. This summer, there were a  fair number of used book dealers, but everyone had plenty of room to negotiate through the aisles-even those buyers carrying large, overflowing bags or boxes. Book genres were clearly marked with signs on the tables: non-fiction mixed with paperbacks and hardcovers; fiction divided onto mass-market, trade and hardcover tables. There was a much needed holding area based on the honor system. Several cashiers tables allowed volunteers to check out large and express orders easily.

Last year, I found many biographies and books about animals on the non-fiction tables. Cultural anthropologists could have decided in 2010 that New Milford was a town concerned about the lives of people and their interactions with animals. This year, however, the table labelled Parent/Child Books was overflowing, which could lead one to determine that there must have been a recent baby boom and that animals are of little current interest.

The trade fiction book section was divided into boxes set on low platforms. The made the books easy to see, but required constant bending to pick out a text. The books were not organized by author or title, which slows me down as I try to quickly scan for familiar covers. Standing next to a used book dealer plopping books quickly into a box only heightens my anxiety. “Was that a copy of The Road he just put in his case?” I’ll wonder. “Well, there goes a copy of Girl, Interrupted!” I’ll sigh and move away to the next box. Such pressure resulted in my almost overlooking three copies of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye on my first pass!

Found six nearly new copies!

The section of mass market fiction; romance, mystery, and science fiction, was more organized with author names clearly marked on boxes. There were also tables of hardcover which also were generally alphabetized-or grouped. Again, I wonder who buys all these James Patterson books?

This year, the section for older children (YA), which was also on low floor pallets,  yielded six new or gently used copies of Dean Hughes’s Soldier Boys which is $6.99 at Amazon  that can be added to my War Units in Grades 10 or 11. The book follows two young soldiers an American and a German at the Battle of the Bulge. The reading level is grade 8, but there are always some low-level readers who like this book. To complement these, I found three copies of Sebastian Junger’s Fire, $8.15 at Amazon  on the non-fiction table; Fire is the more grade 11 appropriate text.Found two copies-this is an "untested" book

Other “finds” included two copies of Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell at Amazon for $10.95 for the Coming of Age Unit. This harrowing adventure follows 16 year-old Ree Dolly through the Ozark Mountain territory of meth-labs and family land disputes. The book was recently made into a successful indie film centering on a very powerful female character. I have not “tested” this book with student groups, and I am interested in seeing how they like the book.

Will use in People in Conflict Unit for Grade 10

I also was happy to find three copies of The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad at Amazon for $13.97 for my People in Conflict Unit in Grade 10, and three copies of Julia Alverez How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents at Amazon for $8.93  for an Immigration Unit we are planning for next year.

Total cost of all the 17 copies books mentioned? $157.03 retail at Amazon or $14.00 used.

All told, I spent $193.00 for seven very full bags of books.

I am familiar with the many of book titles taught at area high schools and New Milford is a neighboring school. I was happy to pick up replacements for some of the same texts that we teach(Frankenstein, Animal Farm, etc). The woman who checked out my order was an English teacher who has taken time off for a family. She was excited about the selection and the number of titles I was able to get, “These are so interesting, and so much better than some classics in high school,” she claimed, “I would love to see how they [students] like them!” I am hoping the students will share her enthusiasm, but I do recognize that we English teachers get very excited about all books! A kindred soul.

Books alphabetized by author wait for buyers

A cultural anthropologist reviewing the trade paperback fiction tables at the C.H. Booth Public Library Book Sale would conclude that there are book clubs in thriving in Newtown, CT…many, many, many book clubs.  This book sale is one of the highlights in my summer book collecting schedule because of the amount of duplicate fiction titles available which indicates that people have read the book at the same time, and then donated it in order to make space for newer titles. This sale is also one of the best organized library book sales in the area.

This is an indoor sale which eliminates chances for inclement weather and book damage. The large tables are well organized in rows using the public space (gyms, multi-purpose rooms) of the Reed Intermediate School (off Route 25) effectively. There are many signs placed strategically around town to make finding the sale easy for drivers.

Fiction is in the large gym; the multi-purpose room holds non-fiction and children’s books, and smaller classrooms are used as holding areas or more expensive/rare texts. There is just enough space to negotiate around tables without becoming physically intimate with other book buyers. Buyers can place selected books in a holding area, and there is no limit to the amount of books one can “hold” before checking out. The lobby holds the checkout area which is spacious enough for several tables. Volunteer cashiers will work on large orders which keeps the traffic for smaller book purchases flowing. Students who need to complete community service will help pack and carry books. Prices are reasonable- from $.50-2.00/book. There was a $5.00 admission fee for the first day, but that was not enough to discourage buyers. Parking was impossible with every spot snapped up after the 1st hour of the sale. I had to park on a side street around the corner from the school.

In total, I spent $809.00. I lost count around book #554, but I would guess that I have at least 700 books from the sale.

Jody Picoult texts all in a row!

The nicest feature of this sale is the organization of fiction. The trade paperbooks are organized by author’s name which makes finding duplicate texts for the classroom a breeze to find. Since I recognize many of the books by their covers, I have no trouble

locating and scooping up 10 copies of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or six copies of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees. These are both books that are core texts that will be taught.

Oprah Book Titles-Core Texts!

There was also an Oprah Book Club section where I could load up on more core texts:  Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, and and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

I also found sets of Kaye Gibbon’s Ellen Foster, Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper and Nineteen Minutes, and Gregory Macguire’s Wicked for the 11th grade Coming of Age unit.

This year’s TEEN section was very profitable. Here I found a boxful of Scott Westerfield titles: Pretties, Uglies and Specials and a few copies of Nancy Farmer’s House of the Scorpion to add to my dystopia unit. I also found copies of Suzanne Fisher Staple’s Shabanu, a number of Anthony Horowitz Stormbreakers, and six copies of SE Hinton’s The Outsiders for 8th and 9th grade.

The non-fiction room is not organized by author, and I have made the conclusion that Newtown does not read much non-fiction. The biography/authbiography table was small; history (American/military/politics) was limited, although I did get several copies of Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead and Robert Kurson’s Shadow Divers. Luckily, some volunteer misplaced (or maybe correctly placed?) copies five of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried on the table labeled “War”. I grabbed those so enthusiastically, I frightened a book dealer who was pouring through a pile of WWII books. All in all, the non-fiction choices, while excellent, were not as numerous as those choices in the fiction room.

In contrast, the tables for children’s literature were overflowing almost to the point of breaking. Boxes under the tables were also filled with texts. Volunteers kept refreshing the tables with books, and some of volunteers were savvy enough to keep book series titles together. The most heartening sight were the many parents and their children making selections together; one girl had a stack so high that she could hardly see around them. Seeing all the children’s books (picture books, learn to read books, series, etc)  available would lead the cultural anthropologist to conclude that reading starts early in Newtown….and continues in the many book clubs that are culturally thriving in this part of the state.

I just returned from the book sale at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where one can combine a morning of book hunting with an afternoon of theater and dining in the Berkshires….a cultural summer playground!

The Stockbridge Library host its annual three-day book sale, a tradition under the tent, on the front lawn of the Library in July on Main Street in Stockbridge, MA. The parking is tight (although we were lucky to find a spot right on Main Street), and the traffic to and from the library slowed to a crawl with a mix of summer visitors and locals.

The sale is clearly visible with large tents and a dozen or so tables. The books are well organized into clearly labeled boxes; genres are clearly labeled above the tables with signs. The only complaint I have on this particular sale is limited to the stacks of boxes under the tables that should have been unloaded and boxes on the tables continuously refilled. Many patrons were forced to crouch to see what books were hidden, and there were boxes on top of each other which made for some serious gymnastics. I was impressed by the nimble young mother who was able to negotiate the boxes underneath while carrying an infant strapped to her chest! The checkout system, however, was superb. Book prices are penciled in on the first page of each book, and prices range from $0.5 to $3.00.  The volunteers had prepared forms to record the tally of book prices. We spent a total of $143.00 and purchased 82 books.

Before attending the sale, the junior teacher and I agreed that we did not need any additional copies of Cold Mountain or Snow Falling on Cedars…we left several of these on the table. She was looking specifically for Prep by Curtis Sittenfield, a coming of age novel that she used with some success in the Coming of Age unit. She found five copies-one a hardcover-and also copies of:
Core Texts

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Literature circle books

The Color Purple
by Alice Walker
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Nickled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Summer reading

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

The “find” of the afternoon was a copy of Oliver Sacks The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. The psychology teacher has been looking for extra copies.

After the sale, we traveled to Shakespeare and Company in Lenox to see Two Gentleman of Verona in the Bernstein Theatre. There is not a bad seat in this small theatre, and the production was clever with modern twists and very lively. Books and paraphrased Shakespeare…..”Then to book sales let us sing, finding books is excelling”….a wonderful summer vacation day for two English Teachers.